How to Take a Gap Year or Sabbatical

by | Last updated Aug 22, 2023 | Live Work Play Travel, Trip Planning, Work Abroad Backpacker Jobs

Are you sick of the daily grind? Then have you considered taking some time off from work or school to explore a far-flung destination or destinations? Maybe it’s time you should! But how are you going to do it? Well, why not take a gap year or sabbatical and travel. Sound good? If this has sparked your interest, read on. This post explains what a gap year and a sabbatical are and provides reasons to take one. It will answer your questions, share the pros and cons of a gap year or sabbatical and help you to plan a successful gap year abroad for yourself. Here goes.


What is a Gap Year?


A gap year is usually a year long break taken by students either after graduating from high school and before they start college or after college and before starting their career.


What is a Sabbatical?


A sabbatical is an adult gap year or career break. It is someone who has a job and wants to take a break from it. The sabbatical requires the employee to return to their original employer after their leave period is finished. Most are over 30 years of age who don’t qualify for a working holiday but still want to travel abroad.


How Long is a Gap Year or Sabbatical?


A gap year or sabbatical is usually for a year, but it can be as long as you want it to be. There is no rule that is has to be a year. A gap year or sabbatical is more about what you do with your time and not about how long you do it for. A 2 month sabbatical or gap year can be just as rewarding as a 12 month gap year or sabbatical.


What Do You Do on a Gap Year or Sabbatical?


This isn’t just a break from studies or career – it’s an opportunity for personal, professional and academic growth. It’s a time when you explore your interests and gain real-world experiences. There are so many things you can do during this break. You can learn a new language in another country, just travel, maybe volunteer abroad or go on a working holiday visa. The world is your oyster and it is a time for self-discovery.


Who Usually Takes a Gap Year?


While gap years or sabbaticals are usually associated with school leavers, undergraduates and postgraduates, a break is a great option for people of all ages and professions. Having a mid-life crisis? Why not take a ‘grown up gap year’. You’re never too old to take a break and invest in yourself on a gap year or sabbatical!


Reasons to Take a Gap Year or Sabbatical


You want to:

  • travel the world before settling into your chosen profession or college / university course.
  • Need a break from the 9-5 life or academic monotonous routine.
  • Get out of your comfort zone and develop new skills and independence.
  • Discover different cultures and just generally travel and see and do new things.


Pros and Cons of taking a Gap Year or Sabbatical


There are many reasons to take a gap year or sabbatical. Here are 10 reasons why you should.


1. Self-Discovery and Personal Growth

One of the most valuable aspects of a gap year is the opportunity for self-discovery. The time you take helps you focus on your passions and interests and allows you time to develop and grow them. What you discover about yourself during this time is often invaluable to future endeavours including further education and career pursuits.


2. Real World Experience

During your gap year or sabbatical you can pursue your interests out in the real world. This gives you real world experience which can help build your resilience.


3. Cultural Exposure and Immersion

If you decide to move abroad to live and work in another country during your year off you will have cultural exposure and immersion. Learning about other ways of life opens up your mind which is invaluable in this globalised world we live in.


4. Career Exploration

A sabbatical or gap year provides a fantastic opportunity for career exploration. You could find a job in your chosen career or a career you are interested in to gain first hand experience. The things you learn could influence your chosen career path to change, or confirm the one you have chosen, is the one for you.


5. Academic Break

After many years of structured schooling, time off on a sabbatical or gap year can mitigate academic burnout and fatigue. Having time away from your studies or career can recharge your mental batteries. Then you can return refreshed, and with fresh perspective and ready to carry on where you left off.


6. Skills Development

A gap year or sabbatical can provide the opportunity for you to learn new skills. The skills can be from an interest or a different type of work. The more skills you develop can help to make your more employable in the future.


7. Networking

When you take time off on a gap year or sabbatical, and depending what you do during this time, you have the opportunity to meet new people. These new people may become life-long friends.


8. Develop Independence

Depending on your age and whether you are a solo traveler, even if you are traveling with your partner or with kids, you will develop independence and self-reliance. If you are traveling in a foreign country you will develop practical skills to survive – it is sometimes sink or swim! Which is why, going on a gap year or sabbatical can boost your confidence and develop your independence.


9. Resume Building

Without knowing it, the time you are away and developing new skills and interests, you are building your resume up. Employers often look favourably on people who have taken a sabbatical or gap year because of the new skills they have learnt and can bring to a job. Maybe you learnt a new language and you need to use this language to speak with clients or you learnt how to do something and so you can adapt these new skills to a new career.


Cons of Taking a Gap Year or Sabbatical


As with everything there are negatives. Here are some negatives to taking a gap year or sabbatical.


1. The Cost

How will you cover your living costs during your gap year or sabbatical? Possibly savings or perhaps from the work you will pick up while on your year off. The cost of going on a gap year or sabbatical can often stop you from living your dream.


2. Interfere with Career Progression

Depending on where you are working, your decision to take time off may put you ‘behind’ in your professional career or classmates in school. It could mean your income is not the same as your peers or it can take longer to graduate.


3. Mental Challenges

Though traveling the world sounds romantic, it can be stressful and have its mental challengers that can affect your health. Yes, it is great to see and do new things, but the decisions of what to see and do and where to stay can sometimes prove too much for some.


How to Plan a Gap Year or Sabbatical?


Now you have decided to take a sabbatical or gap year, it’s time to start planning it. Ask yourself:

  • Where do you want to go while on your gap year or sabbatical?
  • What do you want to do?
  • How long will your sabbatical or gap year be? If you are employed, how long will your employer let you have off or do you need to quit your job?
  • Are there skills you want to improve? A language to learn!
  • How are you going to pay for your gap year or sabbatical?


What to Do During Your Gap Year


You can do whatever you want to during your gap year or sabbatical. There is no wrong way to spend your time. Travel is mostly the main one. But there are other things you can do.


What to Pack for a Gap Year or Sabbatical


What to pack will depend on what you are doing and where you are going. Here’s some packing lists to look at:

Working Holiday Packing List
Beach Holiday Packing List
Winter Holiday Packing List – for living and working in the snow


Are You Ready to Take a Gap Year or Sabbatical?


Every individual is different, as is your situation, so spend some time thinking about your intentions, your goals, and your specific situation before opting for, or against a gap year or sabbatical. Whatever you choose to do, I hope you have a good time doing it! Have you had a chance to take a gap year or sabbatical? What was your experience, and what advice would you give to prospective travelers interested in the same?


Yellow sign with black writing saying Gap Year Ahead. Gap Year or Sabbatical.

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Sharyn McCullum – Travel Writer / Blogger, Remote On-line Worker, sometime Digital Nomad and Travel, Live and Work Abroad Expert. Is a chocoholic, coffee connoisseur and lover of ’80s music. Been travelling all her life thanks to her dad who worked for an airline. Lived in London 4 years on a working holiday. Has holidayed in Hawaii over 15 times and currently calls Melbourne, Australia home. Is inspiring others to get the live work play travel lifestyle with this blog. Read more about Sharyn here.


  1. Melanie

    Gap years are often suggested for younger people, but they can also be a great idea for mid-career adults. I’ve recently taken a sabbatical year and I have plans to take more in later years. This is a great overview, and I hope it inspires more people!

    • Sharyn McCullum

      There are many positives to taking a gap year. I’m glad you’ve been able to take one because they are beneficial.

  2. rowan_flora

    I took a sabbatical and it was the best decision ever. Did not harm my career at all.

  3. Josy A

    I did this back when I was 19, and honestly it really changed the whole course of my life. I think it is never too late in life to take a gap year. You may end up with a slightly lower wage, but I feel like even with that you *feel* more rich from all the fun experiences.

  4. Shreya

    I love this post! So many people I know are considering an adult gap year but most are too afraid to do it. I also decided to take an adult gap year which has somehow turned into 3 years and still going. You never know what can come out of it!

  5. Trisha Velarmino

    Great recommendations! I did a gap year when I was 19, and now I am 35 and still traveling. My parents always said I am on an eternal gap year!


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