Gap Year Travel: Top 10 Travel Destinations in the World

Group of young people travelling in a blue minivan
Syda Productions /

Whether you’ve just stepped out of school, finished university or you just want to take some time off from your studies, a gap year is on the cards.

Although there’s much stigma surrounding the concept of a gap year, it can be a great opportunity to explore the world, discover cultures and find your true calling in life.

But with so many options on the table, you’re probably wondering where to go.

Luckily, ABTA has identified the top 10 gap year destinations in the world according to its members who specialise in gap year travel.

So, without further ado, here are the best gap year hotspots, along with recommendations for programmes you can join to ensure you’re not travelling on your own.

10. India

Exterior shot of the Taj Mahal in Agra, IndiaYURY TARANIK /

If Indian cuisine hasn’t already convinced you to visit the South Asian country, then the breath-taking buildings will. No trip to India would be complete without visiting the magnificent Taj Mahal, an ivory-white marble mausoleum located on the south bank of the Yamuna River and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And once you’ve ticked off sightseeing from your list, you can ride camels into the desert, relax on the country’s beautiful beaches and get involved in various local festivities (that are plentiful).

Travel programme: Travelling to India has never been easier – you can join a volunteer programme, teach English as a second language or join a group experience.

9. Argentina

The Puerto Madero Waterfront district in Buenos Aires, Argentina at nightsaiko3p /

Argentina is ideal if you really want to experience the Latin American spirit. Your journey here will take you through the colourful urban city of Buenos Aires to plentiful waterfalls, volcanoes, mountains and picturesque lakes. The beauty doesn’t just stop with the scenery; the food is unforgettable with an influence from the Mediterranean cuisine – if you’re a meat lover, don’t go home without first trying a tender Argentinean steak!

Travel programme: Whether you want to join a travel group, complete a marketing internship or participate in a local volunteer programme, there are many available avenues to get the best out of your Argentinean experience.

8. South Africa

An elephant crossing the road at the Kruger National Park in South AfricaWitR /

If you’re big on wildlife and want to be at one with nature, then South Africa should be at the top of your list. You will get to see elephants, lions, leopards, buffalos and rhinos running free in the jungle. And while the wildlife is spectacular, urban life has much to offer, too, from beautiful coastlines and stunning beaches to diverse landscapes.

Travel programme: You don’t have to explore South Africa on your own! Join a volunteer group or surf programme, or sign up to a marketing and communications internship in Cape Town.

7. Cambodia

Angkor Wat in CambodiaGuitar photographer /

This Southeast Asian nation is one of the few places that has authenticity; a new tourist destination that’s often described as ‘what Thailand once was’, Cambodia is a country with endless options and attractions. You can relax on a white sandy beach or hike in the mountain region – and with a rich cultural heritage, there are lots of monuments to see, too.

Travel programme: Travelling through Cambodia is easy with affordable backpacking programmes, volunteer programmes or teaching programmes.

6. USA

Times Square in New York City, USALuciano Mortula - LGM /

Taking a trip around the USA (also known as the Land of Opportunity) is a lifelong goal for most people. From the city life of the Big Apple to the authenticity of Chicago, the flashing lights of Vegas and the relaxation of Miami, there’s lots to explore in the USA. As you travel through each city, you’ll discover different things that will make you fall in love with the country, too!

Travel programme: A great way to travel in the USA is by working as an au pair. You could also complete a university semester here or embark on a country tour.

5. New Zealand

A cable car with Wellington in the backgroundVictor Maschek /

From glorious beaches to snow-topped mountains, there’s a lot to do in New Zealand. And if you’re seeking a year full of adventure, this is the place to go: from water rafting to bungee jumping, zorbing and hiking, there’s nothing that you can’t do in New Zealand!

Travel programme: If you’re going to travel across the world, you might as well add some transferable skills to your CV by kick-starting your career through a working programme.

4. Peru

A llama walking through the ruins at Machu Picchu in PeruOlga Kot Photo /

If you want an unforgettable gap year, backpacking in Peru will give you just that! The South American country, situated in the Andes, has plenty to offer. You can visit the Amazonian rainforest, hike the Inca Trail to the famous Machu Pichu (or cheat and take the train), and soak in the culture that the surrounding cities have to offer.

Travel programme: Travel through Peru and help locals through volunteer programmes or share your knowledge by teaching English to locals.

3. Vietnam

A floating fishing village in Ha Long Bay in VietnamPhotoRoman /

Southeast Asia is a popular choice for many backpackers, and Vietnam should definitely not be left off the list. Vietnam is full of cultural complexities and historical value.

The striking difference between North and South Vietnam is evident, and you will feel like you’ve stepped into a different country altogether when travelling through. The south is more rural while the north is built-up, proving that a clear divide still exists since the American War.

Travel programme: Experience Vietnam with other eager travellers and make memories that will last a lifetime with a group package tailored to backpackers.

2. Australia

Skyline of Sydney, Australia at twilightf11photo /

Australia, otherwise known as the Land Down Under, is the second most popular city for gap years. You can explore the Outback, see unique animals and enjoy some of the world’s best beaches. Once you’re bored of the beach life, you can explore what the city has to offer and enjoy the vibrant nightlife of Sydney and Melbourne.

Travel programme: Many travellers choose to extend their time in Down Under by working on local farms, in bars and taking on other part-time jobs.

1. Thailand

Boat near Phuket Island in ThailandBy VarnaK /

Thailand is a destination that should not be overlooked by anyone and has a lot to offer: from idyllic islands to glorious jungles and cities full of culture, it’s impossible not to fall in love with the country. Whether it’s visiting captivating temples or eating delicious food, it all comes at a cheap price, too, which is great for anyone on a tight budget!

Travel programme: Make your trip to Thailand unique by teaching English to locals or volunteering at the Thai Elephant Refuge.

With a world full of options, it can be hard to find your gap year destination. The world, after all, is your oyster!

The best advice is to choose a destination that’s the most appealing to you and to see as much as you can while you’re there!

Are you currently planning your gap year? Join the conversation below and let us know what’s at the top of your list!