It’s a common complaint that schools today just don’t teach the things that really matter. Pythagoras’s Theory is all well and good, but there aren’t many mysterious triangles in the real world waiting for you to calculate the square of their hypotenuse.
What’s waiting for you in the real world? Taxes, bills, jobs, pension schemes, grocery shopping… adulting is a tough gig, and we don’t always get the help we need with it. That’s not to say that careers advisors don’t try and help us in the right direction, but still. Sometimes, you’ve just got to be a little more proactive.
What does that mean? It means doing some soul searching and trying to figure out where you’re going for yourself, that’s what it means. It’s quite a leap from school to college, and it’s tough to just seamlessly transition from one to the other. A break in between the two can be crucial, because this is not a time in your life to make any major decisions (about your major) hastily.
In short, you’re dang skippy that a gap year can pay dividends. This is your time to get some life experiences, even some practical experience in your chosen future field (if you’ve got that far). It’s your time to clear your head and prepare yourself for the next phase of your life. It’s just your time in general.
How to spend it, though? This wide world of ours is just bursting with people, places and experiences, from au pairing in the USA to working at one of China's summer camps.
Don’t just follow the crowd, check out our rundown of 20 Totally Unique Things To Do On A Gap Year and really make the best of it.
20 Go on an epic theme park-hopping road trip
Live Lorelai and Rory's 'Gilmore Girls' dream and set out on the greatest road trip ever, and hit as many theme parks as you can! Start in Los Angeles and visit Six Flags and Disneyland, make sure you stop by Cedar Point in Ohio and ride some world record breaking roller coasters. Visit Coney Island in New York City, hit Silver Dollar City in Missouri, or ride a roller coaster in Hershey Park, Pennsylvania.
The route options are endless, but make sure it ends in Florida, with Disney World, Universal Studios, and too many other options to write down.
19 Visit as many stunning national parks as possible
If roller coasters aren't your sort of thing, but you're still in the mood for a road trip, why not head to national parks! Grab an annual pass - which is usually less than $100, and hit the road! There are 60 national parks across the USA, and many many more state parks.
Spend time in Utah, which is home to these five beauties: Arches, Badlands, Capitol Reef, Badlands and Zion. Jump over to California and explore Sequoia or Yosemite. Montana's home to Glacier National Park and Tennessee has the Great Smoky Mountains.
You could spend months on the road, hitting them all.
18 Go to as many epic music festivals as possible
Summers are for music festivals, and if you love to travel, then let's combine the two! In the UK you'll find festivals like Bestival, Reading and Leeds and Wilderness, and the USA is home to Coachella, Burning Man and Lollapalooza.
Taking the option to road trip between them all is one that's guaranteed to foster some epic memories. Blast the tunes with the roof down and the wind in your hair, then rock up to the campgrounds, listen to your beloved artists playing your favourite music, and get hyped for who you're going to see next.
17 Learn a new language
If you've got a year to take advantage of, why not spend your spare time learning a new language?
Whether you want to spend a few months each learning a handful of languages, or spending a year becoming fluent, it's all a great experience! And once you're confident enough with a language, why not head to a country that speaks it, and test out your new found skills with the locals!
Better yet, if you want to learn French, actually do so in France! It's much easier to learn a new language when you're surrounded by it for the majority of every day.
16 Journey around with a working holiday visa for Canada
The best way to appreciate a new country is to spend as much time there as possible! And the easiest way to achieve this is with a working holiday visa. This gives you either a year or two to move, find a job and travel!
Canada is full of some amazing sites, including Banff National Park, Toronto, Niagara Falls, Quebec and all its French-speaking locals, and even the Arctic Circle - if you dare to travel that far north!
Just don't forget the woolly gloves - it can get mighty chilly in wintertime.
15 Work in a summer camp in America
Everyone knows of someone who's spent their summers working at a summer camp. And the majority of them will head to the USA and work there. There is a range of different programmes you can apply through, with one of the more well-known being Camp America but really, all you have to do is put 'Work in a summer camp USA' into Google and you'll be inundated with options which all help you apply for your USA visa as well as organising your placement.
The biggest bonus with a summer camp programme is that once you're finished with work, you have additional time to travel!
14 Work in a summer camp in China
If America doesn't take your fancy, but you still like the idea of working in a summer camp, there are plenty more options out there for you! For example, China! Companies like Adventure China can help you buy your plane tickets, organise your visa and find you a place to work in China! And again the visa you apply for, gives you extra time after you've finished working for travelling!
Most of the work in Chinese summer camps is teaching English. However, as a counsellor, your bed is located in one of the campers' dorms so you get to know the kids and spend time organising activities for them as well.
13 Spend time in Awesomely Weird Japan
If there's one country in the world that's a must-see, it's Japan. Full of unique sights and all the modern technology you may need, Japan is as varied as it can get!
Spend some time in Tokyo or Osaka and understand the city life, or head further afar, and catch a train past Mount Fuji, or enjoy some of the local villages. Visit in Spring and witness the cherry blossoms blooming, or visit the rice paddies that line the valleys. Head there on your own, with your favourite travel buddy, or join a group tour!
12 Swim with sharks in South Africa
Everyone craves a sort of adrenaline rush whilst they're travelling, so why not go for the ultimate rush, and swim with sharks! Cape Town is known for its shark population, so why not head there and seek out the ultimate adventure?
You can book an experience for less than $200 which gives you an entire day to seek out sharks and spend some time in the water with them. As well as swimming with the sharks, the guides make sure you leave more educated than you arrived, and teach you all about the animals and their habitat.
11 Au Pair in Europe
Children seem to be the running theme so far, but it is really easy to get a job working overseas with children! Au Pairing is another great option - you usually work up to thirty hours a week, live in the host's house (or a separate apartment they provide for you) and meals are generally included. You also get a small stipend as well, to fund your weekend travels.
France and Italy are popular destinations but don't rule out Spain, Sweden or basically any country. Parents all over Europe are looking for a helping hand, so no matter when you want to start work, there'll be someone ready for you!
10 Get an overseas internship
If children aren't your thing, why not look out for an internship! The EU funds some placements for EU citizens, through the Erasmus+ internship, where you can spend three months living in a new city, whilst working and travelling around.
No matter where you're from in the world, look at your government's website or surf the web, and you're bound to find some funded internships. If not, why not spending a few months saving, and head to a new country or city on your own boot - how empowering would that be?!
9 Eurorail Europe
Eurorailing is probably one of the best ways to explore Europe. All you need to do is head to the Eurorail website, and book your pass! There are different passes depending on where you want to go, and how long you want to go for. The whole concept allows you to hop on and off trains across Europe, as long as you remember to prebook beforehand each leg to guarantee a seat on the train.
8 Bungee jump in New Zealand
If you're after the ultimate adrenaline rush, head down under to New Zealand and try the worlds first bungee jump, just outside Queenstown. Pioneer AJ Hackett built the first bungee jump in Auckland, before opening the largest commercial bungee jump on the Kawarau Suspension Bridge near Queenstown, where you can jump in a range of styles - the traditional head first, with a chair, and even in pairs on a swing.
If Queenstown isn't in your budget, you can still bungee jump of the Auckland Harbour Bridge. But if cannoning toward the earth head-first while attached to a stretchy cord makes your legs wobble, you can do a 'controlled freefall' from Auckland's Sky Tower, where you remain upright and are guided down by two cables either side of you.
7 Climb a mountain
Is there anything more challenging than mountain climbing? And there are plenty of options for you, all over the world!
If you want to remain in the USA, why not try Half Dome in Yosemite national park? If you're after something a little easier, give Stony Mountain in the Shenandoah National Park a go, with amazing views from the top of the whole national park.
If you're after something a little more challenging, try the three peaks challenge in the UK, climbing the highest peaks in England, Scotland and Wales - in 24 hours!
6 Spend time volunteering
No matter where you are in the world, someone will always appreciate your time. Check out local charities in your town or local city and see if they need some help, or head afar! Throughout Africa, South America and South East Asia, you're bound to find a charity or organisation that needs help. Use a search engine like Givingway, a job board for charities, to find some inspiration or your future project!
5 Au Pair in the USA
If Europe isn't your scene - or if you're worried about the language barrier, why not head to the United States (or somewhere new in the US, if you're already there), to work as an au pair? One search on Google and you'll find 10+ organisations that are here to help you find a family, and apply for your visa.
Most US families want you to stay a year, but within these twelve months, you will usually get a month off to travel as much as you'd like. Host families also tend to prefer drivers, and some even pay for you to travel with them!
4 Get your TEFL certification
If you fancy the idea of working overseas but don't know how to start, why not look into getting your TEFL certification? You can find courses online and study at home and there are companies all over the world that allow you to teach English online, to students in Asia and South America.
If you prefer face to face contact, look into programmes like Angloville who provide a TEFL course for you and in-person teaching basically for free as long as you can commit three weeks to head to Eastern Europe to teach. There are also companies that provide scholarships for teachers in Spain and South East Asia - pick a country and you're bound to find a programme.
3 Learn to scuba dive
If you want a unique, underwater experience why not work towards your PADI certification? PADI stands for Professional Association of Diving Instructors and is the qualification you need if you want to learn how to scuba dive the proper way. Countries like Bali have companies that help you to work towards this qualification, and once you've earned it, you can start working on their conservation projects.
Once you're a confident scuba diver, the world is your oyster, and you can dive some of the best sites in the world.
2 Spend your summer fundraising for a charity
Do some good on your time off, and spend a few months fundraising for your favourite charity. There are plenty of charities out there, and if you contact them, they're bound to accept your help!
Your tasks can vary, from being out on the streets with collection buckets to working in their stores, they'll be thankful no matter what! Why not club together a few of these suggestions, and do a sponsored hike or run?
1 Visit the Chinese countryside
Everyone visits the cities in China, or out to the Great Wall of China, but why not embrace the culture, and visit the Chinese countryside, to learn about the true culture of China.
Get lost in all the tea plantations, find the rice paddies and beyond. Trek the Yangtze River and its banks, or even head north and explore the countryside towards Mongolia. There's so much to see in China beyond the cities and you're really missing out if you don't explore further!