Photograph (above) taken by Luke ONeill
Sample Itinerary
Course start, Big Pine Key, Florida; meet your group, load boats for sailing expedition
Backcountry sailing expedition in and around the Lower Florida Keys, including Solo and service projects
Advanced Wilderness First Aid training at the Big Pine Key sailing base
Backcountry sailing expedition
Fly to Costa Rica
Surf camp and clinic on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast
Whitewater rafting expedition, various rivers in central and southern Costa Rica
Transport to Bocas Del Toros Regio on Panama’s Caribbean coast
NAUI Scuba Diving course, island basecamp living
Sea kayaking expedition in Bocas Del Toros archipelago
Graduation, course closure
Depart back to U.S.

Most College Savings Plans, including the 529 College Savings Plan, may be used to attend an Outward Bound expedition, thanks to a partnership with Western Colorado University. Anyone can register – you do not have to be a current Western Colorado University student. Registration is easy! Click here to learn more. 

Develop outdoor skills. Enhance your leadership and communication abilities. Strive to increase your knowledge of the environment – all while learning wilderness travel techniques in a variety of stunning environments. The ultimate goal of our Gap Year expeditions is to help you develop the confidence, knowledge, and integrity essential for effective leadership. Whether you are learning how to safely tie in on belay, deciding as a group how to navigate through new terrain, or setting up a minimum-impact campsite for the evening, you’ll be honing and practicing skills for life.  

  • Build skills, form connections: Amidst rugged natural landscapes, learn to lead and to follow; to give and receive feedback; and to trust in your own capabilities as you expand your technical and personal knowledge base. Find connections with your crewmates based on support and respect (and fun too!), and in the thick of challenges, discover there is more in you than you know.
  • Value strengths and strengthen values: Uncover your unique character strengths, exercise your independence as you gain life experience and learn how to let compassion in to everyday life by pushing your own limits and supporting your crew as you tackle obstacles together, big and small.
  • Demonstrate mastery: As you gain confidence in new skills and a better understanding of the natural world around you, take on more decision-making responsibilities. Work together to achieve team goals, solve problems and succeed both as independent individuals and as a group.
  • What you’ll learn: Examine your personal values and discover more about your true self. Hone your technical abilities as you become a master at ropes courses or swiftwater rescue techniques and Wilderness First Aid. Numerous certificates are available depending on the course, and up to 18 credit hours can be earned along the way.

Exploring new environments and building new connections will put your tenacity to the test. You’ll return with broader understanding of the natural world around you, deeper appreciation for small kindnesses and greater confidence in yourself and others that will serve you well long after you return.

Outward Bound is accredited with the American Gap Association and is the longest running program in this elite group dedicated to providing safe, meaningful and high-caliber educational experiences to students.

Traditional 30-foot sailboats encourage teamwork and leadership like no other classroom. On an open boat with no cabin and no engine, the group will live closely together using only wind and oars to power their way. As they rotate responsibilities during the expedition, students learn the crafts of maneuvering under sail, coastal navigation, rowing and living aboard a small open boat. At night, students sleep on deck under a tarp and take turns at anchor watch under brilliant night skies.

The Advanced Wilderness First Aid (AWFA) course is a four-day introduction to wilderness medicine that combines classroom time with hands-on practical sessions. Students will learn how to manage injuries/illnesses in the backcountry, setting them up for safe and self-reliant expeditions in the future.

During whitewater training students acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to paddle Class II, III, and possibly IV rapids. For two weeks the group follows the water around Costa Rica, paddling several rivers and setting out on day trips and multi-day expeditions. Depending on water levels, students paddle in inflatable kayaks or learn to guide a raft. During this section, students will complete their Whitewater Rescue Technician course certified by the International Water Sports Federation. 

The group spends a week on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, living on the beach and learning to surf. Surf training begins on the sand, learning about waves, surfboards, and how to stand on the board. From there students move out to smaller breaking waves to develop their balance and timing. As their skills progress, they eventually paddle out for some of the larger surf. Students with previous surfing experience may progress faster. In addition to surfing, the group volunteers at nature preserves or wildlife rescue centers along the coast.

Students will have another chance to step outside their comfort zone and explore a new environment as they earn a NAUI Scuba Diver Certification in the crystal-clear waters off Solarte Island in the Bocas del Toro region in Panama. This is a unique opportunity to learn about tropical ecology and coral reefs while participating in several dives to complete this certification.

With Scuba gear securely in place, students transform into underwater explorers and experience the diversity of marine life first hand.

learn sea kayaking with outward bound
Photo courtesy of Luke ONeill
sea kayaking in costa rica
Photo courtesy of Luke ONeill
sea kayaking in costa rica gap year
Photo courtesy of Luke ONeill

The group embarks on a two-week sea kayaking expedition in the remote archipelago of Bocas Del Toro, Panama, consisting of some 68 islands located near the Caribbean border with Costa Rica. This section begins on the island of Solarte, where the group spends up to two days planning and packing for the expedition as well as practicing paddling and rescues for kayak-based expedition travel. This section has a strong cultural immersion component with homestays in many of the villages of this tropical lagoon. The lagoon is home to several cultures including the indigenous Guaymi-Ngobe people.

service learning on semester abroad
Photo courtesy of Luke ONeill

Service projects are often incorporated into Outward Bound courses through coordination with local land managers, conservation groups, government agencies or social service agencies. While in the wilderness, students are encouraged to practice service to the environment and their team by sharing responsibilities and following Recreate Responsibly ethics throughout the expedition.

The Solo experience provides an important break from the rigors of the expedition to give students quiet time to reflect on the Outward Bound experience. With the basics of food and equipment, and with safety a top priority, students will take some time away from the group to be alone at sites of their own, using the wilderness skills learned during the first parts of the course. Often located along beautiful lake shorelines or peaceful rivers, Solo sites are chosen to offer as much solitude as possible (yet be within emergency whistle-signaling distance of other group members). Most students spend their Solo time journaling, drawing or just thinking and resting as they process lessons learned and focus on their goals for the future. Instructors check on each participant at regular intervals.

On a Semester program like this on, students will often do more than one Solo, each one lasting between 24 - 72 hours. 


This course focuses on developing the leadership and technical skills necessary to begin a career as an Instructor or expedition leader in wilderness environments, or to take on challenging and versatile roles in a variety of other fields. Outward Bound’s leadership curriculum is based on over 50 years of leading expeditions. Students will refine the way they meet challenges and opportunities, relate to others and view their world. Technical skill development is a robust and challenging component of this semester program. Whether students want to pursue a career as a guide or outdoor educator, strive to become more proficient and safe when traveling alone or with friends and family, or aspire to develop the capacity to lead in an adventurous setting, this course will expand their skill base through the instruction of experienced specialists in these skill sets.

Florida Keys

Home to numerous birds and abundant marine life, the region owes its productivity to the confluence of water flowing out of the Everglades into inner Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. The backcountry of Florida Bay offers challenging shoal draft navigation and the opportunity to explore mangrove keys, tidal flats and coral patch reefs. These warm, shallow waters provide an exciting cruising area for Outward Bound’s sailing boats and some of the best training ground for developing advanced sailing skills. The Atlantic side offers excellent open water sailing and snorkeling at the outer reefs. The course area extends to the Everglades, with beautiful sand beaches and a maze of rivers and bays to explore. These regions are the ancestral lands of the Seminole, Matecumbe, Cuchiyaga and Guarungumbe nations.

Costa Rica and Panama

The coastal and river environments of Costa Rica provide a perfect backdrop for expanding wilderness travel skills. This small tropical nation is fast becoming a renowned destination for whitewater rafting, surfing, rainforest trekking and eco-adventures in general. About the size of West Virginia, Costa Rica has a variety of climates including tropical dry forest, rainforest and cloud forest. Due to its mountainous landscape and tropical rainfall, Costa Rica boasts more whitewater rivers than any other country of its size. The warm tropical rivers cut through lush tropical rainforest and create an ideal rafting playground. From the rivers, the group will head to the beach for the surfing phase. The Pacific Ocean provides Costa Rica with exceptional surf conditions year-round for beginner to advanced surfers. On the surf expedition the group will camp, cook, hike and surf together. Part of each day during surf camp will be spent providing service in the local community. These regions are the ancestral lands of the Chorotega, Malécu, Rama, Bostos, Nicarao/Nahoa, Huetar, Tjer-di/Teribe Broram, Brunka, Bribri, Buglé and Ngäbé nations.

The final phase of the program is located in Panama where the group will learn two technical skills, scuba diving and sea kayak expeditioning. The Bocas del Torro archipelago is located near the Caribbean border with Costa Rica. The islands are home to a rich, heterogeneous culture including the indigenous Guaymi-Ngobe people who are direct descendants of the original inhabitants of these islands and the afro-Caribbean Bastimentenos. The Guaymi communicate in both Spanish and their traditional language, of which there are only about 2,000 fluent speakers left in the world. Their dwellings are typically constructed on stilts over the water with grass-thatched roofs. Several small communities and outlying homesteads will host the group as the crew explores the region in expedition sea kayaks. The Guaymi-Ngobe community on the island of Solarte is the staging ground for the scuba element of the course. These regions are theancestral lands of the Guna Yala, Guna of Wargandí, Emberá/Eperara/Épera, and Wounaan nations.


Getting Started

If you are ready to enroll on a course click the enroll button next to the course you wish to select or you can enroll over the phone by speaking with one of our Admissions Advisors (toll-free) at 866-467-7651.

To secure your spot on a course you must submit an enrollment form and $500 deposit that is applied toward the total cost of the course and includes a $150 non-refundable enrollment processing fee.