A gap year abroad is a unique opportunity to escape your familiar surroundings and push yourself to discover, learn and develop as a person. You could take a road trip across America, backpack around Europe, teach English as a foreign language somewhere exotic – or do something really unusual that will change your life and make you stand out amongst other gap year travellers. In this article, I’ve skipped over the roads-more-travelled to bring you a selection of more unusual ideas for your year out. For an introduction to gap year travel, you can check out Student Money Saver’s guide to gap year travel as you start to think about jetting off.

1. Volunteer with elephants in Thailand

GVI has some incredible gap year abroad opportunities that you’ll remember forever, including the chance to work with elephants rescued from the tourism industry, in the verdant forests of northern Thailand. You could observe the incredible creatures in their natural habitat, while learning about them from a Karen community that has been working with them for centuries. It isn’t a long placement, but you could plan a stretch of your gap year around it and continue travelling afterwards.

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2. Join a yacht crew

Take to the high seas! Join the crew of a yacht to rub shoulders with the world’s wealthiest, or sail with a commercial operator, sailing charity or training organisation. If you’re prepared to pitch in and work for your ride, you’ll get an amazing experience, meet people from all over the world and gain an unusual skill. One quick search on the CrewSeekers website for beginners’ opportunities reveals the chance to make an Atlantic crossing on a family boat, a trip from Ragusa, Sicily to Greece, and a voyage from Ireland to Orkney and Shetland Islands to honour the Vikings, then along the Norwegian fjords and on to the Arctic to explore nature and discover wildlife. Now that would be something to write home about…

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3. Whitewater rafting

For a high-octane escape to the wild, become a whitewater rafting guide and travel the world getting paid to take fellow thrill-seekers onto the rapids. There are plenty of training courses out there, including at the REO Rafting Resort in the ‘whitewater mecca’ of British Columbia, Canada, which will prepare you well for work in any rafting company in the world. Take a week’s course in California with All-Outdoors, which offers training and draws from graduates of its courses for its own employees, or get certified as a river guide at the Colorado Adventure Center.

4 Volunteer with Buddhist monks in Laos

Another idea from GVI: fly to Laos and teach English to novice Buddhist monks at a temple school in the ancient city of Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is a chance to make a positive impact on people, improving their education and helping them bring an improved quality of life to their families, while learning about Lao culture, food, history and language. The cost includes a shared room in guesthouse accommodation, orientation on teaching methods and techniques and a guided tour of Luang Prabang to start you off.

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5. Organise your own writing retreat

‘We need the tonic of wildness…’ Henry David Thoreau famously retreated to a cabin in the woods to write, away from the material world and its distractions. Aspiring writers – for a gap year with a real difference, why not find somewhere remote to explore your talent? This year is possibly the most free you’ll ever be, with few responsibilities and societal expectations, so you could take the opportunity now to test your skills and write without distractions or deadlines. You needn’t even stay in one place – why not combine the traditional travelling experience with writing?

6. Make wine in the sun

For a relaxed pace working in the sunshine, a job on a vineyard is perfect. If you’d love to venture to a warm country on you year out, chances are you’ll come across a vineyard, and the wine industry always needs seasonal workers to keep ticking. You don’t need to confine yourself to a summer job, either, as some career winemakers split their year between the northern and southern hemispheres, shifting between the harvest times of each. This is ideal for the gap year traveller looking to make some money while exploring the world. Wine Industry Jobs brings together prospective winemakers and employers in Australia and New Zealand, while Job Monkey hosts listings across the world.

7. Get support to work abroad with the StudentUniverse programme

StudentUniverse itself offers you a way to work abroad in Australia and New Zealand, setting yo up with accommodation for when you first arrive, some meals, social activities to help you meet people and get settled, airport transfers, a trip leader and more. You’ll also get support to help you find a position and a place to live while you’re out there. You could get work experience in a range of fields including hospitality, accounting and administration, which will make you more employable when you leave university, while travelling in a beautiful new country and making money while you do it.

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Try something different today and grab yourself an amazing deal on flights and start your unique gap year abroad.

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About Dan Baker