You know the feeling. Your feet are itching, you dream of remote destinations and you’re desperate to escape the daily routine and enjoy the buzz and excitement of going somewhere new. The problem is you don’t have the time or budget to go away for months or years; all you have is a few weeks. How can you do a gap ‘year’ in such a short time?
This is where the short gap year comes in. The short gap year is a concentrated gap year; an independent travel experience that’s squeezed into a fortnight or month, but that’s every bit as exotic, hedonistic and adventurous as the traditional gap year! On the short gap year you can still find hostel dorms, street food, wild night outs and like-minded people with a drive to explore another country and culture.
The short gap year has grown in popularity over recent years as people face a combination of obstacles to backpacking, like not being able to take time off work, having limited time during school or university holidays or just the simple worry of not being able to afford a long round the world trip.
The brilliant thing about the short gap year is that it fits perfectly into university or school holidays or – if you’re working – into annual holiday. Gapyear.com member Chilli-Stu agrees, saying: “Gap years aren’t just for those between A-levels and Uni. A lot of us have also done a few months during Uni holidays.” Plus as the short gap year requires relatively little time away, you don’t need a huge amount of cash saved up either!
The gapyear.com community has shown an increasing interest in short gap years, and experienced site backpacker Ambermarie argues that it’s a great option: “You can do loads in two weeks! You just need to choose a destination.”
Also, with so many great travel opportunities out there, some people prefer to spread their travel experiences out over multiple short gap years rather than take one big round the world trip. Gapper BroadlandBen even says: “I think it can sometimes be better to go somewhere for a short trip!”
There’s also a growing number of people taking short gap years in preparation for a longer round the world trip, to see how they get on with independent travel; to have a practice attempt before taking the bigger plunge.
The feel of the short gap year tends to be different from the classic holiday. The short gapper may move around a country more independently; roughing it, without a set base, exploring as much as they can. Or, if they have a base, they’re involved in different activities such as volunteering or learning a language or skill, or just chilling out and seeing where the wind takes them!
Short gap traveller -a.d.a.m- took an epic 22-day trip through Europe with mates, hitting up 11 countries along the way. He loved it, and explained that the pace was “mostly a fly by visit, hitting the cities and finding out the main attractions… Doing that in the day and out for a night on the town at night… Sort of like a smash and grab!”
So what can you actually do in a short gap year? Here are some of our favourite suggestions to cram in as much as you can into your short gap year…
South East Asia
Get right into the heart of Backpackerland by heading straight to South East Asia for your short gap year. The options for what to see and what to do are almost unlimited depending on your timeframe, what you’re into and your budget.
Highlights of South East Asia include: stuffing yourself with delicious street food in chaotic Bangkok; the inspiring temples in Siem Reap; stunning Thai tropical beaches; chilling out on a traditional junk in Halong Bay; tubing in Vang Vieng and so much more!
South East Asia offers something for everyone, and with direct flights to most of the major hubs you’ll have no problem arranging the perfect short gap year of two to four weeks!
Our country experts have created some fabulous guides to South East Asia, so before you do anything else check out Adam Lunn‘s Guide to Thailand, Louise Denton‘s Guide to Cambodia and Hannah Simmons’ Guide to Vietnam.
Give Something Back
Gone are the days when volunteering was a year-long commitment; now anyone can get involved with volunteering and have the chance to do their bit to make a difference.
Volunteering is an ideal way to spend your short gap year; getting to know the local community and people, learning new skills and, of course, doing what you can to make a difference. There are numerous voluntary projects available, with popular activities including conservation work, building and refurbishment and community outreach / support work.
See the fantastic volunteering guide here for more information on finding a suitable placement and what volunteering entails.
There’s no need to travel far for your short gap year; avoid long-haul flights and jetlag and take advantage of what’s on your doorstep by exploring Europe. For a trip off the beaten track, why not consider the short hop to beautiful Romania where you can learn the truth about the legend of vampires, go hiking in the Transylvanian Alps and explore quaint ancient cities with a wild party scene!
Then hop across the border into Bulgaria for stunning coastline, water sports and, for the culture buffs, check out the capital, Sofia, for museums, an extravagant cathedral and cool art galleries.
Still have time to wander? Keep heading south and visit Turkey, a country divided into two by Europe and Asia. Shop to your heart’s content in Istanbul, step back in time in Ephesus and enjoy the stunning Mediterranean or Aegean coastlines for some beach-side relaxation.
This is perhaps one of the best ways to cram loads into a short period while not having to worry about logistics, and being guaranteed to meet fellow travellers along the way! There are numerous options for overlanding worldwide. What’s overlanding, you ask? Check out the fantastic guide by Mary Malyon.
The overland tour is perfect for the short gap year because once you’ve done your pre-trip prep – like jabs, insurance and packing – all the logistical arrangements are sorted for you before you get there! Just find your perfect trip that suits your timeframe, meet your fellow overlanders (usually between 5-20 of them aged from 18 and upwards!) and muck in with the group to enjoy the road trip of a lifetime!
There are so many destinations visited by overland trucks, from just a few days to many months but the trips generally take the format of epic cross-continent adventures through more than one country, where people will leave and join throughout.
Another way to give back is through a charity challenge. This relatively new concept takes charity fundraising to a new level!
You sign up for an epic adventure, usually something tough like trekking the Inca Trail, climbing Kilimanjaro or hiking through the jungles of Borneo, to raise money for charity and all your travel expenses are covered; you just have to raise the sponsorship required!
Most charity challenges are designed to fit into a two to three week period so this is the ideal way to spend a short gap year!
On the Rails
What’s better than a trip where the mode of transport from A to B is as much a highlight as the destination itself? Where else could a journey like this begin? Russia, of course! Take the train from Russia to China on the classic Trans-Siberian railway, stopping along the way to see some sights!
This journey is as authentic as it gets, as you enjoy one of the world’s most iconic train journeys across some of the most remote and beautiful places on the planet. And then there’s the vodka! Oh, so much vodka!
There are a few organisations that can help you arrange your train tickets, accommodation and local help at your stop-off points or you can just wing it and book your train tickets and hostels as you go for a real adventure. The Trans-Siberian railway really is the perfect place for your short gap year.
Adventure and Animals
Want to enjoy a slower pace of life? Fancy seeing some of the world’s most notorious predators and bagging one of the world’s highest continental summits? Get yourself over to Africa and uncover the jewels of Tanzania.
Fly into Nairobi and take the bus overland into Moshi, Tanzania – your base in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro – where you can push yourself to the limit attempting to summit this awesome 5,895m peak!
After enjoying one of the most incredible trekking peaks in the world, take some time to enjoy the other highlight of Tanzania with a safari. If your budget allows, head out to the Serengeti, the National Park that connects with the Maasai Mara in Kenya and is famous for the migration!
After being bowled over by baboons and having fallen in love with lions take a trip to Zanzibar for some well-deserved relaxation on white sand beaches, crystal clear seas and as much seafood as you can handle!
Take a Hike
Fancy doing something really different on your short gap year? Pushing yourself to the limit, getting off the beaten track, being dirty, sweaty and experiencing some of the world’s most inspiring scenery while you’re at it?
There are hundreds and hundreds of great treks you can do all over the world, from the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal to the Inca Trail in Peru, and from the Camino de Santiago in Spain to The Narrows in the USA – there is a trek for every ability, every climate and every duration!
About the Author: Lexi Quinton
Lexi Quinton works for Different Travel, a charity challenge organisation based in the UK and part of her job includes leading charity challenge expeditions overseas.
Lexi is a gapyear.com moderator, and a very experienced traveller. She’s visited more than 40 countries since she started travelling in 2000. Lexi’s favourite trip to date is her first gap year, aged 18, when she spent three months living and working in Kenya and is where she fell in love with Africa.