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It can all too easily happen when you’re about to take a gap year or sabbatical. You have made the decision, notified everyone, obtained the appropriate approvals and that’s when it happens – you suddenly realise that you don’t know what to do with that precious time you’ve just freed up!

Couldn’t happen to me!

Yes, it could! The trouble is, whether you’re taking a gap year break between studies or a sabbatical, it is very easy to drift into a situation where you’ve a vague intention to ‘do something’ but just never seem to get around to finalising your plans. What then can happen is that you find yourself sitting around the house, spending a lot more time in the pub with friends and maybe spend a couple of weeks or so sitting on a beach somewhere. Blink twice and that special break has completely passed and you’re struggling to remember just where it all disappeared to.

A better way

Not everyone on a gap year or sabbatical necessarily wants to spend the whole time sitting on a beach or just travelling. Nice as that may be, it can become a bit ‘samey’. What more people are becoming attracted to is the idea of a break that includes some sort of objective, be it to learn some new skills or make a contribution to the environment – perhaps sometimes both. Such opportunities are now available through what are sometimes called wildlife conservation holidays. These are breaks that can vary from short to long duration and be based in any one of several countries around the world, though many such opportunities are found in India and South Africa.

What you’ll actually be doing varies and there will be a programme to fit your interests. For example, you may find yourself swimming alongside tiger sharks to survey their numbers and habits etc. Perhaps you’ll be inland in the bush, surveying the numbers of cubs of another species. Another option might include working to help reinstate ex-working elephants into a game park or maybe helping to prepare a new water hole for migrating animals. These are breaks with a difference that might mean your gap year or other break from routine, is really something that you’ll value and remember.

It’s experience and work

These types of conservation holidays do not just involve sitting in the back of a land rover and being ferried around from one photo opportunity to another, then rushing back for drinks on the veranda. These are active and participatory breaks where you’ll be involved in making a difference – and that may involve real work. Sometimes you’ll be involved in work that’ll bring out a little sweat and it may not all be ‘cutesy’ either. For example, measuring the size of dung balls might be an essential part of monitoring the heath of a group of animals. That’s certainly a different sort of gap year activity!

A culture

Of course, it’s not all about animals. Working in this way in places such as South Africa or India, means that you’ll see local people and a local way of life as people actually live it. Depending upon the project you’re working on, you may be working alongside local people that are also involved in the protection of the animals concerned. You also do not need to fear that you’ll be dropped off in wild country and simply left to fend for yourself. You’ll be working and travelling around under the supervision of expert guides and co-workers, who will know the locality and environment very well. Your safety is their paramount concern and they also know that you will be looking to learn and gain from the experience.

Not just for the young

The description ‘gap year’ may bring with it certain connotations of youth and school or university but these breaks are also designed for professional people taking a sabbatical or even those simply looking for a different way of spending their leisure time. There are opportunities available for people of all ages and fitness levels – you don’t need superhuman strength or powers of endurance! Accommodation and food is typically of good standard and you won’t have to worry too much about ‘roughing it’ if that’s not your scene.

So, if you like the sound of this sort of break, whether for a gap year or any other reason, why not find out more?