How To Start Planning A Year Off At Any Age

How do you plan a year off?

We’ve all had the fantasy of quitting our life to travel the world and have a great adventure. Just like the movies.

Yet for 99.9% of us that is how it stays, a fantasy. The practicalities of life bog us down and convince us that it’s not possible.

I used to be like this. I had a good life but I wasn’t happy. I didn’t know what to do about it. I was in a rut and I felt like I was living the movie Groundhog Day, constantly repeating the same day. Eventually I reached my tipping point and I no longer thought of travel as a fantasy, but committed to it becoming a reality.

That, for most people, is the critical step. Committing to the idea of making travel a priority. If you think about, that’s life. Choices.

You either choose the life you live, or accept the life you’re given.

So how do you go about planning a sabbatical once you’ve committed to the idea? That’s a tough question that’s hard to answer.

The easiest way to approach this subject is to try and answer the following questions:


#1: Why are you doing this?

This is a key question you must have the answer to.

You need to understand yourself and know why you want to do this. Otherwise you could be making a terrible mistake or come out of this experience without getting what you need and feeling disillusioned.

The answer is unique to you and your circumstances.

It can be very simple and straight forward (you’re a college student looking for a year abroad experience) or it can have greater meaning to how you want to live your life. Are you running from something or are you looking for something?

You need to be honest with yourself when answering this question. It may take some time to uncover your reasons, but once you have them, it will make planning your time off much easier. Once you know what your objectives are, you’ll know where your want to go and what you want to do.

Take the time to know yourself and find the real answers to this question.


#2: How will you make this happen?

The next question you need to focus on is related to how you’ll exit AND re-enter your current life. It’s rare that someone can just make the decision to travel and be able to get up and go. There are loose ends that need to be taken care off.

If you’re taking your gap year make sure you do the following.

  • Apply to colleges before you leave: It’s much easier to do this while you’re home and in school. Once you have an admission into a University of your choice you can ask for a deferment. Most schools (but not all) will accommodate such requests.
  • Watch the timing of the deferment: Some schools discourage a one quarter or semester deferral. It’s difficult for them to accommodate orientation mid way through the school year. So be aware of any limitations to ensure that your trip start and end dates match with the school’s policy.
  • Keep an open mind to change: Whatever plans you have today will likely change during your trip. You may discover new interests or horizons that you want to explore. Be flexible and learn from your experience.


Taking time off later in life is trickier than when you’re fresh out of school. You’ll have career, might be married with kids and have material possessions that hold you down. This requires some serious assessment to figure out how you’ll step away from your life.

  • Decide what you’ll do with your house and car:  These are the two most valuable items most people own and are difficult to maintain while you’re away.
    • Car: You can either sell your car (and get rid of monthly payments) or put it in storage for the duration of your trip.
    • Home: The most practical thing would be to rent your home during your sabbatical, just make sure you have someone you trust available to address any renter issues.
  • Have THE talk with your boss at work: Once you’ve committed to the idea, start making your plans and know the timing of when you plan to leave. Sit down with your boss and have an honest conversation with him/her. Make sure that you handle your exit gracefully. This is a small world and you never know, you may end up returning to your old workplace. Also check with your company’s HR, they may have programs that cater for sabbaticals. Maybe you can take an unpaid leave rather than quitting.
  • Are you married with kids or single: This is the one of the few times where being single is an advantage over being married. Being single means you only need to consider yourself. If you’re married with kids, then this becomes much more complicated. You and your spouse need to commit to this idea, you’ll need to plan how to incorporate your children and their schooling in your travels. It has been done, check out the blog James and Alyson have been traveling the world for two years with their two children.

#3: Where are you going, what do you want to do and how long?

This is an extension of the first question. Once you know the reasons behind taking the extended time to travel, you’ll be able to identify where you want to go, what you want to do and how much time you need.

I’m NOT talking about making a detailed plan.   

I’m talking about creating a checklist of destinations, activities and experiences you’d like to have, based on the objectives from question #1. This will help guide you in creating a high level plan for your travels.


#4: What is your budget

Money’s always a sensitive subject no one likes to talk about. But we need to assess whether your financial reality aligns with your travel plans. So lets dive in.

Based on the answers provided in question #3 you know roughly the duration of your planned travels, your destinations and the activities you’d like to try. You can use online resources to figure your overall travel expenses for your sabbatical. Then add 10-15% because you’ll always end up spending more.

Are you sitting down? What’s the amount? Can you afford it?

If not, then you’ll need to work on improving your financial situation before taking the leap of faith into the unknown. Just take deep breath and remember everything is possible.

Side note: If you’re someone with high amounts of debt and limited income, then there’s very little I can do for you. You shouldn’t be reading travel blogs. You need to be reading financial self help articles, so that you can get yourself on solid financial grounds.

Back to our money discussion. The best way to tackle debt is to do it in a piece meal fashion. Most people are financially illiterate. They’re comfortable taking on debt for things they really don’t need. Debt becomes a burden holding you back from achieving what you want in life. Itemize your debts and see what you can do to get rid of them.

  • Car Loans. This is a depreciating asset. If possible, consider selling your car to get rid of this payment.
  • Credit Cards. This debit is deadly and you need to get rid of it ASAP. Look at getting extra hours at work, get a part time job or have a yard sale to generate extra cash. Do what you must to get rid of this dangerous debt.

Once you’ve successfully addressed your debts you need to work on building your cash reserves. Commit to increasing your monthly savings. Use the same advice for the Credit Card debt, which is to get extra hours at work or part time job to supplement your savings. You’ll be surprised how quickly you can achieve your goals.

99.9% of the people who read this article will find the recommendations difficult and will continue to think that taking a year off is  a pipe dream.

For the other 0.1% — happy travels and see you on the roads.