Category: Gap Year Travel

Sofia’s Photo Diary: Captivated by Cuba

Cuba photo diary

Our lovely Sofia continues to share her gap year adventures with us. Check out her stunning photo diary of Cuba and read her five top tips for anyone travelling to the island.

With each footstep I take through Havana, the further I become suspended in time. Tall, crumbling buildings, once full of grandeur and wealth, now crumbling but still full of character. Music spills into the streets, people tapping, clapping, singing; they rise to dance. They seem almost physically unable to resist the urge of the music around them. There’s colour and vibrancy everywhere – bright pink and yellow paint that flakes away from the deep orange brick. Blue soft top 1950s cars that roar past. There are no adverts, very few shops. Just roads filled with history and music. Women with cigars, men carrying the weight of a cello on their back, old cars fill the streets (spot a new one and you’ll be sure to find a ‘gringo’ inside – it’s a rental!)

Cuba photo diary

Part of the reason visiting Cuba feels like entering a time warp is the revolution, the resulting US embargo and the isolation that the island has felt ever since. Throughout Cuba there are museums, monuments and evidence of the revolution everywhere. Particularly in the noisy, bustling city of Santiago de Cuba, where street art depicting the political situation covers the walls. However, it’s apparent that despite the official communications celebrating the communist way of life the reality is very difficult for many. I spoke to a couple of taxi drivers who discussed smuggling American branded clothes and illegal satellites for WIFI, as life in Cuba is a simple one. Food is basic but tasty – meat, rice, beans and plantain. People dress simply in lycra and denim. They’re laid back and there’s a slower tempo to life.

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If you head to Vinales or Cinfeugos, you can expect to get around on horse and carriage. Just be glad you’ve got a seat – unlike the cowboys you’ll see galavanting through the fields on horseback without even a saddle! You’ll see the farmers wearing their cowboy hats with a cigar in their mouths as they walk through the fields. They’re heading off to one of the many sugar, coffee or tobacco plantations set in the countryside. If you stroll into town you’ll see the locals sitting in their rocking chairs watching the world go by. Pull up a chair and join them.

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Whilst these sleepy towns may seem quiet, at night salsa music fills the air. Every town has a Casa de Musica, a square where live music is played in the evening and the locals dance all night. Be prepared to be asked to join them! You’ll be escorted to the dance floor to be swirled to the beat of salsa, then returned to your table at the end of the song. Forget cinemas and tv shows, the evenings here are for socialising, dancing, and almost certainly a rum or two!

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The other joy of Cuba is its natural beauty. Outside of the charismatic cities, you’ll find beautiful waterfalls such as El Nicho, pristine white beaches with crystal clear waters, the most famous being Varadero (if you don’t mind crowds, it’s only two hours out of Havana), and brilliant spots for snorkelling and diving, such as the Bay of Pigs. There are big open fields, surrounded by caves and mountains – great for hiking and horseriding. If you are considering a two week holiday, the classic Havana, Vinales, Trinidad, Varadero loop will show you the diversity of the country. You’ll have a laid back adventure, where you’ll find yourself simply getting lost in the streets and soaking up all the rich culture the country has to offer.

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Sofia’s Cuba Top 5:

  • Visit the Fabrica de Arts in Havana – wander around this old peanut factory, sipping on mojitos whilst admiring the modern art. Make sure to get there before 8.30pm if you want to get in, but stick around as the live gigs, DJ sets and contemporary dance acts start to kick off around 10/11pm.
  • Indulge in happy hour at Oasis de Creperie in Havana, the most amazing daiquiris for just £1.50!
  • Spend an evening dancing with locals at the Casa de Musica in Vinales
  • Go horse riding through the beautiful national park of Parque el Cubano in Trinidad
  • Stay in a casa de particular. In Cuba, families will rent out a few rooms to guests. You can eat with them and if you speak Spanish have a chat and learn about the local way of life. An authentic experience, which can be so charming. You’ll definitely feel looked after!


 

Thank you Sofia! Don’t forget to catch up with the rest of Sofia’s journey here. 

Sofia’s Photo Diary: New Experiences in Japan

Sofia is travelling the world (lucky thing!) and has been sharing her journey with us here on the Patchwork blog. So far she’s showed us bustling Rajasthan, South IndiaNepalMyanmar and the Philippines. Now it’s over to Sofia to share her photos and tips from her latest destination – Japan.

Japan, the land of the future, technology, efficiency. From the hustle and bustle of Tokyo to the quaint picturesque landscapes of Kyoto, Japan has many a hidden treasure.

Starting in Tokyo, one of the first things you notice is the sense of order. People queuing patiently to board the metro. Everything is on time. Everything is slick and clean. The people are well dressed, reserved. Though despite their private nature, you will come across many an oddity – maid cafes, ready to serve you, sir. Manga shops. A clone factory. Love hotels. Onsens where being naked is the norm. One area of Tokyo – Akihabara – in fact feels like it’s been designed by a teenage boy – a gaming shop, next to a sex shop, next to a yoyo store, next to a gadget store followed by comic books and back to a maid cafe! Amongst this though was a realisation that the Japanese had considered how to fulfill your every need in the city. It has everything from amazing shopping districts, to captivating exhibitions, to cat cafes, to capsule hotels for a quick power nap. You name it, you can find it!

One of things I was most excited about for Japan was the food, and boy did it deliver. With an array of options there was always something new to try; the vending machine snacks are on another level – we’re not just talking chocolate bars and crisps – everything you can think of is inside these machines. There are amazing sushi joints for a quick lunchtime bite, Korean BBQs for socialising, all you can eat and drink Japanese tapas for the pre-nightclub fuel up! There are street food vendors often with various iterations of octopus and pancake. And cakes! All of the cakes, light, fluffy, delicious, a culinary treat I hadn’t associated with the country before. Hell, they even have a restaurant where you can fish for your own dinner within the restaurant! Overall the standard of quality of food in Japan is exceptional. Incredible fresh fish and tender meats. Hard to be disappointed even if you’re just grabbing a bite at a train station.

Talking of train stations. Whilst the Japanese rail pass may be expensive, it is well worth the money. The bullet trains are as the name suggests – fast and efficient. Whilst based in Osaka, you can easily get to Naoshima, the stunning art island, pop to Kobe for dinner or be moved by the heartbreaking stories of those who lived through devastating atomic bomb of 1945 in Hiroshima.

Japan, whilst modern and super advanced is a country with a long history of traditions and cultures, which it has not only held onto but is very much proud of. There seems to be a great deal of respect for these values, reflected in their courteous manner and in how the presence of geisha girls, sumos, Onsen houses, tea ceremonies and ryokans remain both relevant and iconic. And with a landscape punctuated by traditional architecture, shrines, temples and castles, Japan manages to feel both old and new all at the same time, always with something to experience and discover.

Sofia’s Top 5 Japan Tips:

Get intimate at a local Onsen. Natural hot springs, where everyone is naked. The interesting part is the cleaning ritual as opposed to the nudity! Very relaxing and quite an experience.

Try Shabu Shabu restaurants serving hot broth, which you can quickly dip raw meat and vegetables in to cook. Delicious and lots of fun.

Spend some time at Naoshima. A tranquil, beautiful island dedicated to art.

Sing your heart out at karaoke, try warming up with some pre-drinks in the Golden Gai in Tokyo first.

Spend a night at 9 Hours hotel, Kyoto. The sleeping capsules will make you feel like you’ve been transported into the future.

 


 

Thank you Sofia. Next up, Sofia’s heading to Cuba!

Sofia’s Photo Diary: Pure Beauty in the Philippines

Sofia is taking a career break, exploring parts of the world she’s never seen before, and has been sharing her journey with us here on the Patchwork blog. So far she’s showed us bustling Rajasthan, the beautiful landscapes of South India, the tranquility of Nepal, and the mystery of Myanmar. Now it’s over to Sofia to share her photos and tips from her latest destination – the Philippines.

  

Luscious green vegetation and sparkling blue seas contrast with the pristine white sands of the Philippines – a place of natural beauty, paradise on earth. Once you’ve entered the home of the blue lagoon and discovered its many hidden treasures, you may never want to leave.

The mainland of Manila has a familiar vibe to many south Asian cities. An abundance of street food, busy roads, lots of noise. But don’t be fooled – it’s filled with plenty of its own unique quirks. From the Wacky Races-style tricycles, to obscure coffee shops (like the Harry Potter bar that I stumbled upon), or over-the-top karaoke, there’s plenty to keep you entertained. But the main event are the islands – island hopping is an absolute must. Just be aware when planning your trip that flights and boats are often delayed, so do account for a full day of travel when getting from one island to the next.

With so much to see and do in the Philippines, you can really feel your surroundings and ‘holiday mode’ change as you jump from one island to the next. One minute you’re chilling out in the luxury resort of Bohol, with infinity pools and cocktails aplenty. Then you’re in full adventure mode – canyoneering in Cebu or diving in Coron, or partying the night away in Boracay on its famous white beaches, lined with bars and clubs.

Whichever island you go to, you’re sure to find many boat trips offering you the chance to snorkel, visit private islands and hidden lagoons and take in everything nature has to offer.

Personally, I could have stayed in El Nido forever – there are several beaches to choose from, each with a different vibe – beach bums chilling to music with a beer, quiet empty spaces or the perfect surf. It has the most serene surroundings and smaller islands and lagoons to visit. At night you can either relax watching the sunset or you can be sure to see some familiar faces at its one and only late night beach club.

Sofia’s Philippines Top 5:

  • Go diving in Coron! Swim through sunken shipwrecks, find Nemo in one of the many beautiful coral reefs
  • Fly yourself to the Birds Nest in El Nido and unravel the love story of Camilla and Mark, who set up this incredible glamping spot at the end of their honeymoon. Wake up to views of the mountains and seas and read a book in their swinging chair, sniffing the sweet aromas of home-baked treats that await you
  • Go to the floating bar at Snake Island in El Nido, sip on a fresh piña colada and dip your toes in the crystal clear water
  • If partying is your thing, shake your hips to the beats of Boracay’s Rasta drum circle on Station 1 beach.
  • Go to the stunning twin lagoon in El Nido. If you’re able to, find a boat tour that sets off a bit later avoid the crowds, so you can make the most of this incredible setting. Crack open a beer, kayak through the narrow passageways of the rocks and enjoy the cool waters

 


 

Thank you Sofia! Next time, Sofia’s in Japan.

Sofia’s Career Break Photo Diary: Myanmar

So far, you’ve read about Sofia’s adventures in India and Nepal, and seen the beautiful photos she’s taken along the way. This week Sofia’s in Myanmar (formerly Burma) – a country that has captured her attention and imagination since she first arrived. Over to Sofia to share her take on this amazing country. Plus, read on for her top 5 tips for Myanmar.

Myanmar   

Myanmar is a country of intrigue. Unexplored, unexploited, ancient temples and hushed secrets of political turmoil. And with tourists only being allowed to travel into the country in recent years, I wasn’t sure what to expect when arriving in Myanmar. But what laid ahead of me was a country of great history. Despite all of the challenges Myanmar had faced with internal conflicts, war, and a steep economical demise, the people are kind, warm and modest. They are happy to welcome you, smiling and peacefully quiet.

This attitude stems from their Buddhist values which are most prevalent in their everyday lives. This is perhaps the most interesting thing to see when in Myanmar. Everywhere you go, the red and pink robes of nuns and monks can be seen wandering in the markets and walking the streets. Turn the corner and you’ll see young children being inducted into the monastery on ceremonial processions. Wake up each morning to the chants of prayers and a line of young boys collecting food, holding out silver bowls for rice to feed the monastery. Head to one of the many pagodas and watch the locals bow down to the Buddha.

Travelling through Myanmar, though the landscape may change, one constant is the way in which it’s lands have been adorned with temples – ornate crumbling red brick temples in Old Bagan and tall gold steeples in Yangon. Throughout, you can admire the architecture and detail that has gone into building the pagodas, from the Hsinbyume wedding cake-shaped pagoda in Mingun, to the Pindaya cave temples and the giant stone walls of Kuthodaw in Mandalay.

  

And once you’re all pagoda’d-out, there is still much to see of local life. So spend some time cruising through Inle Lake and discover small wooden huts on stilts that form the basis of many villages. You can see the traditional leg rowing boats as they collect plants to build the floating gardens. Alternatively, hire a bike and cycle through beautiful Old Bagan. A horizon of temples lies over the desert-like land, transporting you to a different time. Or, hike through the mountains of Kalow and take in the views.

  

When it comes to the evening, Myanmar is fairly sleepy. As tourism increases, so does the emergence of hipster-style venues. There’s the Rangoon tea house in Burma and The French Touch in Nyaungshwe, where you can eat Myanmar French fusion food and catch an art house documentary or film.

Better yet, the local restaurants offer up BBQ style dining, where you chose your skewers with accompanying rice and veg. Or in the cities, the street food such as Indian chapatti and curries found on 82nd street in Mandalay come highly recommended.

Sofia’s Myanmar Top 5:

  • Wake up early and watch the sunrise on top of a temple in Old Bagan. Even better, splash out and catch a hot air balloon ride over the hundreds of scattered temples with a glass of champagne in hand!
  • Take a long boat and explore Inle Lake. Stop off at the silk makers, blacksmiths, silver workshop and floating markets.
  • Spend a night on a stilt house on the lake at the Bagan-Myaing community lodge. Hire some bikes and visits the local villages. See how the locals really live.
  • Explore the Pindaya caves, get lost in thousands of Buddhas.
  • Go to the teak monastery in Mandalay. Walk around and watch the monks meditate. Feel free to sit and practise yourself.

 

Thank you Sofia! Next time, Sofia’s in the Philippines.

Sofia’s Career Break Photo Diary: Nepal

Sofia is taking a break from London and from working life, and has been sharing her incredible journey around India and Southeast Asia with us here on the Patchwork blog. So far she’s showed us the hustle and bustle of Rajasthan, the majesty of the Taj Mahal, and the ever changing landscapes of South India – from the rugged cliffs to the tropical jungles. Now, she’s exploring Nepal. Over to Sofia to share her thoughts, feelings and photos from this beautiful place.

Nepal, home to some of the world’s most breathtaking mountain ranges – the Himalayas – is a place to discover, explore and reflect.

Unlike Nepal’s neighbour India, there is a distinct calmness to the country, a softness to the people, a serene tranquility in the mountains and chants of buddhist prayer echoing through the air. Nepal has an earthy, natural palette – from the silhouetted blue mountains, crashing white waves of rivers in the valleys, scattered gold and white of the temples in the cities, and the piles of earthy rubble and bricks where people continue to rebuild after the earthquake in 2015.

In the city of Kathmandu, you can get lost through the winding passages, stepping over cracked pavements and avoiding mounds of construction dirt. Passing temples at every turn, you can light a candle for a loved one or even attach a coin to the tooth temple (this will ensure you keep your full set of gnashers!). At night you can wander the main strip of late-night bars, listen to live bands and watch the locals do karaoke (with full boyband moves to accompany their wailing).

For more adventure, head to Pokhara, which is set against distant mountain ranges on the lake and has a really relaxed vibe. Coffee shops and North Face apparel line the streets. You can spend the day looking out to the lake with an iced coffee, take out a boat or climb up to the peace pagoda. There’s all sorts of evening entertainment here, from an outdoor cinema to lots of live music sets. But if you’re up for some adventure, set your alarm early and set out on a trek, where you’ll discover life on the mountain, seeing the people who spend their days hiking back and forth between villages, women delivering food, men herding donkeys, porters lifting what looks like the weight of the world!

Sofia’s Nepal Top 5

Push yourself out of your comfort zone with a new challenge – be it water rafting, bungee jumping or trekking.

  • Enjoy a drink at Purple Haze in Kathmandu, nod away to some rock covers and watch the local lads singing their hearts out to many a ballad
  • Do a trek, take in the breathtaking views of the Himalayas and experience local mountain life
  • Eat some momos – Nepalese dumplings
  • If you have time, do a bit of volunteering to help rebuild after the devastation of the earthquake. I met so many people who formed really close communities with locals and travellers alike working together on projects.

Next time, Sofia’s in Burma.

Sofia’s Career Break: South India Photo Diary

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Patchwork pal Sofia is taking a career break. She’s taking 6 months out to travel the world and she’s sharing her incredible journey with us here on our blog. Last time, we shared her top tips for Northern India. This time, she’s travelling through the ever changing landscapes of the south. Over to you to tell us all about it, Sofia…

From tropical jungles and deep mountain valleys to expanses of beautiful beaches, rugged cliffs and meandering canals, the south of India has so much to offer. It’s the perfect escape for soaking up culture and stunning landscapes, mixed in with a few good cocktails, sipped on the beach whilst watching the sun set over the sea.

One of the most beautiful things about India is how much each state varies from the next. Take Kerala, with it’s distinct tropical feel, still embracing much of their Indian traditions. In Alleppey, the ‘Venice of the East’ you can explore the backwaters and the small villages that line the waters. Stop and have a toddy – a coconut fermented home brewed beer. Then just 2 hours down the road you can be in Kochi, wandering the streets and taking in the Portuguese and Dutch architecture. Go two hours in the other direction and you can be in Varkala for all the hippie-backpacker vibes.

One thing to note about Kerala is that it’s a dry state, so most places don’t have an alcohol license. Though this won’t stop lots of places sending out a waiter on a moped, who’ll later return to your table with a wink and a teapot discreetly filled with beer! Though if letting your hair down with a drink in the sunshine is more your thing, Goa is calling. With endless stretches of beautiful beaches, one after the other, ranging from the classic nightclub strip to calmer, more tranquil beaches in the south, you’re sure to find your space.

Sofia’s Southern India Top 5:

  • Do a homestay with a local family, Susana and Paul at the Wayanad homestay have a beautiful family and they will welcome you with open arms.
  • Get a kayak in Allepey and explore the back canals. Organise this through your guesthouse rather than the main operators to save 2,000+ rupees
  • Enjoy a local fish thali. Fisherman’s in Palolem is great, or even better take a cooking class and learn how to make it yourself
  • Treat yourself to a night on Big Cola beach, near Palolem in South Goa. A quiet beach with its own natural fresh water lagoon and huts that sit in the hill overlooking the sea.
  • If you’re on Kochi, set your alarm and watch the sun rise at the Chinese fishing nets. Have a go at reeling in the fish and watch the boats come in as the daily haggle over the catch of the day commences.

Thanks Sofia. Next time, Sofia’s in Nepal.

Sofia’s Career Break in India: A Photo Diary

We’ve written about the fear, joy and many rewards that come with taking a career break. And although we hope everyone at Patchwork will sit still for the next few years we’re very happy that the lovely Sofia has packed her bags and taken six months off for a once in a lifetime adventure. And the best bit? She’s going to chart her journey through India and Southeast Asia, checking in every now and then to share her photo diary and five top tips for each place she visits. Over to you Sofia…

First stop, Northern India:

 

If you plan to explore Rajasthan be prepared to experience an assault on your senses – the sounds of beeping cars, calling birds and chants of prayers. Vivid colours painted across the walls, woven through the silks of the saris and displayed in the array of fruits, jewels and trinkets. The constant smell of mud, dirt and cow dung mixed with delicious spices and curries, the sweet scent of sugary desserts and sharp tangy chutneys. Around every corner, a new experience awaits you.

With a civilisation dating back to 3000BC India has a rich oral history, so wherever you go you’ll hear stories of ancient rulers, fables from the gods and reasons behind local superstitions and social rituals.

Rajasthan, filled with palaces, forts and temples, has a majestic charm that transports you back to a different era. Also, being more traditional than other parts of the country, you can see how other areas are undergoing a cultural transformation in comparison. During my time here I shared a meal with the local Sikh community in the Gurudwaras, walked with rats in a temple, rode camels through the desert, haggled in the markets, explored many ancient ruin and had my fortune told (all looking good. Phew).

Travelling through the north of the country is by no means a laid back journey, so to love it requires time and patience. But once you get used to the pace, it’s somewhere you can become completely absorbed, surrounded by friendly faces and with so much to see and do.  

 

Sofia’s Northern India Top Five:

  1. Get a sleeper train: a squashed and hot experience but a great chance to meet people and appreciate the stunning scenery from sunrise to sunset.
  2. Take a guided tour around the Taj Fort: the architecture alone is amazing but the stories behind the fort give crucial context and bring the experience to life.
  3. Visit Udaipur: Soak up the artistic vibes against the beautiful backdrop of the lake.
  4. Enjoy ‘fast food’ in Kanha, Jaipur: Really cheap and you can try a massive selection of  street foods.
  5. Get a boat in Varanasi at the Ghats: Watch the sunset ceremony and learn about the Hindu approach to death.

Next up: Sofia’s photos from Southern India.

World Photo Day: Our Favourite Travel Photos

To celebrate #WorldPhotoDay we’re sharing some of our favourite travel photos from the people who make our image gallery so beautiful. Without this talented crew, creating a travel patchwork would be a lot less inspiring. Check them out:

_Christian-Sanjaya-Christian Sanjaya

rachel-mellorRachel Mellor

Stephen-NinaberStephen Ninaber

esme-peach- Esme Peach

Kathryn-BonnerKathryn Bonner

If all this awe-inspiring beauty has you ready to get cracking on your honeymoon or gap year fund, get started now – just create your own from scratch, or browse our readymade travel patchworks for inspiration.

6 Work Experience Gap Year Ideas

Gap years aren’t always all about teaching children, feeding rescued animals or working in an orphanage. You can get the same immersive experience in a new country and a new culture whilst learning about a job that you want to do when you come home. Learn business skills, marketing tricks and help impart social media know-how during the day and spend your weekends experiencing a entirely different culture, meeting new people and/or discovering beautiful beaches and hushed temples.

China Jiuzhaigou

1. Undoubtedly the business capital of the world, China has it all when it comes to modern amenities, unspoilt beaches, rural adventures and friendly locals. Head to Beijing or Shanghai with Oyster and learn how the fastest growing economy does business. They have a wide range of sectors you can pick from depending on your interest – accountancy, advertising, science, IT, healthcare and more.

Your current experience will be utilised and you’ll develop new CV enhancing skills too. Although your supervisor and most of your colleagues will speak English, Oyster offer four weeks of intensive Mandarin training to help you navigate the city. And at the end of the programme, you’ll get a certificate and a final report that will help your CV stand out back in the UK. If you’re feeling inspired, you can find out some more information here.

4 weeks, with concurrent Mandarin lessons – £2555

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2. Journalism is a tough business to crack and experience is everything. Give yourself a helping hand and try a journalism internship in the Ghanan capital of Accra with Gap Force. You can choose to join a newspaper, TV channel or radio station, working alongside some of Ghana’s leading journalists and reporters to develop your research, writing and copy editing skills. And at the weekends you can head off to explore the rich history, culture and wildlife that this incredible country has to offer – wild elephants at Mole National Park, unspoilt beaches and years of bloody history down at Cape Coast. You can read more about the details of the internship here.

4 – 8 weeks, starting price £1500

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3. If you’re planning a career in medicine then getting some first hand medical experience is essential. Another project by Gap Force, this one sees you learning expedition and water related medicine and surviving dangerous environments in the Costa Rican jungle. If travelling and medicine are your two passions then there is no other project that will get your heart racing as much as this one. The experiences and skills you’ll be learning are seemingly endless – jungle navigation, fire lighting, casualty assessments, catastrophic haemorrhaging, breathing and circulation, evacuation strategies, fracture handling and use of a machete to name just a few.

You’ll take part in rescue response training learning crucial knots, harnesses and rigging systems and testing out your newly learnt medical skills. And if you have any energy left after all that, you can leave your month in the jungle and head to Quepos and volunteer at a local medical clinic, shadowing doctors and treating patients to get that crucial real life experience. Exhilarating, educational and completely unforgettable, these 2 weeks will stay with you your whole life. Just go here for more information.

2 weeks, £800

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4. If you love skiing and snowboarding and dream of a job on the slopes head to the Canadian ski resort of Whistler Blackcomb and within four weeks you could be a qualified ski instructor, ready to spend the rest of your life on the snowy mountains. In groups of no more than 6 you’ll improve your ski techniques, gain the AST1 Avalanche Skills (super handy in those Canadian mountain ranges) and be ready to sit your CSIA L1 at the end of it with no problems. And if you opt for the Ski Instructor Internship you have the opportunity to apply for a job at the Snow School once you’ve passed and spend your days being paid to ski. Pretty cool, right? Go here for more details on all gap year ski courses with Alltracks Academy.

Beach Boat

5. If you’re after a bit of office experience but also want to experience a new and colourful culture, pack your bag and sign up to The Leap’s Tanzania business project. You’ll spend your time working at a small travel company, organising safaris and learning general office skills. You’ll have the chance to help out in an orphanage and a school alongside visiting the bustling city of Dar Es Salaam and the beautiful Zanzibar Island. We can’t promise you’ll want to leave and come back to office life in the UK though.

6-10 weeks, starting at £2047

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6. Projects Abroad host a variety of voluntary business internships in Mexico, Mongolia, China, Costa Rica and Sri Lanka. You’ll be working in local businesses helping them with general office duties – researching, writing briefs, attending meetings and contacting clients. Your colleagues will have a good grasp of English but will be keen to practise their conversational skills with you. Projects Abroad also offer placements in NGO’s in India, Mexico, South Africa, Vietnam and Jamaica. Here you get to learn how international development charities work and the problems they face. You can read more about this here.

If new business is where your interest lies then check out the Micro Finance projects in Cambodia, Ghana, Senegal and Tanzania. Projects Abroad provide a loan to a individuals or groups to help them set up their business. When the loan is paid back, it gets passed on to another new start up. This is an exciting opportunity to see how small businesses start and how they overcome problems. You’ll get experience reading business plans, developing marketing strategies and managing money whilst teaching you how businesses work in a different country.

Once you’ve decided on the right creative project for you, use Patchwork to help make it happen. Show your friends and family all the things you need to fund, make and do so they can choose how they can help – whether that means chipping in to help pay for accommodation, offering to drive you to the airport or lending you a rucksack.

Have a look at our gap year Patchworks here to get some inspiration.

Gap Year Ideas: Working with Animals

Whether you want to wash elephants, count coral-dwelling crustaceans or bottle-feed orphaned donkeys, here are our top five gap year experiences for animal lovers:

Volunteering with animals
Image source

Head to Udaipur in Northern India with Pod Volunteer and spend your time at an animal rescue shelter whilst learning a bit of Hindi along the way. You’ll be helping to clean, feed and care for injured dogs, pigs, goats, cows and donkeys that have been rescued from the streets of Udaipur. You’ll be involved in rehabilitation, physiotherapy and assisting local vets to get these animals back on their hooves. You also get to help support a local initiative to help people care for their livestock and be part of an enthusiastic team that rescues over 3,500 animals a year.

Pod Volunteer is an award-winning, ethical non-profit that has been helping people experience incredible gap years since 2001 when its founders volunteered together and set up a charity in Tanzania. They know exactly what you want and need from a gap year and even won the Best Volunteering Organisation of 2015. Extra curricular activities include henna, yoga and cooking classes plus a not-to-be-missed trip to the Taj Mahal. You can find out some more details about the project here.

Volunteer for 2 – 12 weeks, starting from £695.

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If you’re more of a fins and flippers fan, then volunteering in a marine aquarium in Mexico will likely whet your appetite. Working with sharks, crocodiles, marine birds and Olive Ridley turtles, you’ll be assisting the vets in their rehabilitation work. For added excitement, you’ll get to swim with sharks and sea-lions – if you’re feeling brave enough. Depending on your interests you can help run tours of the aquarium, observe reproductive behaviour in the marine wildlife or help organise local school visits to spread the word about marine conservation.

Outreach International started in 1997 after an emotional trip to a rubbish dump in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and has being sending volunteers all over the world ever since. They carefully pick their projects to ensure that the volunteering work you do is needed, valuable and helpful to the local community. Ethics and sustainability is at the heart of what they do so you can be confident that your volunteering is beneficial and appreciated. You can read more about this conservation project here.

From 1 month to 6 months. Starting from £1,650

Leopard

If you love animals but want a bit of variety to your trip, try one of The Leap’s projects that combine animal conservation work with a bit of teaching, a splash of diving or some relaxing island hopping. If you feel most comfortable on horseback then 10 weeks in South Africa on a horse safari and conservation programme is ideal. Learn about anti-poaching efforts, help maintain the reserve and keep an eye on the local rhinos, elephants and leopards.

The Leap is a family-run company that care about your safety and enjoyment as much as your family do. They are also dedicated to responsible travel and ensure that around 65% of your fee gets spent in the country you’re visiting – paying locals, supporting families and facilitating projects.

6 – 10 weeks, starting at £2528

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Big into bears? Head over to Romania with Oyster and spend your days hanging out with over 72 rescued bears. You’ll be preparing their food, monitoring how the little cubs are integrating and helping give tours of the sanctuary to schools and tourists to educate visitors about these loveable beasts. You’ll be staying in a comfortable apartment in Brasov with other volunteers where you can explore the beautiful city, go out for dinner or just relax after a day of serious bear care. If you’re feeling inspired, you can find out more here.

Oyster have a whole heap of animal projects you can help out with. So whether you’re into elephants, turtles or big game, they’ve got you covered. Oyster is another family-run business, with each member of its UK staff having taken a gap year and loved it so much that they wanted to help others experience one too. Each project is personally visited by the team so they know exactly that they’re offering you and can tell you just what to expect.

1-12 weeks, starting from £995

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If you can’t pick just one favourite animal then the Zoo Assistant Internship project in Malaysia will tickle all your fancies. Another project from Oyster, this one sees you actively help change the zoo as it brings its conditions up to an internationally acceptable level. You’ll be working on enrichment for the animals – think hiding food for them to find, building platforms for them to climb up and providing natural materials for them to build nests and dens.

The zoo is proud of its large and natural enclosures, using moats and lush vegetations as a barrier between fingers and fur rather than fences and walls. Over 54 acres and more than 1000 animals means you’ll be kept busy during your time here. Plus you’re only an hour and a half away from bustling Kuala Lumpur for weekend trips. This trip is a great first step for anyone interested in veterinary care or simply for anyone with a love of animals and adventure.

2 weeks costs £1014

4 weeks costs £1497

Gap years are fabulous for all the reasons you already know – memories, confidence, CV boosts and new friends. But they can also be a real hassle to fund. That’s where Patchwork can help. Show friends and family your plans so they can choose which part of your trip to treat you to – £100 from your mum towards your flights, £20 from aunt Sally for a night in a treehouse, £5 from your best mate to treat you to a local lunch.

Check out some of our readymade gap year Patchworks and get planning your trip.

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