6 Gap Year Destinations You Might Not Have Considered But Should
At one stage or another, most of us have at least contemplated doing a gap year.
Whether you actually go through with it or not is usually down to a variety of tedious factors that have to be taken into account: saving enough money (really not as easy as it may sound); how to fit it around studying; and obviously, where to go.
If you’ve reached the final hurdle, here are some destinations to help you choose – which also consider the best opportunities available for voluntary work or further study. And because we all like to think of ourselves as different from the herd, we’ve attempted to feature destinations that may not be expected (the road less travelled, and all that).
So, if you’re wondering why neither Thailand nor Australia are included, there’s your answer.
It may come as something of a surprise, but Vietnam is now one of the most popular areas for gap year students, particularly those keen on attempting South East Asia’s backpacker trail. Of particular interest for the majority of those taking a gap year in Vietnam is to travel at your own pace from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City (or vice versa), taking advantage of the vibrant, diverse sights the country has to offer, from lush beaches to the dozens of ancient historic sights. The travel is cheap, quick and easy, making it simple for you to explore to your heart’s content, soaking in all the sights and experiences.
With tourism still a somewhat new commodity to the country, Vietnam is also the ideal place for those looking for something more than just lying on the beach during the day, then getting wasted at night, with chances to try your hand at jungle trekking, kayaking, or exploring the labyrinthine tunnel networks on Cu Chi. There’s also the chance to volunteer, whether it be at one of the amazing national parks; teaching English; or helping disabled children through various charity networks. Basically, if you’re a fan of anything in general, then Vietnam might be the gap year destination for you.
2. Costa Rica
Like Vietnam, Costa Rica is a place that offers the best of both worlds. While its incredible coastlines take care of the whole beach thing, there’s plenty more opportunities to make Costa Rica an incredible gap year experience. The area has become something of an icon with regards to eco-tourism due to its expanses of perfectly preserved and protected land areas, and its diverse species of wildlife. Indeed, with over 500,000 animal species (including jaguars, pumas and five species of turtle), Costa Rica boasts the highest density of wildlife on the planet.
Its emphasis on environmentally friendly forms of adventure tourism actively encourages any passing backpackers to try their hands at activities, like snorkelling or river rafting. Similarly, volunteer programmes include conservation work with turtles and sloths, and building homes in rural communities, where you will live and work with the locals for a truly unforgettable experience.
One of the most interesting, diverse places in terms of climate, landscape and culture you could come across, India is the perfect gap year destination. Whether it’s taking in the incredible landmarks (everyone knows about the Taj Mahal, but there’s also the city of Varanasi, considered sacred by the Hindus and Buddhists and renowned for its temples and bazaars), or participating in one of the vibrant festivals such as the Kumbh Mela (considered to be the world’s largest religious festival), a gap year trip to India will be a deeply rewarding personal milestone.
There’s also the opportunity to volunteer fields such as English language teaching, helping with local communities and even medicine, any of which will of course look great on a CV. Might be best to skip the raw foods and ice cubes in your drink however, as sadly Delhi Belly is very real.
Again, this may seem slightly leftfield, but seriously: when it comes to a gap year, Peru has it all. Whether you just want to soak in the breathtaking scenery of Cusco or the Andes, or if you want to try and go back-packing and see the country in its entirety, Peru offers some of the most impressive sights and experiences that you could ever hope to come across.
The famous Inca Trail offers incredible landmarks at almost every turn, from the Sacred Valley in Urubamba or the stunning, high altitude Machu Pichu, located almost 8,000 feet above sea level. Peru also offers the chance for further study, with the chance to take up Spanish at the University of Lima, or to work at one of the various language schools teaching English. Other projects also include jungle conservation work in the Inca Trail, or the chance to help children affected by disability.
For those with a keen interest in visiting all of the exiting places of the world, South America should definitely be on the bucket list, and both Peru and Ecuador are testament to the wonder and adventure inherent in the region. If you’re more interested in working/volunteering for your gap year and bolstering your CV, Ecuador may be the best place to start. With a wide range of programmes on offer, you’re sure to find something suitable for you. From conservation work, to the chance to improve standards of living for rural indigenous communities as well as those along the coastline, working in Ecuador is a once in a lifetime opportunity, where you will meet and work with various locals from the Andes and Amazon.
You’ll also have the chance to follow in Charles Darwin’s footsteps and visit the fiercely protected Galapagos Islands, and marvel at the unique geology and wildlife.
Malaysia is something of a hub for travellers, with an eclectic mix of indigenous Malay culture, Chinese and European influences spliced together. Many gap year students pass through the area on their way to Thailand (still the most popular gap year destination, by quite some distance), yet if you find yourself in that same situation, you’ll probably be tempted to just jump ship and explore Malaysia to the full. Malaysia has an intriguing clash of both the modern and the developing, and the entire region is just begging to be taken in at your own pace.
You can pothole in the largest underground cavern in the world at Gunung Mulu Park, or jungle with elephants in the verdant rainforest. You’ll also have the chance to look for voluntary work at zoos or schools, as well as with local community work. The heady mix of cultures and the diversity of the region (the modern west coast and the developing east, separated by lush jungle) make this the ultimate trip for those desperate to escape their comfort zone.