The "Adult Gap Year" May Be the Answer to Career Burnout We've All Been Looking For

Gap years aren't just for college students anymore.

Lauren Wellbank - Author

Apr. 12 2024, Published 12:17 p.m. ET

TikTokers wonder about the benefits of an adult gap year
Source: kiesha.nicoleee/TikTok, trippingmillennial/TikTok, mikiraiofficial/TikTok
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Burnt out TikTokers can't stop talking about wanting to take an "adult gap year," aka a mini sabbatical. The gap year trend, which was once reserved for high schoolers and college students who needed a little extra time as they transitioned into adulthood, may just be what the doctor ordered for millennials, who are in search of a way to take a break from the pressure of a growing climate crisis, high student loan bills, the cost of living and well... everything else!

But adult gap year trend isn't just for one generation. As it turns out, just about anyone with a job (and a healthy savings account) can take advantage, clocking out for anywhere from a month to a year to rest, recharge, and maybe find a new reason to return to the grind. Continue reading to learn more about the adult gap year — including what you need to do to pencil one into your schedule!

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Woman backpacking alone while traveling for a gap year
Source: Getty Images

What is an adult gap year? Burnt out workers are taking these mini sabbaticals.

Taking an adult gap year is akin to temporarily pressing pause on your current life, opting to step away from the rise and grind of your career to instead focus on volunteering, traveling, or whatever else fills your soul. These mini breaks can be enjoyed in whatever increments you like — that may mean taking three months off to follow your favorite band, or a year or more to travel Europe — and often involve completely stepping away from whatever your 9 to 5 is.

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Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and some people have figured out how to tweak their adult gap year so it works with their long-term career goals and their financial situation. With the rise of remote work and telecommuting, it's not unusual to see people putting their own spin on things, which may look like packing up the laptop so they can still make it to that noon "all hands meeting."

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There are several different reasons to pursue an adult gap year. For some, it has to do with counteracting burnout from hustle culture. For others, the decision stems from wanting to travel the world and see places that may not be there to see for much longer. The New York Times published a piece in March highlighting the rise in "last-chance" tourism, which has prompted many to make trips to see wonders like glaciers, archipelagos, and coral reefs before the climate crisis destroys them.

Author Isabella Chiu spent her adult gap year — which she chronicles on her What Would a White Man Do blog — reading books, traveling to see friends, and trying to pay attention to the things that bring her joy so she knows what she'd like to focus on when she finally returns from her year away.

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How to take an adult gap year:

Now that you know the what and why, it's time to talk about the how. First, you need to decide if you ultimately want to return to your current position at work. This will help you determine whether you need to loop your human resources department into your plan so that you can find out what (if any) type of sabbatical benefits they offer.

If your adult gap year plans are a little more open ended and don't involve a plan to return to your job, you have a bit more flexibility, since you won't need to get anything approved before you kick off your trip. That being said, you'll find yourself a little more handcuffed financially speaking. Because while not having to wait for your boss to give you the OK to travel is definitely a perk, it means you won't have the financial support that would've come along with that.

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That may make traveling a little harder, either because you'll be without a financial stipend from your company, as well as the security of knowing that you'll have a job to return to... whenever it is that you decide to return. But, like with most things in life, there are pros and cons to each path, and while your planned adult gap year may not turn out exactly how you expect, you may still be able to make it work, even without an OK from the boss.

People have shored up their finances by getting creative, according to the Seven Corners Travel Insurance blog, which names freelancing, asking for a transfer, starting a new career, and temping as possible income sources for more cash strapped travelers. If your goal is to step away, even something as simple as a change of scenery while you're still doing the same remote job may be exactly what you need to recharge!

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