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Gap Years For Adults

Gap Years For Adults
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BY MYRA FAYE TURNER

It’s not unusual for students graduating from high school to take a year off before heading to college, the military or joining the workforce. During this “gap year”, these newly liberated young adults often travel, engage in volunteer work or simply relax before having to become full-time, responsible adults. Some colleges even allow students to defer enrollment after acceptance. Students accepted at New York University, for example, have the option of deferring for one year and in some cases, can defer for a second or third year, without having to re-apply for admission.

It’s becoming increasingly popular for adults to take a gap year also. Of course, these breaks occur when adults are already fully immersed in the workforce, as opposed to just starting out. In a way, it’s not a totally new concept; we’re simply calling it by a different name. For example, when a woman leaves the work force to be a full-time mom, later returning when the kids are older, she has created a gap in the steady flow of her career. Others may take time off to return to school or to provide long-term care for loved ones. The main difference in these types of leaves —with the exception of someone returning to school—is gap years are more focused on the individual’s needs as opposed to taking time off to attend to others.

What are Adults Doing During Their Gap Year?

Why would an adult need to take a gap year(s)? There are many reasons, aside from the ones I mentioned. For example, you might find yourself simply bored in your current career and need time off to reassess your commitment or to decide if a career change is in order. Increasingly, older adults are taking time off, if possible, as they approach retirement. Many use this time to plan what they are actually going to do during the next phase of their life after retirement. Others may travel, use the time to explore entrepreneurial opportunities or complete home renovations.

If you’re in a position to take time off, why not do it? With the right amount of planning, you can get a lot done, even if you can only take 3 or 6 months off. If you’ve been bitten by the entrepreneurship bug, a gap year is an ideal chance for you to try out your venture on full-time basis. I freelance only, but I have worked full and part-time while freelancing and I know how hard it is to work a regular job and then come home and try to run your own business. A gap year gives the option to explore your business full-time while still having the safety net of returning to work when your time is up.

Or maybe you plan to retire to another city but you don’t want to make that big without really seeing what it’s like before taking the plunge. A short one or two week vacation may not give you a realistic feel of what a city— especially one you’ve never visited before— is like as a full-time resident. But a few months as a resident might.

Like their young counterparts, some adults take time off to volunteer, particularly abroad, although many choose to work in the U.S. While traveling, you may decide to learn or brush up on a foreign language. There are programs you can participate in where you can do just that. For example, you might want to brush up on your Italian and spend a year studying abroad in Italy.

Considerations

So now that you’re pumped about taking some time off, stop a minute because there are some important considerations before you pack your bags. First, will your boss allow it? Will your job be secure when you are ready to return? Hopefully you have a position where you can take time off, whether you call it a gap year, sabbatical or whatever. If so, that’s great. Even if you can’t take an entire year off, you may be able to persuade your boss to allow you to take a six-month leave. A major concern for some employers will be how your absence will affect their bottom line. They don’t what to feel inconvenienced. If you can make sure things will run smoothly while you’re away (arranging for and training your temporary replacement, for example), they may be more agreeable and grant the time off you request.

The next major concern is can you afford to take time off? Let’s face it, you probably won’t receive compensation unless you have a hell of job. And if you do, is your company hiring? Remember, you’ll still need to cover your living expenses during your time off including travel and fixed (mortgage, etc.) expenses. The last thing you want to do is dip into your retirement fund to cover your time off. However, if you plan ahead, you can save up for your gap year. You can also earn some money during your gap year, for instance travel writing, selling photos from your journey or work camping. Or if you’ve already started your own business and have income from that venture.

If you plan to travel, one of the biggest expenses you’re going to encounter is housing. As more adults take gap years to travel, some hotels are getting in on this movement. Aloft Hotels, for example, offers special gap year rates for travelers who don’t want to stay in hostels (which is what many young gappers do) but still need to save on their housing expense. Another relatively inexpensive way to travel in the U.S. is by rail. Amtrak offers many affordable travel packages, or you can simply travel the various routes, stopping in towns you’d like to visit.

Finally, have a definite plan in place before you begin. If you’re traveling, of course you’ll probably have all of those plans ironed out but don’t think just because you’re going to stay home you can wait and then decide what you’re going to do or have some vague plan like “work on business ideas” or “home repairs”. If you don’t have a viable plan in place, you will end up wasting valuable time —time that’s going to fly by before you know it. Unless you’re planning to spend an entire year sleeping, have a written plan in place before you leave work that last day.

Resources

Here are a few useful resources as you consider if a gap year is right for you. The following programs list opportunities to work on projects abroad. Please keep in mind there are fees (mainly covering the cost of travel and accommodations) associated with these programs.

Looking to start a new business? Try these resources.

If you’re looking for travel packages, try sites like Gap 360. Be sure to check the major travel sites like Expedia, Hotwire and Travelocity and AAA .

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