WINNING TIP Wildlife in Puerto López, Ecuador
Don't spend a fortune going to the Galápagos. In Ecuador we saw humpback whales on a boat trip off Puerto López, as well as turtles, frigate birds, and red-footed boobies on Isla de la Plata. The Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve in the Amazon jungle was fantastic – we saw monkeys, tree frogs, tarantulas, scorpions, pink dolphins, caimans, sloths, toucans and much more.
Isla de la Plata tour, hosteltrail.com/machalillatours, $50; stay in Cuyabeno at sionalodge.com
A gap year with Project Trust
My best tip for doing a gap year is – don't rush. Go and live in another country, make it a base and make travel plans once you're there. It gives you more options, such as getting lifts with people you might meet to places you can't get to on public transport. My year was my best ever – from teaching, to diving, to horseback safari … It was a brilliant mix of working, learning, getting to know Malawi, seeing some of the best sights in south-east Africa and meeting amazing people!
Desert Rhino Camp, Kunene
As part of my gap year, I had an amazing opportunity to work with Save the Rhino Trust in Namibia, which works to conserve the desert-adapted black rhino. You can go out with the trackers by Land Rover, on foot or even by camel. There is nothing more special than spending the day wandering through a boulder-strewn, moon-like landscape in search of mythical-looking creatures, then relaxing around a fire at night under the African sky.
Working as an assistant English teacher, Tokyo
It's a job that anyone with a degree can do. It's well paid and easy. It'll give you an insight into one of the most enigmatic countries in the world and will change your whole perspective on the consumer society. Because Japan has just introduced compulsory English lessons in elementary schools, they are crying out for native speakers.
Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme, jetprogramme.org
Taufua Beach Fales, Lalomanu
Samoa may be little-known as a tourist destination, but it has stunning scenery and prices are low. Taufua Beach Fales is as close to paradise as you can get on a gap year budget. Sleeping in traditional open Samoan fales (wooden platforms on the beach) you wake up to the turquoise sea lapping metres away. Food at Taufua is excellent, including wonderful fresh fish. The Lalomanu area still bears tsunami damage – construction continues and people wishing to give something back to the community are very welcome.
+685 844 1051, samoabeachfales.com, from £50 a night for a fale sleeping two
Kala Raksha, Kutch
In the last week of my gap year in India I took a night train to the isolated, desert region of Kutch, near the Pakistan border, where beautiful, hand-crafted items have been made for centuries, from weaving to bandhani (tie-dye) to embroidery to pottery. Kala Raksha is a trust for the preservation of the traditional arts, and has been working for the past 20 years alongside local artisans. At their small shop, you can buy anything from beautifully embroidered tablecloths to naturally root-dyed shalwar kameez tunics.
Iboih Beach, Pulau Weh, Sumatra
It's a small community, centred around diving and snorkelling, clinging to the rocks of Pulau Weh. From here you can swim across to Rubiah Island (ask about the currents first!), laze in a hammock on your balcony over the water, snorkel some of the most diverse reefs in the world just in front of your bungalow or check out the coral gardens that have grown up since the tsunami.
From Banda Aceh, take a becak (cycle rickshaw) to the Pulau Weh ferry, then a taxi to Iboih Beach
Shane's Ten-Buck Tour, Yamba, New South Wales
Shane Henwood and his family run the YHA hostel in Yamba, a little hidden gem of a fishing town. Shane runs a super-cheap tour that includes surfing with his surf champ brother-in-law, cliff jumping, bush walking and sailing – finishing up with a proper Aussie barbie, of course. It was the total highlight of my gap year in Oz.
+612 6646 3997, yha.com.au, beds from £17 in a dormitory sleeping eight
Volcano Villaricca, Pucón
It was no easy task climbing the 2,847m-high Volcano Villaricca but it was definitely one of the highlights of our gap year in South America. I did wonder if we would make it to the top – the last part is ice and we wore crampons – but the views and the sight of lava in the crater made this an experience not to be missed. The way down is much more fun as you slide through tunnels in the snow. Don't miss the hot springs Los Pozones in the evening – it definitely eased our aching muscles. welcomechile.com
Academia Buenos Aires
Studying Spanish at Academia has been one of the highlights of my trip through Argentina and Chile. After four weeks I ran out of time, so I had to move on, but the place was so cool! The staff made you feel at home and I met many other travellers in gap-year situations similar to mine. I am still in contact with my two teachers, who were very helpful in planning my trip.
+54 11 4345 5954, academiabuenosaires.com
Cycling Death Road, La Paz
After leaving La Paz, the ride begins at 4,700m above sea level and the first 25km is downhill on tarmac so you can really build up speed. After that the road is a narrow, windy, dirt track clinging to the cliff side with massive sheer drops but fantastic views. As you descend, the vegetation becomes greener and more jungle-like. It is the world's most dangerous road, but luckily it is mainly only bikes that use it now, and it is so much fun!