Gap Year Ideas: Plan Your Trip

Gap year
Organizing Gap Year

Gap Year in Europe: How to Travel on a Budget

Life between high school and college is the perfect time to explore and enjoy some well-earned freedom. After studying for finals, many students crave a break before continuing their education. For many Americans, that means traveling across the Atlantic and discovering what Europe has to offer. If this is your plan, and you need some inspiration for where to go and about what’s feasible, then look no further than our top itineraries.

Europe by themes
On a budget

Travel in Europe: Choosing your Perfect Gap Year

From awe-inspiring ancient ruins to picturesque landscapes and bustling, modern cities, Europe has it all! If cosmopolitan living is your thing then base your trip around the bigger European cities such as London, Paris and Madrid. If getting away from it all is what you desire you should look instead to regions like the Alps, the Black Forest in Germany, and the Lake District in the United Kingdom for the ultimate breather. With so much to choose from, traveling in Europe allows you to pick a route that’s true to your interests.

Between History and Modernity: The Grand European Tour

If you want to make the most of your time in Europe and see as much as you possibly can, visiting these countries will give you a great overview, making you feel almost European by the time you’re finished.

  • Destinations: France, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland

Visit the Eiffel Tower in Paris in person, relax in a Biergarten in Germany, or enjoy a pizza in Italy. Historic cities like Florence or Vienna will give you plenty to marvel at, while natural wonders like the Provence lavender fields or the fairytale-like Black Forest will surely cast their spell on you.

Across the Channel: Traveling to Western Europe and the British Isles

Travel along the coastal regions and feel invigorated by the brisk winds before exploring some of the most modern and cosmopolitan cities Europe has to offer like London, Dublin and Amsterdam.

  • Destinations: Ireland, United Kingdom, France, Belgium, the Netherlands

Go cycling through the colorful Dutch tulip fields, visit beautiful historic cities like Bruges or Lille, and then hop on a ferry (or the Eurostar) to discover the beauty of Ireland and the United Kingdom. This trip will offer plenty of variety!

Sunny Beaches and Architectural Wonders: Exploring Southern Europe

Explore Europe’s long and rich history by visiting some of the most iconic European sights during your gap year. Enjoy the warm, sunny days and get to know the Mediterranean way of life.

  • Destinations: Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Greece

Be amazed by the ancient Grecian and Roman monuments and beautiful Renaissance palaces. Savor the Mediterranean cuisine as you travel along the Italian and French Riviera or go island-hopping in Greece.

Vikings, Glaciers, and Northern Lights: Experiencing Scandinavia

The Scandinavian lifestyle has long become equated with sleek modernity and coziness that will give you the chance to refuel and grow during your gap year.

  • Destinations: Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland

If you’re an active person and love the outdoors, a trip through Scandinavia is the right choice for you. Be mesmerized by lush green forests of Sweden and deep-blue fjords of Norway, experience the icy coldness of the glacial scenery and see the amazing Northern lights for yourself.

Hidden Gems: A Tour through Eastern and Southeast Europe

In comparison to many metropolitan areas in Europe, Eastern Europe is a more affordable option, but nevertheless rich in experiences.

  • Destinations: Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia

Let yourself be enchanted by picturesque landscapes, charming historical landmarks, and lively cities. You could go on a river cruise on the River Danube in Budapest, visit World Heritage sites like Malbork Castle in Poland or just mingle with the hospitable, friendly locals in Kraków, Prague and Bratislava.

European Gap Year: Discover Europe by Theme

During your gap year, you’ll hear different languages, wander through stunning landscapes, and get a taste of the local cuisines. If you want to make your grand European tour even more interesting, let yourself be guided by different themes:

  • Medieval Towns: Explore the vestiges of the past in Europe’s many medieval city centers and let fairytale-like castles cast their spell on you. From Nuremberg in Germany to Siena in Italy, and Colmar in France, there are plenty of medieval towns all around Europe that will let you see what life was like in time gone by.
  • Ancient Ruins: Marvel at the sublime beauty of Graeco-Roman ruins or of prehistoric monuments and learn more about the ‘cradle of Western civilization.’ If ruins are for you then the Colosseum in Rome is a must as is Pompeii in the south of Italy. Visit Athens, Greece, to discover ancient Greek culture and don’t miss out on Stonehenge in England. With such amazing engineering, you’ll be wondering how they were all built for years to come.
  • Between Culture and Pop-Culture: Whatever your passion is, European countries offer plenty of world-class exhibitions—from modern art to history to science. For art lovers, the Louvre and the Pompidou Centre in Paris are a must. For history buffs, the Neues Museum in Berlin is one of the best Europe has to offer, and if you’re into science then you can’t miss the Science Museum in London.

European Gap Year: Saving Money During Your Gap Year in Europe

While planning your trip can seem daunting at first, it’s more than possible to enjoy a gap year in Europe without breaking the bank. To help you save during your travels, we’ve compiled all the necessary budgeting tips about transport, activities and expenses to help you to save.

Travel expenses

Some countries in Europe, especially in the West, will be more expensive so bear that in mind when planning your trip. Here are our tips to help you save no matter which country you’re in:

  • Try to book your tickets as far in advance as possible. Flights, as well as trains and buses, often offer early-bird discounts.
  • If you need to apply for a visa, update your passport or get vaccinations—make sure these are sorted well before you leave to save fees.
  • If you want to change money, avoid money exchanges at airports, as they often charge a higher service fee.
  • Avoid carrying large sums of cash in your bags and pockets. For larger expenses, a credit card or a prepaid travel card might be a better option. If stolen, those cards can be canceled, and fraudulent charges can be disputed.
  • Use a budgeting app to keep track of the money you’re spending along the way, that way you’ll make sure you won’t go overboard.


Account for the time and money it takes to travel between cities and countries. Decide beforehand which places you absolutely want to visit and plan a route that avoids backtracking.

  • Consider traveling overnight and save money on accommodation at the same time. Sleeper trains and overnight buses can be just as comfortable as a hostel, just don’t forget your eye mask and earplugs.
  • Rely on the public transportation network instead of taxis or rental cars. If you’re going to be in one place for a few days, it’s worth buying a multi-day travel ticket to help keep costs down.
  • If you want to find temporary travel companions to swap stories with, carpooling services like BlaBlaCar are another reliable form of transportation.

Accommodation and activities

Do a lot of research in order to plan your excursions and activities yourself. Relying on tour companies will cost you significantly more and limit your flexibility. Browse official websites for up-to-date information on how to avoid common mistakes.
Try to find affordable accommodation outside of expensive metropolitan areas. Hotel rooms outside the city center are often much cheaper than a hotel in the heart of the city.

  • Visiting countries and tourist attractions during off-season can save you from the rush of visitors and high costs.
  • If your hostel or holiday rental has a kitchen available, put your culinary skills to good use by preparing breakfast or lunches to save you from eating out.
  • Some cities offer all-inclusive tickets that will give you entrance to multiple sites or museums at a reduced price.

Gap Year in Europe: Conclusion

Europe is a rich tapestry of history, culture and, most importantly, fun just waiting to happen. If you’re feeling daunted by organizing a trip to Europe during your gap year—don’t be! With proper planning and budgeting, it will be a trip you’ll never forget.

Organizing a Gap Year Step by Step

Before you embark on your adventure, you should consider the practicalities of planning a gap year in Europe. Firstly, you should figure out what your goals are and how you want to spend your year abroad. Afterward, you should choose a destination, plan your finances, transportation, and accommodation and gather all the necessary documents.

The Benefits of Taking a Gap Year

A gap year acts as a time-out—traditionally taken in between or after studies—to recharge and prepare for your next steps in life. For young Americans, taking a gap year is rapidly gaining popularity; some schools encourage their students to make time for self development. One of the ways to do this is by taking a gap year. Look at the advantages of taking a gap year and consider all the possibilities.

Volunteering During Your Gap Year

If you are interested in traveling and making a difference in the world at the same time, you should consider volunteering abroad. Whether you decide to teach English, help reforestation or work with refugees – volunteering abroad will be one of the most rewarding experiences in your life. You’ll have the chance to have a meaningful impact and give something back to the local communities.

Getting an Internship Abroad

If you want to immerse yourself in a new culture while advancing your future career and enhancing your resumé, then you should combine a gap year with an internship. Interning in Europe will improve your language skills and allows you to gather much-needed work experience. Your future employer will surely recognize the positive impact of a gap year internship on your personal and professional growth.

Gap Year in Europe: Most Popular cities in Europe

Between demanding studies and a competitive job market, more and more young Americans decide to hit the pause button for a little while. Traveling, volunteering, or interning during a gap year can give you the much-needed time to recharge your batteries and develop valuable skills. Spending some time whilst on your gap year is a great opportunity working out what you want to do in life. Take a look at our comprehensive guide on planning a memorable gap year in Europe and start planning you adventure abroad.

HomeGap Year Ideas: Plan Your Trip
More routes, destinations and providers