Maybe you’re not sure what you want to do at uni, or maybe you need a break to figure out exactly what the next step is. No matter what, a gap year is an excellent idea. Head out into that wonderful world and see everything it has to offer. Maybe you want to work and save some money to travel more. Maybe you’re looking for a little insight into the professional world, in which case an internship might be the route for you. You could head pretty much anywhere in the world and volunteer doing any number of things. Maybe you just want a down and dirty backpacking trip to savor your new-found freedom. Whatever you’re looking for, read on to learn about some amazingly unique places to take your gap year.
Whether you want to be a beach bunny or head out for some awesome climbing and trekking, Ecuador is teeming with possibilities. Opportunities abound for your gap year. Volunteer to do sea turtle conservation, or head to one of the cities to work with street kids. Teach English, or just backpack around this amazingly diverse country. Check out the awesome nightlife and the Amazon Rainforest while you’re at it.
An entirely different culture? Check. Amazing food? Check. New friends and an exciting job? Check. China will change your world. See this amazing mix of modern and ancient, and throw yourself into the fray as you teach English as a second language. Test your limits with the challenge of a new job, and a new language. Enjoy the amazing (and I really mean amazing!) food, from dumplings to Peking duck. Climb the Great Wall, and then head to Chengdu to cuddle a panda. It will be a whole new world, and I’m not sure you’ll ever want to leave, especially after you fall in love with your adorable students!
For the thrill seekers and animal lovers, head to Botswana for an out of this world experience. Do animal conservation or volunteer work, and head out for a crazy adventure on the weekend. 4×4 off-roading, elephant riding, and quad biking are just a few options for the adrenaline junkies out there.
Do you want to change the world? Cambodia is a great place to start. This country if chock full of volunteer opportunities and there’s a lot you could give to a developing country like this. Imagine volunteering in youth development in Siem Reap, or teaching and helping disadvantaged children Phnom Penh. It will change your world, and change theirs. Plus, Angkor Wat anyone? Not to mention it’s incredibly cheap, beautiful, and full of the nicest people you will ever meet.
Are you looking for something a little more glamorous? Romantic? Beautiful cities and a stunning countryside? Consider teaching English, volunteering, or doing an internship in Russia. Teach English while you live like a local, enjoying the food and the nightlife. Head out of the big cities and volunteer, seeing the culture and charm of Russia. When it’s time to let loose, grab a drink of that famous Russian vodka and head to a club with your friends.
6. South Africa
This is another one for the thrill seekers. Head to South Africa to volunteer in nature, or maybe volunteer in Johannesburg. Get an internship in Cape Town and see everything the cultural city has to offer. Teeming with wildlife, a fantastic social life, and the world’s highest bungee jump to boot, South Africa is definitely a must see.
Are you looking for an in-depth look at the real world? India is the place for you. Colorful, chaotic, and exotic, India will be sensory overload as you work with the locals doing volunteer work, or travel around to see everything this diverse country has to offer. Get in touch with your spiritual side and learn yoga, ride camels into the desert, lounge on beaches in the south and explore beautiful temples and palaces
Are you on the hunt for great food, fun times, diverse culture, and the experience of a lifetime? Of course you are. Mexico is a great option for volunteering, backpacking, doing some hostel work, or even enrolling in a language course. Opportunities abound with everything from exploring beaches and ruins to doing whale conservation or building school playgrounds. Make sure you’re there to celebrate the Day of the Dead. Spend a year enjoying all Mexico has to offer. Cerveza (or beer, for those who don’t know Spanish yet), anyone?
Are you looking to do something environmentally friendly? Or maybe you’re an animal lover? This is the place for you. Teeming with gorgeous rainforests, flora, and fauna, not to mention exotic animals, there are so many opportunities here for your gap year. Marine, animal, and forest conservation are all options here. When you’re not busy helping save the planet, enjoy the melting pot of people and cultures while you sample local food, dive through shipwrecks, cuddle a lemur, or swim with sharks.
Want an experience that’s new and modern, all at the same time? Head to uber-cool Japan and see what all the hype is about. Pick up a gig teaching English and make some money to spend on the awesome club scene while you dance the nights away to some of the hippest DJs around. Check out the crazy fashion, and learn Japanese at the same time. With a new wardrobe and a new language, you’ll be set to take the world by storm. Also, sushi.
Don’t let the news put you off. If you’re politically minded, curious, adventurous, and free spirited, this is the place for you. Iran is a land of unsurpassed beauty with an amazing culture to share. As you travel through Iran, you’ll smoke a shisha with fellow travelers and locals alike while you gaze at the stars above. Make time to haggle for a gorgeous carpet over a pot of deliciously strong tea. Explore the ancient ruins of Persepolis, and finish the day sitting in a park, watching the hustle and bustle pass you by.
Combine adventure travel with fulfilling volunteer work in starkly beautiful Nepal. Head to Katmandu for a look at the medieval city or go trekking through the Himalayan Mountains. Do you like yaks? If so, this is the place for you. It not, get ready to see a lot of them. Volunteer to do earthquake relief, or work with local children. No matter where your path takes you in this amazing country, there will be a warm welcome for you.
Vibrant culture, fat cigars, sexy accents, and a good Cuba libre to sip at the beach? Head to Cuba for a colourful, cultural experience that will leave sweep you up like a whirlwind. Learn how to dance, how to cook, and how to live life to the fullest on this amazing island. Head to a language school to learn Spanish, or do reef conservation work. Whatever you end up doing there, the nightlife, culture, and scenery will make it unforgettable.
Looking for something a little less off the beaten path, but no less exciting? Head to Germany for an internship or work experience. You’ll love the alternative, artsy feel of East Berlin contrasted with super-modern West Berlin. Ever been a fan of Disney fairytales? Head south to Bavaria and see Neuschwanstein Castle, the basis for the Disney castle logo. The castle set against gorgeous scenery will take your breath away. Don’t forget to time your gap year…you wouldn’t want to miss out on Oktoberfest, would you?
Do you want an epic mix of culture and nature? Passion, music, and history? Head to Brazil to explore colonial cities, make friends for life, explore local traditions, learn to samba, and find the best Caipirinha (Brazils national drink) in all of Rio de Janiero. Make sure you’re there for the country-wide party that is Carnival! Whether you want to do conservation work in the Amazon, work with kids in the city, or just explore, this country is for the most passionate and adventurous people out there to discover.
Hopefully one of these amazing places sounded too good to be true, so much so that you’re online booking a flight and not reading anymore. If you’ve made it this far, all I can say is just go. There is an amazing adventure, a new friend, a potential partner, delicious food, crazy adventures, and so much more waiting for you in one of these unique places to spend your gap year. Maybe you can’t make up your mind and want to try more than one. Go for it!
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Courtney is a world traveler who has settled down on the Gold Coast, Australia to complete a dual masters in international relations and project management at Bond University. She loves art, cooking, adventures, star gazing, politics, hiking, and laughter.