learn gap year skills

25 Skills You Can Learn While Taking a Gap Year

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Why should you take a gap year?

A gap year can be anywhere, for any length of time, doing whatever you want. It is often regarded as a period taken off from school, but that doesn’t mean you should stop learning. Learning just gets more fun! Gap years offer an opportunity to see the world and learn hands-on skills that aren’t accessible in a classroom.

The easy answer: You should take a gap year because it will change your life. You will learn skills that change your perspective on the world and yourself.

The better answer: Let me show you.

25 Skills You Can Learn While Taking Your Gap Year


1. Scuba Certification

Gap Year Ideas 
Scuba Certification
PADI scuba certification in Bocas del Toro, Panama

Dive into the Caribbean Sea off the coast of the vibrant and lively Bocas del Toro, or dive in the shadow of Mayan Pyramids in Tulum. Over one million people become certified scuba divers worldwide every year.  While there are a variety of agencies to choose from when it comes to certification, the most common U.S. scuba agencies are PADI and NAUI.

2. Backcountry Cooking

Learn how to cook Mickey-Mouse pancakes or cheesy bagels in the middle of the Wind River Range, Wyoming during an unexpected snowstorm. International Wilderness Leadership School (IWLS), National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), and Outward Bound are the industry leaders in wilderness education and will offer ample opportunities to learn how to cook in the wild.

3. Backpacking

Backpacking overseas is one of the most economical ways to travel. You learn how to pack light and limit your material possessions to only what you need. There are a few things you should consider before setting off—like where to go, how to stay safe, what to bring, and a budget estimate.  Hone your backpacking skills and explore places like the home of Mount Everest in Nepal or the world-famous rainforests of Peru.

4. Bike Maintenance

On the Winterline Gap Year program, you can learn all things bike-related at the Grasshopper Bike Tours shop in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Once you learn how to change the wheels and keep your bike clean, take the bikes for a spin in the chaotic Cambodian streets for an exploration of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom.

5. Blogging

The best way to reflect and, later, remember your travels is to write about them. While you’re on your gap year, put your writing skills to the test by creating a blog for free using user-friendly websites like WordPress or Wix. If you want to maximize your blogging skills, check out free online classes through platforms like Udemy.

6. Rural Healthcare

The Comprehensive Rural Health Project (CRHP) in Jamkhed, India has been working among the rural poor and marginalized for the past forty-five years. If you’re interested in working for an organization that offers a comprehensive approach to community-based primary health care, you can apply for both videography and design internships, as well as internships in communication and development.

7. Conflict Resolution

Travel to Phnom Penh, Cambodia and learn the dark history of the Khmer Rouge and its regime leader, Pol Pot. Tour the killing fields and Prison S21 if you want to understand what happened in Cambodia during this time. When we face real and disturbing events of the past, we can challenge ourselves to engage in discussions about conflicts on large and small scales, with possible resolutions, moving forward toward a more hopeful future.

8. Entrepreneurship

Use your gap year as an opportunity to hone your entrepreneurship skills with courses in web design, coding, and digital marketing at the Startup Institute in Boston, MA.

9. Language Immersion

Use your gap year as an opportunity to learn a new language. Look for local language schools in the area you’re visiting, like the Casco Antiguo Spanish School in Casco Viejo, Panama. You can also use an online learning language program like Pimsleur.

10. Flamenco Expert

Learn the essence of flamenco, of the street musicians and of the gypsies from a true local. Start by learning the basics of rhythm with your hands in the home of an experienced flamenco dancer. Afterward, enjoy his favorite flamenco show in the heart of Granada, Spain.

11. Hospitality

International experience is highly valuable in a variety of service settings. Use your gap year as an opportunity to take on a hospitality internship anywhere in the world.

12. Paddling

Would you trust National Geographic to tell you where to go paddling? Plan a trip to the Grand Canyon and paddle from end to end, or kayak across the bright, coral-filled waters of Fiji.

13. Mindfulness and meditation

Travel to Maharashtra, India to learn about the art of meditation and Ayurvedic medicine, one of the oldest medicinal systems in the world, at Atmasantualana Village. At their peaceful sanctuary, the community offers panchakarma courses, Ayurvedic therapies, and a delicious and hearty Ayurvedic diet.

Gap Year meditation and Ayurvedic medicine
Waiting for evening meditation at Atmasantulana Village

14. Permaculture Design

To take advantage of Rancho Mastatal’s learning opportunities, you can make a reservation as a visitor, apply for a short program called the Sustainability Primer Program, or go all in and apply for their eleven-month apprenticeship program. Whatever you decide to do, you can expect to learn all about permaculture, sustainable building practices, homesteading skills, and more.

15. Living With Others

Whether you are traveling with a group of friends or you opt for the low price of mixed-dorm beds in hostels around the world, you’ll learn a lot about living with others.

16. Organic Farming

World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) Gap Year Abroad
Casas de Benali outside of Valencia, Spain

Work in the fields of Benali, a bed and breakfast tucked away in the countryside of Valencia or volunteer at an organic olive farm in the Jerash mountains in Jordan. WorkAway and World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) offer opportunities where you can work in exchange for room and board.

17. Salsa Dancing

Take salsa lessons at a dancer’s home in the place where it all started: Cuba. For $13 USD per person, you can experience an hour of salsa lessons for all levels in English, French or Spanish.

18. Storytelling

Do you have a five-minute story you’re dying to tell a room full of strangers? The Moth’s mission is to promote the art and craft of storytelling and offer the chance for people to share their stories worldwide. If you are unconvinced, listen to a few episodes on The Moth podcast.

19. Woodworking

Are you good with your hands and want to explore the world of woodworking? Travel to London and choose from a list of courses, starting as low as 25 EUR per person. Obby offers over 1,000 classes, courses, and workshops in London, and they aren’t limited to woodworking.

20. Tiny House Building

Gap Year construction tiny house at Yestermorrow Build/Design School
Building the framework for a tiny house at Yestermorrow Build/Design School

Found yourself in rural Vermont on your gap year? Stop by Yestermorrow Design/Build School and learn how to build a tiny house. Yestermorrow offers nearly 100 classes including Land & Community Planning, Whole Structure Design/Build, Building Systems &  Building Science, and Woodworking & Craft Tutorials.

21. Street Smarts

From pickpocketing to faulty hostel lockers, being on the road and navigating large, unfamiliar cities can result in some unpleasant occurrences. Street smarts are about building and using your life experiences to travel safely and confidently in new situations and cities. The more you travel throughout your gap year, the more street smart you’ll become.

22. Sea Turtle Conservation

Take a riverboat through the rivers and canals to reach Tortuguero, Costa Rica to become an STC Research Assistant. You’ll spend two months researching and monitoring the sea turtles of Tortuguero with work that promotes increasing hatchling production. You can find the application here.

23. Au Pairing

Work as an au pair and have the opportunity to live in a city you’ve always dreamed of. As a live-in nanny, you’ll take care of children, have the chance to learn a new language, and experience an entirely new culture. In most cases, au pair positions are a rent-free, food-inclusive opportunity to live anywhere in the world.

24. Ski or Snowboard

Spend a winter season in the iconic Swiss Alps learning how to ski or snowboard. Flumserberg is less than a two-hour train ride from Zurich, a well-known and accessible destination in the heart of Switzerland. Staying in Zurich for a while? Check out the weekly flea markets on Saturdays at Helvetiaplatz for discounted ski or snowboarding gear.

25. Run a 32-Kilometer Race

Gap Year Training Ultra Trail Running
The finish line of the Angkor Ultra Trail in 2016

If you’re interested in upping your running game in one of the world’s most famous temple regions sign up for the Angkor Ultra Trail. It’s a twenty-mile race through temple ruins and local villages. From narrow paths through dense vegetation, jungles, rice fields, and sandy tracks, you’ll experience Angkor Wat in a completely different way than the average tourist.

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