Notice how all your friends seem to go to the same places on their gap year? On Instagram it’s the same snaps, same poses and the same posts. Of course, these destinations are popular for a reason, but why not go against the grain, cruise against the crowd, and have a truly unique experience on your gap year?
Here are a few quirkier spots to explore on your year abroad, ones that your friends and family might never have heard of, let alone visited.
1. St. Petersburg, Russia
It doesn’t get more intriguing than the old imperial capital of Russia, St Petersburg. Based on the Baltic, it’s the country’s hub for art, ballet and opera, but its intricate buildings tell tales of war, violence and political mystery. Head to the city in the winter for amazing views of the icy canals and to see famous buildings like the Church of Our Saviour on the Spilled Blood looking magical in the snow.
2. Budva, Montenegro
What happens when you mix a medieval town and a love of music? You get the town of Budva on Montenegro’s Adriatic Coast. By day you can discover the castles, citadels and visit the beach via the old cobbled archway, but come evening it’s tour books away and beers out at the town’s many party spots.
3. Rumbur Valley, Pakistan
With amazing desert landscapes and so much fascinating history, Pakistan is a great place to travel and we recommend making your way to the Rumbur Valley. The area has big sweeping mountains and bright blue waters and it’s in this rural location you’ll get a real rustic flavour of traditional Pakistani life.
4. Taichung, Taiwan
Famous for its teahouses and train station, Taichung is a busy city surrounded by the valleys and mountains of the Taiwanese countryside. Browse the Fengjia Night Market, explore the 200-year-old Techeng Temple, and then head to Dakeng for a day of hiking outside the city.
5. Mestia, Georgia
Georgia is often missed off many travel lists, but it’s so easy to travel around and relatively quiet when it comes to tourism. Mestia is a small northern town in the Caucasus Mountains and the perfect place for getting a snapshot of Georgian culture. Here you can hike, visit the many museums and then sip up the locally made wine.
6. Trinidad, Bolivia
This town between Santa Cruz and Rurrenabaque has got the tropical climate, colonial architecture and pretty river pulling people in, but one thing pushing it into ‘need to visit now’ territory is its population of sloths. You can spot them just chilling out in the trees in the central plaza, which is reason enough to earn a place on this list.
7. Ikh Uul, Mongolia
Nearly half of Mongolia’s population is still nomadic, which means finding authentic spots to stay can be tricky, but homestays are available in Ikh Uul. It’s an area that’s fairly remote, but the hot springs nearby, the national park and horseback riding keep visitors busy.
8. Bagan, Burma
When it comes to South East Asia everyone’s been there, going there or just can’t wait to, but while most jet off to the likes of Ho Chi Minh or Phuket, we recommend venturing to Burma, where tourism is a relatively new concept. Sail around the remote islands before anchoring into a spot like Bagan where you can see a bit of the country’s culture in the ancient ruins.
9. Freetown Christiania, Denmark
Marked as 2016’s happiest place to live it’s all we can do not to pack up and head to this Nordic hotspot for good. More specifically, we’ve got our eyes on Freetown Christiania, which is as hippy in nature as its name suggests. It’s a neighbourhood in Copenhagen that has been self-governing since the seventies and the colourful buildings and laid-back lifestyle reflect just that.
10. Ras Al Jinz, Oman
Oman is the Middle Eastern destination to visit, with every rugged landscape, spice-infused dish and bustling market you would expect. Ras Al Jinz is the most eastern point of the Arabian Peninsula and the perfect Omanian destination. It’s just a small beach town, but houses some pretty special residents in its turtle nesting ground.
11. Okinawa Island, Japan
If you’re looking for a beach retreat with a twist then the 150 islands of Okinawa sitting between Japan and Taiwan are perfect. The archipelago has the crystal clear waters and dreamy sands ideal for chilling. There are also World War Two monuments to explore, and diving and snorkelling activities for you water babies.
12. Ilulissat, Greenland
Just north of the Arctic Circle, Ilulissat looks almost surreal amongst the ice fjords. Whale watching, touring the Eqip Sermia Glacier and dog sledding are the top attractions to experience in this year round winter wonderland.