Gap years are probably one of the most exciting times of your life, where you get to explore a new place, culture and landscape. It’s a chance to make memories and life a different lifestyle, before getting tied up in a career that you can’t afford to leave for long periods of time. But one of the biggest things that makes or breaks a gap year – the destination. If you end up going to the right place, then you’re bound to have an unforgettable gap year. However if you go to somewhere that’s too dangerous, too expensive, or too isolating, for example, then your gap year might be unforgettable for the wrong reasons. That’s why at Unifresher, we’ve dug around to find which countries offer the perfect gap year destination based on a whole load of stats, like quality of life, ease of learning a local language, political stability, price of hotels and flights, length of coastline to infer more beach life, and so on.

Can you guess which country came out on top?

Unifresher’s interactive table of the best gap year destinations

Use the horizontal bar to scroll across to see all the variables used to rank each country. Alternatively, search for particular countries in the search bar to see how they rank.

RankCountryCost of living indexcost of living indexCheapest one-way flights (£)cheapest one way flightEasiness of learning local languagehow easy to learn local language per countryLength of coastline (km)longest coastline per country Average hotel price ($)average hotel price per country per nightPolitical stablitiypolitical stability peace iconAverage temperatureaverage temperature per countryQuality of life indexquality of life indexTotal score
1Malaysia30.5265 29,323290.1426.38125.8202
2Portugal46.619 12,830990.8615.85164.1201
3India22.2154 017,18141-0.5724.94111.8200
6United Arab Emirates57.8110 42,871720.728.17163.2191
10Philippines33.6253 033,90041-0.7126.2785.9185
14Czech Republic48.61930680.828.6163.6173
15France6616 17,3301050.3311.65152168
17Denmark75.221 15,3161190.878.9193.6164
17Netherlands64.327 11,9141160.7210.49198.5164
20South Korea64.4348412,478470.5612.22142.3160
20New Zealand68.2540017,2091041.3110.46168.4160
22Sri Lanka33.220732,82552-0.7927.2576.9156
26South Africa33.877603,75178-0.7218.23139.9145
29United States72.92420133,312171-0.049.46174133

How we compiled the table

We used a variety of sources in the table data to find the best gap year destination out of 47 popular countries. We took data from Numbeo for Cost of Living and Quality of Life, Wikipedia for average yearly temperature, Skyscanner for flight prices (where the cheapest flight prices were taken flying one-way from London on the 1st September to any city within a country), Rosetta Stone for ease of language learning, World Resources Institute for length of coastline, Budget Your Trip for average nightly hotel prices, and World Population Review for political stability.

Reverse scores were used for flight prices, hotel prices and ease of language learning.

The top 10 gap year destinations

The table reveals the best gap year destinations based on the various factors that make a country a great place to stay for a while. Here’s the top 10 places to go on a gap year according to our research:

  1. Malaysia
  2. Portugal
  3. India
  4. Spain
  5. Indonesia
  6. United Arab Emirates
  7. Croatia
  8. Japan
  9. Sweden
  10. Philippines

Interestingly, many of these destinations are in Asia – particularly Southeast Asia. That’s probably due to factors related to cost of living and average nightly hotel prices. Read more about some of the destinations in the top 10 gap year countries below.


Best destination for a gap year is Malaysia
Source: Canva
Malaysia is perhaps an underrated gap year adventure, which as you can see from our research, is worth considering. You’ll be soaking in the vibes of Malay, Chinese, Indian, and indigenous traditions everywhere you go. And you can live large without burning a hole in your pocket, with affordable places to eat, cool places to crash, and loads of cheap ways to get around. Whether you’re chilling on the pristine beaches of Langkawi, diving into the underwater wonderland of Sipadan, or hiking through the ancient Taman Negara rainforest, the natural beauty here is incredible. If you love adventure, you’re quite spoiled for choice with options for trekking, diving and more. Plus, the food is amazing. There’s incredible dishes like nasi lemak and char kway teow that make Malaysia a unique gap year destination to explore with all the senses! But it’s not just fun and games; there are tons of chances to volunteer, intern, or even pick up some new skills. And the locals are some of the friendliest people around. You’ve also got all the modern comforts like fast Wi-Fi and good public transport, you’ll feel right at home. And when you’re ready to explore further, Malaysia’s perfect location in Southeast Asia makes hopping to nearby countries a breeze.


Sintra, Portugal - gap year destinations to visit
Source: Canva
In second place is Portugal, which is a great European gap year destination for many reasons. It’s got charming and colourful cities, amazing beaches, and great food (and wine). Picture yourself lounging on the Algarve’s sun-soaked beaches, catching massive waves in Nazaré, or trekking through the breathtaking trails of the Azores. You’ll be able to try activities like hiking, surfing, wine-tasting, mountain biking, horse riding and many other fun things to do. Then finishing the day with delights like bacalhau à brás and pastel de nata. Most people flock to Porto, the Algarve or Lisbon, but other cities, such as Sintra, are well worth exploring if you get the chance to roam around.


India, haridwar ganges
Source: Canva
India is a gap year destination that’s quite popular with Brits. It’s got great food, great beach life, great culture and super friendly people. You can stay, eat and move around for pretty cheap as well, which of course, makes any country easier for students (or freshly-graduated folk) to travel to. It’s full of bucket-list-style things to do as well. You could trek the Himalayas, take a boat ride on the Ganges, or party on the beach in Goa. Of course, one of the huge draws is the food. Street food, spicy curries, flavourful biryanis, and sweet treats like jalebis are things you can devour daily there. Plus India is very spiritual, so if you’re one of those looking for a gap year destination where you can ‘find yourself’ Eat, Pray, Love-style, you can look at yoga, meditation and more in India.


Croatia gap year places
Source: Canva
Croatia has some of the clearest, bright blue waters you can imagine. Plus, it’s a festival haven in the summer. It’s the ideal place for both nightlife and beach life. Plus it’s got the whole Game of Thrones vibes, with the red tile roofs and the stone fortresses. In fact, wandering around Croatia you’ll find lots of GOT references, from themed cocktails to guided tours. But even if you’re not into GOT, Croatia has stunning landscapes to explore and fun activities to do. Spend a gap year visiting castles on a cliff, swimming under waterfalls and exploring medieval cities. Plus, Croatia’s location in Europe makes it easy to explore nearby countries and expand your travel adventures. You could hop over to Italy, Bosnia or lots of other nearby countries.


cherry blossoms and mount Kilimanjaro Japan
Source: Canva
I mean, think of all the sushi you could have spending a gap year in Japan. It’s got incredible food, but of course, there’s about a million more reasons why Japan is a great gap year destination. You could spend a month in cities littered in ancient ruins, or among bustling crowds in the modern and futuristic Tokyo. There’s temples, islands, and mountains, and of course, the cherry blossom trees that are on many of our bucket lists’ must-sees. Japan is such a unique country when it comes to things to see, do, observe…eat!! It’s also 5th best for political stability and 7th best for quality of life. As mentioned, many of the top gap year destinations are located outside of Europe. But if you want to stay closer to home, here are the best European destinations for a gap year:

  1. Portugal
  2. Spain
  3. Croatia
  4. Sweden
  5. Norway
  6. Italy
  7. Czech Republic
  8. Poland
  9. France
  10. Greece

The best gap year destinations in Europe are vastly different, ranging from Mediterranean beach spots, to food havens to Scandinavian fjords. But they all rank well for important aspects, highlighted in our table.

Which are the best gap year destinations for different variables?

Looking at each category individually, it’s interesting to see which countries take the number one spot.

  • Best country for cost of living: India
  • Best country for cheapest flights: Ireland
  • Best country for ease of learning a language: Multiple countries where English was at least one of the official local languages
  • Best country for longest coastline: Canada
  • Best country for cheapest hotel prices: Vietnam and Malaysia
  • Best country for political stability: Singapore
  • Best country for sunny temperature: UAE
  • Best country for quality of life: the Netherlands

Most of these didn’t rank in the overall top 10 (apart from Malaysia and India). However it’s important to think about lots of different factors when travelling – especially somewhere you’re staying for lengthier periods of time and will perhaps work in or travel around. That’s why our top 10 best gap year destinations are a reflection of a culmination of categories, ranked by how they score across the board.

And where are the worst countries for a gap year?

Belgium - worst gap year destinations
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Now you know where to go, it’s equally important to know where perhaps you should invest a year of your time. This list is perhaps the most surprising findings from our research. Here are the worst gap year destinations according to our variables.

  1. Belgium
  2. Switzerland
  3. Canada
  4. Kenya
  5. Austria
  6. US
  7. Chile
  8. China
  9. South Africa
  10. Iceland

These countries are so diverse, it’s quite challenging to put our finger on one common reason. But it’s likely that it’s the combination of high prices, political instability, lack of coastline for some good quality beach R&R and so on.

Which place should you go to for the best gap year?

Obviously, the choice of where to go for a gap year is down to individual funds and preferences. There might be particular volunteer programmes that you fancy, or you might have knowledge of a particular language spoken only in some countries, or you might have always wanted to see specific landmarks and sights, such as the Taj Mahal, the Grand Canyon, or Alhambra Palace. These will obviously be important considerations. However, factors such as political stability, cost of living and so on are real, practical aspects to also consider. So we hope our ranking table has gone some way to help you make your choice (or at least narrow it down)!

Last Updated on June 11, 2024