• Animal Care
  • Business
  • Community

7 things to do in a gap year

Article by Petrina Darrah

Petrina Darrah

Posted: December 27, 2022

7 min read

If you’ve decided to take a gap year, congratulations! You’re looking ahead at a time of adventure, learning and personal growth. 

Deciding to take a gap year, and deviating from the conventional path of full-time study followed by full-time work, takes courage. Now that the hardest part is behind you, you can think about how to make the most of your gap year.  

What should you do in a gap year?

Weighing up all the things to do in a gap year can feel daunting – the options are vast.

The good news is, there is no right or wrong way to spend your gap year. What you choose to do will be shaped around your personal goals and situation. 

Maybe you are deciding what course of study you would like to commit to for the next few years. Or maybe you’re considering what kind of company you would like to work for now that you’ve graduated? Maybe you want to explore how you can use your career to have an impact in areas of social or environmental justice. Or perhaps you just need a break from a job that has left you burned out. 

When thinking about things to do in a gap year, don’t worry too much about what you should be doing, and focus on what you really want to do instead. 


What should you not do in a gap year?

There are no hard and fast rules about what you shouldn’t do in a gap year. You might end up trying a wide variety of things, which is fine. 

Gap years are a chance to try and fail. It’s okay to not love everything you do, and move on to something different – that’s the whole point of taking some time out to figure everything out. 

The only thing you shouldn’t do in a gap year is… nothing. Don’t think of a gap year as a year off, but as a time to learn outside of conventional schooling or working. 

Challenge yourself to try new things – outside of your comfort zone is where the best growth happens. 

The best things to do in a gap year

The purpose of a gap year is to explore your options. It’s easy to get swept up in studying and working, and then find yourself already headed down a career path that might not suit you. 

Having time to test the waters and reflect on where you would like to go means you can choose a study or career path that feels right for you based on experience. 

With this in mind, here is our guide to the best things to do in a gap year.

Volunteer abroad

Travelling overseas is one of the most popular things to do in a gap year. While travel in itself is a great way to learn more about the world, you can make it even more meaningful by taking part in a volunteer program overseas.

Maybe you want to teach literacy in South Africa or biodiversity conservation in Costa Rica. You could find yourself trekking through Nepal after lending a hand in community development projects or snorkeling through crystal clear waters on a conservation expedition in Seychelles. 

Volunteering comes with the added benefit of support. With the support of a program, you can travel to parts of the world you might not have considered visiting solo, and get to experience life in communities in Africa, Asia and Latin America. 

Join an internship

Internships are one of the most impactful things to do in a gap year, as they will equip you with a wide range of CV-worthy skills. You can gain work experience in areas like research, conservation, or tourism. Plus, you can develop soft skills such as organisation, communication, and problem-solving skills. 

Commitment to an internship, professional apprenticeship, and research fellowship in areas of international development can also highlight your interests and self-motivation, which can be highly desirable to future employers. 

Explore new hobbies

A gap year is the perfect time to explore new interests. Maybe you want to learn to dive, or learn how to cook exceptional Thai food. 

Creative pursuits are often the ones we scrap when life gets busy with work or study, so carving out time to dedicate to activities simply for pleasure. 

When was the last time you did something for the first time? 

Learn a second language

Learning a new language can give you a window into other cultures, and comes in handy if you decide to travel for your gap year as well. 

Speaking a second language is also a powerful way to develop empathy for second-language learners. As English speakers, it’s easy to forget how challenging it can be for people who speak other languages to start lives in English-speaking countries. Having this kind of cross-cultural understanding is an asset in multicultural classrooms or workplaces. 

Try out different career paths

Leafing through university brochures doesn’t have the same effect as trying out the practical elements of a course of study, or getting specialised work experience. 

For example, if you’re contemplating studying science, a marine conservation internship can give you a glimpse into what working in this field might look like. Or, if you think public health might be a great future career but you don’t know what it looks like in practice, an internship can give you more insight than research alone. 

Having the chance to be immersed in different fields can give you the confidence to select the right career path for you. 

Enjoy the time to reflect and focus on yourself

Taking a gap year can be a chance to have some space to think about your goals and direction. 

During your gap year, you’ll have many experiences – some good, some bad – and taking time to reflect can be useful in choosing your next steps. 

Maybe you feel more deeply affected by an experience than you expected, which could change your future career focus. Or you might come to the realisation that you want to spend time living and working abroad. 

Thoughtful reflection is one of the main benefits of a gap year and can help you create an intentional path for your future. 

Meet people from around the world

New experiences mean meeting new people. During your gap year, you can meet people from all around the world. On a volunteer program or internship, you’ll meet other like-minded people, as well as experts in fields like conservation or community development. 

This network can be a huge boost to your career further down the line. Studies have shown that our casual connections deliver us the most benefit in our career, so it’s worthwhile fostering these – and you never know how you might be able to help people later, as well. 

Make a meaningful contribution to a project you are passionate about

Why not use your gap year to advance a cause you care about? Work and passions don’t always align. You might be on a career path you love, but feel that it doesn’t contribute as much as you would like to initiatives supporting people and the planet. 

So, taking some time out in a gap year can be an opportunity to learn more about solutions to some of the biggest challenges facing us today, and contribute to projects advancing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. 

One of the best things to do in a gap year is complete a volunteer program or internship abroad. Check out GVI’s award-winning, sustainably focused programs for the ultimate gap year inspiration. 

By Petrina Darrah

Petrina Darrah is a freelance writer from New Zealand with a passion for outdoor adventure and sustainable travel. She has been writing about travel for more than five years and her work has appeared in print and digital publications including National Geographic Travel, Conde Nast Travel, Business Insider, Atlas Obscura and more. You can see more of her work at petrinadarrah.com.
what’s up next?
Hogging the Limelight: Peccaries in Costa Rica

Explore the different types of peccaries found in Costa Rica, as well as their importance in the local ecosystem, habitats, behavior, and social structure.

You might also like these articles

Public Awareness Campaigns: A Vital Tool for Turtle Conservation
Read the article
How to Work With Elephants
Read the article
Volunteer and Adventure
Nine of the best volunteer programs in South Africa
Read the article
Gap year pros and cons
Read the article
Women's Empowerment
How to Volunteer in Africa with Animals: A Guide to Responsible Wildlife Conservation
Read the article
Wildlife Conservation
Why it’s Critical to Protect Wildlife and Endangered Species
Read the article
Wildlife Conservation
The Importance of Conserving Habitat for Wildlife
Read the article
Wildlife Conservation
Discover Different Types of Volunteering
Read the article
Women's Empowerment
How to Prepare for Your First Volunteer Experience: A Guide for First-Time Volunteers
Read the article
Women's Empowerment