So you’ve decided to embark on a gap year! Maybe you’ve just graduated, or maybe you’re taking a break in your career to recharge your mind. Either way, it’s likely that this experience will mould and shape you, opening your eyes to new cultures and teaching you new skills that you wouldn’t gain in education or work.
In this article, we look at eight of the best places to spend your gap year, but first, let's consider some of the reasons people choose to travel for a long spell.
Broaden your worldview
Immersing yourself in another culture feels like putting on a new pair of glasses. Everything in front of you stays the same, but it all looks different. A fresh take on the world changes you in fundamental ways.
Gain new skills
After your gap year, you may return to the same work or studies you're pursuing now, but your year abroad adds to your reserve of skills. For instance, fluency in another language might be just the boost your career needs.
Expand your contacts
During your gap year, it’s likely you'll meet a range of new people from all walks of life. Some may become career-long collaborators, others might become friends who crash on your sofa when they visit Australia. Speaking of which…
Make new friends
One of the first-rate benefits of a gap year is making international friends. Through your new friends, you'll develop a nuanced understanding of a different culture, significantly adding to the richness of your life and relationships.
Prepare for growth
Living abroad is humbling. You'll use the wrong words. You'll get lost on public transportation. You may even have to rely on the assistance of complete strangers. And all of these experiences will refine you and set you on a pathway to more significant growth.
8 best places to spend your gap year
1. New Zealand
Best for: first-time travellers
Step away from your everyday life without having to cope with a foreign language or long-haul flights.
New Zealand is a bucket list destination for many people around the globe, offering endless adventure, vast natural beauty, and a rich history. On top of all that, it’s often voted as one of the most peaceful countries in the world by the Global Peace Index, making it the perfect destination for first time travellers who may be anxious about packing up and leaving the comfort of their home.
Discover geothermal wonders in Rotorua, live out your Lord of the Rings fantasy at Hobbiton, hike up a glacier on the rugged west coast of the South Island, and kayak alongside wild dolphins in the Bay of Islands. This is just a small taster of all the mind-blowing adventures you can embark on in New Zealand.
Best for: adventurous explorers
If you're ready to venture further afield, consider a gap year in Chile! With roads less-travelled than those in neighbouring countries like Argentina and Brazil, Chile is a gap year dream. Explorers relish Patagonia's jaw-dropping nature and scenery, and urban adventurers enjoy exploring the country's vibrant cities.
Expect to immerse yourself in Spanish during your time in Chile. It's easy to find Spanish language classes in larger cities like Santiago. You'll have plenty of opportunities for Spanish practice as you navigate the subway and bus systems, and shop for fresh, locally-grown produce.
Kick up your heels in a waltz-like Cueca dance on Sunday afternoons in Santiago's Plaza de Armas, or engage in an outdoor speed chess match. If it’s fresh mountain air you’re after, head to Laguna Torre or Torres del Paine National Park with its implausible vertical peaks.
Best for: digital nomads
Has life ever been better for tech-based workers? It's possible to stay connected just about anywhere, including spiritual hideaway Bali.
Spend your day surfing the breaks of South Bali or exploring the world-famous snorkelling in the Gili Islands. Between Bali's extendable visas and widespread use of English, digital nomads find the perfect balance on this tiny Indonesian island.
During your Bali-based gap year, discover the iconic rice paddies, learn about the unique culture, perfect your yoga and meditation skills, or simply explore the endless tropical beaches that stretch along Bali’s coastline and beyond to the spattering of nearby islands.
Best for: universal spirits
If you'd like to fill your gap year with a little bit of everything, Croatia's the destination for you. Having a hard time deciding between sandy beaches and soaring mountains? Croatia has both. Not sure if you want to visit medieval castles or 21st-century architecture? Again, Croatia.
This small country’s popularity has been steadily rising, perhaps in part because there are several spots that appeared in the TV show Game of Thrones. Or maybe it's because of its quirky museums, like the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb.
What can you expect from a gap year in Croatia? Unlike the rest of Europe, the train system in Croatia isn’t always reliable, but they have an extensive bus service. Many young Croatians speak English, but if you want to talk with older generations, you'll need to learn Croatian, a worthy challenge for your gap year.
Best for: road trippers and wanderers
With its mix of eclectic people and places, the USA offers skyscrapers, wide-open cowboy country, surf beaches and more.
Because the USA is so vast and diverse, decide what kind of gap year you want before you start making arrangements. Some travellers may prefer to embark on a cross-country, film-inspired road trip, while others will prefer a foodie adventure in some of the country’s more tantalizing cities. But no matter where you choose to land, take some time to visit a few of its world-famous national parks.
You'll already speak the language, so you can use your gap year to network, fine-tune your skills, or try something completely new.
Best for: health-conscious travellers
The wisdom of the past meets tomorrow's technology in the Land of the Rising Sun. If you'd like to spend your gap year improving your health, seek out Japan's soothing hot springs, nutritious cuisine and serene scenery.
Although it's small geographically, Japan is packed with gorgeous sites, like Mt. Fuji in the spring and the lush Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo. If all this doesn’t have you convinced, here are 8 reasons to fall in love with Japan.
Japan has a comprehensive bus system for long-distance travel, which is significantly cheaper than the fast speed bullet trains, but be prepared for longer journey times. Train stations in major cities have English signage for tourists, but some of the larger train stations can be quite overwhelming when it comes to navigating your way around, so be prepared to take your time and ask for assistance if necessary.
Prior research into Japanese culture and customs will pay off during your gap year. Many visitors love the unapologetic embrace of tradition in modern life. And the language: it's difficult, but if you enjoy learning, it's a challenge to seize.
Best for: history buffs and culture vultures
Whether you're seeking a big city experience in London or an idyllic farm existence in the Yorkshire Dales, England has you covered. Spend your gap year tracking Roman roads and visiting Viking settlements. The past is always present in old England.
Multi-cultural London is a hugely popular destination for gap year travellers, who flock to the city for it’s vibrant arts and culture, thriving food scene, and iconic landmarks. If you want to avoid the well-trodden path of travellers before you, check out some alternative things to do in London.
History lovers can take advantage of a National Trust membership while in the UK, which allows you to visit as many trust sites as you want during your visit, from exploring enchanted castles with grand mazes to magnificent stately homes fit for the Royals!
London is also the perfect base for exploring further afield, with excellent transport links, whether you want to get a Megabus up to Scotland, a train direct to Paris, or a short flight over to several other hotspots in Europe.
8. Costa Rica
Best for: nature lovers
Finally, we've saved one of the loveliest gap year destinations for last, perfect for nature lovers. "Pure vida," the unofficial slogan of this Central American country, aptly describes the laid back atmosphere of Costa Rica. If you want to use your gap year to discover "pure life," this may be the place for you.
Costa Rica's economy depends heavily on ecotourism. In fact, in recent years, most of the country’s energy has come from renewable sources. You'll witness natural wonders galore, from long stretches of flawless, undeveloped coastline to towering volcanos and tangled jungles.
With so many North American expats living in Costa Rica, you can usually find English speakers to help you out. Furthermore, it's easy to find Spanish language classes to speed up your proficiency.
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