Top 15 Alternative Bucket List Experiences.

Michael Huxley Simien National Park Ethiopia

Gap years are all about the experiences, but the big problem is most travel bucket lists are all the same. Once you have seen one you have seen them all and everyone ends up on a gap year adventure doing and seeing the same thing. So how do you make your gap year bucket list different? Here are some alternative bucket list ideas to make your gap year completely unique. 

Don’t get me wrong, the traditional bucket list experiences are awesome and are on those lists in the first place for very good reasons! Everyone has to see the Pyramids, the Taj Mahal, Machu Pichu and so many other places at least once in their lives.

But what do you do if you have seen all those places and done all those awesome adventure activities? What do you add to your bucket list then? What do you do if you want your bucket list adventure to be a little more unique?

There are so many awesome but almost unknown locations and experiences for backpackers out there, so here are the best alternative bucket list ideas for your next gap year.

Go To Space Camp!

Astronaut EVA training Huntsville Alabama Michael Huxley

Every kid has a fantasy of going to space at some point, and what better way to get as close to that as possible by putting yourself through some astronaut training at Space Camp?

Space camp isn’t just for kids, adults can sign up for their own version too, so why not couple a long trip through the awesome state of Alabama in the USA with one of the ultimate gap year or life experiences, and fulfill a childhood fantasy or two while you are at it?

Learn Kung Fu From Shaolin Monks In China.

There are countless opportunities to stay in Buddhist monasteries all over China, and this in and of itself is a bucket list experience and a chance to really switch off from the world and technology and reconnect with yourself on a basic and profound level. If you get the chance to do this then I wholeheartely recommend it, even a short week is pure tonic for the mind and soul.

But there are some temples, if you can find them, that give you the chance to learn Shaolin Kung Fu in it’s literal and figurative home, from the monks who have been practicing it for centuries. I am not talking about the tourist traps in Dengfeng and the Hunan province where tourists get to pay to watch a Kung Fu display, I am talking about living with and training with the monks who do this day in and day out.

It isn’t easy, and for the first month or so you will experience pain and sore muscles and tiredness like you never have before, but if you persevere, and devote enough time to it, you will come away a stronger, better person with a whole new awesome skill set and an enviable bucket list item ticked off.

Go On A Pilgramage To The Western Wall In Israel.

Western Wall Jerusalem Israel

The Western Wall in Jerusalem is an iconic holy site that faithful from all over the world make a pilgrimage to every single day, and regardless of whether you are religious or not, sharing in that experience is a worthwhile goal for any bucket list. The simple act of writing a prayer on a piece of paper and folding it into the cracks in the wall is a deeply religious experience for many, and religion aside, I’m not religious at all, the chance to share in this experience gives a deeper connection and understanding to the wall and the people who get a profound sense of spiritual satisfaction from it.

Visit The Other Pyramids. In Sudan.

Everyone always thinks of Giza when they think of pyramids on a bucket list, and rightly so, the pyramids of Giza are quite simply the worlds premier bucket list item. But what most people don’t know is that in Meroe in Sudan, on the banks of the upper Nile, there are almost 300 ancient Nubian pyramids that could predate those at Giza.

Be A Pirate!

Nile River Cruise Sailing The Nile Egypt

Okay so you can’t actually be a pirate, not unless you want to run off to Somalia and have a criminal bounty on your head anyway, but you can do the next best thing and sail around the world pretending to be one!

There are plenty of ways you can sign up to be a member of a crew sailing around the Caribbean or the south China sea from anything for a few weeks to a few months or longer, and whilst it may be a lot of hard work and you won’t get a lot of free time whilst you are working it is an absolute adventure in and of itself and also a great way to get a ton of unique experience for your CV, passage from one country to another and get paid for the privilege too! You can even wear an eye patch if you like!

Take An Alternative Safari In Ethiopia.

Michael Huxley Monkeys in Simien National Park Ethiopia

Okay so when someone says safari you instantly start thinking of seeing lions, elephants and rhino’s in Kenya, but safari’s are far more than the big 5. Ethiopia may not be a traditional safari destination but you can go on safari there to see animals like the Gelada Baboon and the Ethiopian Wolf, animals that you can’t see anywhere else.

So instead of going on a safari in a jeep in Kenya, hire a local guide for the Bale Mountains National Park and hike to see some amazing and unique wildlife up close and responsibly. Your safari stories will be instantly more unique than everyone heading on a traditional safari.

Take An American Road Trip.

American flags on houses at Finger Lakes New York

America is not really a traditional gap year destination, with most backpackers heading to more exotic and less familiar climes, but that doesn’t mean that the USA doesn’t have a hell of a lot to offer travellers who are looking for something a little different and new! This is especially true if you take in a lot of the lesser known, smaller states and towns rather than the major hubs, and with so many cities, states and destinations in the US offering a wide range of cultures, activities and experiences, why not take a good old fashioned American road trip to discover a few of them?

Visit Easter Island.

Easter Island is quite simply one of the most isolated, mysterious and legend filled islands on the planet, with the hundreds of famous Moai statues still the cause of man archaeological and academic debate, and with enormous volcanic craters and epic scenery more than enough to entice an traveller it is surprising this unique destination really doesn’t make many average bucket lists at all.

Discover Malaysia.

Kuala Lumpur Petronas Towers

South east Asia is a firm stamp on the gap year backpacker trail, and Thailand is the number one destination on that trail with countless backpackers heading there every single day. But one place that most backpackers overlook as they fly into Bangkok is the neighbouring Malaysia, and that is a huge mistake.

Malaysia is a bounty of beautiful palm fringed tropical islands, bright lights, big cities and rolling jungles and colonial hill stations that rival anything north of the border but without a lot of the backpacker crowds that fill up the beaches and bars there.

Go Orang Utan Spotting In Borneo.

Semmengoh Orang utan rehab centre borneo

Just a short hop over from Malaysia is Borneo, and while it has become increasingly popular with backpackers in recent years, and even tourists in some parts, it is still more than possible to escape the crowds and find your own adventure.

Semmengoh Organg Utan rehabilitation center in Kuching is a genuine not for profit rehabilitation centre that only allows travellers to view Orang Utans in a responsible and ethical way whilst still protecting the vast majority of their habitat so they can go about their lives away from prying eyes. Travellers can only visit at set times and view a small section of the habitat at feeding times, and their is no guarantee that you will see them at all, but if you are lucky enough to do so it is a genuinely once in a lifetime experience that will hopefully fill your heart with enough desire to go away and do all you can to protect these amazing animals and their habitats.

Trek Down The Amazon.

The Amazon rain forest is one of the last true stretches of raw, untamed land in the world. Known as the lungs of the world for good reason, this vast ecosystem stretches across multiple countries with sections of it that are still not frequented by people at all, never mind travellers, but imagine being able to say you have trekked down the infamous Amazon, riding down the Amazon river and wading through impenetrable jungle, stopping off at the few pockets of civilization along the way. This bucket list item is not for the faint hearted, but for those adventurous travellers with enough spirit to take it on, this ultimate bucket list item will give you bragging rights for a lifetime.

Visit Dragons At The End Of The World.

Komodo Dragon on Komodo Island Indonesia

Backpacking around the world can lead to you seeing some amazing sights and visiting some truly stunning locations, but every once in a while you arrive somewhere so remote, so magical and so alluringly exquisite that it raises the bar forever. Komodo National Park is a UNESCO world heritage site located in the centre of the Indonesian archipelago between Sumbawa and Flores, the most popular jumping off point for the park itself, and trekking to the end of the world to the only place you can still see Komodo Dragons in their natural habitat is the ultimate adventure for any bucket list.

Visit Borobudur.

Borobudur Temple in Yogyakarta. Indonesia

The famous temple of Borobudur is not only a majestic architectural wonder and a UNESCO world heritage site in it’s own right, it is also the single largest Buddhist temple in the world and a unique addition to any bucket list. Borobudur has become increasingly popular with travellers in recent years, especially as more and more backpackers and independent travellers include Java and Indonesia in their itineraries and increasing numbers of Chinese tour groups visit, but there are still relatively few crowds outside of the obligatory sunrise tours.

Float In The Dead Sea.

Bordered by Jordan to the east and Israel and the West Bank to the west, the Dead Sea is the lowest land based elevation on the planet and is famous for two things, the fact that there are no fish in the sea due to the hyper salinity, hence it’s name, and the fact that you can’t sink! Bathing in the Dead Sea is a genuine once in a lifetime bucket list activity that should be on everyone’s wish list, and you can even enjoy one of the many spa’s that have sprung up along the banks. You may as well spoil yourself after a long hard day floating in the ocean!

Look Down The Crater Of An Active Volcano.

mount bromo volcano trekking Java Indonesia

Who else can say that they have not only trekked up an active volcano but peered down into the crater to see the bubbling sulphur and lava pits below? As bragging rights go this is a pretty epic one and it is surprisingly easy to do! The ring of fire in Indonesia is full of active and dormant volcanoes that are just ripe for trekking and hiking, and some like Mount Bromo or the Dieng Plateau give you the opportunity to tick off the ultimate in adventure bucket list experiences.

These alternative bucket list items may be a bit different from the usual tick lists most tourists have, but that is the point! This is your gap year, your adventure, so by all means go and see the main sights and join in the traditional backpacker experiences, but fill it with as many unique experiences and sights as you can as well. You won’t regret it!

Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.

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Michael Huxley is a published author, professional adventurer and founder of the travel website, Bemused Backpacker. He has spent the last twenty years travelling to over 100 countries on almost every continent, slowly building Bemused Backpacker into a successful business after leaving a former career in emergency nursing and travel medicine, and continues to travel the world on numerous adventures every year.

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14 comments on “Top 15 Alternative Bucket List Experiences.
  1. Karen says:

    These are epic bucket list choices! So many of these lists repeat the same things over and over, don’t think I’ve ever seen a Space Camp suggestion!

  2. Lex says:

    Now that is a list!

  3. Jodie says:

    Amazing ideas! Definitely adding them to my own bucket list! Thanks for the inspiration. 😁

  4. Andrew says:

    Training in Kung fu with actual monks sounds epic! How do you even go about booking something like that?

    • I am sure there are companies that organise an ‘experience’ out there Andrew but it is better to organise a long term stay in a monestary yourself and enquire about classes. The more time you have the better.

      • Simon says:

        Is this something you did yourself? Where did you go? How long did you train for? Can you actually become a monk?

      • Absolutely Simon, I studied in Henan province and no you can’t become a monk, but the monks do regularly take western students. And remember it is a full lifestyle immersion, no doing a class for an hour a week! I totally recommend it though!

  5. Melanie Hinchliffe says:

    This has to be one of the best bucket list lists I have seen! This would make for one hell of a gap year!

  6. Mark says:

    Astronaut training?!? Sign me up!

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Hi, I'm Michael! I'm a former nurse turned published author and world travelling professional adventurer! I have spent over twenty years travelling over 100 countries and I want to inspire you to do the same! Want to know more about me? Just click here!

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