It’s customary for young men and women, once they finish college or uni, to take the year off to backpack around the world. Many countries like Australia even issue working holiday visas for those under 30, to help them fund PAYE holidays.
What about when you’re 30 (like me!) or 40? These can be milestones that call for some soul-searching, as well. Just because you’re older shouldn’t mean that you should only get to go if you have the deep pockets necessary to pay for nice hotels for months. If you believe that you get to hit the pause button on your life, take a gap year off work, and simply go to see the world and learn something about yourself, there are plenty of people who do the same.
Cheap youth hostels welcome anyone, no matter how old they are; and it costs little to walk or take buses around, and eat from food cards instead of restaurants. All you need is a plan.
First, make sure your finances are okay
It’s one thing to go at 18 or 20 when you have no finances to think about, and quite another to travel in your 30s when you probably have bills and payments to worry about.
What you can do is to plan a year in advance to put enough money by for these financial obligations. You may need to find help to manage your student loans and consolidate your credit cards to get your financial house in order, as well. When you’re in good financial standing, you’ll enjoy your holiday that much more.
Arrange to keep working
It’s possible to keep working through your gap year, only you get to do it as a freelancer. Freelancing can help you make sure that there are no holes in your resume, and you will have some money coming in to help with costs, as well. Websites like gapyear.com offer gap year work opportunities in all kinds of fields in several countries. The typical opportunity is as a resource worker.
Visas can be an issue, and you need to plan ahead. Not every country allows people coming in, and most countries don’t allow to work. If all you want is to have your board and lodging taken care of, however, there are plenty of countries to go to. World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, for instance, takes in farmhands willing to work for food and shelter, but no money. Workaway and Smaller Earth are other examples.
Consider going to just one country
If you like the idea of staying in one country rather than traveling from country to country, it could be a good idea to go there as a language teacher in the language that you are strongest at. Supporting yourself working as a language teacher could let you interact with locals and explore working life in a new country.
Don’t overthink it
It can be hard to do a cost-benefit analysis on a gap year. You obviously lose lots of money, and what you get in return can be hard to quantify. If you simply believe that going into uncharted territory is a good idea, however, you should do it. As long as you can live simply and conserve your resources, chances are, you’ll get to experience real life, and come back a different person.