Gap years have become so popular that it’s hard to decide what to do exactly in your year of freedom. The options are intimidating: should you see the world, land an internship, or move back in with your parents to save some cash?

If you ask me, travel is the perfect bridge between the academic world and the work sector. It isn’t just about building skills for your career, it is about building skills for your life. Find out if you are a good painter, how your thoughts sound in another language, and if you’ve secretly been Sporty Spice all along. It’s hard to stop thinking about adult responsibilities when you’ve recently graduated – which is exactly why this year is so valuable. Travel right and you’ll discover skills to enrich your life when you’re sucked back into the working world.

Taking a year between high school and college the best way yo find out what you want to with your life. But how do you get the best out of your gap year?

1) Learn to Dance

In my home country dancing means “raising the roof” at weddings or miming lyrics to your friends while jumping up and down – often not so gracefully. So, wherever you are traveling take advantage of the rich dancing cultures and learn how your body can move. Attend free salsa lessons in Colombia, learn Bollywood rhythms in Mumbai or be your own K-Pop star with hip hop classes in Seoul. When you return home, you’ll have Salsa Tuesdays to look forward to!

2) Pick up Surfing

For those who don’t live close to the coast and good waves, travel is the time to pick up surfing. There are surf towns all over the world with cheap schools, board rentals and beaches for beginners. Not only will you learn how to walk on water, you’ll get a fresh view of the world. Paddle out in the evening and watch the sunset from the perfect spot: your board.

Read more about 10 great places to surf this year

Taking a year between high school and college the best way yo find out what you want to with your life. But how do you get the best out of your gap year?

3) Play the Guitar (or another instrument)

The moment you decide to learn to play the guitar you will notice that there is one in every hostel – even if they are out of tune. Guitar lesson opportunities are just as prevalent. I learned “Vivir Mi Vida” in the back of a tuk-tuk in Peru when my driver got lost and had to wait for assistance. You don’t have to be good at music for it to serve you; learning guitar is a great way to meet people in the park, pass an afternoon at the beach, or start a party while glamping. Put in your head that you want to learn and chances will pop up everywhere you go.

4) Learn a Foreign Language

You are not bad at languages. I repeat: you are not bad at languages. If you are a native English speaker, you can get away with never speaking another language – a blessing and a curse at the same time, that makes us think we’re destined to be unilingual forever. All you need to do to change this though is to make a decision.

Live with a host family and go to language school, all it takes is two weeks to see huge improvements in your conversational abilities. Language is a key to a culture. Learn the language and you’ll understand traditions, social etiquette and thought processes you’ve never even considered. Travel is full of unknowns, learning a few conversation openers can boost your confidence and open doors to meet locals and understand your environment.

Taking a year between high school and college the best way yo find out what you want to with your life. But how do you get the best out of your gap year?

5) Be an Adrenaline Junkie

You’re already out of your comfort zone by being in a new country, you might as well belay down a cliff. Adventure sports are not only fun, they’re a great way to see the most jaw-dropping landscapes. White-water raft through the jungle, ride ATVs to a volcano or learn to drive a manual motorcycle on the Pan-American Highway. When you get back to your home country, you’ll be googling places to kitesurf over the long weekend because you loved doing it so much in Indonesia.

6) Cruise Tinder

For some it’s terrifying, for others it’s exhilarating. One thing is sure though: when you’re traveling, Tinder is your ticket into the local scene. Thanks to dating apps, I have made sushi in a high-rise apartment with Venezuelans, hitched a ride to the South of France and had language practice partners all over Latin America. Don’t underestimate this option as a way to get VIP tickets to events, cook a local dish in a neighbor’s kitchen and learn to bachata in someone’s living room. It doesn’t have to be about love or sex, think of it as adventure-dating. You’ll come back home unbothered by the prospect of flirting – you’ve bantered in a second language.

Taking a year between high school and college the best way yo find out what you want to with your life. But how do you get the best out of your gap year?

7) Become Anthony Bourdain

A curious thing happens when you return home; people ask about your travels and zone out while you reply. It’s hard to imagine names and places if you haven’t been to them yourself. You need to find a different way to make them relate to your experiences – and if there is one way into a person’s head and heart, it is cooking!

Sign up for regional culinary classes while you travel and collect recipes from your favourite countries. Bring your trip to your friends upon your return and surprise them with a delicious meal. Make them the different kinds of ceviche you’ve been talking about or invite them over for a Pad Thai night complete with fish oil you brought from Bangkok.

8) Bartend

When you make your friends ceviche, they’re going to want Pisco Sours. Learn to make the signature cocktails you’ve been ordering during 2×1 happy hour. Learn how to make Chicha, the purple corn brew of Peru, stir up your own vin chaud in Switzerland or attend a sake tasting in Tokyo. When your friend asks what you’re drinking, you’ll know to call it a Cuba Libre instead of a Rum and Coke.

Taking a year between high school and college the best way yo find out what you want to with your life. But how do you get the best out of your gap year?

9) Work Out

Travel is somewhere between regular life and vacation. If you’re going to be out of your regular routine for more than 3 weeks, you’ve officially created a new one. Working out will give you a sense of structure in each place you stay. When you exercise while traveling, your options are endless. Run along the city’s river, go to kick-boxing classes in the town center, or check out the yoga spot in the backpacker barrio. You’ll meet fellow travelers, locals, and return home with new ways to move your body.

10) Kick a Football

Football (or soccer) is an international lovefest. The more you play, the more you’ll enjoy watching the professional games in bars all over the world. The ability to kick a ball has gotten me invited to games between rival coffee farms in Colombia, passing the afternoon with kids in Ghana, and cheering at the right time at national games in Ecuador. Hangout around football fields or with kids and you’ll have evening plans before the game is up. Don’t worry if you’re incompetent, travel is about learning – and you’re giving a group of ten year olds the gift of teaching you.

Taking a year between high school and college the best way yo find out what you want to with your life. But how do you get the best out of your gap year?

Not only do your new skills bring your trip to life for your friends, it keeps the memories alive for you too. When you’re back to your workflow – eating lunch on the go, running on a treadmill, daydreaming about beaches – remember the hobbies you acquired abroad. Join a conversation group, check out the reggae club and bring your football to the park. The world is your oyster, after all.

Which hobbies have you picked up while traveling?


This is a guest post by Johannah Bogart.

biopicJohannah is a Midwesterner solo traveling through Latin America. Her favorite travel skill is salsa dancing, although learning to make mango jam is a close second. See where she is this week on Instagram @johannahbogart.