A gap year, also known as a year out, is that year taken between high school and university, or after university and before getting a job, to travel and explore the world. It is that year that you set aside to become an adventurer and do things you have never done before. It is that gap in your life when you break your routine and do something completely different!

There are so many ways to spend your gap year, from volunteering on a wildlife reserve in Africa, to learning Spanish and kitesurfing in Ecuador! For those who are on a tight budget, working abroad can pay for itself. If you're more career minded, there are thousands of international internships which will give you hands-on experience in your field of study, look great on your resume, and give you a great excuse to travel. You can also spend a year studying abroad at a foreign university and earn credits towards your degree at the same time. Or maybe you'd prefer to spend your time learning to scuba dive in Fiji while working on an environmental conservation project.

The options are endless, but below is a little taste of some of the more popular ways to spend a fantastic gap year:

Volunteer Abroad
There are literally hundreds of organisations and charities out there that place volunteers on projects around the world during their gap year. There are projects to choose from including teaching English and other subjects in local schools, building houses or wells in small communities with sparse resources, or working in healthcare facilities, researching wildlife which is becoming extinct, or working to protect forests which are in jeopardy. Volunteer organisations tend to send volunteers in groups, so you can get to know the people you are working with. Accommodation and food are generally provided as part of the package and there are often side trips and excursions planned for the group. Volunteering can be an immensely rewarding experience, and a great way to get involved in the culture you are staying in. Not only will you do a good thing for others, but you will have amazing stories to tell when you get home.


Adventure Travel & Tours
Adventure travel is a relatively ambiguous title, but this category includes the sort of gap year travel that gives you an adrenaline rush! Have you ever wanted to try scuba diving? Sky diving? Kiteboarding? Surfing? Skiing or snowboarding? How about going to mountaineering school in Patagonia? Well this is your chance! If you're passionate about scuba diving, why not do it at the great barrier reef in Australia? Spend a few months and become an expert, get your PADI certificates and improve your skills. Or maybe you're a surfer at heart but born in Whanganui, why not learn from the best surfers in Costa Rica, and pick up a little Spanish along the way?

Or for those that like the cold, you can spend a while in Switzerland learning to be a ski instructor on the great Alps! Adventure travel lets you really test your strengths and weaknesses, and gives you the opportunity to learn something profound about yourself and the world.

There are thousands of backpacking tours to take you anywhere in the world, covering pretty much every experience imaginable, from road-tripping Australia to trekking the Himalayas in Nepal. They offer expert introductions to places and people, both locals and like-minded travellers to share the experience with. They include all the highlights of your chosen destination, so you can rest safe in the knowledge you won't miss anything.
Planning a gap year tour is really as simple as choosing one. The best thing about a tour is that all the planning is done for you by experts, so all the essentials have been taken care of. You just need to turn up!

Study Abroad
If you're intent on finishing your career studies without taking a break from your schooling, then study abroad during your gap year! Speak to your own school or university and ask for the guidelines regarding transferring your credits, educational institutions tend to respect the value of travel and almost always grant credit for such programmes. Imagine spending a semester in Spain or Italy! Learn a bit of the language, live with the people, enjoy the cuisine and continue your studies.
There are lots of study abroad programmes to choose from, some are focused on a certain area of study while others are focused on relationships with particular institutions. Consult your own school for credit information.

Work Abroad
If you can do it at home you can do it abroad. No matter where you go in the world every restaurant needs waiters, and every office needs someone to answer the phone. And what better way to see how the average person lives in a foreign country than by joining them for the 9 to 5! Find a job that is similar to what you might do at home, this will help you to surround yourself with people you would normally hang out with. But don't work too hard! Make sure you find some time to spend that money on sights and side trips. There are lots of jobs available to travellers, you can easily apply before you go and secure your position before you get there. Jobs may or may not include your room and board, and whether they do or not will be reflected in your salary.

As you can see, the gap year opportunities are endless and there is definitely something for every type of person.
A gap year provides a way to see the world, to experience other cultures, meet different people, and also to learn new skills.
A gap year can be personally enriching, and at the same time gives you great experience to enhance your resume when you return home.

Tina Law is a travel consultant with Helloworld Wanganui, Tina.law@helloworld.co.nz