Our Gap Year

Our unofficial gap year motto

Gap year: A constructive time out in between life stages. It can mean traveling, volunteering or working abroad.

A short while ago Bob Lowry, in his blog, Satisfying Retirement, wrote a post: Taking A Gap Year: Not Just For Young Adults Any More. Until I read it I had never for a moment considered that our current travels could be considered a gap year experience instead of just a big trip, but it looks like that’s exactly what Brett and I are in the midst of. We’re taking a year off to travel and figure out what direction we want to take next as we segue between forty years of child-rearing and becoming empty-nesters.

Up to now, I had only thought of the Big Adventure as a wonderful travel adventure. We’ve been having the best time, and are looking forward to further destinations and experiences in the coming year. We’ve learned lots along the way, about ourselves and each other; seen and experienced things we never thought we ever would or could; and our marriage is stronger than ever. It really is the trip of a lifetime.

However, our travels have proven to be more than just going from place. Over and over along the way we’ve found ourselves discussing options for what will come next and where we’d like to end up. Those choices have also turned out to be a bit more fluid than we imagined. The big changes in our lifestyle that have occurred, like living with so much less than we did before, and identifying as a couple once again versus full-time parents, have given us new insight as to where and what we see ourselves doing at the end of next year. Just like how plans for the Big Adventure changed from what we initially had dreamed of, we’ve been surprised by how differently we think about the future now. What’s currently important to us is different from it was just a few short months ago when we set out.

For example, we had been seriously talking about settling in Seattle when we finished, renting an urban apartment and enjoying life in a big city. We love the Pacific Northwest, and we love Seattle, but just a few days of cold, gloom and rain here in Portland quickly reminded us of why we moved to Hawai’i a few years ago, and that a location with more sun than not will be a serious factor in choosing where we want to land when we’re done traveling. Seattle, we’ve realized, is a place we love to visit, but it’s not where we would be happy living any more.

Getting to take this year off was so much more though than just coming up with a plan and an itinerary, or saving money. It was more than the girls getting accepted into the colleges they attend, earning scholarships and receiving adequate financial aid, more than making the difficult decision to leave Kaua’i. Instead, it was several pieces coming together for us at the right time. If even one of these pieces had not happened the way it did or when it did our life most likely would be very different now. We got lucky and we know it. I’m somewhat astonished these days, when I think about it, by all the things that had to come together to make our Big Adventure happen. We sort of stumbled onto the idea, got to planning and saving to make it happen and everything really did just sort of fall into place.

In hindsight, we could have greatly used a gap year when Brett retired from the navy into civilian life. Also, some time off between sending our son to college and having our girls come home would have let us catch our breath back then. So, I know how blessed we are to have this opportunity now, not only for the experience of travel, but to give ourselves a chance to reset as we segue into yet another different phase of life. What we’re doing is not possible for everyone, nor does everyone want or need a break between different life stages. But we have been given a great gift, a “senior” gap year, and we plan to continue to make the most of it.


7 thoughts on “Our Gap Year

  1. Actually, I thought of you two when I wrote the post. You and Brett are very definitely taking a gap year, but even more so than most. You are not returning to where you left, you don’t know the shape of things to come or even where you will live, and you have no idea what your life will look like in the fall of 2019.

    Maybe a clean-break year is an even better description. Whatever you call it, I salute you for having the gumption to roll the dice and see where life leads you. I have a post coming up soon that talks about a Radical Retirement. That might be a good fit for you, too!


    1. Wow – I had no idea! We really just thought of this as a year of travel, never as a “gap year.” We were inspired to travel by the Senior Nomads, who have been traveling all over for five years. We initially didn’t think we’d travel very long, but everything came together for us to take off for a year. We initially intended to return to Kaua’i when we finished, but then realized that it would only be more and more difficult to get the family together in Hawaii as the girls moved through college and after, so decided (with great sadness) to make a clean break. Traveling full time is giving us a chance to figure out where we want to be next and why, in a way that makes sense for us and for our family. Things are beginning to set, but is more like a bowl of jello right now – still quite wobbly.

      BTW, the Senior Nomads would be a great example of a “radical retirement.” It’s amazing what they’ve done and where they’ve gone.


  2. I love the concept! I am too much of a homebody right now to plan something like this for us, but I do love the idea of exploring a few place for a longer period of time. Perhaps spending three months in a few places we love, vs the long weekends or week away we get now.


    1. I don’t know why my name changed in wordpress but it’s me (Hawaii Planner). 😉 Bonus “H” in the name field, I suppose


    2. This was definitely not anything we could have done earlier – I was definitely a homebody as well. I think that’s why I enjoy the longer stays, and the chance to settle in versus feel like I’m living out of a suitcase. Our last three stops (Tokyo, Portland and England) will be for three months each which should be fun (and hopefully relaxing). BTW, if you travel to Tokyo this spring I’d love to get together there as well! We’ll be in Portland all summer too.


  3. Long time reader, first time commenting. You two are an inspiration! We had planned a 2-3 year “gap” living in an RV and exploring the US, but you have inspired me to start to sketch out a potential 1-2 year abroad “gap” following that – we’re thinking maybe 6 months in Uruguay or Argentina, 6 months in Portugal and possibly 6 months in Malaysia. Our daughter goes to college next year, but we are waiting until the start of her sophomore year to start the US portion. Did you run into any issues with your daughter being in her freshman year and you being so far away?


    1. Thanks for being a long-time reader, and I am so glad you took the time to write!

      I love the countries you’ve chosen for a long-term abroad “gap” – we absolutely loved Argentina, and there is so much to see and do there (and it’s very easy to visit Uruguay while you’re there as well). The only issue with staying in Portugal for six months would be the visa – the Schengen visa only allows 90 days out of every six months – but I don’t think you’d have any problems getting a long-term visa for an extended stay. Malaysia sounds fascinating too.

      We put a very solid support system in place for all of our daughters before we left. They know who to call if there’s an emergency, and they know we can and would get ourselves back to the U.S. quickly if we need to. We talk with them frequently – we use Messenger video messaging mostly. It’s worked out well – all the girls are very busy with school, and our youngest has of course focused on setting up her own network of friends and advisors at school.


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