Gap years are becoming increasingly popular – and expensive. A lot of companies offer pricey extended vacations where students can spend time on self-reflection and do surface-level volunteer work. I have nothing against people who go on these as they admittedly look like a fabulous, Instagrammable time. However, if you don’t have tens of thousands to spend on your gap year and want more to show for your time than cute travel pics and souvenirs, there are options for you. Here are some such programs to consider for your gap year, or even just summer break!
Pod Volunteer’s slogan reads “Inspiring. Ethical. Nonprofit.” The company offers volunteer experiences in eleven different countries. Volunteer categories include animals, conservation, education, building and community, and children. As Pod is a nonprofit, it’s set up to minimize costs for volunteers and maximize benefits to the communities it helps. Projects tend to last around 2 to 12 weeks and cost around $1,000, although many cost less.
2. Connect 123
Connect 123 offers both volunteer and intern abroad opportunities. The cities it includes are Barcelona, Shanghai, Buenos Aires, Cape Town, Dublin, and Sydney. With eleven years of experience and plenty of reviews from the thousands of students they’ve helped, they’re a reputable choice. What really differentiates them from other similar placement agencies, however, is their low cost, personalization of experience, and range of partner companies. Although they don’t include housing in their cost, the flat fees for their programs are around $2,500 and cover all the other important costs for securing a job. They are flexible with start dates and tailor the experience to your career interests. Moreover, they offer a range of business internships which can be hard to find.
This particular opportunity is quite specific, but perfect for someone interested in Journalism and learning Spanish. The Bolivian magazine offers two internship programs: one for journalism and one for documentary videography. The program includes training for the internship, Spanish lessons, accommodation in their housing, and the opportunity to contribute to the magazine. Although the internship is unpaid, the low living costs in Bolivia make it doable and you get a unique resume booster.
i-to-i offers paid internships teaching English (yes, paid, finally!) in Thailand, Spain, Cambodia, or China. TEFL training is pretty cheap (they offer it for under $100) and the program costs themselves are around $500 dollars. In addition to accommodation and weekday meals, you also get a monthly stipend of a few hundred dollars to cover the cost of living and a completion bonus to fund some travel. Pretty sweet deal.
If you’re interested in learning Chinese, Hutong school has helped over 1,000 students get internships in China and learn Chinese. They cooperate with over 600 Chinese companies and offer positions in Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou or Chengdu. This program is pricier as it’s around $3,000 the first month then $1,000 for each additional month, but you get all accommodation, placement charges, cultural activities, and four hours of Chinese lessons a week included in that fee.
BUNAC is a UK organization with over 50 years of experience helping people find internships and volunteer opportunities abroad. Any search for gap year programs usually mentions BUNAC since they’re reputable and have a variety of opportunities available.
IVHQ is a killer place to look for internships and volunteer opportunities abroad. The organization works directly with local companies and thus is able to offer some of the lowest prices available. Prices usually range from around $300 for one week to up to $2,000 for twelve weeks. Don’t mistake their low prices for lack of services, however. IVHQ’s program cost cover accommodation, meals, 24/7 in-country support, orientation, and more. All of this, plus a huge number of partner countries, has made over 80,000 students choose IVHQ.
Workaway is a site where hosts anywhere in the world can post job opportunities. The opportunities all include free accommodation, usually include food, and sometimes offer a stipend. There’s a ton of postings, some sketchier than others, but if you’re willing to sift through them all you can find some super cool opportunities. It’s also great if you convince a friend to go abroad with you since many allow for more than one person to stay and work. Although it may seem scary to use a site that’s not a professional program with 24/7 support, I have three friends who used Workaway to find jobs for the duration of their gap years and had great experiences.
If you’re looking for paid internships or work experience, Greenheart Travel is a great choice. They offer a range of opportunities from tourism internships to marketing internships to teaching English. Some of their roles require a Bachelor’s degree, but others don’t, so just do a little investigating. Pros include great housing with host families or private accommodation, plus respectable wages. Program costs hover around $1,000.
If you’re looking for a Spanish-speaking internship, check Adelante out. It offers placement in countries like Spain, Mexico, Uruguay, Ecuador, and oddly, English-speaking Scotland. It’s been in business since 1999 and has connections to companies in basically every sector you can imagine. Their programs range in duration from 2 to 6 months and are pricier than others (they average around $1,000 per month) but their still a good choice.
For an alternative to interning or volunteering abroad, consider being an Au Pair. Being an Au Pair with LoPair constitutes up to 30 hours a week helping a family in China, with the tasks being dependent on the individual family. The family will cover food, accommodation, insurance costs, plus a weekly stipend. The only costs involved then for the participant are the minimal application cost and the flights to China. A great way to live abroad for cheap and learn Mandarin which is a highly-coveted language in today’s job market.
Similar to LoPair, AuPairia offers opportunities to be an Au Pair in China and learn Mandarin. The added bonus of this program is you don’t even have to pay for your flights to and from China, so you can travel super cheap. Also, Mandarin classes are taught at Beijing Foreign Studies University, so you can get a taste of what student life is like in China.
13. AuPair World
If you like the idea of being an AuPair, but don’t want to go to China, try AuPair World. It’s a database that shows opportunities across the globe to be an AuPair. There are no placement charges and the site is super simple to use: you simply enter the location you want to go to and your time availability, and you’ll be able to search through tons of families looking for an Au Pair.
14. Paradise Interns
This opportunity sounds too good to be true, but the reviews from the 20 plus interns that have completed it say it’s not. Basically, you go do a diving and marketing internship in Bali for five months. You get a month of training in digital marketing, mentoring, and unlimited diving through their dive center partners. There is no program fee, but you have to pay for accommodation and cost of living on your own. Luckily, they estimate this will only be a couple hundred per month.
15. Travel Bud
Travel Bud offers opportunities to teach English in a couple of different countries in Latin America and Asia. Some of the job postings require applicants be at least 21 years old, so double check the eligibility requirements. However, if you qualify, the jobs are quite cool. Some positions are paid as well, which is always nice.
For additional resources, The Student Room provides an extensive list of gap year opportunities. Go Abroad also offers reviews on almost any program, as well as information regarding TEFL courses, scholarships, and all that good stuff. Lastly, if you’re still not sure if a gap year is right for you, check out Carpe Diem Education’s site which lists the potential benefits of a gap year. Happy gap year-ing!
Cover Image via Urban Outfitters2
Also published on Medium.