A moment to breathe

Gap year

What to do in a gap year?


Take some time out to find freedom, fun and fulfilment

A gap year is your (probably once-in-a-lifetime) chance to take a break from traditional school, college and work structures.

It’s an opportunity to travel, learn new skills and experience the world outside the four walls of your classroom or office space. Taking a gap year after high school and college, or in between jobs, is the perfect time to push out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself. To get to know yourself before you make important decisions about your future.

Whether you want to take a full gap year off, or just a semester or two, we have an exciting selection of impactful GVI nature conservation and community development volunteer and internship programs to choose from.

A gap year with GVI is your chance to design it, for yourself, as you would love to spend it. To explore. To find adventure. To change the world – and your life.

Need some gap year ideas and inspiration? 

Take a look at the reasons and benefits of taking a gap year, as well as the types and locations that GVI’s award-winning programs have to offer you.

Critical science

Critical science

You'll contribute to vital conservation research targeted at protecting the earth's most valuable ecosystems.
Ethical engagement

Ethical engagement

Using the UN's SDGs as a framework, we've made a commitment to positive, constructive and sustainable impact.
Beautiful adventures

Beautiful adventures

You'll spend your days exploring some of the world's most breathtaking, exhilarating and remote wildernesses.

Taking a gap year with GVI


What is a gap year all about? 

“What do you want to do for the rest of your life?” is a daunting question.

Especially if you’re not completely sure what you’d like to study or which career path you’d like to follow. Making critical decisions under pressure can force you to make choices that you might regret later.

And that’s where the gap year comes in. Typically, a gap year is when you take some time off between high school and college – anything from one semester to a year. It’s a valuable time where you have the opportunity to discover yourself, consider your options, experience something out of the ordinary and enhance your skills. And with GVI, you’ll even contribute to making a sustainable impact too.

Traditional academic institutions are increasingly endorsing the benefits of a gap year. Harvard, famously, sends out letters to students after accepting them for admission advising their parents to consider postponing their child’s education and encouraging them to take a gap year before college. Harvard’s official reason for doing this is that they believe today’s students are under far too much pressure and that greatness comes not from imitating others but from knowing yourself, following your interests and playing to your own unique strengths.

Gap years are not only for students and young adults though. Many working adults use their annual leave, sabbatical or the time in between jobs to take a break from their usual responsibilities and do something meaningful.

The benefits of taking a gap year

  • Discover yourself, your strengths, your passions and your interests.
  • Experience new countries, cultures, environments and situations, and meet interesting people, to give you a fresh perspective on the world.
  • Develop new skills – both hard and soft skills – that will improve your relationships and enhance your studies and career.
  • Reflect on your wildest dreams, set goals for yourself and formulate an action plan to help you get there.
  • Boost your CV by adding your new volunteering and interning experiences and the skills that you’ve learnt.
  • Increase your academic performance – college students who have taken a gap year tend to outperform their school grades. You’ll have more confidence and direction and are less likely to experience academic burn-out.
  • Enhance your application for higher education studies by choosing a gap year program to support your subject area of interest.
  • Take a career break or gap from work to rediscover yourself, get unstuck, and experience something unique and liberating.


In the end, joining a gap year program is truly a gift to yourself – a valuable time of learning, achievement, impact and life experience. And to be honest, if you have the opportunity to make it happen now, do it. Because with the realities and responsibilities of life, you might never get the chance again.

What gap year program is best for you?

You’ve decided – it’s time to hit the pause button. To take some time off to do something epic. To join a gap year program that “future you” would thank you for.

How does this sound: pack your bags, travel abroad, meet like-minded people, have the time of your life, get immersed in the natural splendour of scenic locations while supporting locally-led conservation projects?

We thought you’d like that idea.

Volunteering vs interning

But first, what’s the difference between volunteering and interning with GVI?

Depending on just how much professional development you’d like to get out of your gap year, you can either join a GVI gap year volunteer program or GVI gap year internship.

Whether you decide to volunteer or intern with us during your gap year – you will have a life-changing experience. You’ll travel to one of our GVI hubs based on five different continents, and stay on base with our knowledgeable team members and a group of fellow global citizens. You’ll share adventurous experiences, and have loads of fun socialising and contributing to meaningful projects together.

By signing up for any of our nature conservation programs, you’ll also get access to some of the most vulnerable natural habitats on Earth – where many of the marine and wildlife reserves are protected by the local organisations that we partner with.

What’s the difference then? While all GVI volunteer abroad programs include on-site training and work experience guaranteed to improve your employability, GVI internships feature in-depth learning opportunities and more work experience. Internships allow you to master a wider range of skills, and often earn qualifications to advance your career.

So, if you are more focused on building your career and would like to take on more responsibility, GVI internships are for you.

If you have time off but can’t travel, we also offer virtual internships where you can join structured online programs to get the practical experience you need to follow a purpose-driven career path – from the comfort of your own home.

Gap year program types

If you decide to use your gap year to volunteer or intern with us, you’ll have the option of joining adventurous nature conservation programs with GVI Planet, or immersive community development programs over at GVI People. Or you have the flexibility to create a hybrid program, combining a variety of your interests.

Are the warm tropical tides of Mexico pulling you in to help conserve the second largest barrier reef in the world? Or maybe you’re keen to navigate ancient Mediterranean shores in Greece to protect the endangered Loggerhead turtle?

If you are drawn to the ocean and love admiring and studying otherworldly creatures underwater, we highly recommend joining a scuba diving gap year through one of our marine conservation programs. It’s not just fun and games (although there’s a lot of that) – you’ll also get the opportunity to get your Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) Divemaster certification.

If you’d enjoy using your gap year to work with animals and contribute to the protection of their natural habitats, take a look at our programs focusing on animal care.

Whatever makes you tick, there’s a GVI program to suit your needs, skills and passions:

GVI Planet – nature conservation program focuses
GVI People – community development program focuses

Where should you go on your gap year?

With so many places to travel to, and a limited time to see them in, where is the best place to travel on a gap year? 

Usually there is one region or country that has been calling out to you for years. You don’t exactly know why, but you have to experience it for yourself. We’d recommend trusting your instincts, and then to follow this up with research to check your expectations of the location. 

You can read about the experiences of gap year students who have visited locations in which we run programs on our blog, or you can 

GVI offers some of the best gap year programs available. You can choose either a volunteer or internship programs, with a focus in areas such as wildlife conservation, marine conservation and animal care. During all of these programs, you will work alongside locally-led initiatives that benefit both the environment, and the community.

GVI nature conservation gap year locations

  • Belize – visit the Caribbean island of Ambergris Caye to dive, explore and help protect the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, the second-largest coral reef in the world.
  • Canary Islands – spot an impressive variety of marine mammals like Atlantic spotted dolphins and nomadic long-finned pilot whales in Tenerife, located off the western coast of Africa.
  • Costa Rica – get your hands dirty in the lush jungles of Tortuguero National Park in Jalova, one of the richest biodiversity areas in the world and home to elusive jaguars.
  • Fiji – enjoy Dawamasu’s postcard white beaches with palm trees and warm waters and support projects to fight challenges like climate change and overfishing.
  • Greece – stay in the small village of Giannitsochori, a short walk from Loggerhead turtle nesting sites where you’ll be helping to protect their natural habitats.
  • Madagascar – get the opportunity to survey highly threatened lemurs and panther chameleons in an enchanting forest on Nosy Be, an African island in the balmy Indian Ocean.
  • Mexico – explore, study and protect the diverse ecosystems of Puerto Morelos which is part of the world-renowned Mesoamerican Reef System.
  • Peru – stay on the edge of the Amazon in Oxapampa to support the efforts of local organisations to protect the rare cloud forest environment.
  • Seychelles – travel to Curieuse or Mahe to get up close and personal with Sicklefin lemon sharks and sea turtles, or opt to support initiatives to help recover coral bleaching.
  • South Africa – experience the thrill of the African bush in Limpopo by helping nature conservationists to monitor the behaviour of big cats and help protect the endangered rhino.
  • Thailand – get awe-struck by the tropical beaches of Phang Nga and help to look after baby turtles before their release, or opt for the green mountains of Chiang Mai to conserve and care for endangered Asian elephants.

Locations with community programs

In Thailand, South Africa, Peru and Fiji, we run both nature conservation and community development programs for you to choose from.

Take a look at Ghana, Nepal and Cambodia where we focus only on community development programs – a great fit if you’re more interested in using your gap year to make a social impact.

Your gap year, your way

If you’re keen to mix and match programs with different focus areas and in different locations, it’s possible! Just speak to one of our gap year experts who will help you put together your dream itinerary according to your timeline, interests and budget.

If you’ve already found the gap year program for you, perfect. Complete a quick application for a GVI gap year program. If not, you can browse and find gap year programs here.

Our ultimate gap year guide
Everything you need to know to start your adventure.

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