Gap years continue to grow in popularity as more and more young adults decide to take a break right after graduating high school or college, or even during college. A gap year is the perfect opportunity to pursue other interests, learn new skills, gain work experience, travel the world and grow as a person.

Are you thinking of taking off for a semester or the full 12 months? Get inspired with these gap year ideas that can expand your horizons and change your life!

1. Help sloths in Costa Rica

Over the course of the years, sloths have seen a major rise in popularity. People have fallen in love with these slow-moving, gentle creatures ever since Sid made his appearance in Ice Age and Flash the Sloth got us laughing in Zootopia. However, animal rescue centers in Costa Rica were already taking care of sloths well before the media-fame.

These centers are protecting and helping the native wildlife, like sloths and monkeys, and you could give them a hand by volunteering for a while. This way you can combine adventure travel with the opportunity to care for these animals and make a positive impact.

Recommended gap year programCosta Rica

2. Get PADI certified

Get ready to tick off scuba diving from your bucket list! To really discover the depths of the ocean and escape the effects of gravity, you would need an Open Water Diving Certification. This allows you do dive and explore the marine wildlife anywhere in the world, from the Australian Great Barrier Reef to the spectacular Indonesian and Mexican reefs. This certification is another thing to add to your resume, while also giving you the opportunity to discover the ocean life and explore the hidden treasures of a shipwreck.

Recommended gap year program: Central America

3. Unwind on a yoga or meditation retreat

Learn yoga, meditation and mindfulness practices that calm your mind and strengthen your body on a retreat. You can find these retreats to nourish your body and soul all over the world, probably even near your hometown, but wouldn’t it be amazing to do this overseas?

Many travel to India, the birthplace of yoga, for a life-changing retreat. Others make their way to Nepal to practice meditation in a Buddhist monastery, where they get familiar with the Buddhist principles and gain insight into life.

Recommended gap year programs: Costa Rica, Hawaii & Western US, Central America, Southeast Asia, Nepal & Tibet, Australia & Indonesia

4. Get up close with wildlife in the Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Islands are blessed with an abundance of wildlife. About 9000 species live on and around the islands, many of which are unique for this area. Explore the archipelago and go snorkeling for the chance to swim with a 150-year-old tortoise, marine iguana or penguins. Keep an eye out for whales and dolphins while you’re at it and spot land iguanas and lizards when you get out the water.

Recommended gap year program: South America

5. Learn Spanish in Latin America

The best way to learn a new language is to fully immerse yourself. With over 400 million native Spanish speakers and 21 countries with Spanish as their official language, there are plenty of possibilities for you to learn Spanish. Consider doing some language learning as you explore places like Ecuador, Mexico or Peru! Have a couple of Spanish lessons and develop your skills afterwards while communicating with native Spanish speakers as you travel around the country.

Recommended gap year programs: South America, Central America

6. Work with elephants in Thailand

Volunteering abroad is an extremely rewarding experience, especially volunteering at an animal sanctuary. In Northern Thailand, you can do some hand-on work in an elephant rescue and rehabilitation center to improve the lives of these gentle giants. These sanctuaries take in disabled, blind and orphaned elephants that have often been abused as working animals, and educate the public about the problems elephants face in Thailand.

Recommended gap year programs: Southeast Asia, Thailand

7. Trek through the Himalayas

Imagine ice-capped mountains, isolated villages and breath-taking lakes as you trek through the Himalayas. You can hike amongst this amazing mountain scenery for as long as you want, there are too many hikes to choose from!

How about a short 3-day hike to give you a taste of trekking in Nepal, or 2 weeks of walking through some of the highest mountains on earth on the popular Annapurna Circuit? Real hiking fanatics might even take on the Great Himalaya Trail, which crosses over altitudes up to 6.146 meters and takes about 150 days to complete.

Recommended gap year program: Nepal & Tibet

8. Gain guiding qualifications

A gap year is a resume booster since it helps you stand out from the crowd, but it’s even better when you are able to add new skills to your CV. If you want to explore a new country, head into the wild and gain qualifications all at the same time, Pure Exploration's Adventure Guide Programs are a great choice!

You will gain guiding qualifications in hiking and rock climbing, as well as a 40-hour First Aid Training program and a Swift Water Rescue certification. These prepare you for a future as a travel guide or outdoor adventure guide, whilst experiencing epic outdoor adventures!

Recommended gap year programs: Adventure Guide Program in Patagonia, Nepal or New Zealand

9. Explore the world’s ancient cities

Walk through the ruins of long-lost cities, soak up the history and feel their spirit. Nothing quite beats strolling through ancient cities, which is probably why Cambodia, Italy, Peru and Mexico get the visitors they do. Who wouldn’t want to watch a sunrise over Machu Picchu, discover temple after temple in Angkor Wat or see the famous Mayan city Chichén Itzá?

Recommended gap year programsSouth AmericaSoutheast AsiaCentral America

10. Marine conservation work in Costa Rica

As well as being a great place to learn to surf, Costa Rica offers many marine conservation projects to get involved with. These projects are doing everything they can to protect and preserve the marine life and ecosystems in the oceans.

Your days would be spent at the tide pools catching sea turtles, identifying fish and collecting biological data. All in all, an ocean conservation project is the perfect option for someone who wants to have a meaningful gap year and make a difference.

Recommended gap year program: Costa Rica

11. Learn to surf

Have you always wanted to catch some waves? Plenty of surf schools abroad offer surf lessons and surf camps, so you will be riding the waves in no time.

Hawaii is the spiritual home of surfing and the birthplace of modern surfing, so no better place to start you journey! It has a wide variety of waves for all levels of surfers, while offering clear water and stunning beaches. Once you have perfected your skills, you can surf your way around the globe!

Recommended gap year programs: Hawaii, Costa Rica, Hawaii & Western US, Central America, New Zealand & Australia, Australia & Indonesia

12. Join a community volunteer project in Peru

If you really want to immerse yourself in a culture abroad, you should consider volunteering on a community project. Peru has tons of community volunteer programs that have you working with the locals on educative and environmental projects. In all of this, you will build strong relationships with the local community while experiencing a completely different way of life.

Recommended gap year program: South America

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Author Orla O'Muiri Posted