Those bright-eyed, back-packing 18-year-olds might get all the attention, but increasingly, we older folks are taking gap years -- and loving it! We are taking intentional breaks from our jobs, some quitting altogether, packing up the family or reveling in an empty nest, and setting off for adventures we never before dreamed possible.
This, we realize, is actually the ideal time for a gap year. We are older, more mature, and enjoying more financial independence than our younger selves had. Nothing rocks us, but everything interests us. We have some resources saved up, and we know how we like to spend our time. Now, we strive for culturally immersive experiences while enjoying the payoff of years of hard work.
The idea of taking advantage of a 'gap' resonates with many of us no matter where we are in our lives.
The hardest part of deciding to go on a gap year might just be figuring out where to go and what to do because there are so many options for a professional gap year.
If you are inspired to dedicate a year (or less, or more!) of your life to self-growth and travel, we're here to help! Read on to learn the ins and outs of planning and taking a gap year as a young professional.
Can you take a gap year as an adult?
The answer: Yes!
The term gap year is most commonly used when describing the time between high school and university when young people have a chance to be carefree and discover themselves while exploring the world. But the idea of taking advantage of a ‘gap’ really resonates with a lot of us -- like the woman behind The Grown Up Gapper -- no matter where we are in our lives.
The gap might be when our children go off to college, a gap in careers, or any other type of gap in our life experience. Gap years are the perfect way to find something we really love and do it in an exciting and extended way. For some, this is studying Beethoven with an Oxford University professor, for others, it’s working in orangutan conservation in Borneo.
The key is to remember that this can be whatever we want it to be. It doesn’t have to be a hardship, and it doesn’t even have to be a whole year -- it could even be a string of shorter adventures, but no matter where we go and when, investing time in yourself is sure to be transformative and meaningful.
How to plan a gap year as a professional
Anyone taking a gap year will have concerns and preparation to do -- after all, you are putting your life on hold for an extended period.
Wherever you are in your life or career, that can be challenging, but it is especially hard for those of us who have work, families, homes, and communities that depend on us.
It’s natural to think that the world might stop spinning if you stopped juggling these different responsibilities. The truth is, though, that once you break down your fears, you might realize that there are ways to make it work:
How to take a career break?
The reality is that career breaks are possible and, sometimes, even encouraged. It takes courage and planning, but the rewards are enormous. Talk to your boss about taking a gap year, explain your intention, and discuss the possibility of returning later. Present it as a sabbatical if you have to (some states, like California, have legal stipulations to protect employees who take time off for a sabbatical).
If you're looking for a short break and need personal development and career coaching, take a week and learn how to surf in Sri Lanka. You might come back with a new frame of mind and some new ideas.
How to take a gap year if you have children
Every family and situation is different. Maybe your children are older, and while they'll miss you, they're sufficiently independent. Or perhaps if they're younger, you might consider taking them with you! There are plenty of resources for parents considering taking a gap year as a family. These are great places to start:
There are also plenty of families traveling the world together! Do some research, talk to others doing a similar thing, and decide if this might be the path for you.
How to leave a house, car, pets, and friends for a gap year
Depending on each individual’s situation, there are many resources to help you manage your responsibilities while traveling. Property managers, for example, are great for caring for a house and any problems that might arise. Or perhaps you'd like to rent out your home -- so you know there's someone there, taking care of the space, and (bonus!) generating some extra income for your travels.
Make sure you can spend your adventure focusing on the adventure and not who's feeding Fido.
Your community -- friends and family members -- can be another resource to rely on for pet care and other concerns. Plus, you can bribe them by promising to bring them back some unique thank-you gifts from all of your adventures.
The internet is making everything more connected, so you can sit at a quiet cafe in Amalfi and check your bank account, mortgage, and other responsibilities waiting patiently for you back home.
How to budget for an adult gap year
There is nothing worse than spending your whole time overseas worrying about money. There is no shame in restricting the length or extravagance of your gap year to ensure your travels are affordable. If you're on a tight budget, many shorter programs can scratch your travel itch without needing substantial savings.
To begin your budgeting process, follow these simple steps:
- Get set up with an online banking system (if you haven't already)
- Give your bank your travel itinerary.
- Get a travel credit card that doesn't charge foreign transaction fees (note: American Express is the hardest to use abroad)
- Create a budget and estimate the total cost -- can you save up enough? Have you already saved up enough?
- Consider renting out your house for extra income while you're on the road.
- Make sure you have travel insurance and read the fine print -- you don't want to go broke over a broken bone!
Establish expectations of certain sacrifices
If you’re volunteering in a remote village in Tanzania, you'll likely be making a lot of sacrifices to your comfort, but if you’re taking those cooking classes in Italy, there will likely be far fewer.
Think about the things you’ll need to put on hold and the people (or pets) you’ll miss. Establish a gap year plan that is compatible with your life and ensures you can spend your time focusing on the adventure and not who’s feeding Fido.
What to do during your gap year
Ok, now you’ve given this some good hard thinking, and you’re ready to start planning a gap year.
Your first step might be to reach out to the experts. Because taking a grown-up gap year is becoming increasingly popular, the supply is catching up with the demand.
Certain companies cater to those of us looking for a more specialized experience. These professionals can help you as you start to plan your dream gap year. You can find a whole list of gap year providers on Go Overseas' gap year programs page -- complete with real alum reviews.
At the same time, it helps to know what you want to do during your gap year. Ask yourself what skills and experiences you bring to the table and what you want to achieve.
Here are a few ideas to get you inspired:
Teaching abroad has always been a popular gap year option, but schools increasingly don't want to hire a 20-year-old backpacker. They want someone older, more mature, and more reliable.
Even if you’re not a professional teacher, you have valuable skills and experience that many people around the world would want to learn about. Take a year and become part of a community, get to know and understand the culture, and be part of something bigger, one classroom at a time.
Note: Are you too old to teach abroad? Well, some jobs may have an upper age limit -- that has more to do with visa laws than not wanting older teachers. Volunteer teaching is a reliable alternative.
Volunteer in your field
As an older gapper, you bring tons of professional experience and expertise to the table and would make an incredible impact abroad by volunteering your time within your field.
This might also be a great opportunity to take classes that will enhance your career.
Did you work as a biologist? Consider helping out an environmental project in Ecuador as a consultant. Were you in marketing? Help a budding NGO get the word out about its project or develop a marketing plan.
Whatever your career -- literally, anything -- you're sure to find a project that needs your skills.
Learn something new
For most of us, though, a gap year might look a little different. Instead of narrowing down one place or one activity, we want to do as much as we can in as many places as we can.
For shorter programs that can be sewn together for a more diverse adventure, consider this range of opportunities:
- You’ve always wanted to learn how to Tango -- why not do it in Argentina?
- Learn Spanish in Guatemala (or Spain, or Chile, or... or... or...)
- Take a glass-blowing course in Florence
- Find a wine course in the south of France
- Take a writing workshop in Ireland
- Learn photography in Berlin
- Find a French language school in Paris.
- Take part in an archaeological dig in Egypt
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of ways to use this time to learn new things or enhance your knowledge on a topic with which you’re already familiar. There are endless possibilities, and the good news is that we older folks don’t have to worry about grades or credit. We can learn for the sake of learning.
This might also be a great opportunity to take classes that will enhance your career. A chef could take cooking classes in Mexico or Italy; a doctor could take classes on tropical disease in England; an artist could take courses pretty much anywhere.
For those who can do a little research and have an inquisitive mind, you can find classes and workshops in whatever it is that interests you.
Discover a new hobby
Do you love animals? Children? The environment? Yoga? Whatever it is that you enjoy doing with your free time, there is probably a program out there that celebrates it.
Even if it’s something you think you might enjoy but aren't yet involved in, this is the time to find out. For those who love adventure and are passionate about their hobbies, you can find something that can really be meaningful and transformative.
Start planning your adult gap year!
With so many options for what to do during gap year, there are endless possibilities for travel, learning, and the adventure of a lifetime. Now is the time to take stock of what we’ve accomplished and look forward to what’s next.
Whether that means teaching in a remote village in Kenya, tracing your heritage across the globe, learning how to become a graffiti artist in Brazil, or visiting the historic homes of your favorite British authors. After all, we can’t let those 18-year-olds have all the fun, now can we?
Ready to take the next step in planning your gap year? Check out these other great articles: