If you are thinking about retiring, but are not sure you’re ready to stop working altogether, or you are ready to stop working but want to get out of your normal routine, consider taking a “gap year.” When many hear “gap year” they think of a student who takes a year off before starting college or work. But a gap year can be an option at any stage, including before leaving, or right after leaving, a career. There are no good statistics on how many people take a “gap year” at this stage, but just as with young adults, it is becoming more common. There are many organized gap year programs, but most are targeted at teens or young adults. So if you want to do a gap year later in life you may need to do more of the legwork yourself. But don’t let that stop you! There are resources that can help you. And with the skills and knowledge you have gained over the years, you likely have a lot more options than when you were younger. If the idea of doing a gap year sounds intriguing, but you don’t know where to start, here are some things to consider.
If You Want to Keep Working
If you still want to work and you have the flexibility to work remotely, Remote Year might be a great option for you. With Remote Year you can live in different cities around the world while continuing to work. Remote Year handles all the travel, lodging and other details so you can focus on working. Currently there are work and travel programs across five continents, with options like Around the World for 12 months, Europe, Africa & Latin America for 6 months, or Europe & Africa, Latin America or Asia Pacific for 4 months. (Full disclosure: Remote Year is an Amava Partner and offers discounts to Amava Members).
Another option if you’re up for an adventure, and ready to leave your current job, but aren’t ready to stop working altogether, is to join the Peace Corps. While the majority of Peace Corps workers are in their 20s and 30s, a growing number of volunteers are now over 50. You can join alone but many people don’t realize that it’s also possible to serve with your spouse or partner. If you have an advanced degree or have other professional qualifications, you may be eligible for the Peace Corps Response program, where positions are shorter term, typically between 3-12 months. This program is for those who want to serve but aren’t ready to make a two-year commitment. If you want to learn more, join the Facebook group “Peace Corps 50+” and hear what it’s really like from those who have been there.
Finally, if you want to keep working but want to transition into a job at a non-profit organization or foundation, an Encore Fellowship might be right for you. In this program, Fellows agree to work for a non-profit organization, typically for 1000 hours over the course of 6-12 months, and receive a stipend of $15,000-25,000 (depending on location). People who are interested apply to become a member of the Encore Fellowship program in their area, rather than for specific jobs, and then go through a process to get “matched” to a position. As of now, there are programs in 7 states and 23 metropolitan areas so there might be one near you.
If You Want to Travel
If you want to take some time to travel without spending a lot of money, consider lining up some house sitting jobs. People everywhere need responsible people to look after their home while they’re away. In exchange, you can often stay in their homes for free. Sometimes you can even find a paid house-sitting job, especially if you are willing to do some chores. It’s a great way to travel while saving a ton of money. Plus house-sitting is an amazing way to get to know a place and even meet new friends. Generally you can find house sitting assignments for anywhere from a few days to as long as six months, and there are many different housing situations to choose from.
Instead of housesitting, where you often have responsibilities that come along with the stay, if have a home that would be vacant while you’re doing a gap year you might want to consider home swapping. With a home exchange you can save a lot of money over a hotel or home rental so it can make sense for longer stays. And if you’re living in someone’s home, you get a better sense of what it’s really like to live in a place. Also, if you do a simultaneous exchange (where you stay in someone’s house while they stay in yours) you often get to know the homeowner and therefore have more confidence that your own house is being well taken care of.
Both housesitting and home swapping are a wonderful way to get to know a place if you are interested in doing a gap year where you travel for an extended period of time and want to visit multiple cities. They are also great if you are thinking about moving somewhere but want to test it out first. Or if you have a schedule where you are interested in traveling to the same place each year (e.g. every summer) you might be able to find an annual arrangement.
If You Want to Keep Learning
If you’re not sure what you want to do next, and you always loved being in school, there are some unique programs you could consider. If you’re near Boston, Harvard University has an Institute for Learning in Retirement where retired and semi-retired professionals design and teach courses for each other. Fees are relatively modest, and you can take up to three courses per semester. There are also Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes at about 125 colleges across the country, with at least one in every state, so you may have one close by. If you’re in California, you likely do, as most of the University of California and California State University campuses have a program. These programs vary in what classes they offer but all have courses designed for people who are over 50, and many have reasonable tuition or a sliding scale for fees based on income. Many community colleges also have reasonably priced classes designed for older students, so check your local college to see what’s offered. If you’re in Los Angeles, check out the Santa Monica City College Emeritus program which has been around since 1975 and offers over 100 classes each year. If you want to learn another language, there are many language immersion programs where you can combine travel with learning. Research suggests that learning a new language is good for you and might even delay the onset of dementia.
Hopefully this has given you some ideas to consider as you think about what you want to do after you leave work. I’m still working, and plan to do so for now, but I’m looking forward to the time when I can plan my own gap year! If you have done a gap year yourself, I’d love to hear about what you did and what suggestions you have for other Amava Members. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re willing to share your experience.
Joan Lambert is a former attorney who has worked in the private and non-profit sector. She has served on the board of several non-profits, and co-founded the Preeclampsia Foundation. She is a Certified Retirement Coach.