Australian Babyboomers are planning retirement gap years, setting off to see the world on their own terms. Here are some ideas and tips for spending 12 months or more on the road.

The gap year concept became commonplace in the eighties and nineties as Generation X began to finish their studies. The idea was to take a year or two off, either straight after year 12 or mid-way through university, to travel the world and learn from the ‘school of life’.

With this generation now in the thick of working and raising children, it’s their parents’ turn to take on a gap year.

Retirement gap years for over 50s are growing in popularity, with many Australian Babyboomers selling up and downsizing before packing their bags for an extended overseas trip. This style of gap year tends to feature fewer heavy backpacks and more bijou apartments but is still a great way to see the world.

Why take a retirement gap year?

Once you’ve paid off your mortgage and the kids have moved out, you likely have a lot more free time on your hands. If retirement is stretching ahead of you and you’re wondering how to fill your days, why not plan a ‘grey gap year’? This is your chance, after a lifetime of hard work, to take a break and see the world, the same way your kids did (and you probably helped pay for) back when they finished school.

Unlike short holidays, when you’re simply a tourist in other countries, a gap year gives you the opportunity to immerse yourself in local culture. You can finally tick learning another language off your bucket list and enjoy getting to know how life is lived in other parts of the world.

A retirement gap year gives you the opportunity to have new experiences and make new friends. Picture yourself learning to tango in Argentina or enjoying your morning croissant and coffee as you overlook the Eiffel Tower. You could hunker down for a winter in Eastern Canada, finally finish your great Australian novel, or take up scuba diving off the coast of Fiji.

“Choose one destination or pack light with the goal of visiting as many countries as you can.”

Mix up your accommodation options by looking for highly recommended hostels, searching for bargains on AirBnB or staying with long-lost friends and family members.

Thanks to technology, the world is becoming a smaller place. While you’re away, stay in touch with family and friends via video conference. These days, we’re spoilt for choice, with Skype, Facetime and Google Hangouts just a few options available. You can also get a connected device and rely on the GPS so you don’t find yourself helplessly wandering the back streets of a foreign city.

How to fund a retirement gap year

With a full career behind you, your skills may be in demand around the world. Some seniors who are planning a gap year accept international postings, with the idea they will work for 6 to 12 months in another country.

If you don’t mind a little hard work, you could also consider signing up with HelpX. Hosts in this program offer free accommodation and meals in return for four hours of work from their guests per day. This can include gardening, fruit picking, cleaning or babysitting. If you’re up for a possibly a few more hours of work a day, think about WWOOFing. The WWOOF stands for Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms and for several hours’ work a day, you’ll be provided with accommodation and meals.

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Another option is to downsize the family home and purchase a smaller property in order to free up cash. This money can go to funding your travels around Asia, Europe or South America.

If you’re downsizing and then buying off the plan ‒ and could be homeless until your new home is completed ‒ it’s a perfect time to take time out to liberate your inner traveller, or live simply somewhere else.

Alternatively, you can rent out your home while you are away. If you’ve paid it off, the money you collect in rent will at least go part of the way to covering your accommodation expenses, particularly if you look for lower-cost options. Use a reliable property manager and they will make sure your home is taken care off while you’re off on your adventures.

Where to go on your retirement gap year

There are so many options for a grey gap year!

If you’re keen to lend a hand somewhere and don’t mind roughing it, you could consider joining a volunteer abroad over-40s program in Asia or Africa. There are many programs that help with building houses, caring for animals or teaching underprivileged women skills so they can set up their own business.

“Looking for culture? Buy a rail pass for Europe and see where the wind takes you.”

Explore ancient Rome, discover the delights of Belgian chocolate and take a tour through the fjords of Norway. Dine on schnitzel in Austria, tapas in Spain and goulash in Hungary.

For true adventure, go off the beaten path in south-east Asia, Africa or South America. Take a look at current travel warnings to make sure your destination is listed as safe for Australians to visit. This also applies to Europe, where some countries are currently on alert for terrorist attacks.

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You could also make your gap year the time when you truly discover Australia. Put on your grey nomad driving hat and hitch a caravan to your 4WD. You’ll find hundreds of other retirees out on the open road, taking in the sights of the Great Australian Bight, trundling up the highway to Uluru or pulling up for a cup of English Breakfast in the tropical Daintree.

Planning your gap year

Like any holiday, you need to spend some time preparing your retirement gap year in advance. These are some of the steps to consider:

  • Write out a shortlist of ideas and a possible itinerary before settling on your destination(s).
  • Decide what to do with your pets.
  • Discuss your plans with your family (and let the kids know they’ll need to find some fill-in babysitters).
  • Talk to your gym, phone company, insurance providers, etc. about the option to suspend membership payments.
  • Decide what to do with your property while you are way. (Your real estate agent or local property manager can offer advice.)
  • Look into travel insurance so your belongings are covered and so you can come home quickly if there’s an emergency.
  • Research accommodation and determine your weekly budget.
  • Talk to your doctor about getting enough of your regular medication to take with you or what your options are while you’re away.
  • Decide what to pack! Look for practical, comfortable clothes that are lightweight and quick-drying.

Whether you’re setting off alone or with a partner, your gap year can be one of the most memorable adventures of your life. Make sure your property is good hands and you’ll have peace of mind while you are away.


Jane Booty, Tony Didd and team

Jane Booty, Tony Didd and team

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