Whether you want to do conservation in Africa or children's football coaching in Ghana, the good news is there are options to match everyone's skills
From spending a few weeks or months undertaking voluntary work in the UK, to devoting an entire year to activities in another country, it's worth spending time planning what you'll be doing. However, it's reassuring to know there are plenty of resources available to help you make an informed decision.
So if you're a first-time traveller in need of guidance, you can read Rough Guides' On a Budget series, as well as our gap year advice pages to help you navigate through the wealth of information to be found online.
Gap year destinations
You can pick almost any country in the world for your gap year, but some of the most popular destinations include:
- New Zealand
- South Africa
Once you've made your mind up on where you want to go, follow our 7 steps to the ultimate gap year.
You can also find out more about working abroad in different countries.
For the latest foreign travel advice relating to specific countries, visit GOV.UK.
Virtual gap years
Virtual gap years have grown in popularity, with students able to sign up for online programmes via providers' websites and do their gap year from home.
One operator, Go Overseas is offering a range of options including online TEFL courses, teaching abroad and language schools, plus virtual internships and volunteering.
For instance, a remote internship in Asia may still involve the chance to acquire real-life work experience with a company while making valuable business connections. Your work could involve managing social media accounts and writing blog articles.
You could also visit a specialist such as Virtual Internships with its international focus. This means you could be interning in one of your chosen career fields - such as IT, healthcare, legal or marketing - with an organisation based in China, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, India or here in the UK.
Read more about virtual work experience.
These projects are popular with those interested in jobs working with animals. They typically involve helping at shelters, surgeries and centres alongside vets and rehabilitation staff.
Whether you're caring for elephants and monkeys at a wildlife park in Malaysia or rescuing street animals such as dogs and donkeys in India, you'll gain experience of local wildlife and learn skills from resident professionals.
If you'd relish the chance to work with animals abroad, visit the following specialist websites:
- A Broader View Volunteers - Animal rescue centre
- African Conservation Experience
- GVI Planet
- Pod Volunteer - Animal volunteer work
- The Mighty Roar - Wildlife and marine programmes
If you're passionate about saving the planet then conservation work may be for you. A gap year conservation project will give you the chance to work with endangered wildlife, protect rainforests and conserve marine life, all while learning about the issues affecting local communities.
For instance, some programmes are similar to animal care projects, as through your conservation work you could be volunteering to work with lions and tigers in South Africa.
Your aim will be to help save endangered species as well as supporting natural habitats whether this is at home or abroad. Conservation volunteering options include:
- Gap 360 - Conservation
- GVI Planet
- Kaya Responsible Travel - Conservation
- PlanMyGapYear - Wildlife conservation
- The Conservation Volunteers
For those with a love of culture and the performing arts - particularly art, dance, drama or music - there's a specialist gap year route for you. Just select your preferred travel destination and get involved with pursuits including teaching arts and crafts to young women, or drama and music to children in underprivileged schools.
For example, the cultural courses offered by the Year Out Group can help you to develop your communication skills, as well as a greater self-confidence in your creative abilities.
Other relevant organisations include:
- Dance Gap Year
- Go Overseas - Gap year drama programmes
- Music Teachers' Association - Gap year positions
- Performing Arts Abroad
Fruit-picking and farm work
If physical work and getting your hands dirty in the countryside doesn't faze you, you may wish to consider the agricultural projects available in countries such as New Zealand where seasonal work is plentiful.
Opportunities range from harvesting crops to assisting farmers, and you'll get to work outdoors and learn about rural life while gaining fulfilment in helping local communities.
In addition to developing skills relevant to your chosen career, a gap year internship also has the capability of making your CV stand out from other jobseekers. You could consider undertaking an internship abroad in a range of areas including business, journalism and marketing. They usually last from a couple of weeks to a year. You'll gain industry experience, make new contacts and improve your chances of employment.
Find out about the latest international gap year placements at:
- Absolute Internship
- Beyond Academy
- BUNAC - Internship
- City Internships
- CRCC Asia
- GVI Planet
- Pave - Internships
- Real Gap Experience - Internships
- Worldwide Internships
Also, international student organisation The Erasmus Student Network (ESN) has launched a website where students are put in touch with internship providers based across the globe.
Learning a foreign language gives you a new skill, the chance to immerse yourself in a new culture, and it can improve your employability on your return home. There are lots of languages to choose from, so if you want to learn Spanish, German, Chinese or French, there are plenty of courses.
The following sites are good places to start your search:
When it comes to healthcare careers, there are opportunities across Europe, as well as further afield in areas such as Africa and Thailand. They all provide opportunities to work or volunteer in hospitals, clinics and immunisation centres.
On these gap year work experience programmes, you'll gain first-hand experience of the medical profession and an understanding of healthcare issues in developing countries. If you're planning to, or are already studying medicine, midwifery, nursing or dentistry, then this experience can really help with your medical degree.
Social care and community
In the caring professions, you'll get the chance to make a difference to someone else's life.
Care volunteering includes social and youth work, childcare, au-pairing and spending time in schools and orphanages. Community work covers everything from agriculture to building projects.
Opportunities can be found at:
- A Broader View Volunteers - Community development building
- Gap 360 - Children and community
- Gapforce - Social care abroad
- International Volunteer HQ
- One World 365
- Project Trust - Social care
Sports and adventure travel
If you're into sports and fitness, how does coaching football in Ghana, cricket in India or rugby in New Zealand sound?
Alternatively, adventure thrill-seekers can take on a trekking expedition, safari or adrenalin challenge. You'll gain teamwork and leadership skills while getting to test your commitment capabilities.
Both these options are well covered, so be sure to visit the following sites:
- Africa & Asia Venture (AV)
- Go Overseas - Adventure travel
- Oasis Overland
- Projects Abroad
- Real Gap Experience
- SeasonWorkers.com - Sports gap years
- Sport Lived
- Sporting Opportunities
A gap year doesn't have to involve a full year's activities. Some programmes, such as summer schools and camps in the United States, offer gap year travellers the opportunity to spend a few weeks or months working at camp, followed by another month exploring the country.
There are a number of operators that specialise in placing students in camps at various locations across North America. These include:
For more information about what's involved, see summer camp jobs in the USA.
Teaching English abroad
As there's such a high global demand for English teachers, teaching English abroad has become a popular gap year option. You'll be able to earn money as you travel, with programmes taking you as far afield as Thailand, China, Korea or Vietnam.
Even if you don't require prior teaching experience, many employers will still expect you to hold a Teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) qualification - for which short courses are available. By working in schools and learning institutions, you'll gain organisation and communication skills in addition to teaching experience and independence.
Some operators now offer teaching English online programmes too. You can search TEFL courses and opportunities at:
- BUNAC - Teaching
- GoAbroad.com - Teach abroad
- i-to-i - Teach English abroad and online
- The TEFL Org
Many gap year programmes may be unpaid, but they provide you with the chance to gain experience in your chosen area through volunteering.
For example, you could choose to volunteer with animals, work with children, or get involved with any number of conservation, community, education, medical or sports projects. If you're interested in making a lasting impact on others and benefiting from such a rewarding experience, find out more at GoAbroad.com or GVI. You can also read specifically about volunteer projects in South America.
Another option is to gain soft skills and employability through the Turing Scheme which can range between 4 weeks and 12 months. It's also a great way to boost your confidence and become familiar with new languages and cultures.
Find out more
- Learn more about work experience and internships.