Gap Year

How to Tell Your Boss You're Taking a Gap Year

Rachael Taft
Topic Expert

In addition to working in international exchange, Rachael writes about gap years and career development while traveling.

So you’ve spent the past -- how long? Six months? One year? -- sitting at your desk daydreaming, clicking through pictures of exotic destinations, and longingly checking flight prices. And finally you’ve made the decision. It’s time to take off and travel! But there’s that whole you-have-a-job thing…

Maybe you’re just afraid to tell your boss you’re leaving. Or maybe you don’t actually hate your job, you just have the itch, and you’re kind of hoping that maybe, possibly you could come back to it once you’ve scratched that itch...?

Whichever it is, the most important thing is NOT to burn bridges. Whether you return to your old job or not once you’re done traveling (if you ever stop!), there may very well come a time when you’ll need that reference. Plus it’s just not wise to make enemies or come off as a flake, not to mention a positive parting of ways means you can send plenty of travel updates to make your boss and coworkers insanely jealous! So how do you go about telling your boss you want to take off and travel, then?

Give Plenty of Notice

Definitely don’t wait until two days before your flight and say, “Peace out!” These kinds of crazy quitting scenarios may make for a viral YouTube video, but probably won’t serve you too well. While two weeks is the minimum notice you should give, if you feel like you have a good relationship with your boss and coworkers, care about your job, and hold a position of any kind of importance and skill, more notice is always better.

[Your job] will appreciate having the time to prepare and replace you and for you taking the time to finish your projects and obligations.

They will appreciate having the time to prepare and replace you and for you taking the time to finish your projects and obligations. Of course, if you don’t feel that way about your job, and you seriously think you may get fired as soon as you announce your plans, then, by all means, wait a little longer.

Tell Your Boss FIRST

The worst thing would be for your boss to hear office gossip about you taking off on a trip to spend a few months volunteering with elephants in Thailand or taking a gap year through New Zealand.

Don’t tell anyone (or at least any of your coworkers) of your plans until you’ve told your boss. Even if you think you can trust people not to spill the beans, word travels fast around office-land and you do not want to have that awkward conversation where your boss approaches you with, “So…I hear you’re leaving us….”

So, save yourself from this uncomfortable situation and tell your boss first. Even if you're still in the contemplation stage, they'll still appreciate knowing that you're just thinking about it, so that it's on their mental radar as well as yours.

Be Professional

In that same vein, make sure that when you do go talk to your boss, you are in professional mode. Don’t try to talk to them when you are nervous or upset, or even charged up in a positive way. Try to be pretty matter-of-fact and neutral… Professional. Act like it’s any other meeting. Again, no YouTube worthy “I quit, suck it!” type moves.

The most useful and professional approach in this case would be to anticipate them and have answers and solutions prepared.

Put yourself in your boss’s shoes and imagine receiving this news. What questions and concerns would you have? The most useful and professional approach in this case would be to anticipate them and have answers and solutions prepared. Have a suggested plan for your departure. This includes when you plan on leaving, and allowing yourself enough time to help hand off some of your responsibilities to coworkers and assist in the training of your replacement. This shows you put real thought into your decision and that you want to make the transition as smooth as possible for your boss and your company. Win-win!

Have a Plan

In some cases you might just want to keep it simple -- you’re leaving to travel. The end. But if you are trying to pave a pathway back to your job, or hoping for an awesome reference, or anything along those lines, it may be helpful to share some of what you’re planning to do when you’re away.

Of course, that depends on what you truly are planning to do. Hopefully, your big trip involved some kind of meaningful travel -- doing some volunteer work, taking language lessons, or perhaps even gaining professional experience in other ways. If you are going to come back from your trip with more skills than when you left -- maybe fluency in French or having developed better cross-cultural communication skills -- this may even make your trip attractive to your employer…maybe so much so that they will welcome you back with open arms (or at least consider it) when you return home.

Suggested Gap Year Ideas

Especially if you want to take a gap year and work on your professional development, here are some ideas to help you accomplish both:

Practice the Conversation

Another important thing is to sound confident and sure of your decision. You want to sell it so hard (even more so if you are planning to ask for some kind of sabbatical or potential to return to your job) that your boss thinks you’ve made the best decision of your life. If you don’t at least have an idea of what you’re going to say and practice a bit, chances are you’ll be nervous and shaky -- not very convincing.

Maybe you’ll come back to your old job and old life, or maybe not. But at least you’ll know that you left on the right note.

So, before you meet with your boss -- plan in hand, professional mode turned on -- practice in front of the mirror, practice on your friends and family, and get to the point where you have certainty behind every word.

Book Your Flight Ahead of Time

Once you’ve decided to announce your plans to your boss, be sure you already at least have your flight out booked (which will be a cinch any way, since you already know where you want to go and how you want to spend your gap year abroad). There will never be a perfect time to leave your job, and if you don’t have that flight booked you may be convinced to change your plans.

After all, it’s not unheard of for bosses to claim they need “a little more time” to find your replacement or finish this or that project, and before you know it your trip gets pushed back and back, and it never happens.

Don’t be swayed! Put your foot down, make up your mind, and reinforce your decision by taking the plunge and booking that nonrefundable ticket!

Once the word is out, the hard part is over! Take a deep breath of relief, and pat yourself on the back, as you have done what so many people wish they could do but never follow through on. And you’re about to embark on what will probably be the most exciting, life-changing, incredible experience you may ever have. Maybe you’ll come back to your old job and old life -- a new, improved version of yourself most likely -- or maybe you’ll never come back. But at least you’ll know that you left on the right note -- and on your terms -- and that is worth it no matter what you do in the future