Nope, you don’t need to pay an arm and a leg to take a “cool” or “meaningful” gap year…

Sarah studied marine biology in the Bahamas and stayed in Hawaii through a work exchange program while working for part of the year. Ronen worked at home for part of the year, traveled through work exchanges, and saved enough money to fund his 2189 mile through-hike of the Appalachian Trail.  Caroline travelled through seven countries, pursued her passion of farming through work exchanges, and trekked through the Andes by working and saving both summers. 



During her gap year, Sterling D. arrived at a village of artisans in Chile. She wanted to stay for a while—but didn’t have a job, and did not know anyone there. Somehow, in a couple days, Sterling D. found work as an artisanal shoe maker’s apprentice in Chile, and learned to turn fresh goat skin into slippers. The job also offered her an accommodation, and she later saved enough money to share an apartment on her own with a few others in the area. How did she finesse all of this? Quite simply:

“I talked to people (locals) in stores, on the street, at restaurants—anyone who would take the time of day to have a conversation. I told them how much I like their town and how I’d like to stay and work. I asked if they knew anyone who was either currently hiring or needed a hand.”

Yes, she was definitely lucky to find a great job with decently fair compensation—but finding work does not always have to include an application and a formal interview. Here are some of her less traditional (and creative!) suggestions for finding work, especially when traveling:

  • Try looking through craigslist for gigs. Keep in mind that different countries have their own versions of craigslist!

If you go to a non-English speaking country, it’s relatively easy to find under-the-table language tutoring gigs a few hours a week. I’d suggest putting up posters on community bulletins and talking to whomever you can. Almost everyone has a friend, cousin, or kid who wants to learn English.

Q: Ok, that sounds great—but also sort of risky. What’s a way to get to know a new local community first before gradually looking for work?

A: You could utilize Workaway or WWOOF as a way to both familiarize yourself with a new place and set a good foot in the door for a future job. While working, you could reach out to other farms or people nearby; you could find some awesome, paid opportunities that way.

minh anh.jpg

heads up: extra tips ahead


Dreaming of really integrating into a culture abroad and picking up a skill? Check out WWOOF, Workaway, and HelpX. Aeshna C. WWOOF'ed on a farm in Norway and saw the Northern Lights; through Workaway, Isabella B-J. stayed on a vineyard near Granada, Spain, and learned how to abseil; Sasha L. traveled through HelpX. Using these sites is a great way to get to know locals and other travelers, and to give depth to your travels anywhere. Room and board is free in exchange for about 5 hours of work six days a week. 


Aside from the work exchange sites that provide free room & board, Couchsurfing is also a great way to save up when traveling. Definitely look into reviews of the hosts, and although the idea of staying at a stranger's home may be unsettling, many gappers have used this in the past. Sterling D. was an active user and a Couchsurfing host for some time during her year off! 


1. Try to check out your options and read reviews on hostelworld or in guidebooks to get the best value and comfort for your money. Pay particular attention to the safety and cleanliness ratings. Doing your research can also help you choose hostels offering free breakfast, cultural activities or dinners.

2. When possible, choose small, local hostels over chains. These will give you the best chance of interacting with staff or other guests and deliver the most personal experience.

3. Bring earplugs. Save yourself the curses and major regret at 3am when faced with a snoring roommate or party next door.

4. Bring a small lock that fits inside a backpack zipper in case the hostel doesn’t have lockers. This will save you the anxiety of leaving valuables unlocked or the inconvenience of lugging all your valuables around the city with you.

5. Pack smart -- organize your bag so essential clothes and toiletries are easily accessible in order to avoid digging through your entire pack at 7am to find your toothbrush. Your roommates will be able to sleep and you’ll avoid the pre-departure anxiety.

6. Talk to people! Even if socializing doesn't come naturally to you, attempting to communicate across language barriers and getting to know your roommates will go a long way to helping you feel more comfortable in your room.

7. Don’t suffer in silence! Tell your roommates if you have a problem. Whether it's someone’s loud alarm on snooze for two hours or your bunkmate barricading your bed with their bags. Most people will be receptive.

8. Scope out hostel activities. Many hostels have pizza nights, free walking tours, and more. Be sure to take advantage of these to meet your fellow travelers!

9. Take the time to learn others traveler's itineraries. The best recommendations for museums, hikes, and bars off the beaten track can come from other travelers. You might even get advice from people that have been to your next stop or join new friends headed in the same direction!


In addition to the many mainstream programs with scholarships, the Gap Year Association tracks gap year scholarships that amounted to over $3,000,000 in 2015.


1. If you are visiting cities, keep an eye out for free or discounted museum days or times. Also make sure you are traveling with a student ID -- many museums will give significant discounts to students!

2. Don’t blow your budget on food. It’s fun to have a nice meal every once in a while and food is an important part of getting to know a culture, but eating out adds up! Shop in neighborhood grocery stores, make use of hostel kitchens or have a picnic to mix it up and save money -- this will make those nice meals all the more memorable. And when you do splurge, make sure you find a spot frequented by locals -- these will be a better value and more authentic.

3. Splurge on experiences, not things. Rather than shopping for souvenirs or clothing, save your money for something special and cultural. Maybe you want to see a show or dance performance, or perhaps you have dreamed of skydiving and have found the perfect spot. Treat yourself! Anticipating these exciting activities will make you feel motivated to save or skip smaller attractions and these are memories that will last!