Gap year, sabbatical, bridge year or career break – call it what you like, putting a distance between yourself and your everyday life can be a life-changing experience. Whether you’re taking time to travel before going to university or joining the workforce, looking to expand your young family’s horizons, or planning to escape the rat race (even if just for a while)… follow our guide and make the most of your year of adventure.

Have The Career Break You Want

Not all career breaks are created equal. Yours may be voluntary or forced, planned or sudden. It may come at a natural turning point or disrupt a smoothly running career. It may be financially feasible or require serious economising. Whatever your personal backstory, you can ensure that your gap year or sabbatical is an enriching experience by planning it to suit your needs.

Career Prospects: Before And After

For most employees, the platonic ideal of a career break is the sabbatical. Some companies encourage staff to expand their horizons, others are at least open to negotiations, a few may even be willing to let you work remotely for a certain period. Whatever your personal situation, put it to your boss and explain how giving you the opportunity to take a break and return to your job would benefit your company. For example, gaining a qualification, honing intercultural capabilities or learning a skill could improve your desk-bound work.

Even if you don’t get your sabbatical, leave on good terms and you may have a chance of re-applying for a new job on your return. The vast majority of 9-to-5ers will have to quit their job and, depending on qualifications and industry, have little hope of regaining it. One more reason, then, to re-train, re-focus and look for new opportunities during your career break. Freelancers may find getting away easier, but will have to be realistic about re-scheduling work and holding on to clients remotely.

Finances: How To Plan Accordingly

The question isn’t whether you can afford a career break, it’s what you have to do to be able to afford it. If your current job and lifestyle allow you to put a certain sum towards your gap year each month, start building up savings well in advance. Should you be less comfortable financially, you need a gap year plan that involves some sort of work. Depending on where you plan to spend your sabbatical, that may involve paid work (with the right visa) or volunteering for bed and board.

If you’re setting off without having a job lined up, it pays to have a marketable skill (like cutting hair, fixing bikes or building houses) that can be put to use anywhere, even across language barriers. For native English speakers, a teaching qualification is tantamount to a job guarantee in many countries.

Before you set off, sell what you can (especially the stuff you won’t need) and try to clear all debt (or have a plan for continued payments while you’re away).

Breaking Free: The Gap Year Lifestyle

Taking a career break means changing your lifestyle. That’s the whole point. Be willing to leave your comfort zone, break out of your routine and embrace the challenges as much as the joys of your new-found freedom. Travel less, or travel more; work a lot at something you love, or don’t work at all; have endless fun, or challenge yourself constantly… for once, it’s all about what YOU want, need and desire.

Don’t plan your entire year off down to the last minute. Instead, draw up a rough plan and fill in the gaps as you go along. After all, you might discover the most enticing opportunities along the way – the ones you never even knew existed, because you were too busy to discover them.

Be willing to leave your comfort zone, break out of your routine and embrace the challenges as much as the joys of your new-found freedom.

Be willing to leave your comfort zone, break out of your routine and embrace the challenges as much as the joys of your new-found freedom.

Most people find that they can be happy with less – both in terms of material things, as well as activities, events and distractions. Tempting as it may be to launch yourself into your planned travels, new education or DIY projects as soon as your normal routine ends, take the time to ease into your sabbatical. Stay at home for a couple of weeks and do all the things that are usually relegated to the sidelines, but also enjoy doing absolutely nothing.

The Takeaway: Life After The Gap

Enjoying a career break is an achievement in itself, but the effect will fade rather quickly if you simply return to same old same old.

Instead, use your sabbatical to figure out what you really want to change – and which bits of your life you absolutely love. Make a point of keeping notes on what is really important to you. You will find that there are certain parts of your old routine that you never thought you would miss, as well as others that could really go away forever. Conversely, there will be new routines that you will want to keep up and other aspects of gap year life you’ll be happy to leave behind.

As the end of your career break draws closer, think about ways in which things that make you happy – both old and new – can be a part of your everyday routine. Whether that means a career change, reduced working hours in your old career, making time for a new hobby or a promise to keep up an exercise routine, by making a conscious decision to carry over the best of your gap year into the years after the gap, you will continue to reap the benefits of your escape from the rat race.

Article by Fiona Brutscher

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