Top 100 Things to Do During Your Gap Year

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated February 22, 2021 | Published January 13, 2021

Updated February 22, 2021

Published January 13, 2021

Taking a gap year is a popular option for high school students who want to take time off to gain life experience before starting college, going to trade school or entering the workforce. One of the primary benefits of taking a gap year is that you're able to structure your time however you want, choosing which experiences you want to pursue during your time away from school. Some people choose to sign up for structured gap year programs that offer an exciting schedule of activities, while others complete their gap year independently by thoughtfully planning a range of experiences.

In this article, we share some of the popular ways people spend their gap year and provide ideas of activities to consider as you plan your gap year.

Related: How to Choose a Gap Year Focus

100 gap year ideas to try before college

When brainstorming ideas for how to spend your gap year, it's important to consider what you want to get out of taking a year off. Having a goal in mind can help you select activities that will be the most impactful on your personal development. Whether you decide to go on an international adventure or simply explore your independence, try some of these ideas to get the most out of your gap year:

Volunteer

Volunteering, going on mission trips and doing charity work are some of the most popular ways people spend their gap year. Volunteering can help you learn practical skills, make social connections and learn about your personal values and morals. It's also a great way to learn about the issues facing your community and start exploring how you want to make a long-term impact on others.

Dedicating yourself to a cause as a volunteer for an extended period of time can give you a new perspective that will be extremely valuable in college and the workplace, allowing you to be more empathetic and understand situations from another person's point of view. Here are a few ideas of volunteer activities to 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

Travel

Many people choose to spend their gap year traveling so they can meet new people, learn about different cultures, experience new 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 time high school students have to navigate the world on their own while approaching the challenge of being in a new place.

Some people travel on 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

Intern

Getting an internship during your gap year is a great way to start learning about the professional world before committing to an educational or workplace training program. You can observe professionals in different fields and determine what career paths you could 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 will 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 learn 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 will 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 Toastmasters meeting to practice public speaking

  • Take a first aid or emergency preparedness course

  • Sew your own clothes

Related: What are Life Skills? Example and How to Improve Them

Go outside

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. Whether you're a seasoned wilderness expert or prefer to spend your time indoors, making a point to spend time outside during your gap year can help you slow down and reflect or participate in a thrilling outdoor adventure.

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 Southwest 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

Get active

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

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

Connect

Many people emphasize the friendships, relationships and connections they made with others as one of the best benefits of their gap year. Intentionally connecting with yourself and others can help you improve your social skills and learn more about what makes you happy before you start building towards a career. Take time to connect with your internal self, 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

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

  • Write poetry

  • Use a mood tracker app to chart your mindset

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