Thinking of taking a gap-year before diving headfirst into the next chapter of your life? You’re not alone! The amount of young adults taking ‘year out’ has surged in recent times - particularly in countries such as Britain and the USA - and has continued to grow even through the disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic.

At ZuBlu, we think gap-years are a great idea - giving young adults a well-earned break from school, college, work, or even mum and dad. And if there’s one thing that could make an extended break from responsibilities and daily life even better, it’s diving. 

Here’s why we think scuba diving programmes make for the best gap years.

Explore above and below

Gap years are all about new experiences - using your own intuition and sense of adventure to explore new and unfamiliar places. Not only is this sense of freedom and excitement enjoyable, it’s also a great way to develop and mature as an individual. Opening your eyes to different cultures, religions, landscapes, and tastes is a fantastic learning experience, and with a scuba diving gap year, you get all this, and more. Not only will you discover new environments on land, you’ll get to explore them underwater - opening yourself up to a whole new level of learning and adventure.

We all know that 70% of the earth’s surface is ocean, but often gap years focus solely on the remaining 30% - the foreign yet familiar on land. Cities, mountains, rainforests, and deserts can all be awe-inspiring places - particularly when they contrast with your own life experiences - but little compares to the utterly different habitats and marine life found beneath the waves. No matter where you’re from or what you’ve seen, the ocean can still leave you mesmerised. So why not super-charge your year off and commit to visiting the most unique and bucket-list-worthy locations both on land and at sea.

Coral rehabilitation with Indo Ocean Project - image by Serena Stean
Coral rehabilitation with Indo Ocean Project - image by Serena Stean

Same destinations, different sights

Luckily for you, many of the most popular gap year destinations are also world-class diving hotspots, so you can easily experience the best of both worlds. Southeast Asia, for example, is not only a major part of the much-loved backpacker trail, it’s also home to the renowned Coral Triangle - the global epicentre of marine biodiversity. This incredible diving region touches six different countries - including Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines - meaning you can tick-off plenty of topside travelling highlights, too. Other Asian countries such as Vietnam, Thailand, India and Sri Lanka all also offer great opportunities for both scuba diving and travel.

Australia is another firm favourite among young gap year travellers looking for excitement and adventure. And the land ‘down under’ boasts a heap of scuba diving status too, with the world’s largest barrier reef to the east, and the world’s largest fringing reef to the west! Neighbouring New Zealand is also home to some of the best sub-tropical scuba diving on the planet - from caves and kelp to fur seals to whales - and can easily be included as part of an epic Australasian adventure. Heading out west for your gap year? Well don’t worry, there’s plenty of diving there too, including the world-renowned Galapagos Islands, exhilarating shark and cenote diving in Mexico, and much, much more.

Meet like-minded ocean-enthusiasts

Of course, some of the most important discoveries during a gap year are personal. Flying the nest - even for a short period of time - allows you to learn a lot about your likes, dislikes, passions and personality. Been scuba diving once or twice before? Spending your gap year diving is a great way to turn an interest into a hobby. Never had the opportunity? Well now’s your chance to try it out. As we’ve already shown, diving and gap years go hand-in-hand, and you might find a brand new passion for the underwater world.

Venturing out into the wide world alone for the first time as a young adult often means limited funds and tight budgets - having scrimped, saved, and borrowed to fund your trip. As a result, you’ll often stay in budget-friendly accommodation. While this might sound like a drag, cheap accommodation is often more sociable, allowing you to meet new people with a shared passion for travel. And you can take this a step further by staying in dorms or hostels attached to dive centres, or joining a scuba diving gap year programme, where you’ll meet people who share your interests, and gain friends and dive buddies in the process. Plus, if you’re looking for a career in the dive industry, ocean conservation, or any related fields once your gap year is over, these friends could turn into valuable contacts.

Join MAR Expeditions in Mozambique and South Africa
Join MAR Expeditions in Mozambique and South Africa

Enrich the experience with conservation

If you’re looking for a career in marine science or conservation, enriching your gap year travels with scuba diving is a great way of networking with other divers and can provide untold benefits in the future. In fact, despite being spread out across the entire planet, the scuba diving community can feel surprisingly small, meaning you’re never far from making another great friend or useful business contact. Gap year diving internships and conservation programmes can also look great on your resume, helping you land that university or job of your dreams. 

But you don’t have to be a burgeoning conservationist to benefit from adding an element of sustainability to your gap year. As we tackle ongoing environmental challenges such as climate change, there’s no better time to dedicate your travels towards protection of the underwater world. Again, this can look great on a resume or university application - regardless of career path - but will also fill you with a wonderful sense of achievement. The ocean lies on the front-line of many such environmental challenges, and divers of every description can find themselves in a unique position of responsibility, able to give back on their travels.

A taste of adventure

Want to double the adventure in your gap year? There's plenty of scuba conservation programmes and gap year diving internships available to help travellers and backpackers get involved in defending our oceans. Why not spend your gap year protecting nesting turtles and hatchlings in Malaysia’s Perhentian Islands, researching manta rays in Raja Ampat, or helping the conservation of sharks around Cocos or the Galapagos Islands? You could even head to Mozambique for an epic data-gathering expedition in search of whales, sharks, manta rays, and more. 

If you’re new to the world of diving, don’t worry, you can still get involved in many of the opportunities listed above. Or how does a ‘zero to hero’ ocean research internship in Bali’s popular Nusa Islands sound? After just a few weeks, you could progress from newbie to divemaster whilst taking part in all sorts of cool activities such as coral rehabilitation, ecological and biodiversity monitoring, and marine megafauna conservation!

To find more enriching gap year marine conservation programmes and divemaster internships, check out ZuBlu’s list of Ecoventures which are designed to help you explore and restore our oceans. Or, check out our guide to marine conservation volunteering abroad for some expert advice on choosing the right programme, what to expect, and how to prepare for your trip.

Ready to explore and restore on your gap-year?

Search from our hand-picked Ecoventures and make your next holiday count!