Taking a gap year in certain countries like the UK, Australia, and New Zealand is a right of passage that many teenage and early twenty somethings take advantage of. Taking that time to travel the world, volunteer, work, and have worldly experiences is said to prepare these young men and women for the rest of their lives.
Gap years are highly misconstrued in other parts of the world though, in particular the United States. If you live in a country where a gap year is not part of the normal lexicon, you probably have some questions.
- What is a gap year?
- When do people take one?
- What’s the point?
Once we get through the nitty gritty of defining a gap year, we’ll get into why we think that you should take one, no matter what your situation. There are a multitude of reasons why someone should take a gap year, whether it’s the student finishing high school or that 40-something mom and dad who just need a break.
What is a Gap Year?
The traditional definition of a gap year is a period of time where a student takes a break from his or her studies. The time period is typically about a year and is usually after high school or college.
When do people take a Gap Year?
Even though the traditional time to take a gap year has been after high school or college, the definition has been changing to include terms like sabbatical or career break. This means that you don’t have to be a young student taking a break from school to travel the world. You could be a young professional who simply wants a break or to give yourself the chance to look into another career. You could be in the middle of life, with kids in school, a mortgage, and a family, but you want to take a break to travel the world with your family, taking a massive world-wide field trip. The term gap year isn’t just for students anymore. Anyone can take a gap year; it doesn’t matter whether you’re 18 or 58. If you feel you need a break, then take one!
What’s the point?
Detractors of the gap year say the only reason people take one is to get away from real life by becoming a vagabonding hippie for a year. Those of us who have taken breaks from life to travel know this is rarely the case. Do some travelers spend all their time getting high, drinking, and partying? Of course they do, but the number isn’t any higher than those who do the same thing while in college, working in a career, or raising a family.
The reasons for taking a gap year can be many, and even though we narrowed them down to nine, there are countless reasons to take a break from normal life to pursue your travel dreams.
That perfect time is never going to come
One of the biggest reasons people give for not taking a break to travel is because the timing just isn’t right. Whether it’s a job, a relationship, a family, or any other excuse one gives for not pursuing what they really want in life, it’s time to realize that the perfect time is simply never going to come. There will never be that magical time to do all the things you have always dreamed about. The only way any of these things will happen is if you make them a priority.
Taking a gap year is a risk, there’s no doubt about it. You may have to decide to leave a job you really like. You may be worried about putting school off for a year. You may have concern for yanking your kids out of school to travel for a year. With any tough decision, there are risks involved, and taking a gap year is no different. But from every gap year traveler I have spoken with over the years, I have yet to meet one who regrets taking one. The only detractors seem to be the ones who never thought of doing it themselves. When taking advice about an experience, would you want to listen to people who have done it before or those who have never even thought about it?
>> Get more inspiration to start planning your rtw trip now
The economy sucks
For several years now, we have all been patiently waiting for the economy to get back to normal. But as the months roll on, people continue to be out of work and struggling to make ends meet. Conventional wisdom says this would be a terrible time to take off for a year, but proponents of gap years and sabbaticals seem to think differently.
For the younger crowd – college and high school students – you may as well put off entering the real world for as long as you can (sorry Mom and Dad). Things are grim out there for recent college graduates looking for work, so why not take a year to travel, volunteer, learn a new language, and gain real-world experience while many of your classmates sit at home scouring the internet for jobs and settle into something they are overqualified for? If you’re a high school senior, you can leave for the same reasons. No one thought this recession would last this long, and we have no idea how much longer it will last, so delaying your education for a year isn’t going to set you back at all, and many colleges will even defer your start date a year.
For the working class folk, there is no better time than now. If you are out of work, fear that you may be soon, or in a job or career that you hate, now is the time to break free and try to find out what it really is you want out of life. If you are happy in your job or career, that’s okay, too. If taking a break to travel is something you’ve always dreamed of, don’t let the poor economy stop you. You may be able to work out a sabbatical or leave of absence with your employer. During a booming job market, this may not have been possible, but some bosses and companies are all too happy to let someone leave for a year without having to lay someone off.
>> Find out more about why a bad economic period is a good time to travel
It can be cheaper than living at home
There is no bigger myth about gap years, sabbaticals, and long term travel than it being too expensive. Can a year abroad be expensive? Of course it can – if you travel in Europe, the US, Australia, New Zealand, or any other developed, westernized country. Or if you stay in luxury hotels and eat at only the fine restaurants, refusing to travel by train or bus. But if you stick to developing regions like Latin America, Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, you can get by on a fraction of the money you spend at home. If you’re young, take advantage of traveling in regions like this, as it’s much easier to endure 18+ hour bus rides when you’re 18 vs. 48.
If money is a major concern and you think you’ll have trouble coming up with the necessary funds before leaving, there are plenty of jobs out there where you can work while you travel. You can also spend less while staying put for a while, taking language classes or volunteering while really getting to know a new culture. Not only will working, volunteering, or becoming an expat for a month of two be cheaper, but it will also be a great experience. Slowing down, staying in one place, and really getting to know another culture is an experience not everyone gets, and the skills you learn while doing these things look great on a resume.
>> Learn more about how living on the road can be cheaper
It gives you a chance to breathe
No matter where you are in life, chances are you’ve been really busy and working your ass off. High school seniors feel the pressure of college and tests and college admission essays. College seniors stress about getting a job in their field in a down economy while somehow being able to pay off their massive student loan debt. 20 and 30-somethings have been working since leaving school, many in high stress situations or in fields they found out they really don’t like. Families feel the pressure of keeping up with the Joneses and providing a top notch education for their children.
No matter what stage in life you are in, chances are you could probably use a break. Even when going on vacation, how many people are still tethered to their phones or laptops, worrying about work while they’re supposed to be resting? We are all very busy people, and most live lives that are hectic and tiresome. It’s just part of today’s culture. And I’ll be willing to bet that you deserve a break from life. A chance to do something you’ve always dreamed of doing. A chance to recharge your battery and do something for you. A gap year is the perfect way to deal with burnout, give yourself some perspective, and get your life on the track you want it to be on.
>> Check out ways to travel slowly and stress-free
You hate your job
Many people who decide to take a gap year are those who are miserable in their jobs and careers. Our society is a bit backwards, making 18-year-old kids decide what they want to do with the rest of their lives. For generations, that’s just how it worked. No one seemed to question the absurdity of choosing a career to work for the next 30-40 years when you’re barely out of high school. So it’s no surprise that we have a lot of people, both young and old, questioning what it is they are doing with their lives.
Many younger people have seen their parents work jobs and careers they hate, devoting their lives to them so they can make better lives for their families. It’s an admirable things to do, but we have seen loved ones get royally screwed by devoting themselves to one career and one company then having that company turn their backs on them or have their retirement funds decimated. Many of us don’t want the same thing to happen to us. There’s no shame in saying, “I got it wrong.” There’s no shame in picking up at 25, 35, even 45 years old and realizing that you are in the wrong career. The question is, “What are you going to do about it?” A gap year could be the place to start.
>> Find out how a travel break can help your career
It can help you decide what you want to do with your life
If you are one of those people who hate their jobs, it just makes sense to change things up, do something drastic, and consider taking a gap year to figure things out. If you’re one of the younger potential gap year travelers, then taking a year to travel, volunteer, and soak up other cultures is only going to help you in your decision-making process down the line. For the high school and college students, you have no doubt been told your entire lives that getting a good education will lead to a good job. But there rarely seems to be any mention of one key part of working – happiness. You have been told you want success. You have been told you want money. But happiness? You really only get that if you’re lucky.
Well I call shenanigans on that. Why don’t we put a priority on daily happiness? Why do we not stress that liking, even loving your job is something we should strive for? If we’re going to spend most of our lives doing it, then shouldn’t we be happy? So why not take advantage of your situation now, get out on the road, really think about what it is you want to do with life, and then come back rested, refreshed, and with a new outlook on life?
Too many people don’t take the time to assess their lives and what it is they want out of it. Too many wake up in their 40′s and 50′s and say, “What happened?” People get so caught up in life that they forget to stop and look around. They don’t realize that so much more can be out there. And when they do realize it, sometimes it’s too late. Taking a gap year gives you the opportunity to pursue a hobby or passion that you’ve always wanted to pursue. You could discover a lost skill you once had. You never know what can spark your creative side and send you down a new path.
>> Discover some great jobs that allow you to travel
You will learn about yourself
Taking a gap year to travel the world will teach you more about yourself than you ever thought possible. Long term travelers are often thrown into challenging and interesting situations on the road, and learning how to cope and adapt will give you insight to your true self. Learning how to deal with stress and unfamiliar environments and cultures will teach you skills you can’t learn in a classroom or behind a desk. It will teach you a tremendous amount of patience as you will be on someone else’s time. Dealing with border crossings, waiting for buses, sitting in crazy traffic, and being thrown into seemingly absurd scenarios is the norm, and you honestly never know what’s coming next.
Not only will these challenges help you with whatever you do next in life, but a gap year really gives people the chance to reflect and look within. We just don’t take the necessary time to reflect and assess our lives on very often. One great asset of a gap year is that it finally gives people time. For the first time since you were a kid, time will be on your side. How you take advantage of it is up to you.
You will learn more about the world
We all learn about the world around us in school, through textbooks, and from teachers. Television and movies can teach us as well, though biases and entertainment seem to get in the way of real, honest knowledge about a place. With the world changing the way it is, it’s important to be global citizens. The advance in technology sees us working side by side with people living on the other side of the world, and that will only continue to increase. Knowing more about that world around us is only going to help as time goes on.
Taking the time to travel the world gives people a different perspective. It’s one thing to read about poverty or see it on the news, but it’s completely different to volunteer in an African hospital or work at an orphanage in Cambodia and see the lives of others around the world with your own two eyes. The experiences one has while on a gap year trip will change the way that person views the world.
>> Check out some of the career (and life) skills you learn on the road
Life is short, and you want to
All the other reasons on this list are ways to get detractors on board with the idea of the gap year and to convince you that a gap year is something you should consider. But it’s okay to be selfish from time to time and say that you are going to take a year to travel simply because you want to. If you have the means to do it, and it’s something you’ve always dreamed of doing, then do it.
When you’re on your death bed and reflecting back on life, chances are you won’t be thinking about those long days at work, your bank account, or all the stuff you’ve accumulated. You’ll be thinking of experiences, loved ones, and questioning if you really lived life the way you wanted to live it. The question is, are you going to be happy with the decisions you made, or are you going to regret not doing the things that truly made you happy?
Have you taken a gap year before? How did it help shape your future? If you are considering one, what’s the biggest thing holding you back? Comment below to share your thoughts or read more about long term travel:
- Why It’s Not Crazy for Working Professionals to Quit Their Jobs to Travel
- How to Know if Long Term Travel is Right for You
- 10 RTW Travel Myths Debunked
Adam Seper and his wife, Megan, decided that 50+ hour workweeks with 2 weeks of vacation a year simply wasn’t going to cut it. So they decided to take a leap of faith and put The American Dream on hold. In October 2008, they took off on an epic, year-long adventure, traversing the globe and traveling to 89 cities and 11 countries across 4 continents, never to be the same again.
Now Adam is going to tell you how you can plan your own epic adventure. Every week, on “Round the World Wednesday” he’ll share tips for planning, budgeting and selecting a route, plus advice on where to go and what to see and do all around the world.