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How to Plan an Adult Gap Year

How to Plan an Adult Gap Year

It’s a common misconception that the only time you can take a gap year is immediately before, during, or after college. But did you know that there is still plenty of opportunity to take a gap year well into your 30s, 40s (and beyond), even with an established life and career?

woman taking photos ina bamboo forest with a camera

Many people who have taken an adult gap year have actually said that they feel that they got more out of the experience than they would have at a younger age. This is because you have more knowledge and resources to plan the gap year of your dreams, and you’ve experienced enough to enjoy it on an even deeper level.

If you’re undecided about taking an adult gap year or know you need one but don’t know where to start, keep reading for our best tips for planning the best adult gap year ever!

What is a gap year?

A gap year involves taking a planned year off from work and/or school to travel and experience the world. Taking a gap year is a great way to step away from your busy life to focus on experiencing places and things that you’ve always wanted to. During a gap year, you can plan your travels ahead of time or take off somewhere with just a backpack and see where life takes you.

When should you consider an adult gap year?

There’s no question that a gap year sounds awesome, but you may be wondering if it’s right for you. Your reasons for taking a gap year are incredibly personal and can often be driven by events in your life that lead you toward needing a change of scenery or a massive shift of some kind. Sometimes you just need some breathing room from your day-to-day life, but other times you may need a full overhaul. 

Here are a few reasons why you might want to consider a gap year:

  • You feel burnout
  • You feel unclear about what you want from life
  • You need time to focus on you
  • You have the time and money to stop working and start exploring 
  • You’ve never taken a break—from high school to college to work to adulting
  • You’re yearning to learn and grow in ways that aren’t linked to your career

If you need even more reasons to take a gap year check out our 7 reasons why you should have an adult gap year.

How to plan my gap year

Planning a gap year can feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Take a step back and focus on what you hope to get out of it, and the plan should begin to fall into place. Here are some tips to help you plan your adult gap year.

1. What do you want to do during your gap year?

This is the fun part. Get out a pen and paper or open a new note on your phone and start writing a list of things you’ve always wanted to do. Do you want to hit as many countries on your bucket list as you can in 365 days? Do you want to park your butt in the sand and write the book you’ve had on your heart your whole life? 

Only you can answer those questions. For more ideas on what to do during your gap year check our list of things you can do during your gap year

2. How long will your gap year be?

As the name implies, usually a gap year is a full year. But since you are in the driver’s seat of this plan, you get to decide how long you want to take off. If your work allows you to take time off or is holding your job for you, you will need to be mindful of their time restrictions when planning your gap year.

Responsibilities like apartment leases, mortgages, pets, and other commitments can influence the timing of your gap year as well. Remember, nothing is written in stone. Once you decide how long you plan to take for your gap year, you can always change your mind. You can come back earlier or choose to extend (if your career and life will allow for a longer pause). 

3. How much money can you save?

No matter how you slice it, your gap year is going to cost you money. It will cost money to get to the destinations that you plan to see and since you most likely won’t be working (at least in a full-time capacity), your money is going to disappear quickly. To make your gap year as stress-free as possible, start saving now.

Create a separate savings account just for your gap year fund to keep you motivated. Cut back on expenses like eating out, drinks with your friends, useless subscriptions, and more. You’d be surprised at how much you can save just by tweaking a few things.

If you’re worried about having enough money for your gap year, do some research on budget-friendly countries. There are plenty of places where you can live very well on much less money than you do now. 

4. Decide where you want to go

With a broad idea of the things you might like to do during your gap year, take another look at your list. What places really jump out at you? Once you know the places that are most important to visit during your gap year, try to find a way to tie them together.

woman looking at world map on the floor of her room

Can you realistically get to all those places during the time you have? Do you want to focus on just one or two countries, a whole continent, or travel all over the world? Make sure you plan for important logistics like travel between countries if you are planning on spanning the entire globe or at least doing a decent amount of moving around. This can eat up a lot of your time and budget if you’re not careful.

5. Start to budget for your gap year

Once you know where you want to go during your gap year, it’s time to budget. Account for everything you can think of and give yourself a cushion so that you won’t ruin your trip if you overspend. Major areas to focus on are accommodations, food, and transportation. You will also need to have a handle on the necessary paperwork and any insurance you will need along the way.

Housing can get expensive. Look for hostels and coliving spaces that are set up for travelers who want to save money. You could also look into things like house swapping or house/pet sitting as another alternative. Depending on where you’re staying, find out there is a kitchen you can use to cook your meals or if you’ll have to eat out. For transportation, choose locations that are walking-friendly or have a robust public transportation system so you can get around easily and affordably. 

6. Figure out your paperwork

The last thing you want is to have to delay your trip or get stuck in a foreign country because your travel papers aren’t up to date. This is not only a major headache but could also put you in an unsafe and expensive situation if you’re not careful. Before you do anything else, check your passport’s expiration date. Make sure that your passport isn’t expiring any time during your trip and if it is, renew it ASAP.

You also want to check with your health insurance provider to find out if you will be covered under your existing plan while abroad. If not, research travel insurance plans that you can purchase for coverage during your trip. We really like Safety Wing for travelers and digital nomads as they not only cover you abroad but also give you coverage for trips back home and it’s set up like a monthly subscription so you just have to pay for what you need. 

To prevent any hiccups while abroad, find out the specific traveler requirements in each country you plan to visit. Find out if you will need a visa, what the requirements and time frames for each visa are, and whether or not you need any immunizations.

7. Start booking your trip

Depending on your personality and where you’re going, you don’t need to book everything ahead of time. You can book your departing flight and accommodations in your first few locations and then leave the rest up to chance so you can go with the flow. 

woman in bed working on laptop

If there are specific experiences that you plan to do while you are on your gap year like Machu Picchu or the Alhambra, you will want to book those ahead of time before they sell out. You can always loosely plan the rest of your trip around that one thing so you don’t feel too over-scheduled. 

8. What to do with your stuff

A big question to answer before departing for your gap year is what to do with all of your stuff while you’re gone. If you are keeping your apartment or own a home, this is much less of a concern but you still may want to get rid of things before you leave. 

It can feel very cathartic to go through and declutter and get rid of things before you embark on something like a gap year. Whether you have to because you only have so much room in your storage unit or because it just feels good to toss things you don’t need, enjoy this process. 

9. Resigning from your job

Another big decision to make before taking a gap year is what to do about your job. In most cases, you will be quitting your job for one reason or another. Unless your employer is willing to let you take the time off and come back after your gap year, chances are you will be saying goodbye. 

Quitting is stressful, even if you really want to leave. There is a way to leave your job respectfully and with grace so that you leave the door open for future opportunities or at least a good reference down the road. 

10. How to pack for your gap year

With the date set and your flight booked, it’s time to pack your bags! If you’re notoriously an over-packer, now is the time to focus on just the essentials. Plan for the weather in each location that you plan to visit (with some flexibility) and stick to the basics. 

Lay everything out so you can see what you have. Make sure you have outfits that go together to make it easy to sort through while traveling. Since you will be lugging your bags with you everywhere you go, roll or file-fold your clothes to save space and prevent wrinkles. If you need more suggestion check out our 25 essential packing tips

11. Plan for your return

It’s crazy to think about returning to your life before you’ve even left, but the transition back to reality from your gap year can be jarring. There are many you can’t account for including any life-changing experiences or realizations you may have during a gap year, but you can create a loose plan.

Maybe you plan to go right back to your job with a renewed appreciation for your “regular” life or maybe you want to really shake things up and change careers entirely. You may even decide that you want to stay abroad and give living abroad a try. Download our free guide on how to move abroad. Its the perfect resource if you’re just getting started!

And if you’re interested in moving to Europe check out our digital book I’m Outta Here! An American’s Ultimate Visa Guide to Living in Europe for information on how to move to the 18 easiest countries in Europe.

My adult gap year

Gap years are not just for college students, they can be helpful and life-changing at any stage of life. It gets you out of your comfort zone, helps you cross things off your bucket list, and can give you some much-needed clarity in your life.

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