How Would You Spend A Grown-Up Gap Year?

4 December 2015
Read Time: 2.0 mins

The typical gap year sees wide-eyed, carefree teens donning backpacks and setting off in the world. But make no mistake, the intrepid, coming-of-age rite of passage isn't strictly reserved for those who have recently swapped their textbooks for a life, semester or year of pulling pints, hitting the ski slopes or running summer camps.

The rise of the grown-up gap year is smashing all the stereotypes. Finishing studies is one thing, but for those who have been in the workforce for some 20, 30 or 40 years, giving up the nine-to-five for a period of jet setting is becoming increasingly common.

Work/life balance has never been more in vogue. Sabbaticals provide the perfect opportunity to put careers on hold to explore the world. Or, why not quit your job all together and get a head start on retirement?

 Put your career on hold to see the world (all images: Shutterstock)

Always wanted to visit Manhattan? There's nothing stopping you. How about coming face to face with the Sphinx in Egypt? Make 'one day' today. And you'll probably be in much better financial shape to enjoy travel's little luxuries than in your backpacker days.

However, a gap year is not just about self-indulgence. While many choose to spend their time off gallivanting across Europe or on a road trip through the US, others focus on using their travels to give back. Many people take a career break or year off to get a fresh perspective on life and volunteering can open up your eyes to worlds completely different from your own.

Read about the herculean effort in helping build brighter futures in Papua New Guinea

Our Connection offers travel with a purpose

While we usually envisage voluntourism as traipsing through jungles and hammering tooth and nail to build sustainable homes, there are endless ways to help communities.

There is much a mature voluntourist can contribute. A lifetime of experience, knowledge and strong desire to help those less fortunate make older gap-year travellers valued volunteers. Why not use your established skill set to your advantage?

For doctors and nurses, this can mean supporting the health and welfare of indigenous or remote cultures and tribes in Costa Rica or South Africa, while teachers can lengthen their career path by teaching English in Asia or deep in the heart of Central America.

However, you certainly don't need glowing credentials or a university degree to give back.

 There are many ways to make a difference across the globe

Those with a passion for wildlife conservation have a great choice of volunteer programs, from short game ranger courses and caring for orphan animal programs in Kenya to whale shark conservation in Mozambique.

Some mature travellers may have mobility issues but that certainly doesn't mean voluntourism is out of reach. There are a host of programs with more sedentary opportunities, including establishing community outreach programs such as basic arts and crafts for local villages.

Many cases of volunteering programs will include some kind of participation fee, but you'll find most program costs will include you accommodation and meals. But perhaps the best part – after helping local communities, of course – is that voluntourism allows you to get a true insight into a community's daily life, as you get to know its people, customs and traditions.

Voluntourism is a great way to combine your gap year with rewarding, enriching experiences that benefit local communities or the environment. Why not change your world by helping someone else's?

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Anna Howard

Give me street food over Michelin stars, cellar doors over wine bars and small towns and wide open spaces over big cities any day. Travel for me means ticking off the 'to eat and drink' list one regional flavour and wine bottle at a time.