Whatever your age, taking time out of your work or formal education to travel can be enlightening and rewarding. But at a time when travel is limited, so are the options for taking a gap year. In this article, to shine a light on other possibilities, we compile some gap year ideas that can be greatly fulfilling while staying at home.
On this blog we usually focus on career breaks, but we would like to take a moment to consider the people who are preparing for university or to enter the job market for the first time. With the future of the university experience unclear in a post-pandemic world, many young people are contemplating taking a year out instead, while the world of higher education adapts. But how can you use this time meaningfully when travel is not possible?
It’s not only young people who can benefit from a gap year, however. Maybe you’re reading this and you’re a bit older. Perhaps you’re considering a break from work to try something different, or to slow down a bit. That’s cool – you might still find some ideas here for a transformational ‘adult gap year’. So, let’s get started…
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Gap year ideas: experiences
1. Volunteer locally
Many people use gap years or career breaks to volunteer abroad. This can be a highly fulfilling way to build new skills and develop personal qualities while making a difference in the world. For example, we interviewed a marketing manager who took time out to volunteer in Costa Rica and came away with a transformational experience.
For younger people, volunteering is a chance to grow and learn. But you don’t necessarily need to fly anywhere to do it. Volunteering opportunities exist everywhere, and you probably won’t need to look too far from home to find some.
The US Government provides information on public services and volunteering opportunities. In the UK, Volunteering Matters connects people aged 18–35 with domestic volunteer placements for up to a year to help vulnerable and marginalised people. On the other side of the globe, SEEK Volunteer helps citizens in Australia and New Zealand to volunteer. And there are many more services like this all over the world.
2. Undertake an internship or gain work experience
Internships or work experience have been a popular gap year choice for many years, and remain a viable option even when travel is limited. Just as with volunteering, you may well be able to find internship or work experience opportunities close to home.
BUNAC helps to connect people with internship opportunities in the USA. Prospects provides a similar service in the UK, and in Australia there’s Australian Internships. And you can find other services in many places around the world.
Using a gap year to undertake an internship or gain work experience will stand you in good stead for future career opportunities, or could lead directly to employment if you make a good impression.
3. Explore the place you live
International travel may be slow to return, and it could take months or even years to resemble pre-pandemic levels. This will present obvious challenges for round-the-world gap years, but it also creates opportunities to explore closer to home.
Something that travelling overseas made me realise was that I’d never really appreciated what my own locale has to offer. Using a gap year to immerse yourself in the place where you live can be highly educational and thoroughly worthwhile.
Perhaps you live near a historic town or city that you could explore in depth. Or maybe the country where you live has national parks, remote countryside or coastal paths to wander. Outdoors travel close to home is a safe option in a readjusting world, and will help support your local economy. What’s more, using your time out to explore locally will prepare you well for travelling internationally in the future – and there will be plenty more opportunities to do that later.
Gap year ideas: skill-building
4. Learn digital skills
Digital literacy is increasingly vital in the modern world, especially in new circumstances which have seen many more people working from home. Taking time out of your regular educational pathway to learn specialist online skills can bring great advantages for your future career.
Coding, for example, is a powerful skill to have and will only become more relevant. Learning it doesn’t need to be expensive, or even cost anything at all. Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are free courses that are accessible universally regardless of your location. Whether it’s coding, programming, data science or design, there are always ways you can learn from home.
Perhaps you want to spend time learning how to blog and make money from it. We are advocates of Adventure In You’s Blogging Fast Lane course. Even if you don’t aspire to make income from blogging, this course covers many skills that are invaluable if you want to work in marketing and communications, such as SEO, affiliate marketing, copywriting and brand-building.
5. Teach yourself a language
There is no replacement for travelling in countries that speak the tongue natively when it comes to learning a language, but there is still a lot you can do to build the foundations at home. And, as with learning digital skills, it doesn’t need to cost you anything.
The Open University offers various free courses for learning languages online, and you can use tools like Duolingo to learn the basics and to practice. The pool of resources and tools for online learning is already vast, and continues to grow. You could also seek out local communities of learners or native speakers to connect with, and arrange hangouts to practice.
Learning a language from home on a gap year can only bring benefits to your studies and career, and will also equip you well for travelling or working overseas in future.
6. Learn to cook
With hospitality among the worst affected sectors by the current circumstances, home cooking has been undergoing a great revival. With only so much you can do for entertainment at home, people have been spending more and more time in their kitchens.
I don’t need to explain why the ability to cook is a great life skill to have. And who knows, it could lead you to a new career path. Using a gap year to become a culinary maestro would be time very well spent indeed.
The Internet is full of resources for learning to cook. Reading some food and cooking blogs is a good place to start. Here are a whole bunch to choose from. Watch YouTube videos, ask for advice and ideas from good cooks you know, sign up for online courses. And as this is something you can devote as much or as little time to as you like, you could combine it with any of the other gap year ideas we’ve highlighted in this article.
Gap year ideas: personal growth and connections
7. Research your heritage
How much do you know about your ancestral roots? If you take a peek inside this box, you may be surprised by what you find. Learning about your family’s origins can teach you a lot about yourself and where you came from.
I’m quite lucky to have a mother who has done a lot of this work for me. She has spent years researching our family history, and even wrote a book about it. But there is still more I can learn about it. As a member of FamilyTreeDNA, I have been able to find family matches, map my DNA origins, and see a geographical picture of my ancestry.
Researching your heritage could be an enriching way to use your time out. And, like other gap year ideas we present in this list, it might plant a seed for travelling in future. DNA travel is a growing trend. If you discover that you have roots in faraway places, I can tell you from my own experience that the pull to go and explore them is irresistible.
8. Spend time connecting with your family
In our series of interviews with people who have taken long breaks to travel, many of the interviewees have also spoken about how taking time out to connect with family has brought great joy and fulfilment.
Krista Canfield McNish used some of her break to spend time with an uncle who was terminally ill, and reflected that “too often we wait until someone is sick or unwell to be with them”. Eddie Zaldivar was reunited with long-lost family and said that “getting to know my father and the rest of my paternal family made me realise where I came from”.
And while life in lockdown has brought many challenges to people all over the world, the chance for many of us to spend quality time with close family has been one of the great positive outcomes. Perhaps there is a lesson we should take forward from this. When I was at the age to take a traditional gap year, three of my grandparents were alive; now, they are all gone. Using a year out to get to know your closest relatives while they are still around is something you will be always be grateful for in future.
Gap year ideas: preparing for the future
9. Save money to travel later
The problem with round-the-world gap years is that they can be expensive, and for many young people unaffordable. I have noticed that the people I meet when travelling are less likely to come from an affluent background the older they are, and this is why. For people who aspire to travel but do not have the means to do it at 18 or 21, it can take years of dreaming and saving.
So, with normal life on hold, international travel restricted and the landscape of the education experience uncertain, this could be the ideal time to start laying the tracks for future experiences. The job market is extremely difficult now of course, and especially for young people. But if you are lucky enough to find work, or you have been able to hold onto a job, then it’s a great time to start putting some of your earnings away. Our essential guide to saving money for travel suggests some effective strategies.
10. Read, read, read
Books are in many ways the best form of education available to us. The more we read, the more we learn about the world. It helps to keep our minds sharp and our horizons open.
In today’s world, people rarely climb straight onto a career path they will remain on for life. It’s ok to be unsure about your future. Reading widely not only expands your knowledge but can help you to find a passion or direction. If you have an academic focus, using a gap year to read can help you to prepare for your formal studies.
And if you are deferring travel plans for the future, reading can help to keep that motivation alive. Take a look at our compilation of the best books about travel for ideas.
See our career break travel ideas to find inspiration for your future journeys when the world is wide open once again.
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