The Gap Year: Why More Older Couples Are Taking Time Off From Their Lives

By Kay Newton

The ‘gap year’ is virtually a rite of passage for the school leaver these days, before heading either into work or onto university. Yet, it no longer belongs to the younger generation.

More and more older people are also taking a year out from their regular lives. These ‘Silver Travellers’ – many of whom are in their 50s – are healthier and wealthier than ever before and are taking travelling during their ‘gap year’ to a whole new level.

The trend has become so popular that worldwide travel agents now offer this as a specialised service for the Boomer generation and are making millions. Yet, there are so many ways to take a year out and it doesn’t need to be expensive or include following the crowds on a package holiday (or is that tourist guides with bright umbrellas?).

Take, for example, Julie and Harry Harris. I literally bumped into them whilst walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain in September 2017. Whilst we walked, Harry talked. He talked a lot about his yearning to go to India and he hoped Julie would enjoy it too! Thank goodness she did and the couple has enjoyed two trips so far with another planned this October.

Harry and Julie at Tea plantation
Julie and Harry Harris at a tea plantation in India

“We work to save travelling money and then go to India. It is such an amazing place, colourful, smiley, chaotic, extremely friendly and cheap,” says Julie.

This couple found inexpensive lodgings on the beach in Goa, shared a house with a German yoga instructor and rented a penthouse apartment in Delhi via Airbnb for just 24 pounds sterling.

“India has such a different pace of life, and there is so much to see. We loved the hardcore hippie colony in Goa, and getting to know people who have been spending their European winters in the sun for 20-30 years or more,” says Harry.

Goa may have a reputation as a tourist destination and cheap beer, yet there are still unknown areas there that hold that special Indian energy, he adds.

“Most of all, we adored the people we met while travelling across India by train. Arriving at an offbeat place such as Hampi and savouring its spirituality or standing in a tea plantation in the Western Ghats is so very different from our usual life in Scotland,” he goes on.

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Julie and Harris with an Indian friend at Delhi’s largest gurudwara

The Scottish couple both talk about the highlight of the last trip being the bustle of Delhi. They found it easy to get around on the metro. The highlight of all was an invitation by a Sikh friend to visit the largest gurudwara (Sikh temple) in the city. Entering the sacred space and being part of the atmosphere was only made better by the outfit supplied for the occasion!

Their next trip will include Rajasthan, giving the couple a chance to sleep out in the desert and visit the horse fair at Pushkar.

Then there are the other midlifers, Erin and Jeff Wiley. In 2014, the couple – who are originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA – decided to take a gap year and travel to Europe. I met them when they came as Workaways (a platform for budget travellers and adventure seekers) to our home in Mallorca, Spain. We have been good friends ever since.

Jeff and Erin
Erin and Jeff with the writer Kay (far right) and her husband James (far left) in Barcelona

“Jeff and I had talked many times about moving to Spain for a year,” Erin tells me. “After much research, we quickly learned that moving to a foreign country for an extended period of time was not as easy with a US passport. We also learned through our research that there are ways to get around the system. We could move to Europe for a year but we couldn’t say in one place for an extended period of time. We would have to travel from country to country. We loved it all.”

Throughout the year, Erin and Jeff used private accommodation, took care of homes and animals whilst their owners were away, visited 12 European countries, used six different currencies, stayed in hotels for just six nights out of 365, and walked a total of 2,222 miles.

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Jeff and Erin Wiley

“We learned so much and have so many memories; the most important were the people we met along the way. We made many new friends that we treasure,” says Jeff. “It was such a wonderful experience; we were bitten badly by the travel bug.”

In October last year, the couple set off again. They took their newly restored classic 25ft Airstream caravan on a 12-18 month tour of the States, chasing the sun with their 13-year-old black Labrador, Ola.

With three daughters, two sons-in-law, and two grandchildren living throughout the US, the Wileys already have a few destinations in mind. (You can follow their adventures on lifeinvalhalla.wordpress.com.)

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Erin and Jeff in Adra, Spain

The world is your oyster no matter what your age. What stands out in everyone’s memories is not just the places seen but the people they met. No matter which continent or country, there is something to learn from travel that makes you a rounder and humbler person with a zest for life.

It is never too late to plan an adventure. Where will you go?

Kay Newton is a personal development coach and author. Follow her on www.Kay-Newton.com

First published in the August 2018 issue of eShe magazine