Photograph courtesy of Suzanne Rutledge
“I quit my job and took my family around the world.”
My husband and I describe our life before our gap year as a “comfortable rut.” We were both in successful careers, living in a quiet town. Life was really good, but we knew there was more out there to explore. Our son, Luke, was almost 8 years old, and we thought it was a great time for him to travel with us - he was old enough to learn from the experience, mature enough to handle the logistics, but still young enough to take time off of school and sports. We decided to homeschool him for the year of second grade while we travelled. His school was very supportive in providing curriculum, and he learned history, science, geography and culture through our international experiences.
I was 40 when we started our adventure. We travelled to 18 countries and loved just about every stop, but the highlights were snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef, visiting Vietnam and volunteering at an orphanage in Kenya. Travelling through India was a challenge - the crushing volume of people and the loud, dirty environment were unfamiliar and exhausting at times - but we were connected to a wonderful family who welcomed us into their lives. We learned so much and grew more confident, more independent, and more understanding as individuals and as a family.
After our experience-rich gap year, my family and I decided to slow our hectic lifestyle down considerably to embrace time together enjoying simple things like picnics, sunsets, family bike rides and board games. We want to savour time together at home and on the road, so the experiences become part of who we are instead of just another item checked off the bucket list.
Photograph courtesy of Kelly Hayes-Raitt
“I left my political career and became an international housesitter.”
I had worked in politics for more than 30 years - I started volunteering for campaigns when I was 12 years old! - before running for public office myself in 2006. Running for office was an extraordinary experience, but it was also expensive and exhausting. When I lost, I decided I wanted to take a year off from politics. I was 45 at the time, and I didn’t have kids or elderly parents to take care of, so I had a lot of freedom. My plan was to step back for a year and write a book about my earlier experiences visiting Iraq.
It was really hard at first. Writing the book took much longer than expected. I was trying to redefine myself, and there was a lot of personal healing I needed to do after my campaign. I pretty much blew through my savings and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next.
Then I realised my home - with its strangling mortgage - could be rented out for income, while I took housesitting gigs around the world. It was a really extraordinary experience, because it gave me the time and space to reevaluate what I wanted to do for the next part of my life. And eventually I realised, "You know, I could do this for awhile." That's how my gap year stretched into a whole new lifestyle.
Making the decision to travel full-time meant I didn’t always know where I was going to be three months from now, so I had to learn to trust in the future. And that can be pretty stressful! I’ve hit obstacles - a housesitting client cancels last minute, or I run out of petrol while driving across the country - but something always works out.
I knew from the time I was 12 years old that I’d run for public office one day, and my gap year made me realise how carefully and defensively I had been living. My life has totally changed now: Gone is the stress of finding new clients, managing a staff and dealing with crazy traffic! I’ve visited 65 countries, and I’m currently housesitting with a rescue lab named ChaCha, looking at an unbelievably gorgeous panoramic view of Lake Chapala in Mexico.
I hit a touchstone after the campaign where I was thinking, “Okay, what’s next?” The answers didn’t come right away - they sort of emerged as I kept moving forward, and that’s what created the new path. I think that’s what a gap year is supposed to do.
Photograph courtesy of Jodi Friedman
“I sold my business to focus on family and fitness.”
For years, I ran a business selling editing tools for professional photographers. I always said if my business stopped bringing me joy, I would no longer do it. And last year, I realised my heart was no longer in it. The photography industry was changing - more people were relying on camera phones for instant gratification, and I just didn’t foresee my business bringing me the same success in the future as it had in the past.
So in August of 2016, at 44 years old, I sold my company. I’d never really taken time for myself because I was always so busy, so I decided to spend a year doing what I loved. I focused on growing friendships, because my life seriously lacked local, non-photographer friends. I also wanted to be more available for my teenage daughters - they’re at an age where they need me, even if they may not always act like it. And I spent time just enjoying an active lifestyle - weight lifting, running and doing yoga.
Honestly, I still haven’t figured out if there’s a “work life” for me after selling my business. Fortunately, I have some flexibility to take my time and see what comes next - my husband co-owns a business, we still live in our first house, and we're savers. My gap year may become a retirement - who knows? It’s been over a year now, and I’m still loving it. You never know what each day will bring, so it is important not to stay stuck.
Photograph courtesy of Tamara Roberts
“My university-age kids refused to take a gap year - so I did!”
When my daughters left high school, I tried desperately to get them to consider doing a gap year, but they were both determined to go straight to university. But after articulating to them why I thought it was a good idea, and why I wanted them to grab this time for adventure, I ended up talking myself into it! Luckily, my family totally cheered me on.
When my younger daughter left for university, I headed to Ghana to visit a university a friend had started. Then I spent a week in London. I came home for the holidays, and then - with the help of a friend who owns a place near the slopes - decided to spend the next three months becoming a stronger skier.
I didn’t start skiing until I was 18, and we’ve never lived close to the slopes, so I never got as good as I wanted to. A couple years before, a teacher told me, “Tamara, you’re as good as you’re going to get until you spend more days on the slopes.” That put a bee in my bonnet. And if I was taking a gap year, I wanted to do things I hadn’t been able to do while we were busy raising our kids - and things that wouldn’t be possible once I dove into the next stage of my career.
My gap year ended up being nine months - I came home and went to university and got a masters in marriage and family therapy. Taking that break allowed me to enter university in the best shape possible mentally, physically and spiritually. My kids are still knee-deep in career stuff and working crazy hours, but I hope my gap year showed them that you can get away and take time for yourself.