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.