Redefining the Gap Year

While backpacking through Asia, there was a noticeable lack of people from the United States traveling. Although it seemed unusual, it was not surprising as only 36 percent of Americans own a valid passport. This could be due to an assortment of reasons – a lack of vacation days, disposable income or motivation. We have rapidly turned into a work-centric culture that places greater value on your job title than life experience.

The Gap Year According to the UK

I think it is time to redefine the gap year and take a lesson from our friends in the overseas. Even Webster Dictionary defines the gap year as a British term. In the UK, a gap year is most commonly taken in between high school and college. Research shows that students who took a gap year achieved between .1 and .4 higher GPA than their peers.

Defer Your College Admission

The Harvard College Admission page includes the article “Time Out or Burn Out for the Next Generation,” highlighting the high-achieving American family and the negative effect it has on childhood. Top pre-schools can be “statistically more difficult (with lower admission rates) than Harvard.” By the time these students are applying to college, burn out is growing more apparent.

Therefore we should redefine the gap year as a much needed mental health break, refocus our culture to encourage time off, and use this time to turn inward and focus on personal growth.

Take ANY Time Off

Rather than a gap year, why not take a gap month or a gap season? An extended period of travel that allows you to be immersed in a culture instead rushing through countries and only seeing the main tourist attractions. Extended travel is beneficial for both your mental well-being as well as your education and work ethic. Taking vacation time has been proven time and time over to stimulate more efficient work.

The logistics behind planning a year off can be overwhelming. For most students, having a disposable income to afford traveling is the main issue, however, you can divide your time off into different categories: study, work or travel.

There are endless ways to stretch your budget or even make money while traveling. Many colleges and universities offer study abroad programs — or even require it — that allow students to take a semester off without falling behind. Online resources such as Workaway offer volunteer opportunities in other countries in exchange for room and board.

In addition, here are some of my favorite articles on how to save money and travel inexpensively:

From personal experience, taking a break after graduating college is a great time to travel. My solo trip through South East Asia was the best decision of my life. The time after graduation reveals a major crossroad where the next pathway is no longer set out in front of you. While the majority follow a sign to a 40-hour week, why not take the road less traveled and travel? Plus after the stress of study benders and finals, traveling will feel like a spa day for your brain.

Time for a Vacation

Many travel blogs include an author description about the person quitting their high paying career to travel the world. This is a great time to travel. If you hate your job – quit! Or talk to your manager about taking a sabbatical or temporarily working remotely if your job permits. Why work off your laptop in your living room when you could be in Thailand or Italy!? We live in a mobile world, take advantage of it.

To the rest of the world, call it a gap year. To the US, call it whatever you want. This country has a history of renaming measurements to be in our terms. What is most important is taking time for yourself. Nearly all of the people who take time off find intense value in their journey that cannot be expressed in measurable terms. The insight you gain from traveling will result in life experiences that pay off for the rest of your life.

4 Comment

  1. Pedro Vargasdiaz says: Reply

    Awesome Carolyn! Everyone should embrace this type of immersion in culture. A lot more tolerance and love would fill the world!

    1. carolynsmurthwaite says: Reply

      Thank you, Pedro! I agree — it is amazing how much your attitude can change once you’re in somebody else’s country. Going through Vietnam was incredibly eye-opening for me, especially seeing how prevalent the war is to them today.

      Hope you’re doing well 🙂

  2. This is a great idea. Deciding what to do with your life is such a tough decision and you have to make it immediately. Why not give yourself a year to get out and make a more informed decision later? Great post and concept!

    1. carolynsmurthwaite says: Reply

      Thanks Phil for the lovely words and for taking the time to comment on my post!

      It should be an exciting year, I’m about three weeks into my travels and it truly feels like the best decision of my life 🙂

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