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The Canadian Gap Year Association is a non-profit organization leading the gap year movement in Canada. With a mandate to support research, education and advocacy work, developing and curating resources for gap years, it is our goal to elevate the gap year pathway for all Canadians.

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Episode Seven: Planning a Travel-Free Gap Year

Updated: Mar 18



Gap Years aren’t all about travel.


Despite what Instagram and media coverage of A-list celebrities and royalty might tell you, most Canadians don’t spend their entire gap year traveling. They will usually spend between two weeks and three months traveling. If we use an average of five weeks over the course of a 62 week gap year (beginning of July to end of August the following year), that makes up only 8% of the gap year! What do you do with the other time? What do you do if you can’t – or don’t want to – travel?


It’s important to know that a gap year can still be the right choice for you, even if you can’t or don’t want to travel. I can almost guarantee that there was more than simply the idea of travel that made you consider taking a gap year. Think about those reasons! Do you need to get more clarity on direction? Need to make money? Need to recharge your battery? Want to learn more about how the real world works?


ALL of this can be done without traveling – and this blog and podcast shares some ideas on how to plan a travel-free gap year.



There are a ton of reasons people choose not to travel:


  • It can be expensive. Flights, accommodations and food can be costly

  • Travel makes some people anxious

  • Travel isn’t as simple as it seems, it requires a large and diverse skill set that not everyone has developed yet

  • Some people are fearful of the world outside of their borders.

  • Mobility is not a universal right. Some folks don’t have citizenship, passports or visas that allow them to travel.

So what can you do on a gap year besides travel? Just about anything. But let’s dive deeper into this concept.


A gap year is about holistic growth – some call it ‘finding yourself”, but it goes so much beyond a silent meditation retreat to find enlightenment. It’s actually about exploring your personality, skills, and interests, and how how that all fits into your community.


A good equation for a well-rounded gap year is:


Earn + Learn + Give Back


This translates to: working (earn), getting out of your comfort zone to learn something new (learn), and then giving back to your community.


So what does a gap year look like in this equation?


The vast majority of Canadian Gap Years are comprised of extended work periods. Gappers are typically working in customer service jobs – restaurants, and retail jobs. Others will work in entry level positions in a field that interests them. For example, if you are interested in law, you are likely not going to be working alongside a lawyer in a courtroom but you might be able to get an administrative job in their office. This is very valuable because it showcases what the life of someone in the law profession is really like. You can learn so much about the profession by simply being in the same environment and can then make a more educated decision if it is the right pathway for you.


Volunteering is also a great way to spend your time on a gap year. This could be seen more like a job with longer shifts, or weekly shifts or at special events. There are so many ways to volunteer - we will have an upcoming episode dedicated to this specifically.


Many think that volunteering only happens with animals, little kids and in faith communities but there is SO MUCH MORE to explore when it comes to volunteering. Here are three ways to identify a potential volunteer opportunity.


  1. Find a social issue that you are passionate about and find out what local organizations exist to solve that problem and put your energy and skills behind them

  2. Identify your skills and then look at who might need those skills. Are you a photographer? Could you photograph trash on the streets and provide it to a local climate action group? Web designer? Look for a charity that you can offer your experience on their website and fix it up for your portfolio

  3. Search your local volunteer job posting site for something that is of interest.


The “learn” portion is the largest category. Gap Years are all about growing the whole self and it happens throughout the year. You are continually learning about yourself, your values, what makes you tick, what gives you energy – and what takes it away. These are all things that are important to recognize and spend some time exploring. Journal, think about them on a long walk, create a gratitude jar and spend time reflecting and thinking about these things. Personal growth is just as important – if not more important – than professional growth because it is what leads us to understand what makes us happy!


We also think of the academic type of learning, like taking a course. Perhaps you want to upgrade a high school mark, or maybe get ahead by taking a university or college course. You can also look at different kinds of free online courses like Coursera but it extends beyond the Reading/Writing/Arithmetic of school - consider taking a language course(BBC has great resources), or connecting with something you have always wanted to learn. Build a cabinet or table? Make your own jewelry? Bake your own pastries? Learn a new musical instrument?


Another angle you should look at when planning your gap year is how you will stay physically active. Don’t forget your body needs attention too! Finding something that you enjoy, can create habits around and can keep you socially engaged can be fun too.

Something that is often forgotten about is the social aspect of being on a gap year. The built-in friend system of school or work is not there in the same way, so how are you going to see old friends and make new ones? You have to be intentional about this because it isn’t easy – relationships take effort!


Consider joining a sports league or finding a meetup group in your area on a topic that interests you. If you want to learn how to play Beatles songs on the Ukulele, there’s a group for that!



Remember that you will have to put energy into relationships with your high school friends so try planning a road trip to see them when they are off at school.


We are all social beings but we also have a spiritual side (no, this doesn’t have to be about religion, but for some it is). We are all looking for a feeling of connectedness – for some it is connecting to other people, for others it is connecting to the land, and still others it’s about connecting to a higher power. A gap year is a great time to see how you are feeling or not feeling connected.


Try checking out a retreat that interests you – yoga? Clean eating? Songwriting? Bird watching? Canoe trip?


The last thing to consider putting on your plan is a large project. Consider building something amazing from scratch. Perhaps you want to host an event to benefit a local charity or raise awareness on a local or global social justice issue. Think about all of the things you would like to see changed and then imagine how you could dedicate part of your gap year to achieving that.


Similarly, perhaps you want to take an entrepreneurial gap year. You could spend your year building an amazing business – you don’t have to plan to be the next billion-dollar startup, but maybe you have something that other people would pay for? Could you compose music for podcasts? Could you teach grandparents how to use digital technology to communicate with their grand kids? Can you mow lawns or shovel snow? There are so many ways to monetize things you already do!


These large-scale projects are real training grounds for life after your gap year. Having this much control over a project allows you to be creative, to learn how to project manage, manage other people, do marketing and so, so, so much more. These are things you can easily apply to any job interview or application in the future – without having to jet set.


There is a free template below for making sure you are planning a balanced year. It’s a great way to get started expanding your expectations of your year and brainstorming all of those things you have always wanted to try out.


If you want some guidance on this process, you can book a free 30-minute gap year discovery call with me!