Do you ever wish that you could press pause on your career and have the space to take a proper break? Or do you feel like you’re stuck in a rut and need time to reset and recalibrate? Maybe you’ve just always wanted to go travelling and don’t want to leave it too late?
Whatever the reason, more and more people in their 40s, 50s, and 60s are taking breaks from their careers and heading out to see the world and experience life at a different pace.
This is being called a midlife gap year – but what exactly does it entail? What are the benefits of it? And if you want to take a midlife gap year, how do you go about doing it?
What is a midlife gap year?
There’s no official definition, but a midlife gap year is essentially just a career break or a sabbatical.
While taking a gap year is more associated with teenagers and people in their 20s, in recent years, far more people in their 40s, 50s, and 60s are taking career breaks – and research suggests that almost four in 10 over 60s are planning the trip of a lifetime.
In many ways, taking a gap year in midlife makes a lot of sense. When you’re in your 50s and 60s, you might be more financially secure, and, after decades of navigating life as an adult, you might also be more self-aware and confident. So, if you want to travel and see the world, it might be the perfect time.
But also, as we live longer and work harder, taking a year out for ourselves just seems like something we deserve. After years of building our careers, raising children, and attempting to juggle personal responsibilities with professional duties, what comes next?
Years ago, people might have looked forward to retirement – but times have changed, and for many people, midlife or even later life isn’t associated with retirement or old age.
With so many people living well into their 90s, there’s no reason why your 50s and 60s should be about winding down. For lots of us, these years are the perfect time to start gearing up to do what you really want to do – and what that actually looks like can vary considerably…
Some people want to take time out to destress, reconnect with friends and family, feel renewed excitement about life, or find a new purpose and direction.
Others want to head out to see the world, experience the unfamiliar, visit the places they’ve always dreamed of going to, and be a traveller rather than a tourist.
Why should you consider a midlife gap year?
If this all sounds interesting, does this mean you should definitely take a midlife gap year? Ultimately, no. We’re all different, and many people are content with their lives and careers and don’t feel the need to take a break, however tempting it might sound.
But if you feel a powerful yearning to take some proper time out – whether it’s three months to reassess your life, six months to volunteer or pursue a passion project, or a year to see as much of the world as you possibly can – there are powerful benefits to taking a midlife gap year.
One huge advantage is that you’ll get to see all the places you always dreamed of. Many of us watch documentaries about beautiful places and think that we’d like to go there. But without taking proactive steps to make it happen, it can often end up being a pipe dream.
If you’ve always wanted to trek to Machu Picchu, cruise along the Antarctic, see the Northern Lights, visit the Galápagos Islands, or walk inside the pyramids of Giza, why not consider whether you can do so?
Or perhaps there’s something else that sparks your imagination, or somewhere else you’ve always dreamed of visiting. If you really want to experience these things, why not try to work out how you could potentially make ‘someday’ a reality?
If you’re feeling unhappy in your career, stuck in a rut, or you’re not sure what you want from your life, then taking a gap year can give you the space you need to figure out what you really want. If you’re stressed, it can give you the relief of taking proper, meaningful time out for yourself – and of being able to disconnect without worrying that you need to check your email or answer to someone else.
Taking a midlife gap year can also be a great source of clarity and gratitude. Seeing how a huge proportion of the world lives can help you feel grateful for what you do have, make you want to give back and take action, or perhaps find a sense of purpose and meaning in your life that you’d previously been lacking.
Finally, taking a midlife gap year can open you up to taking other chances, or making big changes in your life. It can help you realise there’s no time limit on new experiences or trying something new – and if you’ve always been someone who’s resistant to change, it can help you embrace it.
What can you do on a midlife gap year?
If you’re thinking a midlife gap year might be for you, you might be wondering what you should do or where you should go. Ultimately, the answer is anything, and anywhere! The world is your oyster, and feeling free and like you have options is what taking a gap year is all about.
You might want to…
Tick as many places as possible off your travel bucket list
If you want to travel, now might be the time to turn that bucket list travel dream into a reality.
Whether you’d like to travel around continental Europe in a motorhome or head to the far-flung corners of the world, like Patagonia or Alaska, now’s the time to do anything that you might not get the chance to do later.
Study a language abroad or teach English as a foreign language
If you like the idea of learning a language, why not combine education with travel and learn a new language in a foreign country?
Whether you want to learn French in Paris or Spanish in Colombia, studying a language in a country where it’s actually spoken is always an effective way of learning – and if you get to immerse yourself in a new culture while doing so, all the better.
To find out more about the best places in the world to study foreign languages, check out Go Abroad’s website.
Alternatively, you might want to think about teaching English as a foreign language. Once you’ve got a TEFL certification you can teach anyone – and if you teach online you can do it from anywhere, too.
Teaching English abroad can be a great way to fund your travels, feel useful, and make sure your midlife gap year has some structure and direction.
If you want to spend some time volunteering or helping others, there are lots of different sites you might want to check out.
Oyster World Wide offers plenty of volunteering opportunities, from taking care of abandoned dogs and cats in Barcelona, to helping out in elephant sanctuaries in Thailand, and volunteering in women’s empowerment programmes in Laos. Whether you’re passionate about conservation, human rights, or helping underprivileged children, there’s something for everyone.
Workaway is another volunteer programme, but it tends to help you connect with individuals rather than communities or charities. Current opportunities include helping fix up boats in Grenada, working on a beautiful smallholding on the Norwegian island of Engeløya, and helping out at an alpaca farm in Estonia. All opportunities provide accommodation and are great for meeting people.
Raleigh Expedition provides opportunities for anyone aged between 25-75 to work alongside and support young people in helping communities create lasting change.
To find out more about volunteer projects you can get involved with, you might want to check out this article by GVI.
House and pet sitting
If you’d like to spend your gap year travelling and seeing the world but are conscious of budget, you might want to look into becoming a house sitter or pet sitter.
House sitting or pet sitting means you can travel to foreign countries and stay in lovely homes without having to pay for accommodation – and if you’re an animal lover, you get the added bonus of spending time with a pet!
This is a great option if you’re looking to stay in one place for a decent amount of time and really immerse yourself in a new country and culture. You’ll get to live like a local, with your own kitchen and often your own transport too. So, if you want to experience being a long-term traveller rather than a tourist, it’s an excellent opportunity.
How can I fund a midlife gap year?
If you’re interested in taking a midlife gap year, you might be wondering about how you actually go about taking one – and it’s true that a decent amount of planning is usually needed.
The most common concern for people thinking about a gap year is money. We often believe we can’t do things because they’re too expensive. But if we don’t know how much things actually cost, it can be difficult to feel sure. This is why it’s really important to do your research, especially if you’re planning on going travelling.
The costs of travel vary significantly and depend on which countries you’re going to be visiting and the level of luxury you want. It can be helpful to take some time to calculate costs by looking at the average price of accommodation, food, and travel in the destinations you want to visit.
Do bear in mind that there are lots of ways you can cut costs while travelling – and that, despite popular belief, travel doesn’t always have to cost the Earth. To find out more about travelling on a budget, have a read of our article; How to travel on a shoestring budget.
If you’re volunteering abroad, you might just have to pay an upfront cost at the start and then all your food and accommodation is covered. This can be a smart choice if you don’t have sizeable savings to back you up or don’t want to worry about sticking to a budget while you’re away.
If you’re a UK homeowner, you might also want to consider renting your property out while you’re out of the country. This will give you a monthly income you can rely on while you’re away, or you can use it as a financial buffer for when you return.
Depending on the type of work you do, continuing to work while you’re away, perhaps on a part-time basis, could also be an option. Or you could look into freelancing and spending your gap year travelling while working as a digital nomad.
While many people associate the digital nomad lifestyle with 20-somethings working from a laptop, most digital nomads are over 38 years old – and many don’t begin to work while travelling until much later. To find out more, have a read of this article by Nomad Flag.
If you’re still not sure a midlife gap year is right for you, that’s very understandable. It’s a big step to take, and certainly a decision that shouldn’t be made lightly.
It’s really important to do plenty of research before you decide to take a gap year, so you might want to check out sites like The Gap Decaders, The Leap, and Gap Work – all of which provide information about gap years for older adults.
If you’re in employment, it’s also worth speaking to your boss about the idea of taking a sabbatical or perhaps working abroad for a period. Knowing that your job is waiting for you when you come back (if you want it!) can be a great comfort when you’re pursuing something so potentially life-changing.
Speaking to friends and family about the possibility of taking a gap year can be helpful too – and if you know anyone else who took time off to travel or work on their own growth and development, ask to hear about their experiences.
If you have a spouse or partner, you can discuss the idea of a gap year with them and see if they want to come along. If they don’t, then perhaps they can help keep things running at home, and join you now and then for short visits. Most of the world now has access to 4G, so no matter where you are, you’ll be able to keep in touch with your family and loved ones while you’re away.
You might find that not all your loved ones are supportive; if you have a career, they might worry you’ll harm it, or they might be concerned about finances. They might also just be worried about you going travelling by yourself. But in life, we tend to regret the things we don’t do, not the things we do – and if you feel that taking a gap year is right for you, it’s usually best to go with your gut and stand by your decision. It’s your life, after all.
Remember that there’s no right or wrong way to take a midlife gap year. The whole point of it all is to make your own choices, feel comfortable steering clear of traditional systems, and find a sense of freedom and possibility by doing whatever it is you want to do.
If you want to take a midlife gap year, you might want to consider if it’s possible to do it sooner rather than later. After all the uncertainty and upheaval of the last few years, the idea of postponing our hopes, dreams, and things that might bring us joy, doesn’t make quite as much sense anymore.
Whether you want to spend more time with loved ones, pursue passion projects, give back, or experience the thrill of adventure and travel, there’s a lot to suggest that the right time to do this is now.
Of course, it might take a little while to get the wheels in motion, but with some planning and strategy, there could be plenty of adventures just waiting to be had. After all, it’s never too late to have new experiences.