No fear gap year: some fun ideas for your year abroad

With the bleak winter of lockdown nearly behind us, it’s time to start imagining sunnier days (both literally and metaphorically). If you are stuck at home doing school virtually, then what better time filler than planning that much awaited gap year?

As a fellow gap year traveller, I hope my pearls of wisdom in this area may be of some use as a few things have changed since then, not least the pandemic which may limit travelling slightly.

But fear not: with the vaccine roll-out up and running, a fun post-pandemic gap year is on the horizon, though it may take some imagination and possibly the willingness to adapt and be flexible.

Teaching and volunteering

One of the most rewarding things you can do on a gap year is to kill two birds with one stone and mix going abroad with doing something constructive like teaching or volunteering.

There are three interesting ways to do this. Firstly, with a company like TEFL, after a short course you can teach English to kids almost anywhere in the world. Secondly, doing conservation projects or working in sanctuaries can be really fulfilling; this could be anything from tending elephants in Sri Lanka to endangered orangutans in Borneo. If you’re an animal lover, this one’s for you.

Lastly, you can work on community projects in developing countries, which can involve teaching deprived children or helping to build things. These projects tend to happen in Africa, Asia or South America.

But be extra careful of scams! There are lots of ‘projects’ floating around online that will take your money and run - so do your research!

There are lots of things you can do abroad and get paid

Paid employment

There are lots of things you can do abroad and get paid for (or at least have accommodation and food on the house). One such experience I’ve heard great things about is working on a farm in Australia, or doing a ski season abroad (though you usually end up spending most of what you earn).

Staycations (if Covid-19 forces us to)

With the pandemic not (quite) behind us yet, one should consider the option of staying at home.

It doesn’t have to be as boring as it sounds: the Guardian has some fun ideas on how to build an interesting year without stepping foot outside the UK (this also works for those of you who don’t want to travel abroad), including doing some worthwhile charity work or volunteering, or travelling to some beautiful places in the UK, almost as beautiful as any beach in Thailand.

Good old-fashioned backpacking

And then, of course, there’s backpacking. It is what it says on the tin: exploring exciting new lands with just a bag on your back and staying in hostels where you meet a host of fun and interesting people from all around the world.

This is what I did for my gap year, and I’d highly recommend it for anyone who has that adventurous spirit inside them. Even if you haven’t had the luxury of travelling as a kid, backpacking can really alter your perspective of the world by seeing how people live in completely different ways. Some classic destinations include:

South East Asia

  • Thailand: be careful with this one as in recent years it has become a classic tourist destination, and some areas are not as idyllic as you might imagine;
  • Cambodia: one of the wonders of the world are the temples of Angkor Wat- it truly is the most incredible cultural site I’ve been to, although it’s quite touristy so visit at the break of dawn;
  • Laos: has some really beautiful scenery and waterfalls, but was my least favourite country of the lot - it’s pretty small so can be travelled in no time at all;
  • Vietnam: has an incredible mix of stunning scenery (would recommend renting a moped) and culturally-rich cities like Ho Chi Min and Hanoi;
  • Myanmar: much less well-known, this is South East Asia’s hidden gem. It has breathtakingly beautiful Buddhist temples and lakes, and is generally less well-trodden than the others. This was my favourite country I travelled to and is a must for anyone looking to travel off the beaten track. Make sure you check the UK Government website before going to get the latest updates. Myanmar, for example, recently suffered a military coup!


  • The Northern region of Rajasthan is full to the brim with colourful culture;
  • To the east of Rajasthan there is the intensely spiritual city of Varanasi, where you can watch the age-old ritual of body burning and see Hindus pray in the waters of the Ganges;
  • Further north, trek through the Himalayan mountains in Kashmir, or stay in a houseboat in Ladakh (although this area is pretty volatile so do check whether it’s safe to travel there);
  • In the middle of India, visit the lush green mountains of Hampi (think Jungle Book, but better!) or further south, the rolling green hills of tea plantations in Munnar;
  • Right down south you can visit the windswept, idyllic beaches of Goa with some fun parties, and the peaceful backwaters of Kerala where you can cruise around on a houseboat;

How about India during your gap year?

But you don’t have to fly miles to feast on beautiful landscapes or picturesque cities: there’s extraordinary culture right on our doorstep.

Interrailing in European cities is a brilliant way to travel and can be a cheaper option (you can buy an all-inclusive ticket which covers all train fares). My personal favourite cities include: Prague, Barcelona, Zagreb in Croatia, Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Lisbon.

Top tips

  • Don’t be pressured into travelling just because it’s the ‘done thing’ and all your friends are doing it. I know lots of people who’ve had interesting gap years working abroad, or even doing courses in the UK like art foundations or apprenticeships, which can be a great way of getting ahead.
  • If you do want to travel, consider how much it’s going to cost and plan ahead. Do that boring pub job before to save up money: it’ll be worth it!
  • Consider your safety; travelling alone (especially as a young woman) is not always sensible. The Foreign Office always has good advice on this.
  • Get travel plans from a family member or friend who has been where you’re going (those small details are always so useful: that café which has the best curry or hidden waterfall that nobody knows about).
  • There are a few packing essentials that I swear by: a microfiber towel, first-aid kit, sleeping bag liner (for those dreaded bed bugs), mosquito spray, lonely planet guides and fanny pack.
  • Take a diary and make note of everything you do, and stick in tickets from sites you’ve visited and things like that. You’ll thank yourself in 10 years!
  • When booking hostels use - it’s the best around.

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