Opting for a gap year is one bold decision that you’re going to take in your 20s and you’ll probably feel proud of yourself, once you get to experience all the good things that life’s gonna present you with, during this phase.

While you might find many of peers choosing to take a gap year abroad and figure out their passion, the question now is – What can you do to make your experience different than that of the others?

Before you plan out your gap year, spend some time and thoughtfully design your gap year itinerary so that it benefits you personally as well as professionally.

Set a goal for yourself.

Don’t consider your gap year to be just another vacation! In fact, it’s an extremely valuable phase of your life, which can contribute immensely in shaping up your career ahead. The best way to make the most of your gap year is to set a goal for yourself and try achieving it during the time frame.

No, I’m not asking you to turn it into a serious affair and not to enjoy at all, but at the same time, don’t take your gap year lightly! As you set sail abroad, focus on learning a new language (better if more!), gain some new skills, make new friends and try things that are out of your comfort zone. If you’re traveling with a purpose in mind, you’ll be more likely to expand the radius of your experiences while pursuing your goals.

Choose an unconventional destination.

We aren’t surprised why Thailand is one of the most popular gap year destinations in the world. Being a budget-friendly destination with a wide array of activities available, around 6 million travelers flock to this land every year. Guess that won’t make your experience unconventional enough! I would rather suggest you to choose your destination wisely, and do proper research about the offbeat things to do, and the hidden gems to explore while you are there in the country.

To give you some suggestions, you can try to explore Vietnam & Laos instead of Thailand, Malawi instead of Ghana, Swaziland instead of South Africa or maybe Cuba instead of Mexico.

Find a cause that’s meaningful to you and volunteer.

Joel Nicholson, the founder of UniversityHub.ca, said that – “Find something that really resonates with you, and that way you’ll become even more passionate to make a change.” To put it straight, a gap year is the best time to contribute meaningfully towards a social cause that makes sense to you.

If you are a nature lover, you can join a Plastic-Free Environment Project or something related to afforestation. Animal lovers can be a part of wildlife conservation or marine conservation projects. Mostly, high school or university students taking a break opt for volunteering projects related to children, with the aim of spreading love, care and education. No matter how small your step is, you’ll surely be able to make a big difference in the lives of those people living in the underprivileged societies of the world.

Travel slow and try to absorb all that comes your way.

The ideal gap year experience comes from a slow and steady journey. As I mentioned earlier, this isn’t like another regular vacation that you have to tick off everything from your bucket list within a span of time, but rather an experience where you get to live every moment to the fullest, without any barriers or restrictions.

The best way would be to plan less, keep the itinerary flexible and indulge in things that interest you more. Instead of going to too many places, you can choose to stay at one place for long, go for excursions with your local friends and find out their favorite places, visit their extended families in the suburbs and get involved in some kind of work that would help you polish your skills.

Do something absolutely incredible.

Your experience will be unique only when you decide to do something that not many would try out doing. Diving into an adventure sport or activity can surely lead you off the well-trodden backpacker trails. Imagine the adrenaline rush you’d be feeling while indulging in an Open Water Diving Lesson while in Bali, or heading out for the Everest Base Camp Trek during your gap year in Nepal, or probably going for the Kilimanjaro Trek while you are in Tanzania. You’ll have to push your limits, keep your fears aside, believe in yourself and let your willpower draw you towards your goal

As GoOverseas mentions, “Adventure activities also introduce you to communities of people who love the same thing, deepening your travel experience and building relationships while you explore.”

Be a part of an epic celebration.

There ain’t no party like the gap year party! So true that it, and you’ll only get to know the magic of the celebrations when you join them. Not just for the sake of having fun, but joining the authentic festivals of a country would also give you the opportunity for cultural immersion and let you feel the vibrancy among the locals.

While I was in Bhutan for a month during their national festival, popularly known as Tshechu, I got to know how people from different parts of the country put a pause to their regular lives and come down to the capital city of Thimphu to be a part of the spiritual festival. Similarly, don’t miss out La Tomatina if you’re in Spain, Rio Carnival in Brazil, Oktoberfest in Germany, Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Full Moon Parties in Thailand, Holi in India and much more. You’ll probably come across the craziest of people, get drunk and binge on delicious food – and you’ll remember this madness till the end of life!

In the end, your experience will be shaped by your moves. Be open-minded, courageous and friendly. Talk to the locals, get involved, explore and find the strengths that you never knew you possessed. Trust me when I say this, you’ll have an incredible gap year journey!


  • Riyanka Roy

    A Thoughtful Traveler!

    She is a traveler who is keen on exploring different parts of the world. An Indian who did her Masters in International Relations, Riyanka has taught in the rural tribal schools in Rajasthan, India, for a considerable period. Riyanka mostly focuses on volunteering trips and responsible tourism. She's a freelance blogger who's equally passionate about photography. Her quest is to turn all her journeys into beautiful stories. Being a die-hard ‘mountain-aholic‘, her favorite destinations are all around the Himalayas! She can spend days gazing at the snow-capped mountains, binge on Maggi and lemon-honey-ginger tea and reading Ruskin Bond books.