People used to hear “gap year” and roll their eyes thinking about 18-year-olds shirking the responsibilities of adulthood for a carefree backpacking trip around the world. Well, maybe some people still think that — but the truth is, high school graduates and hopeful travelers aren’t the only ones putting time, thought and money toward gap year planning.
That’s according to a 2016 report from Hostelworld, which found that more than one in three “gappers” took a gap year in their thirties, and only 10 percent of gap year takers actually traveled. This points to a shifting definition of what it means to take a gap year: Now more than ever, taking that time has more to do with a need to self-reflect and reboot than to cut loose and have fun.
That thinking has kindled new interest in sabbatical programs rooted in purpose, from volunteering with AmeriCorps to learning new skills through one of the many gap year opportunities offered by the Center for Interim Programs. And, according to some HR experts, taking productive sabbaticals — rather than year-long vacations — can even help jump-start careers in the eyes of hiring managers.
Gap Year Planning: 5 Ways to Make It Work
How can you afford to give up 12 months of paychecks and still manage to thrive during a year-long sabbatical? These tips can help:
- Save, save, save. Taking a gap year shouldn’t be something you decide to do the day, week or even month before you do it. It’ll take time to build up the savings necessary to leave work without emptying your retirement nest egg. Consider opening a separate savings account to track your goals toward the gap year — and review your budget regularly to identify opportunities for redirecting spending toward that account each month.
- Rent out your place. If you’re leaving town, you might consider getting a regular pipeline of extra funds by renting out your home, as one 30-something traveler did during her year-long sabbatical. A property manager can help keep things in check if you’re not around to do so.
- Start a fundraiser. Family and friends may want to help, especially if you’re involved in humanitarian efforts, so try crowdfunding with the help of platforms like FundMyTravel.
- Look for stipends, scholarships or grants. Regardless of your age, there are ways to get financial aid to fund gap years. AmeriCorps, for example, helps fund living expenses, and the Gap Year Association lists several scholarship and grant resources for potential gappers.
- Get gap year health insurance. By giving up a year’s worth of paychecks, you also potentially lose out on a year’s worth of employer-provided insurance, which means you’ll want to look for alternative options to stay covered. If you’re eligible for COBRA benefits and can afford the premiums, you might want to take advantage — these plans can extend your employer benefits for up to 18 months after you leave the company. If COBRA isn’t an option for you, consider short-term insurance. As of October 2018, these plans last up to 364 days, and you can renew them for up to twice after that. (Note that some states have their own restrictions on short-term insurance, though, so do your research before you buy a plan.) Make sure to get presabbatical checkups and vaccinations while you’re still on your old insurance, since short-term plans may have limitations on preventive care.
Considering Supplemental Insurance for Your Gap Year
Depending on your situation, supplemental insurance like critical illness or fixed indemnity plans can provide special health care coverage as you take your gap year. Each of these plans can provide cash in the event of sudden injuries or certain illnesses — something that could be especially helpful if you find yourself strapped for funds without a steady income.
Whether you spend it volunteering at a local school or working with conservation groups abroad, taking a gap year can leave you refreshed, recharged and ready for whatever comes next — just make sure you’ve done your research and laid the groundwork for a financially sound and stress-free year.