The Gap Year – it’s both an admired right of passage and a great way to provoke weary sighs from anyone over the age of 30. It’s easy to forget just how important a gap year can be when you’re in your late teens or early twenties, particularly if you’ve yet to start university. After nigh on 15 years of constant education – why shouldn’t a student take a year out? Real life – tough life, will begin in earnest as soon as that student returns, so it’s only understandable for them to want to gain a little life experience first.

If you’re planning a gap year trip - you’re going to want it to be unforgettable, but for the right reasons. Your choice of destination is half the battle. How about Cuba or Mexico? Maybe Peru or even India – the gap year student’s Mecca! Australia is a popular choice, but can you can handle the heat and the bird eating spiders? If you’re having trouble making up your mind, here are some great destination ideas for your gap year.

Central America

For many, this is the perfect gap year destination. It’s an ambitious trip, but not quite as scary or exhausting as a jaunt round India or South East Asia can be. It suits first-time backpackers, but it’s also great for those with a bit of experience. Central America is small enough to travel on a budget  - yet, large enough to feel genuinely exciting and exotic. In other words, you’re free to be a tourist or to simply melt into the background and get lost. Plus, there’s plenty to do and to see.

Mexico city tends to the best starting point for a trip of this nature and it’s filled to the brim with museums, art galleries and historic centres. If you’re into art – check out the Frida Kahlo museum and Diego Rivera’s murals. Catch a bus out of Mexico city and travel through Oaxaca, a city peppered with ancient Mayan ruins. You could stop off at San Pedro Laguna – a hippy colony famous for its love of a particular green herb. According to student website, the island of Roatán in Honduras is an excellent place for scuba diving and the Corn Islands of Nicaragua are a great place to brush up on your Spanish.

South East Asia

Again, this is another great destination for first time backpackers – but it can be fairly exhausting. Unlike America or Australia, there are parts of Asia that are incredibly remote and very basic. For most gap year travellers, this isn’t a problem, in fact it’s exactly what they’re looking for. It is important though, to know exactly what to expect from the destination that you’ve chosen. Favourable exchange rates make South East Asia a popular choice. You can either traverse the traditional gap year routes through Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, or you can take in Burma, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Bangkok is a great starting point, as it will allow you to take in the more famous sights before heading off to Malaysia by train. Boat trips to the Perhentian islands and the mountain villages around Malaysia are popular, as is the ‘orangutan’ region of Borneo. Flights to Borneo from Kuala Lumpur are extremely cheap, often as little as £30. After spending some time with the orangutans, you could climb Mt Kinabalu or even travel to indigenous Sarawak to meet the natives.    


It might have become a bit of a gap year cliché, but that’s only because it’s perfect for backpackers, says Independent journalist Tim Ward. First time travellers aren’t exactly warned against a trip to India, but they are advised to take caution at all times and realise that parts of India can be very dangerous – especially for women. If you can take the culture shock however, you’re bound to have a great time. Places like Goa and Arambol are famed for their laid-back nature and hippy appeal, whilst regions like Tamil Nadhu and Kerala are a little more traditional.

Party beaches are ten a penny in India, but there are also plenty of quieter areas. Start in Mumbai and sample the delights of authentic Indian cuisine. You could then take a boat to the Lakshadweep islands or travel south on the train. Houseboat accommodation is extremely popular with backpackers in India. It isn’t cheap, but it is a great experience. Seven nights in a boathouse cost £632 for two and include local meals cooked by women from the area.