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Written by Jenny McWhirter on 23 / 02 / 2017

Gap Year Advice

These fun festivities are well worth working into the gap year travel plans…

Of course, you know all about Mardi Gras, the Rio Carnaval and Coachella, but here are some you may not have heard of: the best of the rest.

When was the last time you skied in melon or hopped in a hot air balloon at a festival?

They say that a gap year is a time for letting loose and trying new things, so maybe these mesmerising cultural displays, incredible music festivals and frankly wacky celebrations could tick both boxes at once.

1. Día de Muertos, Mexico

Mexico’s 'Day of the Dead' is a two-day festival based on ancient beliefs of honouring deceased loved ones. It’s nowhere near as grim and depressing as it sounds-trust me!

All across the country, Mexicans celebrate the reunion of relatives with their dear departed. As the clock strikes midnight on 31st October, the gates of heaven are opened. First, the spirits of all deceased children (angelitos) come down to reunite with families for 24 hours. Then on 2nd November adults descend to join in with the festivities.

And the Mexicans sure know how to party...

You can expect a fun carnival atmosphere with bright costumes, mariachi bands at cemetery parties and skeletons strutting the streets on stilts. In addition, there’s always a spookily mouth-watering feast: mounds of fruit, stacks of tortillas, skull-shaped lollipops and masses of pan de Muerto (Day-of-the-Dead bread).

As guests of honour, the angelitos are offered toys and sweets, while the adult spirits receive cigarettes and mezcal shots! I wouldn’t mind a day out of heaven for a party like this.

It’s truthfully a beautiful, poignant spectacle, guaranteed to demystify your fear of crossing over. In contrast to the terror of Halloween’s witches and ghouls, the Day of the Dead eliminates the taboos surrounding death, celebrating the continuation of life beyond.

2. Sziget, Budapest

Forget Glastonbury and Reading, Budapest's Sziget is the place to let loose and party this summer (9th-16th August 2017).

Sziget is now one of Europe's leading and most iconic music festivals, held on the huge, verdant Óbudai-sziget island, right on the Danube River. Yep, Sziget brings both the festival and island vibes.

Famed for its diverse line-ups, spanning everything from house and techno to rock, pop and indie, you’ll be dancing away to some of the world’s biggest artists. For a whole week, the city is lit up and perhaps deafened, by music fans from all corners of the world.

This year there’s already Kasabian, Flume, Two Door Cinema Club and many more taking to the stage...

But Sziget isn't even just about the music. In the highly unlikely event that none of the acts on the numerous stages appeal, there’s an amusement park, workshops, beaches, and dreamlike venues and bars scattered across the site.

If you’re thinking along the same lines as me: where do I buy my ticket? The answer is right here.

3. The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

If balloons don’t shout festival fun, what does? Kids of all ages arrive from all across the world from 7th-15th October 2017 for this super-popular event.

The main attraction comes as night falls. Guests are awestruck by the thrilling roar of burners igniting as a canvas of colour filling the New Mexican sky. Thousands of smiling, upturned faces witness the magical, moving spectacle of hot-air balloons sailing silently through the crisp fall air.

What began as 13 balloons launching from a shopping mall car park 45 years ago, has now become a multi-event fiesta, which sees over 600 balloons take to the skies each year.

If event names like the ‘Laser Light Show’, ‘Krispy Kreme Morning Glow’, ‘America’s challenge gas balloon race’ and After Glow fireworks’ aren’t enough to draw you in then there’s bands, performances, food stalls and more to keep you entertained in between.

So book a ticket and go take a snap of the most photographed event on earth…

4. La Tomatina, Spain

Both tomato lovers and hates can rejoice at this one.

La Tomatina is, in essence, a huge and exceedingly messy, town-wide tomato fight!

Every year on the last Wednesday in August, thousands of wild tomato-wielding participants descend on Buñol for the finale of celebrations dedicated to their patron saint.

An estimated 125,000kg of tomatoes are driven into the town square by a convoy of trucks. Then cheerful (and often drunken) participants dive in, gather their weapons and hurtle the fruit until the streets become awash in a slightly unsettling shade of red.

Top tip: don’t wear white!

5. Lollapalooza

With six festivals taking place across the world, one might just fit into your travels… and lucky you if it does!

Lollapalooza, having started in sunny Chicago in 2003, has now expanded to indulge music-hungry fans in Chicago, Buenos Aires, Paris, São Paulo, Berlin and Santiago.

The multi-genre events showcase alternative rock, heavy metal, punk rock, hip hop, and EDM bands and artists. Additionally, there are dance and comedy performances, craft booths and an unfathomable number of food trucks to enjoy.

Along with almost 200,000 other party-seekers, you’ll be throwing hands up to the sky and damaging those vocal cords to the very best on the music scene. Having already hosted the likes of Calvin Harris, Foster The People, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Kings of Leon, a legendary line-up is guaranteed.

Need I go on? Just grab a friend, go buy your bum-bag and make some sweet, sweet memories.

6. Semana Santa, Guatemala

In Antigua, a week of feverish Easter worship sees the commemoration of the Passion, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection in what I can only call true religious style.

Witness the most beautiful religious celebration in the Americas, where huge processions wind their way through the town. It all comes to a climax on Good Friday when the streets become thronged with reverent and enthusiastic spectators as huge floats bearing statues of Christ on the cross parade past.

Inspiring arrangements of flowers, fruits and sawdust ‘alfombras’ (carpets) are produced on the miles of cobblestone streets. Roman centurions re-enact the sentencing and crucifixion of Christ. The scent of incense fills the air, and hundreds of purple-robed men march on by.

Not religious? Well, even an atheist’s jaw would drop in awe at the sheer scale and passion of the proceedings.

7. Chinchilla Melon Festival

It might just be worth the 24-hour flight for this, wait for it… melon skiing festival.

This madness undoubtedly decided upon over a few too many Aussie beers down the pub, came about as a solution to encouraging tourism in the town of Chinchilla, Queensland.

Never mind hotel chains and swanky bars. In Chinchilla, visitors come for all things melon: eating, pip spitting, tossing, skiing, food fights and chariot races.

Either join in or just sit back and enjoy the hilarity as competitors push their feet into fresh, hollowed-out water melons and race downhill.

At least the melon helmets mean safety is still a high priority, I guess?

8. Rainforest World Music Festival, Malaysia

The 14th-16th July 2017 brings the 20th Anniversary of the electrifying 3-day RWMF, staged in a stunning rainforest setting.

Contemporary and fusion music headline, but there’s something for everyone. Celebrating the diversity of world music, artists will arrive from South Africa, Belgium, Columbia, the US, China, Palestine and many more to play for thousands of spectators.

There’s daytime musical workshops, striking cultural displays, tempting food stalls and countless main-stage events on offer. From traditional tunes to modern music, the festival showcases weird and wonderful traditional acoustic instruments from all over.

Bring your banjo or your didgeridoo and you’ll be right at home.

Feeling inspired?

If none of those takes you fancy, there’s always Spain’s Baby Jumping Festival, where men dress as the ‘spirit of evil’ to leap over newly born babies.

Could you join the ultimate test of martial bonds in Finland’s Wife Carrying World Championships? Or perhaps get involved in the most bizarre of them all: Wales’ Bog Snorkelling Championships.

It really is a strange world we live in.

Just remember that your gap year is ultimately for you. Just do what you want, when you want and be sure to enjoy every second.

Are you heading to a fun festival in an exciting destination this year? Let us know what and where below...

Still lost for gap year ideas? Fill out our What Type of Traveller You Are Quiz and we can point you in the right direction. Simples.

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