Are you one of the hundreds of thousands of students looking to escape the rat race after studying and working for the majority of your lives? Do you feel you deserve a break and the chance to relax and explore what the world has to offer? If so, you've come to the right place - sit down, kick your feet up and enjoy our gap year and long stay destination guide to far-away exotic countries. We guarantee there's nothing but adventure lying ahead...
#10 - Mexico
Ideal for short-term travelling, flights to this diverse nation are relatively cheap, and you'll meet plenty of people your age travelling to the party-Mecca for a good time with sun, sea and...strawberry daiquiris. Spring break festivals in Cancun and Cabo are particularly popular with the British holidaymakers who see Spring Break as the ultimate blow-out, so travel to the country for the last week of Lent, and you'll be sure to be fulfilling the all-American dream of keg stands, wet-t-shirt contests, and girls in slinky bikinis.
If you're more interested in the country instead of its interesting vodka-lime mixes, travel south from Cancun through the Yucatán peninsula (where I'm told there are some amazing ruins), west into Campeche (for the unique Mexican experience) and Chiapas (for rustic Mexican cultural hubs) or even as far as Oaxaca (for authentic tacos, burritos, nachos and fajitas).
#9 - Japan
An interesting and unique way to spend your year out, Japan is popular with students who like it's crazy and exaggerated culture. The positioning of modern Japanese art, colourful drawings and toys, next to the older Japanese temples, traditions and foods next to each other make it the perfect place for those who enjoy rich culture.
It's worth seeing Tokyo, if only to watch the famous Shibuya Crossing, distinctive for the throngs of people that cross in traffic intervals, from all directions. Mount Fuji, is a good sight for those who fancy a challenge - as one of the highest volcanoes on the island, it stands almost 4,000 metres tall and offers some fantastic views from the peak of the national symbol.
Another destination for those that enjoy countries steeped in history and culture, India has become a popular gap year destination because of it's incredible opportunities and programmes. Voluntary programmes for wildlife conservation and internships which offer more than in the UK primarily attract the young student gap-year crowd. It's the ideal place to visit if you're on a tight budget but still want to see some of the world's greatest sights too, as living costs are really low.
The Taj Mahal is a worldwide favourite, and a morning boat ride along the Ganges to the Varanashi Ghats is also a tourist favourite, with the opportunity to see spiritual, mythical and privately owned pieces of India's culture.
#7 - Vietnam
It's been open to tourists for the past 20 years, but places of Vietnam are still unexplored and shrouded in intrigue. Although sometimes only remembered for the war that took place here and practically destroyed most elements of the country, there's a lot more than just sun, sea, sand and battlefield memories here. Hanoi still has relics of it's French colonial past here, and the ancient capital of Hue has palaces and pagodas from the 18th century Nguyen dynasty on the shores of the Perfume River.
Adventure travellers would feel right at home in Vietnam, with plenty of jungle to trek through, and opportunities to motorbike, dive or kayak through some of Vietnam's most peaceful unexplored wilderness.
#6 - Peru
Peru might not seem like an obvious gap year choice, but when you add the words Machu Picchu to the sentence it becomes clear why so many gap year travellers choose to visit the country during their time away from home. South of Cusco is the Inca Trail, which takes you to the peak of the Aztec ruins - this is great to do at around sunset or sunrise as you can see the beautiful display from a high point. Later on, you can head back down to Cusco and get drunk on free cuba libres.
Peru's main draw is it's close proximity to other great, and relatively inexpensive gap year sights. Nearby are the gorgeous salt flats of Bolivia, which doesn't sound like much but you'll understand the natural beauty it offers when you see it, and Death Road in La Paz (the most dangerous road in the world that Top Gear did a special on once). The Galapagos Islands are also pretty close, but this is a more expensive place to visit, however briefly, but it will definitely be a once in a lifetime kind of trip so it could be worth delving a bit deeper for.
#5 - South Africa
The best thing about Africa is it's sheer diversity, making it ideal for any gap year traveller as pretty much anyone can find something they enjoy about this beautiful continent. South Africa offers tourists an insight into it's ability to be as modern and contemporary as any Western city, alongside it's stunning natural beauty - as demonstrated by places such as the Kruger National Park, the biggest national park in Africa with the real-life Lion King on your doorstep.
On the coast of Hermanus, you can dive with sharks, or you can participate in the local sport of 'kloofing', which involves abseiling into canyons. If you're looking for something different but not so far away from your home comforts, head into Cape Town, a cultural hub of diversity and contemporary African living, with wineland tours or historical guides round some of the country's best spots.
#4 - North America
Everyone has to visit the USA at some point. With their supersize portions, big houses, big cars, and big living it's the land of grandeur. Favourite gap year stories include doing a road trip (Route 66 travels across the country, through California to Illinois including big points of interest like Sears Tower in Chicago, Hotel el Rancho in New Mexico and the Santa Monica pier), or working behind a bar in Seattle (the city that's meant to be more like England than any other), or even helping out at a summer camp with kids. New York would be a more expensive trip but that's not to mean that it can't be done, you'll just need to save a little more.
#3 - New Zealand
A growing popularity for this country could be due to any number of factors. The landscape, made famous by films such as the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, provides a stunning backdrop for travellers as they enjoy everything else the country has to offer. The locals are famously laid back, happy and friendly, and there's an abundance of adrenaline sports and beaches to surf on. You can ski, whale-watch and wine-taste within a week. The same language makes the whole country a lot less alienating and you're less likely to suffer from culture shock or something similar, so New Zealand is ideal for first time travellers.
Similar to New Zealand but not identical (very important to distinguish the difference). The contrast between the famous outback, to the foreground of Sydney Harbour makes this a favourite destination with backpackers worldwide, and the ability to fit in with the friendly locals always helps.
Experience the outback with a road trip that takes you to Uluru, Ayres Rock and through some pretty dramatic red sand scenery, but remember to watch out for the snakes, spiders, scorpions and of course, crocs. Snorkel or scuba-dive the Great Barrier Reef in Cairns, one of the biggest living coral reefs on the planet that stretches for over 1,200 miles. Try and visit the Blue Mountains, named after the blue mist that hangs over the eucalyptus trees that grow throughout the valley and crevices in this dramatic landscape, and make sure you visit Bondi for the true surfer experience.
#1 - Thailand
The most popular gap year destination in the world, Thailand has become a burgeoning tourist spot, embracing the thousands of people who visit it's exotic, fun-loving and tropical shores. Bangkok is the easiest way into the country, but even for those looking for the beach, it's such a great city to experience before you move on. It's crazy hustle and bustle, markets and nightlife are perfect to get you accustomed to the way of life here - and you can experience some truly amazing Pad Thai from street vendors for an incredible 80p (or even a deep-fried scorpion if you're feeling adventurous?)
The general guide to the popular Thai islands goes like this - Koh Tao for diving, Koh Phi Phi for the beach, and Koh Phangan for the world-famous Full Moon Party, a definitive experience which will never leave you. If you're less interested in the well-worn tourist track, try to visit Ayuthaya, the sacred city which is still treasured by the Thai people today. Or if you're looking for a more cosmopolitan edge, visit the Moon Bar at Vertigo, where you'll be able to sit on the 59th floor and look over the city of Bangkok in all it's glory.
Alpha Travel Insurance and alphatravelinsurance.co.uk are trading names of Infinity Insurance Solutions Ltd which is authorised and regulated by Financial Conduct Authority: FRN 528912 © Infinity Insurance Solutions. 1 Tower View, Kings Hill, West Malling, Kent. ME19 4UY. All rights reserved