Should We Take A “Gap Year”?


Yes, a “gap year” is something we should have taken right after college, when we were in our early twenties, before we went straight into a job (Will) or to graduate school (me).  But we didn’t then.

So…the occasion for this post is that we now have an opportunity to take that “gap year”  as we approach our 50th birthdays next summer–nearly 30 years late and with some complications we need to work through.

Trying to operate rationally, I’m organizing the list of pros and cons of taking this gap year:

How are our FINANCES?  We cannot take a gap year unless we are reasonably certain that we can stop working RIGHT NOW and still be assured of a comfortable retirement.  Looking at fairly conservative figures in assuming a 3% withdrawal from our investments, are we confident that we have enough saved?  Or being even more careful, do we have 45 times our annual expenses, hoping that we live to 95 without going destitute?  (Depends–on inflation, on the solvency of Social Security, and on whether or not we want to travel and eat well.)

Because, really, there is no guarantee that Will is going to be able to find an equally well-paying JOB, ever again.  He is in “high tech,” and this industry is really for young people–as suggested by all those t-shirt-and-jeans-wearing twenty-something Silicon billionaires.  Right now, Will has his current job and still more opportunities for positions, but they probably won’t be around after he returns from a “gap year.”  Things move very fast in this field.

Without jobs, HEALTH INSURANCE is starting to take on some scary dimensions.  We were hoping to have Will’s “gap year” coincide with my academic sabbatical year.  However, I’ve already maxed out on how much on-leave insurance I am eligible for through my university.  And I just discovered that my out-of-pocket costs for continuing our health care would exceed $15,000 for the year!  Yikes!

We thought about purchasing travel insurance and LIVING ABROAD since it turns out that many companies would allow us to purchase insurance at more reasonable rates that could kick in just about anywhere, except in the U.S.  But, exciting as it sounds, living abroad obviously has its own challenges: Can we in good conscience leave our PARENTS, possibly for a whole year?  How to transport our DOG Katie abroad?  Is it getting more difficult to obtain VISAS?

And all those other nagging DOUBTS: Are we being selfish and feeling entitled?  What would happen to the workplace if everyone took a “gap year”?  Are we being childish in retreating from life’s responsibilities and wanting to “take a break” for a year?  Is this merely a form of midlife crises we’re going through?  Are we deluded in thinking that we could come back from a gap year unscathed and just bounce back into the old routine?  Is that even fair? or desirable?

These doubts are then countered by other, equally compelling QUESTIONS:

  • What if this is our last opportunity to travel about and experience a different sort of life?
  • If we don’t grab this chance now, will we regret it at 80, 70, or even 60?
  • Are we that concerned about financial security?  Haven’t we proven that we can live frugally?
  • Can’t we economize as necessary to make sure that we take advantage of this gap year opportunity–even if it turns out that we don’t come back to Will’s lucrative profession?  (After all, we do have the safety net of being able to return to my less financially rewarding job after the year off.)
  • How is waiting longer going to make it easier to leave our even older parents or transport an even older dog abroad?
  • If we get bored with our gap year or find that it wasn’t that special after all, won’t we have a better attitude towards work when we return to it later?

Right now, we’re leaning towards taking the gap year, and we have another camino in our sights.  But I suspect this to-ing and fro-ing will go on for at least another few months as we sort out details…


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