The Middle Class Guide to taking a Gap-Year (Part 1)

Important questions about taking a gap year, answered.

Hey there! This is Week 50 of my blog series where I keep myself accountable by keeping an online journal of sorts. You can read the beginning of this story — Why I quit my job to study, volunteer and travel.

The first time I heard the term Gap-year, I was 17. After finishing high-school I was slugging it out to get started with my CA.(Chartered Accountantancy, like a CPA) A friend of mine who could not get into medical school told me that she was on a “Gap Year”.

I said to myself, Pfft. “Gap Year”. Seems like a fancy way of saying I failed and I’ll try again later.

Boy was I wrong. That statement couldn’t be farther from the truth. A gap year does not represent failure. On the contrary, it represents success and belief.

Why do I say that?

I say that because our young(adult) years of 18–30 is one of raid growth, education, personal and professional development. However, we have a choice to make. A choice of deciding what we are going to focus on and what we are not.

The decision to take a gap year is a choice to focus on yourself and your own personal development. This means that certain tradeoffs need to be made. Tradeoffs with regard to our careers, our personal life and whatever it may take depending on our individual circumstances.

It takes a lot of courage and self-confidence to do something like this and introduce so much disruption into our daily life.

Image courtesy of Unsplash

Taking a gap-year is not a sign of weakness or failure. On the contrary, it is a sign of success and confidence!

“I was confident that I will come out 1 year later, as a better version of myself in every way. Which is why I am doing this.”

I can safely say that it was the case with me as well. It wasn’t like there wan’t a shred of doubt, it was more like the drive and curiosity to do something different and out of the mold out-did my fear of failure or apprehension to step out of my comfort zone.

What built up to this point in my life?

For me personally, there were a couple of triggers that led me to my gap-year.

But one thing is for sure, it is not something to be done on a whim or because it is the “cool” thing to do. Just like everything else, it is important to do it for the right reasons and having a clear assessment of our strengths and weaknesses.

Over the past 2 years, I had taken small but active steps to get out of my comfort zone. From learning to play the guitar (which I am still doing, rather inconsistently but still), juggle and do a hand-stand I built up the small success momentum and the self-confidence required to take the leap.

I had extremely supportive friends and family for which I am very blessed. My parents were very understanding and knew where I was coming from. After all, talking to them was one of the hardest parts. But once I spoke to them and they understood, the rest of the aspects were just a matter of time. I had friends who I looked up to and those who were taking their own career-breaks. So that supportive environment meant that I did not have to put up that fight either and could dive right into planning what all aspects I would be covering along with the reasons behind the same.

What kind of homework did I do?

The homework I did was mainly in terms of the areas of impact I wanted to focus on and the organizations that would help me get there.

I had started planning a few months back and had started making a list of all the organizations I could volunteer for, the time-table for the year as well as the amount of money that would be required as I was also supporting family back home. Supporting them during a time when I am not an earning member was one of the biggest challenges I had.

Fortunately for me, I had a pot of gold that was big enough stashed away so that I could go on without income and my family did not have to make any drastic lifestyle changes due to my change of heart.

I made a list of all my possible expenses, potential income streams and ways for me to get better deals on my expenses. After all, now that the amount of money I had was finalized my biggest care about was my runway. The story of my financial management is similar to that of bootstrapped or even early funded start ups. They need to have a long enough runway so that the product or service that they are working on is nurtured enough to repay the amount of investment that was made into bringing it into the world.

Did I need a shit tonne of money? What were my expenses really like?

Over the year, I made a bunch of cash, $2k filing people’s tax returns. That helped me extend my runway.

My average spend per month was about $500. (including fixed liabilities towards running a home). I optimized my travel expenses by actively looking out for deals on flights and traveled in trains wherever feasible.

With regard to my accommodation, I looked out for volunteer gigs where they offered me free accommodation. To my disappointment, most NGO (non-government organizations) or other organizations did not even respond to my emails. The one’s who did either took a lot of time or wanted money from me (a volunteer who’s willing to give up his skills for free to the organization for a month) to take care of my food and accommodation.

Those were the organizations that got off my list first. The needles were found in the hay-stack and they even provided me a place to stay. This was the first place I volunteered. In the second one, I was fortunate enough to stay with a few friends in Mumbai and that took care of my boarding and lodging. As an aspiring cook, I tried out all new dishes at my friends’ places and they ended up loving the pasta and garlic mushrooms I used to make to name a few dishes. I learnt how to cook and even got some excellent user feedback. My hosts got to taste some exciting dishes and got something in return for letting me use their couch :)



Only 2 more weeks to the 52 weeks and I would have completed writing my year of the blog.

Here is what all I did this week —

  • Continued my Vipassana practice of 2 hours a day.
  • Started Pranayam (again) and running! Got to get fit for my Himalayan Trek that’s coming up next month :)
  • Finished my second week of remote work from Mysore.
  • Attended the Above and Beyond concert in Bangalore!! :)

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