You might consider this article’s title to be an oxymoron; gap years are supposed to take you off the beaten path, aren’t they?

Indeed, the very concept of gapping involves temporarily sidestepping of the usual academia-to-career trajectory with no break in between.

Or, as some students do, taking a study break between undergraduate and graduate studies, between the end of their secondary education phase and the start of their university learning…

Some people even take a sabbatical during their career!

The reasons for taking a gap year are many and varied. For some, it is a well-needed break from the pressure of academic competition; for others, it represents a chance to step back, reflect on one’s life and, perhaps, change directions.

Whatever your reasons for contemplating a gap year – even if it is because your friends are all doing it, Superprof wants to present you with gap year ideas that are not quite so mainstream as, say, turtle conservation in Costa Rica or teaching English in Asia.

Did you know? Conservation initiatives and English teaching abroad are, in fact, two of the most popular gap year activities. You might instead…

Trek for Charity

Taking a gap year just to lounge around in your jammies and binge-watch your favourite streaming service is not an acceptable use of this valuable time.

A key purpose of taking a gap year is that there must be some provable benefit – to you, certainly, but also to society.

Don't defer your studies to binge while wearing your pyjamas
A gap year is not meant to defer your studies in favour of bingeing while wearing pyjamas Image by Engin_Akyurt from Pixabay

Gap years are meant to foster a sense of altruism; of doing something more impactful than simply catering to one’s own self. That is why volunteer work is such a popular option, as is wildlife conservation.

Still, you are expected – and permitted to draw some benefit for yourself so, if you’re a fan of hiking, why not take on the Great Wall of China?

Trekking the Great Wall of China provides no obvious social benefits; in fact, one may argue that so many people trampling across one of the ancient wonders of the world would damage it unnecessarily.

That is why it would be best, if you settle on this excursion for your gap year activity, it would be best to work through any of the gap year programs that promote such events.

Naturally, there is a social benefit to doing so. You might, for instance, do it for charity; every mile you hike means donations for wall conservation or other designated charities.

You just have to be sure to enlist donors – either to pledge a per-mile amount or a flat fee upon the completion of your trek.

Final note: you don’t only have the Great Wall as a trekking option; there are plenty of others…

Kibbutz in Israel

You might feel put off from this unusual gap year suggestion because you might think you have to be Jewish to kibbutz. Another reason might be that you have no idea what a kibbutz entails. As we explain, you will see that anyone can participate.

Simply put, a kibbutz is a communal farm, usually organic, wherein any proceeds from product sales are ploughed back into the commune.

Traditionally, farming was the essence of kibbutzing but, these days, the practice has evolved into industrial and technological concerns.

Obviously, because every ethnicity farms and is active in industry/technology, kibbutzes are not strictly limited to those of the Jewish faith. In fact, kibbutzes welcome people from all walks of life.

Volunteering abroad, especially in a politically volatile region is not without its challenges.

However, consider the fact that you will be sheltered within the commune and all excursions outside of those confines are planned and chaperoned, meaning you will have a native-speaking guide to help ensure your safety.

Safety is paramount when planning your gap year! Learn more about safety and how to plan your gap year in our complete guide…

If you’ve ever longed for a chance to visit this ancient land and see for yourself some of humanity’s holiest relics, kibbutzing could be just what you’re looking for.

Take a Foodie Tour

Let’s say you long to travel overseas but have no particular interest in backpacking – adventure travel in general, or in organic farming.

Sampling the various cuisines of South Asia might be just the international experience you’re looking for, especially if your future career has anything to do with the food industry.

You may, for instance, experience the distinct cuisines of India, followed by a tour of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, and ending your course in the night markets of Bangkok – where the most eclectic of foods can be had for just a few baht.

Of course, this type of trip is not just one feast after another; you will be exposed to different cultures and even participate in cultural exchange – people in South Asia are just as mystified of you as you are of them.

Such a gap year program promises to be enlightening… bet you didn’t know the curry you so enjoy isn’t actually Indian food, did you?

If sports medicine is your major, you may get college credit for coaching sports
If football is your passion, why not see if there are any abroad programs for you to coach with? Image by Messan Edoh from Pixabay

Sports Coaching

So far, the off-the-beaten-path gap year ideas this article proposes that you spend your gap year abroad. This one allows you to stay close to home if you so desire.

Why would anyone take their gap year at home?

Some people can’t volunteer overseas due to financial constraints. Other reasons include health concerns and administrative issues, such as not having a passport or being embroiled in something that demands your presence, such as a lawsuit or the sale of a property.

Yes, even people who have property to sell may take a gap year; sabbaticals are not strictly for those applying to college or burnt out from too much studying!

Whether you prefer (or need) to stay close to home or want to go abroad, sports coaching is a gap year activity that could bring many rewards – both to you and to those you coach.

However, before settling on a gap year spent coaching sports, be sure to check regulations; some countries require volunteer coaches to have some sort of certification and, if you wanted to coach in the UK, you must have a DBS.

As an international volunteer sports coach, you may guide kids to victory in:

  • football and/or rugby
  • basketball
  • volleyball
  • cricket
  • water sports such as rowing, diving or swimming
  • boxing
  • racket sports such as tennis, badminton or racketball

Naturally, this list is not exhaustive; there are plenty more sports you might specialise in that you could also coach during your gap year, like this one…

Working Abroad as a Ski Instructor

If you can’t resist fresh powder and the sight of mountain slopes makes you itch to schuss, you might spend your gap year working abroad at some of the more renown ski resorts – or some of the less-renown ones, as you wish.

Granted, skiing is a niche market; only a small segment of the population actually ski and most of them only for pleasure, at that, so there’s not much community service or altruism involved in teaching people how to ski.

Remember, when we mentioned that gap year activities need not be completely selfless?

Your work abroad would not only arm you with life experience but also with new friends and, depending on where you go, the opportunity for language study.

Besides, you could still take on volunteering projects while employed at the resort.

Learn the language of local people while working abroad
Immerse yourself in cultural exchange while hosting language classes overseas Image by andros1234 from Pixabay

Learn a New Language

Here again, this gap year option sounds counter-intuitive; you are interrupting your studies to take language courses?

We’re not proposing you take them in your home town; rather, that you combine gap year travel with learning a new language.

Language immersion is the best way to pick up language skills so why not volunteer abroad in the country whose language has always enticed you?

Or, if volunteering is more than your pocketbook can afford, you might look for an overseas internship in your field of study and, failing that, look for jobs abroad.

Teaching English in a foreign country allows you to spend minimal hours in the classroom and enjoy the city you’re ‘stationed’ at during your off-hours.

It is also a great way to make extra money and reap the benefits of full cultural immersion – a crucial aspect of language learning.

And, if that’s not enough to sway you, this might: often, your host school likely will pay your airfare there and back as well your housing and maybe even utilities.

Many people believe that human civilisation is set up so that exploring the seven (six? five?) continents is the stuff of dreams; something only those of privilege have the means and time to do.

That’s not entirely true. Should you take a gap year, you too may have the chance to explore at least one more and, if you plan really well, you may actually make it to more than one.

Doesn’t that whet your appetite for adventure?

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A vagabond traveler whose first love is the written word, I advocate for continuous learning, cycling, and the joy only a beloved pet can bring. There is plenty else I am passionate about, but those three should do it, for now.