The fabled gap year is a rite of passage (or for those unable to manage such a trip, a source of envy) for college students. A long break spent backpacking around the globe and learning about yourself, the institution is supposed to leave young people more mature and worldly, and better prepared for graduation and adult life.
So why would a well-seasoned adult entrepreneur benefit from such an experience? And that's not to mention the more practical hurdles to later-life sabbaticals, such as mortgages, kids, and the needs of your customers. But despite these hefty obstacles to the idea of a gap year for adults, several experts and business owners swear that not only is an extended travel break doable (for some), it's also extremely valuable.
Why Take a Gap Year?
Designer Stefan Sagmeister and tech company founder Winston Chen are successful entrepreneurs who have shared, from the TED stage and here on Inc.com, respectively, their wonderful experiences taking a year off in distant locales. According to experts, they're not unusual in benefiting from an extended adventure.
Careerealism's Nick Peacock recently made the case that a gap year isn't just good for your personal development but for your career development as well. The experience can be a platform to learn new skills like a foreign language, to expand your network in truly unexpected ways, to leverage the unfamiliar to refresh your creativity (exactly the effect Sagmeister was after), as well as to toughen you up as you overcome challenges on the road.
"The great thing about a gap year is that the opportunities for stepping outside your comfort zone are plentiful and tend to arise almost every day," Peacock writes. "Whether you find yourself agreeing to something you'd never do back home--such as jumping out of a plane--or you just gain the ability to strike up a conversation with just about anyone in a social setting, all of these will play a big part in creating confidence."
Peacock isn't the only one making these arguments. On Brazen Careerist, Tamara Murray makes a similar case for the benefits of a later-life gap year. "Taking a break helps you generate more ideas," she writes. "Equally important, travel helps combat burnout, which is common in ambitious young professionals, and provides a necessary recharge. Naysayers will tell you a gap year is risky, but they're just scared," she claims, before offering tips on how to make a travel break work financially and logistically.
One Entrepreneur's Story
These arguments are appealing to anyone with an unscratched travel itch, but they're also abstract. Perhaps another real-life example of a business owner who managed the feat and benefited from it can persuade you to finally start making your long-held travel dreams a reality.
On Business Insider recently, Jason Vitug, founder of financial education website Phroogal, shared the story of his backpacking trip around the world. Traveling everywhere from Brunei to Belize, he tells the site, wasn't just fun (though, from the pictures accompanying the post, it does look really, really cool, too) but also "relates a lot to how I view finances now, and what it truly means to live life richly."
The experience taught him several valuable lessons about money and values, he claims, including the necessity of clear goals and careful financial planning, as well as the humility to seek advice when needed and expect (and budget for) the unexpected. But some of the lessons he learned went deeper than keeping better track of his pennies and surviving difficult scrapes.
Before his trip, he remembers, "I needed a vehicle to get to work. I wanted a BMW. Somehow, that became, 'I need a BMW to get to work.'" His backpacking adventure helped him put his priorities into better perspective. "If you can't distinguish between wants and needs, you end up being unable to afford your lifestyle," he says.
Do you dream of taking a gap year? What's standing in your way?