Should I take a grown-up gap year?

If you’re asking yourself the question “Should I take a grown-up gap year?” the chances are that the itch is already there. You’ve obviously had the initial though about taking sabbatical travel leave or even giving up your job. But I’m sure there are also lots of questions and worries circling around in your head too. Hopefully we can address some of them here and I can help you to decide whether taking a gap year is the right thing to do.

Deciding to quit your job or take a sabbatical is probably one of the biggest and scariest decisions you’ll ever have to make (trust me, I’ve been there). And while I would always massively cheer on anyone who chooses to take a grown-up gap year, I realise that there are plenty of things to consider before you commit to it.

However I honestly believe that you will never, ever, regret making the leap. I read a brilliant quote once which went something along the lines of this: ‘No one ever looks back after a year of travel and says “I wish I’d stayed at my desk”.’ And that sums it up really. It is something you will always be glad you did.

Should I take a grown-up gap year?

I think there are many, many, different reasons why you might be asking yourself: “Should I take a grown-up gap year?”

My story is that I felt I was somehow missing out on something I’d always wanted to do. I’d travelled a fair bit after finishing university and absolutely loved it. But since becoming a journalist I felt as though I’d been swept along in the world of work. Then suddenly, as I approached the age of 29, I was worried that I might be leaving it too late to pack everything up and set off on that trip of a lifetime I’d always said I would get around to one day.

Other people I met along the way on my 30b430 trip had chosen to make their trips for totally different reasons. Some felt like they’d missed out on the traditional ‘gap year’ when they were younger. Others felt disenchanted with the job they had left behind. While some had recently ended relationships and needed a break from life back at home. There were also parents with children who wanted them to see the world while they were young and others whose older children had recently left home, leaving them with more free time to pursue new things.

Whatever the reason, sometimes making that initial leap is one of the hardest things to do. When I was trying to decide whether to go on my I was very conscious of the fact that most of my friends around me were doing the exact opposite, by settling down. It was a decision I agonised about for weeks.

Now I’m not going to pretend that I know what is best for you at this particular moment in time. Everyone has their own circumstances to consider before making such a big decision. But before you march into your boss’ office, waving your letter of resignation above your head (because, let’s face it, that’s obviously the way to go out in style), you might want to ask yourself some of the following questions:

Can I afford to travel?

One of the biggest questions you need to answer honestly before planning sabbatical leave or quitting your job is “can I afford to travel?” Now I know there are some people that will recommend throwing caution to the wind and maxing our your credit cards, but I am not one of them. The last thing you want to do is to return to the ‘real world’ with a mountain of debt.

So my advice is to think carefully about the trip you want to take. Consider factors such as which countries you want to visit and how long you intend to be away for. Think about the budget you want to travel on (are you planning a shoe-string hostel trip or do you intend to live it up at five star resorts?)

Once you’ve got a vague plan, it’s time to research. Use booking websites to investigate flight and accommodation prices. Read up on blogs of people who have spent time in those countries, some super organised bloggers provide extremely detailed cost breakdowns of places they’ve visited. Guidebooks, such as Lonely Planet or Rough Guides, also often have helpful average costs lists in them.

Doing all of this will help you to start setting a budget for your trip.

And here’s where my biggest piece of advice comes in. Be honest with yourself about who you are and what kind of trip you’re hoping for. It’s all very well saying that you don’t mind doing your trip on a shoe string and then suddenly finding yourself feeling totally homesick in a grotty hostel in the middle of an awful town. Deep down you know that all you want to do is put on a nice dress and go to a fancy restaurant without having to worry about the bill (yes, I have been there, many times!)

So it’s worth thinking about the lifestyle you currently live and what elements, if any, you are willing to give up. One of the things I discovered quite quickly on my trip was that since working I’d become used to going out for nice meals. I love good food, so going out for dinner was something I really enjoyed back at home and I was surprised much I missed this while I was travelling. When I took my first solo trip at the age of 19 I was happy to battle away in a hostel kitchen, sharing one saucepan and eating pasta seven nights a week. However, on my grown-up gap year I loved it when I met people who suggested going out for dinner. It was a rare chance to get dressed up, eat good food and forget about the fact that we were going to go back to sleep in a dorm room with nine other people.

Once you’ve devised a rough budget, this will help you to see whether you have enough to cover the basic costs, as well as a few little extras.

Don’t forget to factor in additional activities you want to do. It never fails to amaze me the number of people I meet who are travelling on such a strict budget that they never have the cash to do any of the fun things on offer. I’m all for being careful with your money, but imagine going to New Zealand and never doing one of the many adrenaline-fuelled activities on offer. Or arriving in New York but not being able to afford to go to a Broadway show. Both situations I’ve seen happen.

Also, as a ‘grown up’, don’t forget to take into account things that you’ll unfortunately have to continue to pay while you’re away. I know you don’t want to think about it (who does?) but outgoings like your mortgage, insurance and (if you’re American) your student loan (UK residents can put theirs on hold while travelling) still need to be paid.

If you don’t have enough money to do all of that then my advice would be to start saving money to go travelling. Trust me; it’s better to wait a while until you have sufficient money rather than going and missing out on things along the way because you can’t afford to do them.

What sacrifices will I need to make in order to take a gap year?

I hate to be the one to break it to you, but in order to travel you will probably have to miss out on some other stuff. And while some of it, like who wins Strictly Come Dancing, you can probably live without, other sacrifices, such as missing a friend’s wedding or taking your children out of school, are going to be more difficult to make.

I remember when I went on my first six month trip to South America straight after university, everyone told me: “Nothing will change while you’re away”. And it was true. I got back and, of course, some of my friends had got jobs and moved on to new things. But nothing fundamental had changed.

Before I left on my 30b430 trip, people said the same to me. But this time I knew it wouldn’t be true. We were all a bit older and many of my friends were entering new stages of their lives. Some friends were pregnant before I left, so I knew that by the time I returned their lives would be totally different.

It is inevitable that at some point during your trip you are going to miss something you wish you could be at. For me, it was a good friend’s wedding. Even though it was a hard decision to make, I knew that this was the best time for me to take my trip. So I talked to her about it before I left and she was really supportive.

So I would recommend thinking about what you’ll miss during your time away. Consider whether the benefits of travelling will outweigh the disappointment you’ll feel at not being there. Hopefully the answer will be yes. But, if not, it might be worth considering taking your trip at a different time. Because, believe me, there’s nothing worse than being away and wishing you were back at home.

What will I do about work when I travel?

Some people choose to head off on a trip in order to pursue a totally different career path when they return. If that’s the case, it makes the decision-making process a lot easier. However, if you are planning on asking for a sabbatical or rejoining the work force in the same field once you’re home, it’s worth thinking about how things will change in your business or industry while you’re away.

If you’re just going for a few months you may find that things don’t change too drastically. However, if you’re planning to head off for longer, you could find that things are quite different when you return. It may therefore be worth considering how you can keep your hand in. Maybe you could do some work while you’re away or keep in touch with your old boss or colleagues.

I decided to set up my blog before I went away. I used it as a means of staying in touch with people and also as a way to enable me to keep writing, something I did every single day in my job. I even used my shorthand during interviews, as I was terrified that I would forget it in the nine months I was away.

Am I travelling for the right reasons?

This is the main thing I tell people who ask my advice about travelling: travel because you want to travel. Go because there are places you’ve always dreamed of seeing and things you’ve always wanted to do. Not because it’s ‘cool’, or because someone else thinks you should, or because you’re trying to prove something. I met a number of people on my trip who were travelling because they had come out of a long-term relationship and they felt they should. I even met one girl who went home after only a couple of months into a year-long trip because she felt like she’d been talked into it by her family. There are days when travelling is hard and it can sometimes be a bit lonely so you have to be prepared for that. If travelling is something you love and you really want to do, then you’ll get through those tough days because you know that there are so many more fun ones to come. But if you’re heart isn’t truly in it, then it’s going to be a miserable trip.

People often ask me what is the scariest thing about travelling alone and I always tell them making the decision to go. Because that is the biggest choice you’ll have to make. It is the one that you will agonise the most over and find yourself explaining (and sometimes even justifying) to other people time and time again. But funnily enough you’ll often find that once you’ve made up your mind and booked your tickets, when there’s no turning back, that everything else will fall into place.

If you’re still trying to decide whether to take a career break or a sabbatical this post may help. Find out more about saving money here. And this may help you work out how to set a budget for your trip.

No Responses

  1. Scarlett
    Scarlett / 10-17-2012 / ·

    Going travelling can be so daunting, but the pros always outweigh the cons! You only get one life after all. LOVE this post xxxx

  2. Kate Daly
    Kate Daly / 1-20-2013 / ·

    Go for it unless it’s going to ruin you financially! Similar to the twitter comment you started out with about nobody ever looking back and wishing they’d been at their desk…nobody on their death bed will ever wish they had worked more. Experience Experience Experience! Go Emily! Love your blog. x

  3. Heather H
    Heather H / 3-7-2013 / ·

    I’m 36 and considering volunteering for a year in India. I got divorced last year, and my career’s kinda stale. I think it would boost my resume, but my father thinks I should focus on improving my work situation, and that I’m too old to be doing this. He may have a point, but I’ve always wanted to be able to say I lived abroad, and I’ve been studying Hindi for years without becoming fluent (and obviously living there would help). Anyway, trying to make a decision, and seeing your blog made me feel a little better about it. I don’t have kids or a husband, and I think I have enough in savings to make it work.

  4. Heather H
    Heather H / 3-11-2013 / ·

    I guess I do worry a little about the financial side, down the line, but I’m not sure how much difference a year will make. It would be great to have more friends in the same situation–I’m

  5. Mark
    Mark / 3-14-2013 / ·

    Hi Heather,

    I am exactly in the same position as you. i have taken the decision to just go for it. My company has offered me a 1 year sabbatical so I do have some degree of a safety net………….if I ever need it.! Anyway I’m 37, recetnly divorced, not kids just like you so you are most definately not alone. Gor for it!!

    Love this site by the way, so glad I have found it.

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