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Livin’ the dream: how to plan a gap year

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What does “livin’ the dream” mean to you?

It could be chasing waves in the best surf spots around the world from Hawaii to Fiji. Or moving to France, eating freshly baked croissants every morning while working on that novel you’ve always wanted to write.

Maybe you think to yourself, “I wish I could do that” before returning to work, bills, chores, and social obligations.

More working adults are doing just that, taking a gap year to make their dreams a reality. More than one-third of those who took time off were age 30+. And 29% of millennials plan to take a career break in their lifetime before retiring.

What’s a gap year?

Traditionally, a “gap year” referred to the time British students took to travel after high school before starting college. Today, students take gap years before college or sometimes during college to travel, work or volunteer.

A “sabbatical” is a paid or unpaid leave from work for a defined period agreed to by your employer. In this situation, you plan to come back to the same job and company.

With a “mid-career break” or “career pause,” you quit your job and plan to return to work later. This term applies to those who change companies, careers, start businesses or completely change lifestyles.

All three terms are used interchangeably and have been adopted by working adults to refer to taking an extended time out from work to do something else.

Why take one and what will you gain?

It’s important to identify why you want to take a pause and what you want out of it.

Feeling unappreciated or wanting a raise isn’t a good reason for a career break.

A gap year is a bold move. Decide with positive intention and purpose.

Is your career in a rut? Do you question whether the path you’re on is the right one for you? Are you burned out? Or do you have no life outside of work?

One benefit of a gap year is that it helps you explore who you are outside of your normal environment. Taking a significant break can reconnect you to values that may have gotten buried or lost in the noise of our busy and money addicted culture.

It sounds counterintuitive, but a break from work can reinvigorate your attitude toward it. You will likely come back refocused and reenergized.

Do you have personal passions you want to explore deeply? Has speaking fluent German been a lifelong goal? Or are you burning to volunteer with underprivileged kids in third world countries?

You’re not likely to regret spending time in a meaningful way and demonstrating your values. Admiration and appreciation from yourself and others for what you accomplish is also a side effect of pursuing deep passions.

Do you dream of travel? Combining travel with any passion pursuit or volunteerism is easy. Travel is more than National Geographic photos of safaris and group tours. Travel expands your mind, experience, and people skills.

Be careful not to expect travel to solve all your problems or completely transform who you are. You can’t run from your problems or personal issues. This ties back to understanding why you want to take a break and what you look to gain from it.

Timing

The term “gap year” doesn’t mean you have to take a year off. Adult “gap years” can range from two months to multiple  years. The time you take depends on your determined why and what.

If you’re not sure whether you need a weekend away or more serious time, consider consulting a mentor or coach. A neutral party can offer perspective because you can be your own worst enemy. You can also discuss the idea of a gap year with family and friends, but those closest to you may be the biggest opponents.

What about personal obligations? It sounds like a slam-dunk for someone who is single with no mortgage, pets or kids. But it’s possible to take a break with your family if you get buy-in from your spouse and plan accordingly.

If you know you’d like to come back to your company, talk to your employer to find out if they have a sabbatical policy. They may have an informal one or be more flexible if you’re a valued employee. It helps to explain the benefit to them of what you’ll bring back. And don’t wait until the last minute to discuss leaving.

If your employer is willing to work with you, continue being a valued employee on your way out. If you’re involved in a major project, finish it or plan a transition. Stick to the agreed period and check in during that time.

Be respectful even If you don’t plan to come back to your employer. Whether you change careers or start a new business, burning bridges reflects on you, not them.

Your money plan

This is the big one. Deciding on a gap year shouldn’t be a whim, and you won’t get far without a money plan. No ethical source will tell you otherwise. Don’t book a one-way ticket somewhere and think you’ll “just figure it out.”

  • Assess current living expenses, any loan payments, and savings.
  • Estimate what you’ll need to save to cover your living expenses for the time you’re gone.
  • What other expenses do you need to include? You won’t need cable TV, but you’ll probably want to keep your cell and data plan. If your goal is to camp all the national parks in the US, do you need to buy all your camping gear? What about health insurance and any travel visas?
  • You’ll also want to save enough to cover six months or more of expenses when you return. It could take longer than you expect to land a new job.
  • Consider using your skills to keep some money flowing in for expenses. For example, teaching English, or microgigs like web design, programming or photo editing. Cash in on hobbies such as playing or teaching to play an instrument.
  • Be frugal and stick to a budget. If you can break it down to what you can spend per day, it’s easy to know when to save or splurge. Be open to countries where the dollar stretches far.

This part can be overwhelming, but you’re not alone. Visit White Sands FCU for help with making a savings plan. For example, Certificate Laddering is a safe way to maximize earnings and give you funds availability at regular intervals.

Returning with a good story

Two key points to your plan to come back to work are:

  1. having a return to work fund saved
  2. telling your hero story.

Your story can demonstrate how your planning and organization for the year away enriches you as a future employee. You’ll have the confidence to know you can handle and adapt to change which is constant in today’s workplace. Employers will see you as a risk-taker with depth of character and initiative.

Even if you’re returning to your company, you’re coming back an enhanced employee! Recap why your sabbatical’s benefits benefit the company and demonstrate your new superpowers.

Take a leap

Taking a gap year will push you out of your comfort zone. The way to reduce risk and push past fear is to have a plan in place.

The key is knowing what you want to get out of it and structuring a plan to support that goal. It’s easier to start with more structure and work into less, than the other way around. Make sure the timing factors line up.

Get help from White Sands FCU to put your money plan in place. Be ready to impress employers with new skills, life experiences and culture making you stand out from other job seekers.

Go from “I wish I could do that” to “livin’ the dream.”

Resources:

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-07-25/why-it-s-time-to-quit-your-job-travel-the-world

https://www.glassdoor.com/blog/career-sabbatical/

https://www.gooverseas.com/

https://www.goabroad.com/

https://gapyearassociation.org/

https://www.volunteerforever.com/article_post/best-volunteer-abroad-programs-organizations-projects