People often describe a gap year as the 12 months a person takes off between graduating high school and starting college. However, a pre-university sabbatical isn’t the only time you can tick “plan gap year" off your to-do list.
You can take a gap year after graduating from college, following a life-changing event or even between career changes. Here are 10 reasons you should consider taking one if you ever get the opportunity to do so.
Many self-improvement blogs claim that traveling offers an escape from rather than a path to yourself. That ultimately comes down to why you’re leaving home. If you’re trying to escape responsibilities or delay inevitable decisions, then these bloggers could be right. Still, this is not the reason everyone decides to go off on an adventure before college.
According to the Gap Year Association, 98% of people who took a gap year believed it made them a better person and provided time for self-reflection. Travel also takes you out of your comfort zone and places you in positions where you must rely on core competencies to find your way out. This is the best way to find out your true strengths and weaknesses.
Build Core Competencies
Many people describe self-discovery as a wonderful and amazing journey. This is sometimes true, but as often as not, people discover a side of themselves they dislike. You may find that you panic too easily when things don’t go as planned. Maybe you freeze up in situations that require quick thinking. You may find that you hate being alone.
No one should start the journey to self-discovery expecting to find only great things. The good news is that once you find what you’re terrible at or what your flaws are, you have the time, energy and space to improve on these things. Whether you go to Asia to learn to meditate or tackle fears head-on on a surfboard in Australia, you can work on yourself.
Be Better Prepared
Once you learn what your core competencies are — and are not — you’re in a much better position to choose a career path that best represents your interests and life goals. In the Gap Year Association study, 73% of respondents said the gap year improved their readiness for college. Whether you decide to go to a traditional university or learn a trade, the more informed your decision, the better the chances that you’ll stick to it.
Many students worry that a gap year will ruin their college plans. Most find that this is not the case. The same study found that 90% of students who took a gap year generally returned to school within a year. They also maintained higher GPAs than the students who did not. Finally, they tended to get more involved in campus activities.
Love the Work You Do
In the study, 84% of students who took a gap year reported that they learned skills that helped them become successful in their careers. For many, this involved communication skills or picking up a new language. Additionally, 77% of participants said their gap year affected their career decisions and 75% claimed that it helped them to find a job. Not surprisingly, they also reported overwhelmingly higher levels of job satisfaction.
Self-discovery, building core competencies and performing better at school may all contribute to better job performance as well. People who take the opportunity to explore often make great leaders because they have strong interpersonal skills and better understand the idiosyncrasies of people from different backgrounds.
Enjoy a Bit of Adventure
Many people buy into the lie that by working only 40 hours per week, they will have all the time and money in the world to pursue their dreams. According to CNBC, Americans work 47 hours per week on average, with contract workers putting in as many as 100 hours with no overtime pay.
Additionally, CNBC notes that 47% of Americans do not take all their vacation time. Forbes also shared the following statistics, showing that vacation becomes unlikely when the mortgage, family responsibilities and other such adult realities set in:
- 54% of Americans have visited fewer than 11 states.
- 40% of Americans have never left the country.
- 13% of Americans have never flown in a plane.
- 11% of Americans never left the state they were born in.
Learn Expert-Level Adapting Skills
Fox Business notes that Americans are increasingly reluctant to move for better work opportunities. They may worry about packing everything up and starting over in a new place, especially if the restart is only temporary. How will they adjust? Will they like it there? These are just some of the questions that keep people in one place, no matter how tempting the offer is to move.
This partially explains why the figures above look so dismal to the well-traveled. After taking a gap year, you’re in a better position to adapt to new environments and view change as less of a hassle. This may remain true whether your job asks you to move across the country or around the world. Thus, the willingness to move could exponentially improve your earning potential.
Get Some Impressive Work Experience
There is something about an exotic destination that can make even the most average jobs sound impressive. Building homes and working at a bar may not sound all that great when the worksite or food joint is a few minutes or states away. However, add “building homes in Central America” or “bartending in South East Asia” and somehow it looks a whole lot better.
Work experience abroad may help an applicant to get a leg up over other applicants at a competitive institution, especially one specializing in trades. That work experience again comes in handy when it is time to apply for a job. Those who have lived abroad successfully sell that international work experience to illustrate interpersonal skills, teamwork and the ability to work in a diverse environment.
Build Stronger Relationships
Travelers often take their gap year alone, with friends or even with family members who can afford to work remotely or not at all. However, there are a brave few who take on a gap year together as a couple. Some couples do this before marriage, while others tackle this immediately after saying “I do”.
According to CNN, one Florida couple quit their jobs, sold their belongings and took a 26-country, year-long trip after exchanging vows. During their travels, the couple shared everything and were constantly together. They weathered the ups and downs of this to return home still married with a stronger relationship. The biggest lesson they reportedly learned together during this time was making decisions together.
Find True Love a World Away
For some people traveling solo, building a strong relationship becomes possible while traveling or living overseas as a bachelor or bachelorette. This was the case for one Princeton graduate who CNN referenced. Unsure of what he wanted to do with his degree, he took a gap year after college. Through a program affiliated with his school, he was able to teach English in rural South Korea.
Immediately upon arrival, he knew one year would not be enough. When the year came to a close, he extended his stay for another three years. During that time, he met his wife. The two later resettled in New Jersey and have two children together. While he believes he could have made more money following a different path as an engineering graduate, he has no regrets.
Become a Better Conversationalist
Truth be told, some people live truly boring lives and have nothing to talk about. Subsequently, conversations begin with small talk and soon fizzle out with neither party gaining anything fundamental about the other. When traveling overseas, cultural differences can make it easy to spark a conversation with someone who wants to exchange information and ideas.
After the adventure is over, the experiences along the way and the people you meet can provide you with much better topics and stories to share. Because exchanging ideas also means listening in order to find your way around or understand what to do in a new place, you may also be less likely to be too enamored with the sound of your own voice.
There are many great reasons to take a gap year. Even if you can’t afford a full year away, a gap summer before the fall semester, or in between jobs can be just as fulfilling. To prepare financially for your big adventure, save as much as possible, ask your family to chip in and ask for skyhours as your going-away gift.