100 Inspiring Gap Year Ideas for Teens and Young Adults
Updated March 16, 2023
Taking a gap year is a great option for high school students who want to gain life experiences before starting college, going to trade school or entering the workforce. One of the primary benefits of this path is being able to organize your schedule on your own and choose what you want to do. Some people decide to sign up for structured gap year programs, while others spend the year independently.
In this article, we share 100 popular gap year ideas to inspire you as you plan your own gap year experience.
100 gap year ideas
When considering ideas for how to spend your gap year, it's important to think about what you want to gain from taking a year off. Having a goal in mind can help you select activities that can be the most impactful on your personal development. Whether you decide to go on an international adventure or simply explore your independence, here are some suggestions to get the most out of your time:
Volunteering, going on mission trips and doing charity work are some of the most common ways people spend their gap year. Volunteering can help you develop practical skills, make social connections and establish your personal values and morals. It's also a great way to learn about the issues affecting your community and start exploring how you want to make a long-term, positive impact on others.
Dedicating yourself to a cause for an extended period of time as a volunteer can give you a new perspective. This unique outlook can be extremely valuable in college and the workplace, allowing you to be more empathetic and understanding in a variety of situations. Here are some volunteer activities you might complete during your gap year:
Conserve the ecosystem by picking up trash and maintaining natural areas.
Tutor children with disabilities and developmental delays.
Visit with seniors at nursing homes.
Build houses and community infrastructure.
Fundraise for a non-profit or charity.
Rescue and rehabilitate injured or sick animals.
Provide medical care to underserved communities.
Coach a youth sports team.
Clean up natural disasters and provide emergency aid to refugees.
Distribute food, water, hygiene supplies and other essentials to impoverished areas.
Related: How To Choose a Gap Year Focus
Many people choose to spend their gap year traveling so they can meet new people, learn about different cultures, experience unfamiliar environments and visit famous landmarks. Traveling is an especially meaningful gap year activity because it cultivates a high level of independence. A gap year trip is often the first chance high school students have to navigate the world on their own while approaching the challenge of being in an unknown place.
Some people travel during their gap year to vacation and relax, while others integrate themselves into a new community by looking for work opportunities on the road. Try one or more of these travel activities to enrich your time off and gain unique experiences you couldn't get at home:
Work as an au pair abroad.
Go backpacking across Southeast Asia.
Get a job on a cruise ship.
Take a long-term sailing trip.
Teach English as a second language overseas.
Go on a food tour to experience world cuisines.
Hike the Red Trail from Italy to Monaco.
Travel on sleeper trains in the European countryside.
Drive along Route 66.
Join a foreign exchange program.
Getting an internship during your gap year is a great way to start practicing professional skills before committing to an educational or workplace training program. You can observe professionals in different fields and determine what career paths you may be interested in pursuing. Consider looking for short-term internships so you can spend your gap year trying out as many options as possible, or look for a longer internship if you're already passionate about working in a particular field.
Some structured gap year programs pair you with an internship, either locally or overseas, and provide you with additional professional opportunities. Consider turning your gap year into an internship opportunity with these ideas:
Work as an artist's apprentice in a studio.
Shadow a doctor or medical professional.
Seek out a tech internship for high school graduates.
Become a student teacher.
Volunteer at a museum or historical society.
Look for a scientific research assistantship.
Apply for a coding web design fellowship.
Intern with a government agency.
Browse the internet for social media internships.
Collaborate with a peer mentoring program.
Learn life skills
One of the main reasons people take a gap year is to discover how to transition into adulthood after exiting high school. Many students are so focused on their studies during school that they want to take time off to learn about general life skills to set them up for success when living independently. Spending your gap year actively trying to grow your life skills is a great way to improve your emotional and physical health, learn how to manage your time better, gain maturity and develop valuable coping skills to manage challenges.
Whether you're staying in your hometown or traveling to a new place, there are plenty of ways to spend your gap year that can equip you with valuable life skills. If you're interested in developing your basic life skills during your gap year, try integrating these activities into your schedule:
Cook a new recipe every day.
Practice budgeting and personal finance skills.
Get lost and navigate your way home.
Teach yourself a new language.
Start a home garden.
Try mindfulness and meditation.
Attend mock interviews and get feedback.
Go to a professional organization meeting to practice public speaking.
Take a first aid or emergency preparedness course.
Sew your own clothes.
Your gap year is a great opportunity to connect with nature and spend time outdoors. You can combine your outdoor exploration with a trip to a new place or simply find ways to explore nature nearby. Spending time outside can rejuvenate you after spending most of your time in a classroom for so long.
By spending time outside in the wilderness, you can also hone skills like observation, tenacity, leadership, tolerance and self-awareness. Here are just a few of the ways you can spend your gap year outdoors exploring nature:
Explore the sand dunes in the Southwestern United States.
Take a primitive survival trip.
Kayak through sea caves in Hawaii.
Go hunting for fossils.
Search for native species on a hike.
Spot wild animals on a safari.
Explore a geocache or create your own.
Forage for mushrooms in the Pacific Northwest.
Get SCUBA certified and snorkel in an ocean reef.
Identify constellations while stargazing.
Focusing on your physical body by exercising or playing sports can contribute to your personal fulfillment and growth during your gap year. Even if you're not an active person, you can practice setting goals by deciding to learn a new activity and slowly working to improve your skills. Getting active and making a habit of moving your body regularly can help you learn discipline and structure, balancing your physical wellness with the demands of adult life. It may even introduce you to a new hobby or passion that you can continue to enjoy after your gap year ends.
There are many ways to get active during your gap year depending on your current skill level and the time commitment you're willing to make. Here are just a few ideas that you can try out:
Train to run a marathon.
Attend a yoga retreat.
Sign up for a community sports league.
Participate in a charity walk.
Learn a new dance style.
Join a jogging group.
Ride your bike along railway trails.
Begin strength training.
Complete a self-defense or martial arts class.
Conquer a rock-climbing wall.
Do odd jobs
If you're feeling unsure about what you want to get out of your gap year, consider looking around for odd jobs. You can earn an income while experiencing unique situations and trying out a range of skills in a short time. Looking for gigs and doing odd jobs can help you fund your travel plans without requiring a long-term, structured commitment. This is especially ideal if you want to keep your gap year completely flexible so that you can pursue new opportunities as they occur. Some options for odd jobs to look for during your gap year are:
Help a farmer collect their harvest.
Walk dogs and pet sit.
Re-sell vintage clothes from thrift stores.
Supervise summer programs as a camp counselor.
Staff a music festival or convention.
Become a poll worker during election season.
Travel and perform with a renaissance fair.
Write freelance articles.
Start a small business.
Work with livestock on a ranch.
Related: 15 Odd Jobs That Pay Well
Be a tourist
It's important to take time to slow down and appreciate your surroundings during your gap year. Participating in tourist activities can be a fun way to relax and experience the culture around you while you take time off. Even if you decide to stay home for your gap year, you can still be a tourist in your hometown and consider looking at your city from an outside perspective. Here are some of the tourist activities you can do in almost any city:
Visit special exhibits at museums.
Explore public art like graffiti and sculpture gardens.
Travel to historical monuments.
Attend a regional festival.
Find the highest point in the city.
Sample local cuisines.
Go on a walking tour.
Ride on a trolley, boat or other unique form of transportation.
See a game at a sports arena.
Traverse local nature parks and farms.
Connect with others
Many people emphasize the friendships, relationships and connections they made with others as one of the best benefits of their gap year. Intentionally interacting with others can help you improve your social skills and learn more about what makes you happy before you start planning your career. Take time to learn more about yourself, your friends, your family and even strangers to build a meaningful gap year experience. Try using some of these ideas to make new connections or strengthen your existing ones:
Collaborate on art or music projects.
Go on a road trip with friends.
Interview family members to create a personal history.
Participate in a language exchange online.
Host a game night.
Complete a self-discovery workbook.
Find a mentee through Big Brother Big Sister.
Read and re-read your favorite books.
Write letters to an incarcerated pen pal.
Listen to speeches from motivational speakers.
Related: How To Build Your Network in 7 Steps
Document your year
Regardless of how you spend your gap year, try documenting as many of your thoughts and experiences as possible. This allows you to reflect on your experiences as they happen and be mindful of making the best choices for how to spend your valuable time off. Documenting your gap year can also make it easier to recall and talk about with college admissions boards or employers. Here are some of the best ways to keep track of your gap year experience as it unfolds:
Journal your thoughts every day.
Create a physical photo album or scrapbook.
Put together playlists themed around your experiences.
Start a podcast.
Blog about your adventures.
Develop a website to share posts about your gap year experience.
Record a video diary.
Collage a vision or inspiration board.
Use a mood tracker app to chart your mindset.
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