Gap Year

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

Greg Lewry

Greg is a recent Literature graduate and freelance travel writer. Hailing from the UK, Greg used all of his university study breaks to escape the terrible British weather and find work abroad.

It’s been biting you, hasn’t it? That pernicious 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 into reality with a heavy bump.

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 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 in your life.

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 an age where your curiosity of the world has never been higher and the chance to escape your parents and head off into the sunshine is like someone handing you a million dollar check. Luckily enough, there are tons of gap year programs out there that cater specifically to teens wanting to travel!

You can also use your gap year to add to your college fund by finding work abroad, from farm work in Australia to teaching English in Asia. However, unless you’ve already had plenty of travel experience, heading off to work in a foreign country can be very daunting when you are only fresh out of 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 or career break.

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. If you're smart, you'll participate in programs that will simultaneously bolster your resume.

Whether you're gunning for an internship in London or a volunteer healthcare placement in the heart of Africa, there are plenty of options for filling the summer before you return to college in the fall.

If you're feeling ultra-brave, you may opt to defer your college enrollment for a year, pack your bags, and get going. Although a few months to travel and work a little over the summertime can lead to some fun experiences, those lucky souls who do full-on gap years have 12 months to play with. You may find that the relatively short summer vacation just doesn’t cut it - that is where your third option comes in.

3. After College

Education is over, now you have your whole life ahead of you. It’s a scary prospect, as you are now free to do pretty much whatever you want. Snorkel around Panama, discover lost worlds whilst learning Spanish in Venezuela 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 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 meaning leaving the office fifteen minutes early.

Taking a temporary job abroad may actually further your career whilst allowing you a change of scene and a chance to live in a different culture. For those who feel that a change of career is needed, you could also take utilize a gap year as the perfect transition. Try your luck at different vocations by interning abroad or dive head first into a subject matter that has taken the back seat to your career.

Yes, there are PLENTY of reasons of 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. Or are those good reasons to set sail and leave the US for new shores? There are opportunities to find every kind of work across the world, so you may find you 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, with this age bracket 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 ceiling for their programs, so you are free to do anything from helping to conserve the spectacular Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe to aiding an animal rescue center in Costa Rica. There are a slew of teaching opportunities for older travelers out there too!

The question remains: what time in your life will you shake your in-the-box notions of success and instead answer the call for adventure? Don't just read about the benefits of long term travel, think seriously about going out and seeing 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 is NOW!