December 10, 2018

Taking a Gap Year: Not Just For Young Adults Anymore


It is not unheard of for someone graduating from high school to want to take a year off before starting college. There is the need for a break from twelve years of school, or a feeling that an adventure or life-refreshing experience would be beneficial before tackling college or other advanced education. Sometimes, a college graduate will have the same "itch" to explore the world before settling down to becoming a full-fledged "adult."

A while ago the Wall Street Journal had an article  about Boomers taking a "gap year" during their working career. This is seen as the chance to "wipe the slate clean" by exploring different options for the next part of their life. 

Most of the people who do this return to the working world, albeit in a different way. And, there are some who come back in a radically different form.  It may be tackling a long delayed dream, or a mix of part time work with a newly found passion for expanded leisure. It can mean a different living environment or location.

One of the people interviewed for the article summarized the most important step anyone must take: "Don't be afraid. That's what stops most people my age from making changes. Not only do they fear the unknown, but they fear letting go of the habits, comforts, safety and routine of their lives."

That may be true but it is quite reasonable to worry about having to convince a present or future employee to take a chance on someone who decides to take a period of time off, especially past a certain age. Someone would have to arrange for a sabbatical, have a strong enough skill set that finding a new job would not be terribly difficult, or believe a career change is past due anyway.

While the thrust of that newspaper article was not directed toward a satisfying retirement, the mindset that allows for a Boomer relaunch is an interesting idea for someone who is fully retired at the moment. Taking time to strip away old habits or ways of living and then restarting the journey would work at any age.

If already retired, that drawback with taking a "gap year" is eliminated. Of course, there will be other upheavals, expenses, and maybe some strange looks from friends and family. But, worrying about employment isn't as high on the list. And, any future work may take on an entirely different form: starting one's own business, using skills in a different field, or consulting a former employer.


Our mini-gap machine
I did experiment with a mini "gap" concept and enjoyed it tremendously. After debating the pros and cons for at least a year, Betty and I finally bought an RV. After several short trips to figure out the basics of motorhome life, we took a few, two month-long trips to different parts of the country. They were refreshing, memory-filled breaks from our normal routine. Looking at the photos today brings a smile to my face.


Of course, they were not long enough to really feel as if we had stepped into an alternative lifestyle. For me, that would mean driving until I found a fascinating small town and stop for a month or so. I'd look for some one-time volunteer opportunities, eat at the cafes where the town gathers every morning, get to know the local characters, and adapt to the timing of that location's lifestyle.

Then, I'd pack up and drive down the road to a very different climate or part of the country and repeat the process. After several of these stops, I think I'd be ready to come back to my safe suburban base with new perspectives on my life and the journey I am on. I think I'd be a better, or at least more interesting, version of myself, with stories to tell and lifestyle examples to copy.

On our two month trips we made a classic mistake: trying to cover too many miles and see too many things in the time we had allotted. We were never in one place more than 4 days - certainly not long enough to be more than a casual visitor. Also, we felt that being away from family for 60 days was about our limit. So, the conclusion for us was a full-blown 'gap" experience was not really our style

A couple I admire are in the midst of a serious gap year experience. They sold most of their belongings, moved out of their rental home in Hawaii, and began a one-year trip around the world with nothing more than a few suitcases and backpacks to sustain them. When their journey is over they will decide where to live, what place to call home. 

Plenty of us are snowbirds, living for part of the year in a different climate. But, to me, that doesn't qualify as a real gap experience. Based on the WSJ article, there would have to be a real disconnect from an everyday routine and familiar surroundings to produce the desired effect. 



How about you? If you had the chance, what would you do with a "gap" period, to get a new perspective on life? Is the idea of a time away from the everyday intriguing? Or, are you a homebody who is perfectly content with short vacations and feels no need to hit the road or shake up what is a comfortable satisfying retirement?

Part of me wants a real break, a "gap" experience. The logical and realistic part of me tells me, "No."  I will be fascinated to read your comments. 


16 comments:

  1. We traveled, and traveled, and traveled some more the first five years of our retirement, not quite full time, but pretty darn close. Our daughters were grown, and there were no grandchildren on the horizon, so it was the perfect time to make it all about us and our dreams, and I am so happy we did so. In hindsight, it also allowed us to disconnect from our long time former home and community, opening up a door that allowed us to finally fulfill a long time dream of living near the ocean. I'm not sure the later would have occurred if not for the former, which is how I think life works.

    Now, with two granddaughters on the scene, and a new retirement town, we are content to slow our travels down for now. However, it is our plan at some point in the future to travel for a full year via a series of one month rentals at 12 locations around both Europe and the USA. We've made our new home practically maintenance free with this in mind, in fact. Actually, practicalities may dictate we break the adventure into segments of perhaps three months at a time, but that would be fine as well. One month per location is about right for us, and the idea of doing so in places like Paris, London, Madrid, NYC, Washington DC, etc., is very exciting.

    It is a continuing push-pull to find the right balance between adventure and community. We've haven't yet found our 'sweet spot' but will continue to experiment. Definitely a first world problem, I do realize.

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    1. Certainly you and Mike have allowed the travel bug to bite deeply and often, with lifetime memories to show for it. As a side benefit you both are in much better shape than many of your contemporaries because of the training for some of your trips and high level of physical activities you maintain.

      I completely understand the slow down when grandkids appear and after a move. The children are in the phase of wanting to spend as much time as possible with grandparents for only a limited number of years. Once that window closes, it doesn't reopen for several years. So, maximize the time with them now. We are.

      We moved over 3 years ago to a new part of the Valley and are still exploring what is available, finding new favorite restaurants, parks, and community activities and places to volunteer our time. After 30 years in Scottsdale, it has been energizing.

      Blogger Laura and husband Brett seem to be really enjoying their year-long trip around the world. I can easily see you two doing something similar and loving it.

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  2. My variant of the gap year idea is to swap my home for a month or so every year with someone from an entirely different part of the world. Although I'd probably have a car at my disposal for day trips, my intent would be to immerse myself in the foreign culture as a non-tourist. My list includes Christchurch NZ, Lisbon, Cape Town, Jerusalem, Hanoi, St. Petersburg, Helsinki, and Penang. If and when that becomes too challenging as I age, I'd switch to domestic city swaps.

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    1. That is an excellent idea. House-swapping is becoming increasingly common, with several web sites helping keep the process safe and on track.

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  3. Regarding your snowbird comment "...that doesn't qualify as a real gap experience. Based on the WSJ article, there would have to be a real disconnect from an everyday routine and familiar surroundings to produce the desired effect."

    Should you decide to snowbird in a different country with a different language and culture things are a long way from "everyday routine and familiar surroundings". Of course after you have been there for a while you will develop a new routine and surroundings will become more familiar but unless you are particularly adept at languages speaking with a local will be anything but routine and familiar.

    If you return to the same place each year then certainly after a few trips it will become more familiar but nothing says you can't visit a different country with a warm climate each year.

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    1. You are right. I normally think of a snowbird as occurring within this country or Canada to Arizona, for example. Snowbirding in Bolivia, for example, would certainly involve a real disconnect from normal routine. Good point.

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  4. Ddavidson's suggestion is actually my goal, post final college graduate (just a few months!!). I want to go to a different warm place each year two months or so from the beginning of March until the end of April-but for now I'm just looking mainly in this country and on this continent...

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  5. You know me -- I'm a homebody at this point in my life, but I had plenty of "gap" years when I was younger. And that was wonderful. So many adventures that enriched my life. I can't imagine where I would want to be for any significant period of time other than my home or my cabin. I still have adventures, but they are the "inner" kind."

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    1. Like you, I think Betty and I are past a serious "gap" experience in the future. The RV time scratched that itch. Now, we like shorter trips but find home very satisfying.

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  6. In my academic career, "gap years" were built in, in the form of a teaching-free sabbatical every seven years for a professional recharge. We had a choice between taking a one-semester sabbatical at full salary and a full year at half salary, and I always opted for the full year at half salary so that, in addition to the research and writing that was expected as part of a sabbatical, there would be time for play and travel. Academics tend to retire relatively late (I was 66 and colleagues kept asking me why I was retiring so early!), and I think these gap years are the reason.

    Since retirement, I have, like Galen, become a homebody. I thought I would travel quite a bit in these early years of retirement, but I relocated at the time of retirement and have been finding the activities and relationships available in my home environment so rich that I don't have much inclination to leave them and go elsewhere.

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    1. I have always envied those who could have a sabbatical. I wondered if there was ever a fear that work would move on without you or you'd feel a step behind. But, since they are rather common in certain professions I guess that isn't a real worry.

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  7. Just entering my 'gap year' now, and clearing away a lot of old stuff and ideas to clear the way for new opportunities. For me it is a stay-cation, and saying YES to the many wonderful events and people in the SF Bay Area. Time to open my mind even more by exposing myself to new ideas and new people.

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    1. Good for you and best of luck. You are in a tremendous part of the country to really explore and enjoy.

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  8. Like Jean, as an academic I was eligible for a sabbatical every seven years, and even more frequently once I came an academic administrator. The sabbaticals were not a holiday, per se, but a chance to focus on the research component of the job while being excused from teaching and (most of) the committee work. However, due to the intense nature of the job, professors also were expected to take some time for rest and renewal during their sabbaticals. Many professors went on year-long exchanges to other universities, or took shorter trips to conferences or for research collaborations or data gathering. Often people would use the time as well to develop new teaching specializations or courses. I would have like to have gone on an international exchange, but it was difficult to arrange with three children in school. I was very grateful for the sabbaticals as they provided a wonderful opportunity to try new things, keep my research current, and pace myself over the length of a career.

    Jude

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    1. I'm glad you added your comment. I have assumed a sabbatical was a time to simply de-stress and do little or nothing. Obviously, it brings its own challenges and timetables. But, I can see that the type of activities that fill a sabbatical are refreshing because they are so different from the day-to-day life of a teacher or administrator.

      My uncle was a Provost and head of the library system at West Virginia University. He used to take extended trips to Africa for the United Nations. Now, I would guess those were sabbatical activities.

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