This week’s If We Can Do It is a little different to the usual stories I feature but I really wanted to share Lisa’s experience, as it shows how time away from your ‘normal life’ can help you to reassess what’s important to you. I think it’s brilliant that a short break allowed Lisa to reassess her priorities and has completely changed the direction of her life…
1. Why did you decide to take your grown up gap year/trip? Was it a difficult decision to make?
My situation is a little unusual. I decided to take about 10 weeks in total off of work because I realised I was working 40 to 45 hours a week as a nurse and my family was struggling and I was miserable. I was actually thinking of quitting when a co-worker suggested an LOA [leave of absence]. My daughter was diagnosed with depression so I took an LOA to support my family.
2. What were other people’s reactions when you told them your plans?
I didn’t tell many people at work what I was doing or why. Most of them thought I was sick or had surgery. Outside of work, everyone was extremely supportive. At first I felt really guilty about it, like I was doing something I shouldn’t. But I realised it was an opportunity not to be passed up.
3. How long did your trip take and where did you go?
During that time I took three college courses, went with my daughter to therapy and went to London and Paris for two weeks with my husband and kids. On weekends I took trips to San Diego with my kids or to our relatives’ homes in Northern California.
4. How did you finance your grown up gap year?
I used savings and my work’s LOA (55% of salary). I am very lucky to have a job that would support that. I also had an extensive savings plan up to that point that paid for the entire trip to France ($8,000).
5. Did you go alone or with family/friends?
I went with my husband and children to France. It was an amazing trip. We also were able to visit a friend in London who had just moved and our exchange student from the previous year in France.
6. What is your travel style? (Ie. Budget hostels/Mid-range hotels/Luxury travel – less is more, travelling slowly/pack in as much as possible)
We stayed in an apartment from Airb&b. We spent $1,102 for ten days in Paris and $350 for London. That helped us eat local, buy groceries and keep costs lower. We bought museum passes and saw as many museums we could including Versailles in 4 days. I am very thrifty, but not hostel thrifty.
7. Do you go for tours or do it alone?
I basically planned the whole trip without tours. Unless you count the walking tour of London our friend gave us. Definitely helps to know locals!
8. What is the best thing about taking a grown up gap year?
The best part was the time I spent with my family. It was worth the tighter budget. The next best thing was the realisation I had when I returned to work. I realised I didn’t want to stay in my career any longer. Life sometimes gets so busy, we don’t have a chance to stop and think about what we really want to do next. We just go where life pushes us. Time off from work can really help you find your direction.
9. And were there any downsides?
Going back to work. I have really struggled since I came back. I have made a plan, what I call my exit strategy, but it’s hard to stay focused. I have to remind myself of my new goal. I have almost finished my BA in English (a far cry from nursing) and am planning how to live abroad.
10. What advice would you give to anyone thinking of setting off on their own grown up gap year?
First of all, thinking about it means you need to evaluate this seriously. If time off work is gnawing at you that you need something else, listen to it. Talk to the right people. Friends who support you. Your spouse. Be realistic. I don’t mean realistic in a pessimistic way, but a nuts and bolts way. Call HR to see what’s possible at your job. Most people I work with don’t know what kinds of benefits we have at work. Learn everything you can about how to make it happen. Cut out any unnecessary expenses. I cancelled our paper, our gym membership, we ate out less, etc. Start saving now.