What You Need to Know About Taking a Grown-Up Gap Year

by  Karen Gardiner | Nov 7, 2016

A rite of passage for carefree teenagers and recent college graduates, the gap year is increasingly attractive to even those of more advanced ages. In 2013, The Independent reported that between 2012 and 2013 the percentage of career gappers in their mid-thirties and over jumped from eight percent to more than fifty percent. If that's inspired you to take the leap, here are a few things to think about before you take off.

When to go

For many grown-up gappers, it's often a major life-changing event -- redundancy, selling the house, the kids growing up and leaving home -- that provides the impetus for taking off. The decision doesn't have to come from such a dramatic event, though. In fact, it is quite possible to take just a break from your job and normal life with the intent of returning. A BBC story from earlier this year stated that the number of people taking lengthy sabbaticals later in life is increasing, and companies are becoming more open to the idea. The website Go Overseas, which connects users to study and work abroad experiences for all ages, has some useful tips for how to talk to your boss to tell them that you plan to take off and travel -- and, possibly, return to work when you come home.

If, on the other hand, you are dissatisfied in your current career, a gap year may prove to be the path toward finding a new one. The BBC article quotes Holly Bull, president of the Princeton, New Jersey-based gap year consultancy Center for Interim Programs, who says: “I think it's really important to ask people questions about whether their work is fulfilling. If it's not, it may be scary to make a change, but it's invariably better to risk it to find something that really does light them up. Gap options provide landing pads and a way to test the waters without making a full commitment to another job.”

How to plan

If you are in your forties or older, there is one major advantage to taking a year out now rather than when you were in your teens: the arrival of widespread Internet. There is a wealth of information online about how to plan a gap year, and booking flights and accommodation is just a click away.

The previously mentioned Independent article offers tips and the pros and cons of gapping in your thirties, forties, and fifties, and Go Overseas offers advice on everything from traveling with your family to renting out your home while you are away.

If volunteering is of interest, the Guardian has an article about finding a position that is mutually beneficial for you and the community you are visiting. Do plenty of research before signing up for a volunteer gig, as the voluntourism market is sometimes murky and many unwitting (well-meaning) volunteers end up doing more harm than good, as seen in orphanages, for example.

How to manage money

An advantage older travelers have over youngsters is that they (usually) have a little more money in the bank accounts. Nevertheless, extended travel will cause a dent in anyone's financial health. If that is a concern, you can plan to spend the bulk of your gap year (or months) in places where your dollar stretches farther, such as Southeast Asia. Elsewhere, services such as Airbnb and Homestay allow you to live affordably in your chosen destination for extended periods of time -- and cook at your new home, rather than constantly spending money on eating out. If you do want to treat yourself to one blowout hotel experience while on the road, save it for, again, someplace like Southeast Asia where you get more bang for your buck (you will find plenty of inspiration on our site.)

Of course, the simplest and most useful thing to do to keep your finances in check is to enroll in online banking so you can keep an eye on, and manage, your accounts wherever you are in the world. For the nitty gritty on pensions and insurance, This Is Money has some invaluable advice for handling your finances on the road. The Mint.com app allows you to easily track how much you've spent and when credit card payments are due, all in one place.

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