What are ‘adult gap years’ and why are they on the rise?

Most commonly a pre-uni rite of passage for teens and people in their early 20s, putting everything on hold to travel the world is fast becoming a trend among older generations looking for a break from the relentless nature of life as a grown up.

Thred Media
3 min readApr 18, 2024


Typically associated with the brink of adulthood, a gap year is a period of development for those with the time and resources to travel, volunteer, or simply rest before pursuing higher education or entering the workforce.

In some countries, it’s even considered a ‘rite of passage’ for teens and people in their early 20s who aren’t quite ready to exist in the real world yet and who need twelve months of wandering freely about the globe to feel prepared to do so.

Putting everything on hold in order to orchestrate a bout of introspective self-searching no longer pertains to the youth alone, however, with ‘adult gap years’ (additionally known as mini-sabbaticals) increasingly common among older generations looking for a break from the relentless nature of life as a grown up.

Escalating in popularity most significantly after the pandemic — which prompted many of us to question whether hustle culture does in fact suit us — the trend sees anyone who can’t be classed as Gen Z or Gen Alpha step away from the routine to recharge.

From quitting a job to taking leave to going remote in an unfamiliar environment to live a different lifestyle, adult gap years are wide-ranging — and widespread.

What they share is a desire for freedom, but beyond this are numerous benefits including space to reflect on the path that’s right for you as well as an opportunity to improve your mental health and overall wellbeing.

After all, one of the primary drivers of this phenomenon is dealing with the burnout we’re experiencing more prevalently as a result of the pressures posed by climate change, inflation, and armed conflicts that only appear to be getting worse.

‘I wanted to know what it would feel like to just be without any worries, without feeling like I needed to check my email or that someone was going to call and want something from me,’ Amber J. Adams told Condé Nast Traveler in 2021.

‘It’s a chance to press reset on your life,’ echoed Roshida Dowe in the same interview. ‘It’s a good opportunity to be with yourself without any outside influences and spend that time figuring out: if you could be anyone, anywhere in the world, who are you? Where are you? How do you spend your days?’

Of course, a mini-sabbatical also allows for exploration, adventure, and new connections, can be a reminder that humanity is still out there despite how often our doom-inducing newsfeeds suggest otherwise, and helps boost the economies of the places we visit through tourism.

This doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been a backlash against it, however.

As many have drawn attention to, adult gap years are for a privileged few, and not everybody can afford the financial luxury of abandoning all responsibilities and embarking upon a journey abroad with no concrete end in sight.

‘When gap years were first invented, in the Seventies, they were for middle-class eighteen-year-olds to “escape” from gilded lives which most average tykes would run towards open-armed,’ writes Grace Dent for the Independent.

‘Do Africans really deserve a legion of post-youth listless busy-bodies arriving to ‘save them’ because we can’t decide on an emulsion shade for the box bedroom and have now realised modern life is rubbish?’

So, although the narrative has evidently shifted, and chasing insouciance for a while isn’t solely for those without family commitments, mortgage payments, and a 9–5, it’s important to bear in mind that cost is an obstacle for people considering an adult gap year.

That being said, the mental health crisis doesn’t seem to be disappearing any time soon and there are, according to Stephanie Perry — a specialist in aiding black women with career breaks and moving abroad — creative ways to circumvent budgeting issues.

‘I thought for sure people who travelled long term were all trust fund babies,’ she told Associated Press.

‘But housesitting is the reason I can work very little and travel a lot. It can be accessible to all.’