Taking a gap year is no longer reserved for teenagers and young adults who are fresh out of high school or between semesters at college. With hundreds of thousands of workers quitting their jobs in record numbers, in part due to the Great Resignation, more and more people are taking a gap year to "deepen their practical, professional, and personal awareness," according to the Gap Year Association (yep, that's a thing!).
But where should you go on a gap year? Where can you expand your horizons, as they say, and take some much-needed time off from the 9-5 grind?
Below is our list of dreamy destinations for gap year seekers. They're perfect for meditating on a mountaintop, volunteering in an underserved community, or simply taking a sabbatical from your desk job.
With lush rainforests, volcanic deserts, snaking rivers, dense mangroves, grassland savannas (shall we go on?), Madagascar is home to a stunning array of flora and fauna. As a result, this island-nation located off the east coast of Africa has been designated as a wildlife sanctuary by UNESCO and is considered one of the most biodiverse places on the planet.
This is why gap year travelers can't get enough of Madagascar, where googly-eyed lemurs are a national symbol. From volunteering with local NGOs and reforestation projects to surfing on the island's white-sand beaches (where 3-star hotels charge as little as $30 a night!), there's no shortage of ways for gap year travelers to make a positive impact in this beautiful country.
2) New Zealand
"The Land of the Long White Cloud" is what the indigenous Maori people call their beloved homeland of New Zealand, and with its dramatic mountains, scenic coastline, and breathtaking fjords, it's about as close to heaven on earth as you can get.
Besides its remarkable natural beauty, New Zealand is also a popular gap year destination for its suite of volunteer projects. From conservation work to WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), New Zealand has plenty of options for gap year travelers who wish to make a difference in their local community and create a lifelong network of friends and memories.
With its storied history, varied landscapes, and rich culture, Morocco has long been tipped as one of the most transformative destinations among gap year travelers. This North African country is home to everything from sandy beaches to snow-capped mountains, and its cities are jam-packed with ancient mosques, whitewashed medinas (old towns), and gorgeous riads (traditional inns).
But there's more to Morocco than its ancient citadels and exotic souks. In recent decades, travelers have fallen in love with the country's people, cuisine, and music. And with a variety of volunteer or study abroad opportunities, it's no wonder that this exotic destination, where the Atlas Mountains meet the Sahara Desert, is one of the most life-changing places on Earth.
Taking a gap year in Cambodia means exploring a country that has undergone a remarkable transformation in recent decades. Still, more than 40 years after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia continues to struggle with poverty and a lack of infrastructure. Nevertheless, it has tapped into its rich cultural heritage to create a package of projects that are immersive, educational, and show promise for building a better future.
It's precisely this blend of ancient traditions and modern-day challenges that make volunteering in Cambodia a rewarding experience for gap year travelers, from working at an orphanage or with children who have special needs to assisting NGOs on health projects, including HIV/AIDS awareness, eco-conservation, and more.
5) Sri Lanka
If volunteering at an elephant sanctuary doesn't strike your fancy, how about spotting whales and dolphins in the waters along Sri Lanka's beautiful west coast? These are just a few reasons why gap year travelers love this Asian island-nation known as "The Pearl of the Indian Ocean."
What's more, Sri Lanka's dedication to peacebuilding and tolerance is exemplary, particularly in light of a 26-year civil conflict that came to an end in 2009. Since then, gap year travelers from all over the world have been working to rebuild the country's infrastructure and society. Programs in Sri Lanka include teaching English, working on community projects with children and adults, and joining organizations that tackle poverty, the environment, or other pressing issues.
Final Thoughts on Gap Year Travel From Gravel
Taking a gap year can be an immensely gratifying experience, whether you're doing it to make a positive impact in an underrepresented community or if you just need a break from life's daily grind. Either way, the above list of destinations is a good place to start.