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 age or 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.
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 and spend a year partying and having no responsibilities. Do some travelers spend this time being unproductive and doing things like getting high, drinking, and partying all the time? Of course they do, but the percentage of travelers doing this isn’t any higher than those 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 eight, 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.
“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.”
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?
There is no bigger myth about gap years, sabbaticals, and long term travel than it being too expensive. While yes, it is not free, and while yes, it will take sacrifice and hard work to save for a trip of this magnitude, what big, life changing event is cheap and doesn’t take hard work to make happen?
Buying a house.
All are major life events, and all cost money. Hell, traveling for a year is the cheapest out of all of them, and the experience one gets from traveling extensively is just as valuable as those other life events. It’s just that the other ones are part of what we’re supposed to do, while traveling for a year simply isn’t (yet).
“Hell, traveling for a year is the cheapest out of all of them, and the experience one gets from traveling extensively is just as valuable as those other life events.”
And honestly, it’s probably not nearly as expensive as you might think. Now if you decide to travel in Europe, the US, Australia, New Zealand, or any other developed, westernized country the entire time, yes, it’s going to be pricey. Or if you go to a new city every 3 days, stay in luxury hotels, eat at only the fine restaurants, and refuse 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. It’s not uncommon to be able to travel comfortably in these regions for under $50 per day. The more hardcore can do it for half that.
Do the math, and $50/day comes out to $18,000 for a year of travel. Cut some corners here and there, and that number can easily go down to $10,000-$15,000. Are you living on less than that in your daily life right now?
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.
“Do the math, and $50/day comes out to $18,000 for a year of travel. Cut some corners here and there, and that number can easily go down to $9,000-$12,000. Are you living on less than that in your daily life right now?”
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.
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.
“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.”
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 (an unfortunate) 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.
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.
“There’s no shame in saying, ‘I got it wrong.’ There’s no shame in picking up at 25, 35, 45, even 55-years-old and realizing that you are in the wrong career.”
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, 45, even 55-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.
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. You have been told you want a house, and nice cars, and cool stuff. But happiness? You really only get that if you’re lucky.
“You have been told you want success. You have been told you want money. You have been told you want a house, and nice cars, and cool stuff. But happiness? You really only get that if you’re lucky.”
Well I call bullshit 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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
“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.”
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?