Keen readers of this blog will know that one of the major difficulties school leavers and students planning an extended break often face is inspiration. Because it's one thing to decide 'right, I'm going to go on a gap year adventure', and quite another to plan what exactly it is that you want to do.
Does that sound like you? Then fear not, help is at hand. Here are six excellent suggestions to get your imagination juices flowing. You'll soon have dozens of gap year ideas that you might never have considered before...
1. Challenge Yourself
You might not feel it, but aged 18-23 you’re probably at or near your physical peak (really, I promise you it’s all downhill from here!). So why not make the most of your fitness and take your body to its limits by challenging yourself to climb a mountain, trek through deserts or survive in a jungle?
Lots of popular destinations offer landscapes or mountains with incredible physical challenges which take days, rather than months, to complete whilst you’re on your travels. Go on, we dare you!
Every year at least half the volunteers The Leap send to Tanzania tackle the mighty Mt Kilimanjaro. Known as ‘the roof of Africa’, it’s the highest mountain on the continent and climbing this beast of a peak is no mean feat.
But with a good guide and the right attitude it can be done. It’s much cheaper to book challenges like this in country rather than paying a third-party company to arrange for you beforehand – but don’t underestimate the power of preparation, both in researching your challenge and making sure you take the right kit.
2. Sail Around the World
Crossing the open seas powered by nothing more than the wind in your sails in an incredible sensation and a great way to see the world. If you want to earn cash whilst travelling you could do worse than taking a basic sailing course and finding work as a skipper or crew onboard a yacht.
Or, if you have bigger aspirations than scrubbing down the deck and serving olives on sticks why not join the crew of a tall ship? These giant wooden beauties circumnavigate the globe year-round and many are owned by charities keen to give young people experience of adventure and teamwork.
Even if you’ve never sailed before they will take you on. Though perhaps check whether you get sea sick beforehand! Tallships.org is a good place to start.
Gaining work experience might not sound like the gap year idea you've been looking for. But if you organise it in the right way, interning could give you an insight into the realities of a job and a helping hand up the career ladder. Who knows, it might even turn out to be an amazing social and travel experience to boot!
Look overseas for internship opportunities which will open doors to new cultures and often give you a degree of responsibility you could never have at home.
If you have no contacts abroad, why not look at companies specialising in internships? The Leap (that's us) offers six-week work experience opportunities in hospitals, clinics and care homes for would-be medics to polish up their skills, business internships in the tourism industry, and we can even set you up with a stint in a news room or radio station in the developing world. Get an overview of our internship opportunities over here.
Think outside the box and work can be interesting and fun at the same time!
4. Find Out About Festivals
If you want to see a country and its people at their very best, plan your trip so that you visit during festivals. There’s nothing quite like a nationwide holiday to get people in a cheery mood, and festivals are often steeped in history and culture specific to that region so they offer a weird and wonderful insight into local life.
Perhaps you’d like to be part of the biggest food fight on the planet at La Tomatina in Spain (see video above). Every August over 40,000 tomato enthusiasts descend on Valencia to throw tomatoes at one another and generally make a mess.
If mess is your thing then the paint throwing parties across Asia for Holi festival might appeal, or perhaps head to Cambodia for a face full of flour during Khmer New Year, which is celebrated in April.
5. Look for advice elsewhere
Even if you've found this post completely invaluable so far, some of the best gap year ideas come from people who have been there and done it.
If you’re planning some travelling of your own then seek out friends, family or school mates who have done something similar and press them for tips and advice. They could have some amazing ideas up their sleeves.
6. Get creative with your fundraising
Ok, so this one isn't so much an idea of what to do as much as some advice for how to do some or all the lovely things I've suggested so far. Because financing your travel is the stumbling block which puts many would-be adventurers off before they’ve even started (boo!).
Make no mistake: travel costs money. And unless you’ve been squirrelling away your pocket money since primary school, you are going to have to raise some serious dollar before your plans can get off the ground.
Luckily for you, I've got two great bonus suggestions to help you get your hands on cash quick.
Fundraising Idea 1: Get a Job (duh)
Don’t be put off by statistics for youth unemployment, students taking a year out are a great prospect for employers. You’re smart, flexible and only looking for short-term contracts or seasonal work - a boss' dream in this economy!
Lots of employers actively seek out students for temporary jobs and some will even have reward schemes that pay into your project on top of paying you a salary.
One such gem is Wesser, who recruit door-to-door fundraisers for St John Ambulance. Their scheme has jobs nationwide - which are only open to gapers - with great training and salary plus a bonus scheme which goes straight to your chosen company to help cover your basic travelling costs.
Fundraising Idea 2: Ask and Ye Shall Receive
Whilst no one likes a sponger, there's nothing wrong with asking for help to finance your travel plans. Especially if you’re going to be volunteering or doing anything altruistic.
Investigate whether your school or college knows of bursaries or funds available locally and apply for as many as you can.
Also explain to family and friends what you will be doing and why it will be of benefit both to yourself and others. You may find they are willing to support or contribute towards your experience!
Make the most of birthdays and Christmas by politely asking for donations rather than presents, or put together a wish list of kit you need for your travels. You can even set up your own page to collect donations.
Over To You
So there you have it - five cracking suggestions of ways to spend your time on a year out, and some great advice on how to raise the necessary funds as well.
With any luck, you're now chomping at the bit and raring to go. So which of these ideas are you going to run with? Perhaps you've got a better idea up your sleeve?
on 22 / 01 / 2014