Gap years aren’t only for the young. Tear up the rulebook and have your own extended adventure – whatever your age. Whether you're between jobs or relationships, taking time off to travel and learn something about the world and yourself is becoming more and more popular. Tempted? Here are some ideas for where you should spend your gap year.
Learn Spanish in South America
You’ll get more out of a South American gap year if you speak the language. Well over half the population of South America speak Spanish, so unless you’re planning to spend an extended period of time in Portuguese-speaking Brazil, Spanish is the way to go. Book yourself a course of lessons in colorful Cartagena de Indias. Colombia’s said to have one of the clearest accents in the Americas, making it easier for you to be understood elsewhere. Alternatively, opt for Cusco in Peru. Peruvians speak relatively slowly, giving beginners a fraction more time to pick out the words. Both cities are a pleasure to explore when you’re not in class, giving you plenty of sightseeing opportunities to fill your time. If you go the whole hog and book homestay accommodation, you’ll be chatting away in no time. Where you go after that’s up to you: from Incan ruins to active volcanoes, this continent offers incredible variety for the long term traveler.
Tour Australia & New Zealand
For native English speakers, the Antipodes offer easy traveling, but that’s not to say a gap year will be boring. Australia’s vast size makes it perfect for a longer trip. In Queensland, dive the Great Barrier Reef and explore the Daintree, the world’s oldest rainforest. City-lovers can ferry hop around Sydney’s famous harbor and socialize in Melbourne’s vibrant laneways. Take a rail trip on the iconic Ghan, stopping off in Alice Springs for a detour to Uluru. Diminutive New Zealand shouldn’t be underestimated, either. For its size, it punches well above its weight with snow-capped mountains, glaciers, volcanoes, geysers and of course, long, sandy beaches. Make a city like Auckland your home base, or rent a camper van for a couple of months and take in some of the most varied scenery anywhere on the planet.
Volunteer in Southern Africa
If you want to spend your year off making an impact, head to Southern Africa. Zambia’s a sound choice when it comes to volunteering. It’s safe, welcoming and easy to reach. The Book Bus volunteer project helps tackle literacy in a country where it’s not uncommon for children to be taught in classes of up to 80. Volunteers listen to children read; no prior teaching experience is needed. Best of all, the project is based in Livingstone. The proximity of Victoria Falls means there’s no shortage of extra-curricular activities to try – moonlit guided walks, wildlife encounters and river cruises for starters. Also based in the area is Lion Encounter, offering both short term and longer term volunteer placements. Participants have the chance to contribute to the welfare and rehabilitation of lion cubs as well as help with conservation education and community programmes. It’s easy to combine such volunteering opportunities with travel in Southern Africa. Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and South Africa, all worth exploring, can be combined with Zambia to create a longer itinerary.
Explore Europe on an Epic Scale
With the luxury of a gap year at your disposal, why not try Europe on an epic scale. Whereas on a “normal” vacation, you might concentrate on a single country, on a gap year you could challenge yourself to see all of them. Depending on how you classify a country, there’s somewhere between 44 and 50 of them in Europe. With a year to play with, you can visit one a week and still have time to revisit your favorite.
Think about it: one month you could be island hopping in Greece, while the next you could be tracking bears in Romania. Spend Valentine’s Day in Paris, Easter in Rome, head to London in June for Wimbledon, catch the summer sun’s last gasp in Spain’s Balearics in the autumn and round off the year at a German Christmas market. What would feature on your European gap year bucket list?