I graduated from high school at 16 years old. The university I wanted to attend told me I was too young and suggested I take a year off. Instead, I went to community college and then transferred after completing my associate's.
When I left university, unemployment gave me an awful gap year I never wanted. There was no traveling or exploration―just constant disappointment while looking for work. I'm sure a lot of millennials can relate to that.
When I finally found a job, I was only too happy to be behind a desk again. But that feeling didn't last. Two years later, I quit corporate life to travel and write and never looked back. Some might argue my gap year never ended.
What Is a Gap Year?
Gap years are most popular among well-to-do families in Europe. Instead of heading straight to college, high school graduates get a year to explore the world, themselves, or both. Sometimes, people wait until college graduation to take a year off. And then, there are people like me who take the leap after spending a few years in corporate.
How Do People Spend Their Gap Years?
How people spend their time will vary depending on their financial situation and the purpose of taking a break. Whatever the goal, there is a focus on leisure, reflection, and finding out what means the most to you:
- Volunteer: Volunteering is an excellent way to give back and help others while discovering the world.
- Travel: Traveling can mean everything from a backpacking trip in Europe to living with locals in an exotic country. You may learn about new cultures or gain valuable work experience abroad.
- Work: Many gap year participants find temporary jobs doing what they love in their chosen destinations. It's a great way to make money while learning about the local culture and customs.
- Study: Gap year participants sometimes take courses at universities or institutions abroad. This is a great way to enrich your knowledge and gain hands-on experience in an entirely new field.
- Explore: A gap year can be a period of personal growth and self-discovery. It's the perfect time to step back, reflect on your life, try new things, and figure out what you want.
What Are the Benefits of a Gap Year?
Most people who take gap years describe it as one of the best times of their lives. One guy I met recently in Mexico described his gap year as tacos, beers, surfing, and naps. That might not sound like your idea of paradise, but it was for him. Here are some benefits of taking it slow for a year:
- Personal Growth: Taking a gap year allows you to step out of your comfort zone to explore new cultures and make new friends. This exposure helps build resilience while inspiring creativity.
- Career Exploration: A gap year allows you to gain experience in various fields that may help you decide on a career path or give you valuable skills for your future job.
- Financial Gains: Many people who take a gap year save money by living with locals in cheaper destinations or working abroad. It's also great for learning money management and identifying your future home.
- Clarity and Focus: A gap year can help you gain perspective on your life, what matters most, and how to make better decisions. It's also an opportunity to reflect on the past and plan for the future with more clarity.
- Mental Health: Some people struggle with maintaining good mental health while working or attending school. Gap years provide the perfect opportunity to escape major responsibilities, focus on yourself, reflect, and build healthy coping habits.
- Independence: Most people take their gap years alone. Navigating unfamiliar situations without tried-and-true support systems is a great way to build independence and self-confidence.
- Language: Some people travel across their own countries while others might want to see the world. International travel and living abroad provide the perfect opportunity to learn new languages.
How Can You Pay for a Gap Year?
Can you afford not to work for six months to a year? For most people, the answer is an unequivocal no. Consequently, only a few people take gap years. Yet, I was able to take one after quitting a job where I earned $3.50 per hour in Jamaica.
While traveling across North America, I have met many other people from humble beginnings who are taking gap years or retiring 10 to 25 years ahead of schedule. It takes dedication and sacrifice, but ultimately, it's a lot easier than you think.
Want to know how I paid for my gap year and how other travelers I've met paid for theirs? Become a paid subscriber to my Substack newsletter.