More and more post-secondary school students are opting for a gap year before deciding on their next step. Here are nine ways to make the most of it

1 Elephant care in Thailand

Those who spend part of their gap year volunteering at the Elephant Care project will become very familiar with banana balls, a tasty and nutritious treat for the animals at the centre, who have been rescued from the logging and tourism industries. No longer forced to perform, instead they now have volunteers working hard to keep them comfortable and happy in their natural surrounds. The banana balls include fibre, vitamins and minerals, and any medication the elephants require can be hidden within these sticky balls of joy!


9 ideas for a memorable gap year

It’s quite something to be responsible for these majestic animals

2 Rubbish dump community support in Mexico 

Bear with us… this may not sound like the most appealing of gap year opportunities – but give it a chance! Located on the Pacific coast of Mexico, this gap year project involves supporting the community that lives around a municipal rubbish dump. Gap year volunteering here involves working directly with vulnerable children and their families, providing English language tuition, vocational training, food distribution, and administration and marketing for a small NGO. The centre is just 100 metres from the rubbish dump where parents collect materials that are sold for recycling, and transformed into art and craft products for resale.


3 Superyacht crew and cabin staff, worldwide

Seeking gap year opportunities with a chance to gain new skills and explore new seas? As part of a superyacht team, you could work on a huge variety of sail and power vessels. Spanning more than 24 meters in length and equipped with no expense spared, superyachts are usually owned by very high net-worth individuals, who expect high standards of presentation and customer service. A two week course will provide the basic qualifications necessary to find work aboard a yacht.


9 ideas for a memorable gap year

Who wouldn’t want to spend time on one of these?

4 Lionfish research in Belize

An Indo-Pacific species, lionfish became popular among aquarium owners due to their distinctive looks. Released into Florida waters, their voracious appetites have seen them begin to colonize this remote marine reserve, where they have no natural predators. This project conducts coral reef monitoring and research, filling a much-needed data gap in understanding the impact of lionfish on the World Heritage-listed Belize Barrier Reef and on juvenile reef fish, as well the impact on local fisherman. As a gap year volunteer, you’ll directly contribute to efforts to combat the unsustainable spread of the lionfish. Another aim is to stimulate local demand for these invasive fish, thus reducing the pressure on other key species such as grouper, parrot fish and barracuda.


9 ideas for a memorable gap year

Pod Volunteer offer a chance to understand lionfish like never before

5 Llama conservation in Peru

Rather than being driven by hunting or lack of food, this conservation project is part of a wider community development scheme to help protect the income of rural communities. Spend your gap year volunteering here, and you’ll help care for the llamas and alpacas, vicunas and huanacos (South American ‘camels’ or ‘auquénidos’), which provide the wool for textile products created at Awana Kancha, a Quechua name that means ‘The Palace of the Weaver’. The project works with 14 rural communities, with 420 families receiving advice on techniques and support to sell their textile products.


6 Micro-finance project in Senegal

This gap year volunteering opportunity in Senegal means working closely with street children, known locally as talibés, to help them secure a sustainable future for themselves through small-scale entrepreneurship. You will be involved in tasks such as reading through business plans, developing marketing strategies, managing loan accounts, monitoring the children who have already received loans, conducting weekly workshops and providing general guidance and support. You will gain a unique insight into the process of developing small businesses in a foreign country and how micro-credit can help disadvantaged young people find their way out of poverty and become self-supporting adults.


9 ideas for a memorable gap year

Be a part of creating a sustainable future for families in Senegal

7 WWOOFing

The World Wide Organisation of Organic Farming offers travellers free accommodation in exchange for a few hours of work a day on the family farm. Accommodation ranges from a tent to a fully furnished bedroom, but the experience of integrating and becoming part of another family for a period of time is an invaluable gift.

The farms vary significantly based on region or country: you could spend your time milking cows in South America or crushing grapes at a vineyard on the slopes surrounding Lake Como, there is so much choice, and an option for everyone.

Ideal for those who wish to learn another language, hone in on their labouring skills or find themselves at an economic detriment, this is the perfect way to spend a period of time in your gap year. Tales of travellers who arrived at a farm for a weeks stay and remained for two years exemplify how rewarding and enticing this experience is.


9 ideas for a memorable gap year

Life on a farm overseas will help you learn another language as well as honing labouring skills

Moonlight as a Park Ranger

The National Parks in the USA offer to opportunity to volunteer as a ranger, with accommodation included for international citizens. Your gap year could be spent stalking the wilds of America, or watching over the animals at one of the country’s many national park lands. Accommodation is provided, plus you will be exposed to some of America’s most stunning scenery.


9 ideas for a memorable gap year

Not a bad view from the ‘office’

Cultural experience in Italy

The acclaimed John Hall Venice Course will see you learning in the wonderfully inspirational surroundings of Venice. Expect lectures and talks from a range of wonderful tutors in art, architecture, music, history and more over two months away with like-minded people of a similar age. You will also get an opportunity to cook and learn photography skills – ideal in a place like Venice.


9 ideas for a memorable gap year

Learn about a whole host of things from architecture to history in the inspirational surroundings of Venice

WORDS Phillipa Rust