One of my friendship circle’s in-jokes is talking about having “a life-changing European experience”. Making fun of wankers who can’t stop talking about their gap years and/or exchanges and how it ~changed~ them is good sport.
But as much as I make fun of people who can’t stop talking about their gap years, I am literally that person. I was lucky enough to do a Rotary Youth Exchange in Switzerland when I finished school, and it was genuinely one of the best things I’ve ever done (and I clearly still love taking about it lol).
The reason people are so tragic about their gap year experiences is because it’s an incredibly valuable thing to do. You’re only young once, and breaking up your studies with a structured gap year is a great way to let off some steam as well as grow as a person, especially if you’re planning to launch yourself into more education or work.
But regardless of how you feel about the gap year, one thing is true: no one wants to go to the place everyone goes to. Originality is key.
With that in mind, here’s some slightly-off-the-beaten-path places we recommend you put on your shortlist if you’re considering taking a gap year.
Many people dream about going on a gap year to Japan – it’s one of the most popular gap year destinations.
But here’s a reality check (from someone who’s actually done an exchange in Japan). Japan’s great but it can be expensive, sometimes hard to travel around in, and if you’re there for an extended stay, the culture can take some adjusting to. Japanese culture is unlike any other culture on Earth and has so many hidden intricacies.
Consider instead going to South Korea. Like Japan, South Korea is a dynamic, exciting country where the latest cutting-edge technology and ancient culture sit side by side. South Korea boasts super friendly people, it’s easier to travel around in, and it’s far cheaper. Plus, it’s right next to Japan, so you can always visit to get your Japan fix.
South Korea has amazing natural beauty, great skiing (if that’s what you’re into), and awesome nightlife. From the neon lights of Seoul to the beaches of Jeju, there’s so much to do in South Korea—it’s a fantastic country that’s worth a look-in.
A skinny strip of a country flanked by the Andes running down the coast of South America, Chile is home to a multitude of natural wonders, from the Atacama Desert in the north to the forests, peaks and fjords of the south. Breathtakingly beautiful and full of opportunity, it’s one of the most unique countries in Latin America and a must-consider location for a gap year.
Chile is home to amazing food, literally dozens of climates, and friendly people who speak their own unique dialect of Spanish, Chile is by far and large the safest country in the region too (recent protests notwithstanding, but nothing wrong with a little activism tbh).
Over 40% of the population live in Santiago, the capital and Chile’s largest city. It’s a bustling metropolis, home to well-preserved colonial buildings, skyscrapers, midnight raves and some of South America’s best museums, all flanked by beautiful mountains. Why not make it your home for a bit?
Where do we start? The U.S. is a huge country with millions of places to go and even more things to do. New York is the beating heart of the world economy and one of the most unique cities in the world. California has Hollywood, Silicon Valley and sun-drenched beaches. Maybe you want to experience historic America in Boston, Philadelphia or Washington D.C.? Or maybe you wanna live it up in Miami, or Honolulu, or Las Vegas? The options are endless.
Our tip? Spend time in parts of America that aren’t so touristy, and get an authentic American experience.
For example, the South isn’t all guns, trucks and Jesus. Austin, Houston and Dallas combine Southern hospitality with all the dynamism of a big, modern city. Atlanta and Nashville are musical powerhouses. New Orleans is a melting pot of French, Cajun, Creole and African-American cultures. The beauty of the US is that it’s home to so many different experiences. Do it justice and step off the beaten track.
Contro opinion: everything France does, Italy does better. Food? Check. Beaches? Check. Snow? Check. Cost? Italy’s cheaper than France. People? Italians are much easier to get along with than the French. Shopping? Mi amore, don’t even start.
Italy is a shockingly beautiful country, steeped in history and culturally diverse. Venice, Rome, Milan, Florence, Naples, Turin… Oh my days. Making fun of people who go on about their life-changing European experiences is always top banter, but Italy is worth the hype ok!! I’m such an Italy stan because it’s got it all. If you can only pick one European country for a gap year, pick Italy.
The great thing about Europe is that you don’t have to pick just one country, though. Europe’s such a popular destination in part because there are so many different countries and cultures in such close proximity. Travelling between them is a cinch.
Short-haul flights within Europe are ludicrously cheap, the rail network is fast and extensive, and most countries in Europe are part of the Schengen Area, so there’s no border controls. Make Italy your home base and travel the whole bloody continent!
Where am I going with this? Bear with me. Rather than looking abroad for gap year ideas, why not consider going somewhere different within our own country? Australia is the world’s #1 gap year destination. People come from all around the world to tour Australia, so, like… why not do the same? Aussies love to travel, but we’re often guilty of fetishising overseas travel as superior to exploring our own backyard.
There’s some big advantages to a domestic gap year, too. For one, it’s likely to be a lot cheaper than international travel. You don’t need to worry about logistical stresses like visas, travel insurance or even a passport. There’s no language barrier. Plus, it’s one of the best ways to support fellow Aussies in light of the bushfires that have devastated regional Australia.
The most important thing to keep in mind when considering a gap year is that it’s important to have some sort of structure. Whether you’re travelling for fun, education, to volunteer or to work for a bit, make sure you do it with a goal in mind. Maybe it’s to learn a language. Maybe it’s to get some independence. Maybe you just need a break. Whatever you do, have a clear plan and stick to it. Sitting around at home for a year doing jack shit isn’t gonna be good for you in the long run. Be productive! Whether that’s getting a part time job or seeing the world, it doesn’t matter. Just don’t play yourself.