Gap Year

The 5 Best Times in Your Life to Take a Gap Year

Review the top 5 most popular times in life to take a gap year abroad.

Colin Murchison
Topic Expert

Colin was born and raised in Colorado, with the Rocky Mountains inspiring a passion for snowboarding, environmentalism, and photography. After...

It’s been biting you, hasn’t it? That relentless little travel bug has been gnawing away at your heartstrings and now you’re thinking, "Where can I go?", "What can I do?", "How can I realize my travel dreams?" I know, it’s really quite painful isn’t it? But you’re stuck. You’re in college or you’ve just started a new job or you’ve got other commitments that bring your dreaming back down to reality.

At almost every point of your life you’re going to feel that you should be doing something other than travelling the world. Ignore those tugging feelings. The school to work to retirement blueprint seems like the natural progression for everyone. Disrupting the conveyor belt of life feels like it could be fatal, but the good news is, there is a pause button. It’s called a gap year. It's up to you when in your life you press that pause button, but here are the five best times to take a gap year.

1. Before College

There are many reasons why bridging high school and college with a gap year is a good idea. You’ve finally reached the age of independence, you’re at a time in life where your curiosity of the world has never been higher and the chance to escape your parents and control your daily schedule is like someone handing you a million dollar check. With the benefits of a gap year being so appealing at this age, there are tons of gap year programs out there that cater specifically to young adults wanting to travel!

A gap year before college can also help with the critical decision of what to study, and reinvigorate you for a few more years in a classroom. Through a working holiday or work exchange, you can gain critical experiences not taught in a classroom. However, unless you’ve already had plenty of travel experience, heading off to work in another country can be very daunting when you’re just graduating high school. If you have doubts about how you would cope away from home for the first time, then be reassured that this is only the first of many opportunities in your lifetime to take a gap year.

2. During College

Taking a gap year during your college education may seem like an unlikely piece of advice, but those long summer vacations are perfect for travelling the world. This is a great time to participate in programs that will simultaneously bolster your resume.

Whether it’s over a summer, or by taking a semester or year off, college is a fantastic time to couple travel with an internship, or to spend time volunteering. For many, college is the bridge to independence, and a gap year will provide experience to help you grow into a better friend, family member, student, and colleague.

3. After College

Formal education is over, now you have your whole life ahead of you. This transition from academia to the workforce offers a natural opportunity to take some time off and invest in yourself. Now that you’re free to do pretty much whatever you want, why not learn Spanish in Panama, or teach soccer to Ghanaian children? The world is your oyster! With a degree you can teach English anywhere in the world and you’ll now have the time and the maturity to make a difference.

Understandably though, having just completed all those years in college, those close to you may be expecting you to move into post-graduate employment. After four years of working for a top grade and being continuously asked what you plan to do after graduation, you may feel considerable pressure to go straight from college into a big job and to start walking along your path to success. That’s perfectly reasonable, as you want to take advantage of your education and succeed in the workplace. Just remember though, the skills you learn on a gap year can prove to be invaluable for nearly any career path.

The school to work to retirement blueprint seems like natural progression for everyone. Disrupting the conveyor belt of life feels like it could be fatal, but the good news is, there is a pause button...

4. Career Break

So you’ve got that big job you’ve always wanted, but something’s missing. Where has your sense of adventure run off to? Recapture it with a career break (‘break’ as in the restful meaning of the word - not the destructive sort!) and remind yourself that freedom doesn’t just mean leaving the office fifteen minutes early.

Taking a temporary job abroad may actually further your career whilst allowing you a change of scenery and a chance to live in a different culture. For those who feel that a change of career is needed, you could also utilize a gap year as the perfect transition. A career break is also a great time to invest your time in the ‘greater good’ and volunteer in something you believe in.

Yes, there are PLENTY of reasons why now is not the right time to take a gap year if you’re in a stable job. A weak economy and an uncertain job market are two understandable reasons to stay put. Although, there are opportunities to find every kind of work across the world, so you may find an opportunity to turn that career break into something more permanent.

5. Retirement

You’ve reached the end of 9am starts, office meetings, and boring presentations, now you can kick back and relax... whilst volunteering at a school in Cambodia! The work may never end, but it can certainly become more interesting, enriching and rewarding after you have retired from your profession. More and more baby boomers are jumping on board, and quickly taking advantage of unique opportunities for older travelers.

Unfortunately many countries limit their work visas to younger age groups. Australia, for example, only allows 18-30 year olds to apply for their Working Holiday visas. However, the vast majority of volunteer programs have no age limit for their programs, so you are free to do anything from being a game ranger in Zimbabwe to aiding an animal rescue center in Costa Rica. There are a slew of teaching opportunities for older travelers out there too!

In Conclusion -- It’s never too late to take a Gap Year

The question remains: when will the right time be for you to take a break from the ordinary and jump into a life-changing gap year experience? Don't just read about all the benefits of a gap year, think seriously about going out and experiencing them for yourself. Whatever age you are, whether you’re about to apply for college or you’ve just retired, the best time to take a gap year may just be right NOW!