DIY Gap Year South America 2019

for ages 18-24

Show map

A Do-It-Yourself Gap Year in South America

Are you ready for your first big travel adventure, but you don’t want to do it totally alone?

Are you taking a gap year—or just taking some time off—and South America seems like a great place to explore?

With the DIY Gap Year, we’re offering something brand-new: a happy medium between hyper-expensive gap year programs and intimidating solo travel.

No matter whether you just want to explore Peru for just a month or you want to trek across the entire South American continent, the DIY Gap Year will give you the tools, confidence, and connections to make the most of your time abroad.


April 3 – April 11, 2019 (orientation)
April 11 – May 9, 2019 (indie travel)


Arequipa, Peru
the rest of South America!


10-15 participants (ages 18-24)


Mica Peker
Blake Boles


your independent travel expenses

Apply Now

Priority application deadline: January 15th, 2019. Apply before this date for your best chance of joining! Skype interviews begin shortly afterward.

An adventure? Alpaca my bags!

A New Kind of Adventure

The DIY Gap Year is a new kind of adventure for young adults (ages 18-24) who are self-directed, community-minded, and budget-oriented.

  • Self-directed means that you want the freedom to make your own decisions, learn from your mistakes, and own your victories. You’re not very interested in pre-packaged tours or highly structured programs.
  • Community-minded means that, for you, travel is about making friends and sharing experiences. You like the idea of starting your next adventure with a group… as long as you’re not stuck with them forever.
  • Budget-oriented means that you’re traveling on the cheap. You prefer hostels, grocery store lunches, and DIY adventures to hotels, restaurants, and expensive tours. The less you spend, the longer you can travel.

It doesn’t matter if you were unschooled or conventionally schooled—if you hold these values, we invite you to join the DIY Gap Year!

The salt flats of Bolivia

How it Works

The DIY Gap Year takes place in three stages with increasing levels of independence.

Group Orientation

April 3 – April 11

During orientation, you’ll get a crash course in the art of independent travel. Through a series of engaging workshops and real-life activities led by Blake Boles and Mica Peker (the in-country staff liaison), you’ll learn how to travel safely and cheaply in South America, connect with new people along the way, and make the most of your adventure.

This will be a fun, intense, and memorable week in which you’ll get to know your other group members, meet other travelers, and thoroughly explore the beautiful “White City” of Arequipa. Your room, board, and activity fees will be provided, and the entire group will stay together in the same youth hostel.

Supported Independent Travel

April 11 – May 9

When the orientation ends, your personal adventure begins! You’re free to travel anywhere you like, with whomever you prefer: other group members, fellow travelers, or just yourself.

During these four weeks, Mica will also be traveling around the region (Peru/Bolivia)—and you’re invited to join her! Each week she’ll suggest a different rendezvous point, such as Cusco, Lima, or Lake Titicaca. You can join these informal meet-ups for as long or little as you prefer; think of them as optional “home bases” for reconnecting with the Unschool Adventures group.

Oh, the places you might go… with Mica!

Fully independent travel

May 9 – ?

On May 9th, Mica leaves—but you don’t have to. In fact, we encourage you to travel as long as your time and budget allows. Use the tools, experiences, and confidence provided by the DIY Gap Year to continue exploring South America!

Put some color back in your life

A Supportive Community, No Matter Where You Go

Many young adults dream of independent world travel, but they also want a travel partner (or travel group) with whom to share experiences and feel supported. On the DIY Gap Year, we help our participants feel socially connected and supported in three different ways:

The Staff Liaison
When you’re facing a practical travel challenge—or you just need someone to talk to—our staff liaison, Mica, is there for you, available 24/7 via Whatsapp. She’ll check-in with the entire group every day (to answer questions and offer advice), and she’ll check-in with you personally (for a more extended one-on-one discussion) every week. During the four weeks of supported independent travel, you’re free to join her whenever you’d like—just book a room at the same hostel where she’s staying!

The Unschool Adventures Group
If you’re signing up for the DIY Gap Year, then you want to make friends—and luckily, you’ll be surrounded by a group of other dynamic young adults who want the same thing! During orientation week you’ll be sleeping, eating, and adventuring next to the other members of the Unschool Adventures group. By the end of the week you’ll know each other quite well, and we expect that many of you will want to travel together. While we cannot guarantee that you’ll become travel buddies with everyone on the program, we can guarantee that we’re giving you the best possible opportunity to make friends with like-minded young adults who might become your travel partners for the next four weeks (or longer).

Fellow Travelers
South America is a hot spot for young international travelers, and we will help you confidently connect with them! A large part of the orientation will be dedicated to learning (and practicing) the art of making friends abroad. Let’s say you see a neat-looking person in a hostel common area—how do you approach them? How do you find local events designed for travelers? How do you form a temporary traveling partnership? Such skills are important but unwritten; we will help you build them.

No introduction necessary

More About Peru & South America

The DIY Gap Year begins in Peru: an iconic destination for young travelers for decades. From the towering heights of Machu Picchu to the coastal nightlife of Lima, Peru is an ideal and relatively low-risk place to begin your international journey. To learn more about this beautiful and diverse country, read the WikiTravel article or pick up any guidebook.

From Peru, your adventure can easily continue northward (into Ecuador and Colombia), southward (into Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina), or eastward (into the Amazon basin) via the well-established South American public transport network. You don’t have to plan ahead: You’ll be traveling in the off-season, with plenty of hostels and buses from which to choose. Whether you love beaches, cities, or mountains—whether you want to immerse yourself in a new culture, volunteer for a cause, take time to introspect, or party your heart out—South America has something to offer you. The possibilities are endless. (Don’t worry, we’ll help you sort them out.)

Suggested nearby destinations:

  • Cusco and the Sacred Valley (home of Machu Picchu)
  • The Bolivian Salt Flats (the Salar de Uyuni)
  • Lake Titicaca (on the border of Peru and Bolivia)
  • Lima (Peru’s cosmopolitan capital)
  • Chile’s Atacama Desert (the driest place in the world)

Arequipa, Peru — your home for a week of orientation

More About Orientation

The first week of the DIY Gap Year won’t be some typical, boring orientation: It will be a crash course in the art of independent travel.

Co-led by Blake and Mica, the orientation will cover:

  • Staying safe and managing risk as an independent traveler (including concerns specific to women)
  • Finding affordable lodging, food, and transportation
  • Managing your money, setting a realistic budget, and avoiding scams
  • Discovering (and creating) low-cost activities—a.k.a., how to have fun on the cheap
  • Self-care, both mental and physical
  • Making friends and forming travel partnerships
  • Traveling with purpose and ethics
  • Surviving with minimal Spanish

Yes, that’s a lot! Don’t worry, it won’t be an endless series of lectures. We’ll aim for a 50-50 ratio of talking-to-doing. Some of our more hands-on activities will address the challenges of:

  • Connecting with fellow travelers
  • Feeding yourself for less than $10/day
  • Finding local social events (and navigating international social anxiety)
  • Couchsurfing (staying with locals for free)
  • Sleeping well in sometimes-noisy hostel rooms
  • Safety-vetting tour and transport operators
  • Finding your way when you’re lost

Mica, your in-country liaison and orientation co-leader

Blake, your orientation co-leader

Orientation Schedule

Here’s what to expect (in general) from our orientation days.


(at the hostel)


Workshop or Mini-Adventure


(in town)


Free Time


Workshop or Mini-Adventure


(at the hostel)


Evening Discussion or Activity


Free Time

Unschoolers in the Andes
(on the Unschool Adventures Argentina Semester 2017)

Frequently Asked Questions

How much will my independent travels cost?

Unschool Adventures covers all of your costs during the orientation week (in Arequipa), and after that, you pay your own way.

We recommend budgeting $1000-$1500 per month of independent travel if you’re staying in nice hostels, eating out twice a day, going out a few nights a week, taking first-class buses, and going on some paid tours.

Dedicated budget travelers can spend as little as $500 per month in Peru and Bolivia. Use the website Budget Your Trip to play around with estimated costs.

You’ll also need to book your own roundtrip airfare to South America—we recommend using SkyScanner or Google Flights to find an affordable flight.

If you spent two full months in South America @ $1000/month—and paid $800 for a roundtrip flight—that means your total cost would be $2500 (program fee) + $2000 (independent travel) + $800 (flight) = $5300 for two months. Four months would be $7300.

Do I need to speak Spanish?

No, but… any Spanish that you do know will only serve you. A few places to begin your language learning journey: Tandem, DuoLingo, Babbel, Pimsleur, Rosetta Stone, and your local community college. Vaya!

How do I meet the group for orientation? Do we fly together?

Unlike other Unschool Adventures trips, we do not fly together as a group from the United States. Your first mission is to get yourself to Arequipa! There is a local airport (code: AQP) to which you may fly directly. We will advise you on how to get to the hostel from the airport. You may alternatively fly into another part of Peru and take a bus to Arequipa.

What will the weather be like? What do I need to bring?

April and May are the beginning of the dry season in the Andes—perfect for hiking. It’s also late fall / early winter, which means that it will be getting chilly in the high elevations. On the coast, it will be sunny, warm, and beautiful. This is the “low” tourism season, perfect for budget-minded travelers. We will provide a full packing list upon enrollment.

How safe is South America for young North American travelers?

Peru has been a popular and relatively low-risk destination for young international backpackers for decades. The same goes for neighboring Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina.

Independent travel always presents certain risks, and it is the mission of the DIY Gap Year to help young travelers understand all those risks and make informed decisions suited to their individual risk thresholds.

This page from the U.S. Department of State summarizes the current safety situation in Peru. Recent-edition guidebooks (like this) are also worth reading.

How do I deal with health concerns abroad?

We require that all participants are covered by health insurance for the duration of their time in South America. Many travelers purchase traveler’s insurance for this purpose; others are covered by their preexisting health policy. Check with your insurer to find out what they cover abroad—you might be pleasantly surprised.

Unless you’re going somewhere that’s very remote, you’ll have a variety of hospital and health clinic options available to you while traveling in South America. During orientation we will show you how to find, access, and navigate health care options while in in South America.

Who are the program staff?

Blake Boles is the director of Unschool Adventures. You may learn more about him on the Leaders page and on his personal website,

Mica Peker is the staff liaison. Argentinian by birth, Mica has worked as a guide in Patagonia and assisted on the Unschool Adventures Argentina Semester 2017. Friendly, outgoing, and fluent in English and Spanish, she’s the perfect person to help you make the most of your time in South America. Learn more about Mica on the Leaders page.

I’m not really doing a “gap year”—can I still join?

Yes! We use the term “gap year” very loosely. Whether you’re already traveling, you’re just looking for a month-long travel adventure, or you’re taking a formal gap year—you’re invited to join our program.

Should I book a one-way or return ticket?

It’s your choice to buy a one-way ticket or roundtrip airplane ticket to Peru. One-way will give you maximum flexibility, but you’ll end up spending a bit more on flights. Roundtrip will cost less, but you’ve got a problem if you want to extend your travels. For some, the ideal situation will be to find a roundtrip ticket that has a small fee for changing the return date. We will provide one-on-one advice regarding your flight purchase.

What about visas and vaccinations?

Visas in most South American countries are free and easy for North American citizens—nothing to worry about!

Vaccinations are up to you. We recommend following CDC guidelines. Please consult your doctor well in advance of departure date.

I’m vegetarian / vegan / gluten-free—how will I do in South America?

In Peru and South America as a whole, it is totally possible to maintain a vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free diet. You’ll have challenging moments, and sometimes a chicken bone will show up in your vegetable soup… but with dedication (and the right phrases in Spanish), you can do it!

We recommend searching online to read about the experiences of other travelers with similar dietary restrictions. This page discusses gluten-free options in Peru; this page describes the vegan options of Peru; and this site lists vegetarian and vegan restaurants in Peru.

How much previous travel experience should I have?

The DIY Gap Year is designed to accommodate a wide range of previous travel experience. If you’ve traveled before and you’re ready to launch into a long-term adventure, you’ll enjoy the freedom to do exactly that. After the first week, there are zero restrictions on where you go or what you do—you’re free!

If this is the first time you’ve traveled internationally, you might want to stick around the staff liaison for a few weeks after orientation ends. She will help you gain your bearings, build confidence, and develop a community. Venture out on your own (or more likely, with some travel buddies) whenever you’re ready. And if you never feel ready for that, simply return home—you will still have enjoyed five weeks in South America :)

How can I raise money for this adventure?

Luckily for you, we have a whole page (and book!) dedicated to this :)

How does the application process work? When is the program fee due?

Shortly after the Priority Application Deadline, we will conduct brief Skype interviews and then make offers of enrollment. To secure your spot, we require the program fee in full, paid via check or money order, along with the trip paperwork.

We can accept credit card payments with a 3% surcharge.

Because we make non-refundable commitments (such as staff flights and lodging reservations), the program fee is fully non-refundable.

All Unschool Adventures trips are subject to cancellation if they do not meet minimum enrollment numbers. If we must cancel this trip, we will make that decision shortly after the priority application deadline of January 15th, 2019. In this unlikely case, all payments will be 100% refunded.

I have another question! Who should I ask?

Please email us at, and we’ll get back to you promptly!

Apply Now

Priority application deadline: January 15th, 2019. Apply before this date for your best chance of joining! Skype interviews begin shortly afterward.

¡Nos vemos pronto!
(See you soon!)

Go top