You’ve probably heard of teenagers taking a gap year, where they take a short break between high school and college to sort out their future plans. But now, a growing number of adults are taking a strategic break and putting their careers on hold for a gap year.
Many recent graduates are taking longer to land their first job. Older professionals who have been laid off are facing retirement earlier than they expected. For others, it’s an intentional search for new adventures.
Whatever your motivation, these suggestions can help guide you through your gap year from planning to reentry.
Planning a Gap Year
1. Finance your dreams. The biggest question for most people is how to afford a year off. Build up your savings or plan to work while you’re away. You may even be able raise funds through crowdsourcing and other methods if you’re doing something like nursing in an orphanage.
2. Get your family on board. Depending on your destination, you may want to take your family along. Changing schools is a big step for your children, but they may learn things they would’ve missed by staying home.
3. Talk with your boss. Figure out the odds for returning to your old job if that’s your plan. Depart on good terms with your employer, so you can at least count on a positive reference.
4. Learn from the experience of others. Reach out to those who’ve gone before you. Look for people who share your individual interests. If you’re traveling to a major city out of the country, ask for suggestions on how to get connected with the local expatriate community to help you find your way around.
Managing the Logistics
1. Set your own schedule. Your break can be shorter or longer than 12 months. Decide how much time makes sense for you.
2. Travel light. Pack only the bare essentials. You’ll get through airports more quickly.
3. Find accommodations. Explore all your options. You may be able to rent your condo out or find a house swapping arrangement. If you have a mortgage, remember to check with your lender to see if you meet the requirements or have to complete any necessary forms.
4. Protect your health. Talk with your doctor. You may need to get certain vaccinations or stock up on your prescription medications.
Enjoying the Experience
1. Do volunteer work. Browse through the many agencies that sponsor international volunteer services. Work on a farm or get involved with conservation work in the Amazon. These organizations may help you with living arrangements as well.
2. Pursue spiritual development. Retreats and pilgrimages are a major part of many faith traditions. Join a group trip or design your own itinerary.
3. Study abroad. Take drama classes in London or enroll in a Spanish architecture class in Madrid. Pick up new languages at every stop you make. Contact your alma mater or other universities about their foreign study programs.
Engineering Your Reentry
1. Make a permanent transition. You may enjoy your gap year so much that you want it to last for the rest of your life. You may be surprised to find how much you change.
2. Simplify everything. Whatever path you decide to take, prevent clutter and distractions from building up again. That way you’ll stay energized and ready to take off on your next adventure.
3. Ease back into old routines. Give yourself time to readjust. High speed traffic and crowded stores may feel overwhelming at first if you’ve been exploring the countryside all year.
It takes courage and a willingness to accept risk when leaving your life behind and traveling down a new path. If you believe a gap year is a good choice for you, go ahead and give it a try. It could turn out to be the start of a whole new life.