Crazy Thought: What If We Took a Gap Year?

While Becky and I have been saving aggressively for the past few years with financial independence (FI) as a goal, we’re still several years from being able to walk away from work completely.  Despite the fact that we haven’t fully achieved FI yet, the amount of savings we have accumulated does give us plenty of different options to consider.

Some people refer to this as FU money, which at a bare minimum would be considered some financial stage beyond living paycheck to paycheck.  Or in other words, if we lost our jobs tomorrow, we wouldn’t be scrambling to figure our life out as various bills piled up in the mailbox.  We’d have the opportunity to take a deep breath, evaluate our various options, and very deliberately choose our next step in life.

According to FI180’s recent post on various FI milestones, we currently fall somewhere between the definition of “FU Money” and “Lean FI”.

Why does all of this matter?  Well, Becky and I are considering making a huge life change and possibly taking a short break from being the responsible adults we’ve been portraying in real life all this time!  In fact, the question we’ve been considering most recently is:

“What if we both quit our jobs, packed up everything we cared about, and took off on an epic road trip across the country?”

That question alone has so many different ideas and implications, that this post will only begin to scratch the surface, but the more we talk about it, the more likely it seems that this could be a real possibility for us in the near future.  How crazy is that?

I can barely believe it as I type this out, but I plan to at least capture our current high level thoughts below.

Where to Even Begin?

I guess a good place to begin would be why we would even want to consider a crazy road trip across the country.  The best answer we’ve come up with so far is “Why Not?”.

There are a ton of amazing locations scattered across the US that neither of us have had the chance to lay eyes on in person, not to mention there are plenty of friends and family scattered across various states we haven’t been able to spend any time with for a while.  Living across the country definitely has it’s downsides when it comes to regularly interacting with family, although social media and Skype/Facetime/etc definitely help.

Part of the reason also comes back to it just sounding like a lot more fun that our current full time jobs.  We’ve taken numerous vacations over the past several years, including our honeymoon that lasted a full 3 weeks, but the excitement quickly wears off as soon as we’re back into our routine.  I don’t feel like we ever have the chance to fully unplug and reset ourselves.

I wouldn’t say either of us is burnt out at this point, a whopping 4-5 years into our current careers, but there also isn’t much pleasure coming out of the average work day.  We’re certainly content with where we’re at right now and feel great about our progress towards FI and a potential early retirement, but why shouldn’t we see if there’s more out there?

Plus, we have the savings to comfortably cover a year’s worth of expenses (plus more that will hopefully continue to grow while we’re away), so it’s not exactly a huge risk financially.

Regardless, I’m sure we’ll get some strong opinions on both sides once we decide to share this plan with family and friends…

I Can Already Picture Some Pointed Statements:

  1. “A gap in your resume will severely hurt your future employment options!”
    • While I’m sure this is true in certain fields, I’m predicting our respective professions of software developer and nurse will still be in high demand after a year.  I don’t think a year off will hurt my prospects much at all and Becky plans to keep up with her continuing education which should make transitioning to a new job more seamless.  In the end we would be making a bet on ourselves, two educated responsible young adults, to make it work one way or another.
  2. “Why wouldn’t you just keep working to reach full FI first?”
    • This is a question I imagine I will get from the FI community, but from almost no one that I interact with in real life.  I think most consider a person’s 20s to be the opportune time to try something crazy like this, financial picture aside.  Some in the FI community on the other hand, particularly those that already suffer from one more year syndrome, would have a hard time justifying leaving good paying jobs well before FI.  Also, I’ve seen others encourage “mini-retirements” or other alternative working options, so what we’re planning on doing certainly isn’t unheard of. For us, 5+ years of continuing the grind just seems like an eternity when we haven’t even been working in our full time careers that long yet, but I imagine that statement probably sounds ridiculous to those that have been working for decades.
  3. “I wish I could do something like that.”
    • Some might take this as an opportunity to start preaching the gospel of financial independence and the freedom of saving money, but I’ll probably just focus on staying grateful that we have the opportunity in the first place.  If anyone presses for financial details, I would have no problem breaking it down in more concrete terms, but most people aren’t looking for a financial lecture.

Those are 3 that I’m almost certain we’ll get in some form or another, but I’m also confident there will be many more, probably several we didn’t even anticipate.  All that matters is that we’re comfortable with the decision we’re making and hopefully we’re able to communicate our own excitement about it to others at the same time.

There Are So Many Details to Consider!

Packing up and taking off across the country isn’t something I would try overnight (although that is alluring in it’s own way), so there will likely be a transition period while we still work where we hammer out some of the bigger details before hitting the road.  Some of the high level items we’ll certainly need to consider include:

  • What do we do with our current house? Rent it out? Sell it? Something else?
  • What about all of our stuff? Sell most of it? Storage Unit?
  • What about the dog?  Bring him with?  Find friends/family that would be comfortable watching him long term?
  • How do you get mail as a full time traveler?  Earth Class Mail?
  • What address will we put down on all of our accounts?
  • Where will we be sleeping most nights?  Hotels?  AirBNB?  Camping?  Our car?
  • What about health insurance?!?

Not to mention dozens of other questions racing through our own minds as we slowly formulate this idea into a tangible plan we might have a chance of pulling off.

I haven’t even gotten to the big financial aspect of the whole trip!  How much will it cost us to get rid of our permanent address and hop around from location to location for months and months?  Almost half of our current annual spending is tied directly to living in Seattle right now, but I have no idea if we’ll undercut that or go way over bouncing around the country.

Plus there is always the option of trying to make a little money while we’re traveling as well!

That’s Enough For Now

Right now we’re laying the groundwork and starting to work through some of the more important details of actually executing this trip.  It’s not a 100% certain thing by any means, but we also haven’t found any great reasons to not at least give it a shot.

There’s also the important logistical question of when we would start the whole thing.  Probably within the 12 months, but that has it’s own set of considerations as well.

So far, I’ve purchased Nomadic Matt’s book titled How to Travel the World on $50 a Day: Revised: Travel Cheaper, Longer, Smarter.  It seems mostly geared towards international travel (which we may or may not fit into the whole adventure), but I’m sure I’ll pick up some good information either way.  Vagabonding is another book I’ve heard recommended by various sources, so that one will probably be purchased/borrowed next.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the idea.  Do we sound like crazy people or does this seem like something that could impact our lives in a profoundly positive way?  Let me know below.


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17 thoughts on “Crazy Thought: What If We Took a Gap Year?

  1. We were thinking about doing a road trip around the US in an RV. We would use the time to grow our side hustles until full time income and if we fail, get jobs. I’m happy where we are though and really liking my job and new city. It’s always on the back of my mind should that change.

    1. Awesome, we’ve also discussed trying out the RV lifestyle! For this adventure, I think we’ll stay a little lower key and bounce around hotels/airbnbs with just our car, but if we love it, an RV seems like the next step.

  2. Great idea! I did a 6-week trip around the U.S. after graduating college and it was fascinating. We mostly camped and stayed with friends, so it costed us about $3,000 for two (this was back when gas was $4.50/gallon).

    I’m now in a similar mindset, 7 years into working, and am going to take a 6-month sabbatical in 2018 to hike the Appalachian Trail. I agree that while it may “increase the prison sentence”, it should also “make the cell more comfortable”. Go for it!

    1. Thanks Brandon, doing a full thru-hike like the Appalachian Trail sounds awesome!

      $3,000 for two people for 6 weeks sounds great! I imagine we’ll end up above that with more hotels than camping, but I think it could end up cheaper than what we’re spending staying in one place right now.

      We’re definitely thinking that delaying FI by a little will be more than made up for by the extended break and chance to totally recharge.

  3. I say go for it. You’re not getting younger, and you could really discover new things about each other that you never would have learned in the daily grind.

  4. Great idea! I am a practicing attorney and in December 2011, I decided to take my daughter out of 4th grade and do a trip around the world. Best thing I have ever done! We left NYC and made our first stop in Tokyo and our last in Rio de Janeiro. The total disconnect allowed me to think about what I really wanted to do and also let me come back fully recharged to tackle my profession again, only this time with an international prospective. I made great connections and new friends. We did a blog
    http://www.Toscanoworldtrip.blogspot.com and when I came back I started another blog http://www.GringoWithTheLingo.com Out of 100 people about 95% will tell you not to do it (for many motives and surprisingly many of these would also love to do it but are scared)- but go with your gut and just do it. If you are a professional there will always be potential jobs and money, but unfortunately there will not be time. Do.It.Now.

    1. Thanks Richard, the around the world trip with your daughter definitely sounds like a worthy once in a lifetime trip. It sounds like you came back without dreading work to much and were able to hop right back into the grind? That’s definitely a positive data point!

      So far, I’d estimate we’ve had a 95% positive reaction to the idea which is the opposite of what you said. I’m sure we’ll get some more skepticism/pointed advice as we flesh out from more details, but it’s been overwhelmingly positive so far!

  5. I retired early being FI little over 10 years ago, but I became board after ? >2 years and felt like a non-person even with traveling, fun etc. Also, you’ll find being a “compulsive saver” it’s difficult to see so much $ going out & only interest income, investment, promo’s coming in. I like to watch my net worth whenever I do my banking in Quicken. I went back to work, same career & enjoyed it until our health care system changed so drastically 2 years ago, as it was not pleasurable & rewarding anymore and the demands put upon providers were down right dangerous subjecting one to potential personal liability. My rec to you is to start learning how to trade/invest in the market now unless you’re already managing your financial assets on your own now. I Can’t ever let brokers do it for me even with new disclosure laws, as they have there own objectives which don’t necessarily coincide with yours. I listen to my 3 assigned brokers @ investment firms, but I do what I want to on my own. There is a definet learning curve. I started learning it through investment programs, internet programs, tons of reading in my 20’s. The best way to passively make significant money is through the start market trading/dividends etc. (even with all time high’s right now) then I don’t feel like I’m drawing down on my net worth. One can start low and slow, never “gamble” more than you can loose without it affecting you emotionally/financially. Just my opinion/ advice as I can see you are younger than me, but I finally retired much earlier than I ever anticipated, plus you’ve got you & your wife working toward same goal….with me it was one individual because I became a workaholic over the years. imo I would take numerous week(s) off @ this point, but if you take say a year off & blow $100k or so it will be difficult to recoup. Just my opinion, I hope to not overstep my bounds here. Bye for now.

    1. Thanks for the insight Susan.

      We’ve been managing our own investments from the beginning after reading a lot of good information in the space related to other people with the same overall goals as us. Broad market index funds all the way and we ignore any day to day, year to year changes in the market:
      http://moneymetagame.com/fi/our-simple-investment-strategy/

      We’ve taken several weeks off at a time, but it never quite felt like a full reset with work still on our minds a lot of the time. A year seems like the right amount of time, but we can always shorten/extend as we see fit if necessary. I certainly hope we don’t spend $100k, but I honestly don’t know what the kind of trip we’re picturing will cost. Will be a fun experiment in it’s own right.

  6. I think it might be crazy **not** to do this.

    Think of it as an investment in your brains. Each new experience and adventure will be like planting a seed in the garden of your brain, that will grow over the years into wisdom. Like a financial investment, it will compound over time. The earlier you do it, the more the long term rewards will be. Your newfound wisdom will help you make better decisions over the rest of your lives. And you’ll have unforgettable memories and great stories to tell.

    Of course, there are risks. Nursing will be fine, but I’m not as confident as you that software engineering will pay this well in the future (I think neural nets may greatly decrease the earning power of software engineers in the future–then again, it could also increase our earning power, not sure). That being said, if bots do take software engineering jobs, you can always learn something new. Then there’s the general risks of travel–you’ll find yourselves in some scary situations I’m sure. But that’s life, I guess.

    I did something similar back in 2011, about 5 months abroad over 20 countries and then 1 month driving cross country. Here are my notes from back then: http://breckyunits.com/backpack-the-world-with-zero-planning.html

    1. Thanks Breck, your description makes us even more eager to pull the trigger.

      Agree on there being risks, but I highly doubt neural nets will have a large impact on software development jobs in the next 5-10 years. As you said, I’m confident I can always pick up some form of work in the future. Relentless optimism is certainly my mode of thinking.

      I like the bullet point list you linked, but we’re definitely going to plan out a bit more than that haha. We’ll definitely leave plenty of room to relax and go with what sounds good at the moment as well.

  7. Do it. The one thing I didn’t see included here (forgive me as this is your first post I’ve read) is the question of kid(s). If you’re planning that route, there’s something to be said about doing it when you have only two adults to worry about. That said, a cross country trip with the kiddo would be pretty awesome.

    This is where I disagree with Dave Ramsey/a lot of FI folks: “live like no one today so you can live like no one else later.” We never know what the future holds for us, and while I wouldn’t suggest going into debt or spending way more than you need, there’s something to be said to make your life what you want it to be NOW. If you’re already at a lean-FI, you could always go back for a seasonal/part time job in the future if you decide not to go back to your current careers.

    1. Hey Angela, kids are currently in the future plan but at least a few years away. We plan on traveling a bunch with them as well, but who knows what that might look like.

      Agreed on taking some chances to maximize life in the present. It’s important to keep an eye on the future to set yourself up, but also important to enjoy the present at the same time. Ideally, find a way to enjoy the process of setting yourself up for the future which is what we try to do.

      Thanks for reading!

  8. I work seasonally, remember! There’s always that option if you’d like to try a stint living in a national park, working a crazy goofy fun job, bringing your pup, living out of a van maybe? What you describe is basically how I live my life, and I only make 8 grand a year. #ThankGodForEvansScholarships

  9. Noah, I loved reading this post and your thoughts as you think through this potentially crazy idea! I mean, why would you both quit a well paying job and a place of security/comfort to do something crazy like traveling around the country (or world) for a year or more? Because you only live once and you can always earn more tomorrow or decide halfway through your year of travel that you want to be back to the daily grind (not!!). Many people dream of doing this but don’t have the means or even the courage to do it.

    On a personal note, I just went through the same thought process last year and quit my well paying job at G earlier this year. I have been traveling with my kids since March and have visited 10+ states so far. No regrets at all!

    You guys don’t have kids yet so it’s so much easier but one day if and when you do, look into “Worldschooling” and “unschooling”! Very radical ways of thinking about learning/education but learning is a lifelong process that is best done through real experiences outside the classroom, with emphasis on what interests/inspires you the most. There are many well educated people who have taken this approach in regards to their kids’ education, including Elon Musk. Anyway, there’s a Worldschoolers Facebook group that people post and share about all their world travels. Most have kids but it’s very inspiring to read posts and comments from like minded people who see the world as their classroom. Not all are rich, retired, or FI. Actually very few are. There are many discussions on how to make finances work with this new lifestyle of being nomads. I’m sure there are also several full time RVer groups that discuss similar topics.

    Look forward to reading about your adventures next year!

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