How to volunteer on your gap year

Get the most out of a gap year by giving back while getting life experience.

Taking a gap year after finishing secondary school has increased in popularity in Australia, with recent figures showing 20% of school leavers take a gap year.1

A gap year is taking some time out in between life stages. The most common things to do while on a gap year include getting some work experience, undertaking study or training (somewhere other than a university) and travelling2, but a volunteering gap year can be a fun and worthwhile way to learn about the world while giving something back.

It can also be a good way of testing out potential career options before committing to them on a more permanent basis.

Where can I volunteer?

A whole industry has grown up around organising gap years and volunteering gap years are no exception.

There are many organisations that can help you find placements across the globe, from Africa to Latin America, Asia, and Europe. The Centre for Volunteering has a list of organisations that can help with volunteer programs.

It’s important to choose somewhere you have a cultural interest in, as you will be more likely to immerse yourself in the community, and a project you feel passionate about. And like any form of travel, it helps if you can speak the language.

But volunteering doesn’t have to involve costly overseas travel. There are many communities and organisations in Australia that need assistance, and you can search for opportunities closer to home at Volunteering Australia.

What can I volunteer to do?

Placements can vary from marine and wildlife conversation to teaching, and from building homes and schools to healthcare.

But most organisations focus on three main areas of volunteering:

  • Teaching and childcare
    Interested in working with children in a Cambodian orphanage or teaching English in Fiji? These placements focus on sharing your knowledge and improving the future for children so that they can thrive in their community.
  • Animal conservation
    From saving jaguars in Costa Rica to diving the coral reef off Mexico, volunteering with animals gives you an opportunity to make a difference to a protected species or their environment.
  • Community assistance
    Whether it’s building a school in Nepal or rainwater systems in Guatemala, you can help create infrastructure which provides for basic human need and helps communities become self-sustainable.

How long can I volunteer for?

Programs can vary from a few weeks to a few months or even longer, and the more time you can give, the greater the likelihood of having a significant impact.

If you’ve deferred a place at university to take a gap year, there may be a limit to how long you can defer for. It’s best to check with the university to see what rules apply.

What else do I need to think about?

If you do choose to volunteer overseas, you’ll need some money behind you to cover your travel and expenses.

And for many people, volunteering abroad allows them to explore the region once the program is finished so you’ll need to make sure you have enough to support you for the whole time.

Our budget planner calculator can help you work out what you’re spending your money on and how much you need to save, while the AMP Bett3r Account helps you to set money aside effortlessly.

You can learn more about managing your money with our online learning module and if you’ve got debts, we can help with those, too.

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