Gap year volunteering allows you to travel in a meaningful way. It is an authentic experience that exposes you to all the benefits of traveling such as expanding your mindset, growing your independence and boosting your confidence, all while having a positive impact on communities in genuine need of volunteer assistance.
Because of its potential to change lives, thousands of travelers set off every year to experience gap year volunteer programs abroad. You can join them, spending your gap year on a volunteer program teaching English in Bali or working alongside international volunteers in South Africa.
Keep reading to learn more about how to make the most of your gap year and the best volunteer opportunities for gap year students for 2019-2020. Know what you’re looking for? Jump straight to it:
- When can I take a gap year?
- How to volunteer abroad on your gap year?
- What should I do on my gap year?
- Best gap year volunteer programs abroad
- Why should I take a well-planned volunteer year?
- What does a good gap year volunteer program include?
- What are the requirements to volunteer abroad on your gap year?
- How long can I volunteer abroad for?
- Hear from people that took a volunteer gap year abroad…
When can I take a gap year?
Traditionally, a gap year is when you make a conscious decision to take a year off from your formal education between high school and college/university, but a volunteer abroad gap year isn’t limited to that. If you don’t have a year, there are opportunities for students wanting to take gap semester or you can spend your summer break on a meaningful adventure. A growing number of travelers are also taking a grown up gap year as a breather before beginning a new job, or just to give yourself some time-out from your day-to-day life.
Whether you’re exploring gap year programs after high school or looking for longterm volunteer year abroad programs after college, it’s important to remember that a gap year is anything but a gap, it’s an extension of your education, an accumulation of experiences, new perspectives - and ultimately the realization of a new you. So if you’re trying to establish where you fit into the world, or simply what your life goals are, then taking a volunteer gap year is the smart option.
What should I do on my gap year?
Gap year service projects equip you with valuable life skills and encourages personal development opportunities unlike any other experience, while also ensuring that you have a positive impact on the places you visit and the people you meet. There are plenty of gap year volunteer programs to suit your skills and interests. Some volunteer projects are skills-based while others don’t require any specialized skills or previous experience. Let your personal interests, your study experience and skill-set influence your decision.
You can give back on gap year volunteer programs that support everything from Wildlife and Animal Care to Teaching or Community Development. Explore the different types of volunteer work.
How to volunteer abroad on your gap year?
Many gappers are first-time travelers heading abroad solo - something that can seem daunting at first. By choosing to go abroad with IVHQ, the world’s #1 provider of safe and affordable gap year travel programs, you’ll take the stress out of organizing your gap year. We support the meaningful adventures of thousands of travelers every year and provide you with everything you need to have the best experience. We’ll support you every step of your journey - from how to get started, to advising you on visas and vaccinations, and organizing everything from your airport pick-up, right down to your volunteer orientation, accommodation and meals. Learn more about how to volunteer abroad on your gap year here.
Best gap year volunteer programs abroad
With IVHQ’s volunteer gap year programs you can give back in Africa, Europe, Asia, South America, Central America, the Caribbean, the USA and the Pacific. This means that when you’re deciding on a gap year volunteer program you have the freedom to think about what culture you want to be immersed in and what country you want to explore. Here are the most popular options for volunteers on their gap year:
Gap year volunteering in Bali
At some point in life, absolutely everyone needs to experience Bali. Its rich culture, laid-back lifestyle and focus on health and wellbeing, make it the perfect destination to experience on your gap year travels. There are two program options in Bali, this article can help you decide where to volunteer in Bali. The Bali - Lovina program is based in a small coastal village on the northern coast of Bali, while the Bali - Ubud program is located in Ubud, Bali’s cultural center. Between 40 and 80 volunteers start in Ubud each month, making it a social and fun atmosphere that’s perfect for first-time and solo travelers taking their gap year abroad!
Gap year programs abroad - Fiji
What’s the thing you’ll love most about your time volunteering in Fiji on your gap year? The people! Fijians are incredibly welcoming people and are quick to embrace you into island life! Regardless of which volunteer project you choose to support, Teaching and Sports Education, Kindergarten, or Construction and Renovation, the focus is firmly on the people and the needs of the community. Between 20 and 70 volunteers start in Fiji each month, making it a vibrant program full with like-minded explorers with a passion for positive travel. During your weekends, you’ll be able to make the most of the pristine coastlines or lush rainforest, and everything in between!
Gap year volunteering in South Africa
Gap year volunteering in Africa is one of our most popular options so put volunteering in South Africa at the top of your list! There are two programs based in Cape Town. This article comparing the two programs will help you figure out which one is right for you. Each program is based around 30 to 45 minutes from Cape Town itself, with our South Africa volunteer program being located in the Muizenberg area, to the South of Cape Town; and our South Africa - Table View program located in Table View, to the North of Cape Town. There’s no wonder why Cape Town is growing in popularity as a destination, with no shortage of incredible things to do in and around the city. Pull on your hiking boots and head up Table Mountain, lounge around on one of the stunning beaches, or gather your IVHQ fam together and head out to the winery country.
Gap year volunteering in Portugal
With the beautiful coast on your doorstep, a buzzing cafe culture and plenty of weekend adventures to be had, basing yourself in Lisbon as a volunteer traveler in Europe is an amazing idea. You can give back to the community by participating on Construction and Renovation, Environmental Scuba Diving, Food Rescue, Wolf Conservation or Youth Support projects. If you’re interested in gap year volunteer programs with animals, the Wolf Conservation project is a must! There is zero shortage of activities to keep your weekends bursting with adventure, check out the UNESCO World Heritage Site - Sintra, the Moon Hill, stroll the streets of Cascais and enjoy a beverage at one of the many outdoor cafes along the way, get amongst the surf in Ericeira - the first surfing reserve in Europe. If you like the mellow nature of coastal life and being in touch with nature and history, then the Portugal program is perfect for you.
Gap year volunteering in Peru
It’s legendary for the must-see Machu Picchu, but there’s far more to Peru than this Insta-famous sight. There are two program locations in Peru: Lima, the capital and largest city in Peru which is a juxtaposition of high-rise condos built alongside pre-Columbian temples. And, Cusco, one of the oldest cities in South America, lined with stone streets and a rich history. If you decide to volunteer in Lima, there are 4 project options to choose from, including Teaching English, Special Needs/Childcare, Medical and Construction and Renovation. Or if you center yourself as a volunteer in Cusco, there are 10 project options, including Teaching English, Childcare, Medical, Construction and Renovation, Animal Care, Jungle Conservation, Special Needs, Andean Immersion and a Spanish Service Learning project. Regardless of which location you choose, setting off to Machu Picchu is easy to coordinate with your newfound volunteer friends.
Gap year volunteering in the Philippines
If you’re looking for an authentic off-the-beaten-track Asian experience, then you can stop your search. The Philippines volunteer program is based on the safe and beautiful island of Palawan, away from the hustle and bustle of the big cities. Here you will come face to face with the captivating culture, cuisine and people as you live like a local. It’s a hidden gem just waiting to be explored and with more than 7,000 islands at your doorstep, it doesn’t get much better than this archipelago! The projects are all about making the most of your time abroad. It doesn’t matter if you choose the Kindergarten, Teaching, Construction and Renovation, or Environmental project, the emphasis is on volunteering while enjoying yourself. Downtime can be spent exploring Palawan and weekends island-hopping.
Gap year volunteering in Zambia
Volunteer life in Livingstone, Zambia, is a mix of traditional charm with all the modern amenities, friendly locals, easy access to a myriad of incredible tourist sights and a local team that is on hand 24/7. Volunteers have the opportunity to give back on Teaching, Kindergarten, Medical, Elderly Care and Construction and Renovation projects. During your free time, you can check out the local markets and shops, have a lazy day in a hammock at the accommodation, pop over to nearby Botswana for a safari, venture to Zimbabwe to check out the amazing Victoria Falls, or take advantage of the amazing array of adventure sports on offer.
Why should I take a well-planned volunteer year?
- You’ll be giving back on meaningful projects: There are hundreds of gap year ideas out there but none that will have the profound impact that volunteering abroad will. IVHQ’s volunteer programs are established in partnership with local organizations in communities with clearly defined social and environmental needs. Regardless of where you choose to volunteer, you’ll be matched to a placement which will allow you to make a valuable contribution to the project and community you are volunteering in.
- It’ll be the experience of a lifetime: Taking a gap year and volunteering will shape your future. It’ll help you figure your life out - maybe that means helping you find your purpose and passion, empowering you to be a change-maker or developing your self-confidence.
- You’ll make friends for life from around the world: You will quickly forge a bond with the other international volunteers as you roll up your sleeves together and get stuck in working on your project and while exploring in your downtime.
- You’ll go to change the world, but it will change you: When we asked our volunteers how the experience of volunteering abroad impacted them, 83 percent said their sense of perspective had changed, while 94 percent agreed that volunteering abroad had made them more resilient, and 44 percent strongly agreed that their career aspirations had changed for the better.
- To get out of your comfort zone: Living in a country different from your own means that you will be immersed in a new culture, lifestyle, and way of thinking. Volunteering exposes you to a number of situations and experiences that you will be able to learn and grow from. You will be working alongside people from different parts of the world - fostering global understanding, cross-cultural communication and developing how you work in a team.
- For your resume: People that take a gap year often find the experience makes them more successful during their college years as they’ve had the time to refine what they want to do and become more focused and driven. Volunteering abroad also allows you to explore a potential career field - you will walk away with valuable experience and a unique insight into a possible career path while making a meaningful contribution to a community abroad. Explore gap year volunteer opportunities in fields such as: teaching, environmental and conservation, working with animals, community development, medical and health, and NGO support.
What does a good gap year volunteer program include?
As the world’s leading volunteer abroad organization, when you volunteer with IVHQ you can set off knowing you’re traveling with the experts. IVHQ volunteer abroad programs include the following:
- Dedicated support to get you started and help you choose the right volunteer program so your time abroad is worthwhile
- Online pre-departure training & comprehensive information booklets
- Support to keep you on track and put key elements such as travel insurance, vaccinations, visas and what to pack top of mind
- Ongoing support from your personal volunteer mentor
- Round-the-clock support while you are on your volunteer abroad program
- Orientation in the country you are volunteering in to ensure you know everything from safety tips to best things to do in your free time
- Responsible volunteer programs that are vetted and have a sustainable focus
- A proven safety record and a 95/100 rating from thousands of independent reviews
- A team of like-minded volunteers. During this experience more than any other, your peers become an important source of support and inspiration.
Chances are if you’re taking a gap year before college, your parents will also be interested to learn more about IVHQ, so make sure they read our information for parents as you continue to explore volunteer abroad programs. No doubt you’ve already fielded questions from your parents about your safety while abroad - you aren’t alone! Having placed 85,000+ volunteers abroad, we’re always happy to speak with your parents to ensure all their questions are answered and they feel comfortable with your volunteer trip plans.
What are the requirements to volunteer abroad on your gap year?
For many of our volunteer abroad projects, the only requirements are fluency in English, a clean criminal background and a willingness to learn. This means it’s a great way to gain experience that will set you apart from others, and stand out on college and job applications. Keep in mind that for the majority of our Medical and Healthcare projects, volunteers must be qualified or training in a relevant medical field.
How long can I volunteer abroad for?
Thousands of volunteers have chosen to join multiple programs with IVHQ as part of their gap year volunteering abroad. With program options starting from 1 to 24 weeks and programs in 40+ destinations, there is something for everyone. You could spend a full volunteer year abroad, or add a 2-week volunteer program onto your extended travels - it’s all about what works for you. And, because we believe that affordability and meaningful travel should go hand in hand, we have the most affordable program fees starting from US$180 for 1 week.
How I spent my gap year abroad volunteering…
I decided to volunteer during my gap year so I could travel and at the same time help the community and the environment. I’m going to study veterinary medicine which is a long degree so I decided to take a break from studying and do a gap year - it was the best decision I could have made. I volunteered on the Bali Kindergarten Project, the Madagascar Forest Conservation and Victoria Falls Wildlife Conservation project.
The time I spent volunteering really made me realize how lucky I am to have the life I have. And made me want to help give equal opportunities to everyone no matter where they were born. If you want to take a gap year really consider volunteering. It is such a rewarding feeling when you can make a difference while traveling the world. - IVHQ volunteer Miguel Lopes van Uden
Still can’t decide on a single destination? Many gap year volunteers choose to register for a number of different volunteer programs across a range of destinations. If a gap year in South East Asia is on the agenda, you have the capacity to volunteer in Vietnam, jump the border and become a volunteer in Cambodia, before finishing off as a volunteer in Laos. Or if gap year charity work in Africa, Central America, South America or Europe sounds more like you, explore your options with IVHQ here. Otherwise, take this quiz to find a recommendation for where you should take a gap year. Be aware: Taking a gap year as a volunteer won’t cure your travel bug, it’ll only make it grow.