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Where To Go When On Your Gap Year

Written by Alice McLeod on 31 / 07 / 2023

Gap Year Advice

We get it, planning a gap year can be mind boggling when there are so many glorious places to visit across the globe. We always recommend that you start with 'which continent' taking into account, everything from costs, bucket list moments, AND the weather - which so many gappers forget to consider until it's too late - no one likes a beach in the monsoon.

So, ever helpful here's a handy guide to get your gap year planning started.

Asia

Asia itself is a vast country, but when most gappers go travelling they tend to gravitate to South East Asia. This doesn’t mean you should discount other parts of this vast continent, but SE Asia is popular with gap year backpackers due to it being:

  • Relatively cheap. Your money will go a long way in this part of the world.
  • It’s super backpacker friendly. If you haven’t done much travel before and want to ease yourself into it then places like Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand are very easy to navigate.Click here to read our blog about how to link the three.
  • You’ll meet lots of fellow travellers. Lots of people are drawn to Asia’s cheap prices, awesome culture, and backpacker scene. You're guaranteed to make new friends.
  • The culture is as fascinating as it is ancient. There’s lots of famous landmarks to explore, from Angkor Wat in Cambodia to Ha Long Bay in Vietnam.
  • Flights between countries can be found for very little money.
  • If you’re a foodie then Asia is an obvious choice – food is both cheap and delicious.

Best time to go:

There is a real difference in seasons between countries in SE Asia which can make it tricky to link different countries together, but our overview should give you a rough idea of where to go when:

Cambodia:

Best time: November – April

Bali:

Best time: April – October

Monsoon season: November – March

Laos:

Best time: October – April

Nepal:

Best time: October – May

Monsoon season: June – mid-September

Sri Lanka (west and south of the country):

Best time: November – March

Monsoon season: April – October

Thailand:

Best time: November – March

Vietnam:

Best time: North: October – April

Central: February – April

South: December – February

Africa

Not for the faint of heart, backpacking around Africa presents both challenges and epic highs. From climbing Mount Kenya, to watching the sun set over a game reserve, fortune favours the bold in this vast continent. Best for:

  • Travelling around Africa isn’t as easy as some other parts of the world, the infrastructure can be tricky to navigate if you're new to backpacking. If you're confident though, Africa offers an experience unlike any other.
  • If you're an animal lover then you're in the right place, from scuba diving to game drives, you could spend years in Africa and still be blown away by the diversity you’ll see there.
  • Africa is so large and each country within it is packed with its own culture, traditions, and rich history. There's so much to see and learn.
  • If you want to get off the beaten track and get away from the backpacker crowds then this is the place to do it.
  • English is widely spoken across many countries in Africa. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t make the effort to learn a few words and phrases in the local language, but English is the most widely spoken language across the African continent.

Best time to go:

The advantage of Africa being such a large continent is that there’s good weather to be found year-round. We can’t cover every country, but here are the most popular:

Kenya:

Best time: December – March, June – October

Rainy season: April – June

Tanzania:

Best time: June – March

Rainy season: April – May

Zimbabwe:

Best time: May – August

Rainy season: November – January

Namibia:

Best time: April – August

Rainy season: December – March

Botswana:

Best time: June – October

Rainy season: December – March

Rwanda:

Best time: June – October

Rainy season: March – May

Uganda:

Best time: June – October

Rainy season: April – June

Central/South America

Central and South America are filled with contrasts. Some countries are super backpacker-friendly, some are not for rookie travellers. Read our blog here about the best things to see and do in Central and South America to get you feeling inspired. This part of the world has rocketed up in popularity over the last few years and you can really see why. Best for:

  • There are some real big-ticket bucket-list items to explore, from Chichen Itza to Machu Picchu.
  • This part of the world is very used to backpackers, so the infrastructure is pretty well set up for travellers. Flights are inexpensive, and there are lots of inter-country buses.
  • If you want something gritty then parts of South America really tick that box. Definitely not soft landings if you haven’t done much travelling before, but if you’re a pro then it offers a real challenge.
  • If you want to see it all in terms of geography then you’ve come to the right place. Beaches, rainforests, volcanoes, deserts, Central and South America has it all.

Best time to go:

There’s so much variation and range between countries in Central and South America that it’s hard to say what the ‘best’ months to visit are. It’s a year-round destination, so whenever you decide to go you’re sure to have a fantastic time.

Central America:

Best time: December – April

Rainy season: June – October

South America:

Best time: September – November

Rainy season: January – March in Peru. June - Sept in Colombia.

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Europe

For many of us, Europe isn’t what we think of when we talk about backpacker travel. That doesn’t mean we should discount our neighbouring countries. Best for:

  • The obvious advantage of Europe over other continents is that you can pack loads into your itinerary in a short amount of time. Only got two weeks over a summer to squeeze in some travel? Not a problem.
  • Whilst some parts of Europe are expensive, there are still countries that are very cheap to travel around if you're on a budget.
  • Europe has many cultural sites that are just as special as other parts of the world. From Pompeii to the Pantheon, there’s a wealth of culture and history.
  • Perhaps the easiest continent to traverse, with Interrailing, cheap flights, and a whole range of methods of transport. Roads and infrastructure are good, so you’ll have no trouble zipping around.

Best time to go:

Much like the UK, Europe enjoys four seasons. Depending on where you go and at what time of year, it can either be very cold, or very hot. Consider travelling in the shoulder seasons for cheaper prices, although weather can be a bit more hit-and-miss.

Best time: May – September are generally warmest and driest. It can get very hot in high summer.

Australasia

If you fancy a trip down under then add Australasia to your list. It may be a trek to get there, but it’s definitely worth it for the laid-back pace of life and chilled vibes. Best for:

  • If natural scenery is your thing then you’ve come to the right place. Mountains, the Outback, rainforests, and of course long stretches of golden beaches, Australasia has it all.
  • Australia itself may be pretty expensive, but it’s really easy to get a working visa and earn some money during your travels. From fruit picking to cattle ranching – the work is hard, but it’s a great way to experience life in this huge country.
  • Australia and New Zealand are both English-speaking, so you don’t have to worry about anything getting lost in translation.
  • It may be the smallest continent but there’s still so many gems like the Great Barrier Reef, Uluru, and the sweeping vistas of New Zealand to experience.

Best time to go:

Australasia sits firmly in the southern hemisphere, so expect seasons to be the opposite of ours in the UK. The long sunny days are one of the biggest draws of this part of the world.

Australia:

Best time: December – February

Low season: June – August

New Zealand:

Best time: December – May

Low season: June – August

We're sure we've given you lots to think about, but if you're still in a muddle then you'd probably benefit from Leap VIP, which gives you access to our knowledge hub as well as our travel guru, Milly, who can help you script your perfect gap year. The good news is that no matter the time of year, there'll always be somewhere in the world with decent weather. Even if you experience a bit of rain, it probably won't be anything like the never-ending drizzle of the UK.

FAQs:

  • When do most people start their gap year travels? We've found that most of our Leapers begin their gap year in January/February. They usually finish school and have a summer of festivals and celebrations before getting a job and working and saving as hard as they can until Christmas, setting off on their adventures in the New Year.
  • How long should I plan to travel for? From past experience we usually find that the sweet spot is around 3-4 months. Lots of gappers start on a month-long team programme before onward travelling with their new friends for another couple of months. Travel fatigue is a real thing, and whilst it sounds like a great idea to go travelling for 6+ months, it can be tiring (and expensive) to be gone that long.
  • Where's the best place to meet fellow travellers? You'll find other travellers in just about every country you visit, especially if you're staying in hostels! Some countries are more popular with gappers than others, either because they're cheap or have a well-trodden backacker route, but wherever you end up you'll make friends. If you're worried about setting off solo then consider joining a team programme first and then travelling on with the people you meet there.

We can help you plan your gap year

Leap VIP is our gap advice resource which helps gap year backpackers plan and budget their gap year.

Yes please, tell me more

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