What a fun and delightful opportunity; I was able to present to the Walnut Creek Rotary Club this past Wednesday some highlights on taking a gap year. This is the kind of speech, as a professional speaker, you do because a friend is in need (the President of the Chapter had just learned their weekly speaker had to cancel), the timing works (we just happened to be having breakfast together and I knew I was free that day), and it’s an opportunity to explore a compelling topic (aligned with my own global gap year that starts the end of August).

So here’s what I shared on the history of the gap year and some tips that you may find of interest:

Definition of a Gap Year:

I define a gap year as taking the opportunity to experience new challenges, see new regions or countries, and meet new people. It’s a time to embrace living your life to the fullest by taking a trial run at a long held dream, and be open to the possibilities and new insights that emerge. A gap year can be for any length of time, done any place, and for any reason.

Early Beginnings:

While the concept of a gap year, particularly for young people, is a fairly recent phenomenon in the U.S., starting in earnest in the 1960s, the original gap year idea started with two European concepts: the Wanderjahr (dating back to Middle Ages) and the Grand Tour (starting in the 1600s). Simply put, the Wanderjahr allowed a tradesperson who had attained a Journeyman title the time to wander around Europe working for various Master craftsmen. During this time, which was a minimum period of three years and one day, they were to learn new skills, see how their trade was practiced in different countries, and acquire the skills and knowledge of those more skilled in their craft.

The Grand Tour, also a primarily European phenomenon, saw the children of  wealthy families (or lower class with dedicated sponsors), aged 18 to 21, travelling around Europe soaking up various cultures, exploring art,  architecture, literature and music. Some would be accompanied by tutors that would assist in their continuing studies as well as languages.

United States Blazes In:

In the 1960s the tone in the US was freedom of speech and independence, and a time of cultural and social revolution. The gap year gained popularity – especially with those involved with the hippie movement. For many it could involve long backpacking treks or flower power buses traveling lonely roads to India and other far reaches of the world. During this decade the  government also instituted cultural exchanges, promoting cultural awareness and striving to avert any future world wars.


There are extensive websites and opportunities for young people to explore and consider their potential gap year. But there is also another cultural phenomenon currently taking place; one of the largest generational demographics, the Baby Boomers (1946 – 1964), are reaching an age where they are wondering what else is out there to explore, challenge and experience. A gap year represents an excellent opportunity for this type of exploration. This is a gap year for the “Young at Heart.” There is a great article in the New York Times, You Don’t Have to be College-Bound to Take a Gap Year that shares some stories and examples of this burgeoning trend.

If you are interested in learning more about taking a gap year and what websites to explore, check out this page of Gap Year Resource Tips that I put together. 

And finally, if you are interested in exploring a gap year opportunity but unsure of how to get off the fence of indecision, fear or just uncertain about how to get it kicked into gear, contact me at kathy@clearvisionconsult.com. We’ll figure it out together.

Today, gap years are not just for the young; they are intended for people of all ages, but especially the young at heart. Are you ready to dip your toe in and embrace your next challenge in life or make your unrealized dream a reality?


Kathy Hart, Ed.D. has a driving passion for human change and transformation. She has witnessed too many people silenced and leading lives of quiet despair. Her goal is to provide everyone with the support and resources needed to re-imagine and lead a more abundant, joy-filled and purpose-driven life. If you are struggling to reclaim your voice and live your life to the fullest, take concrete action by contacting Kathy at kathy@clearvisionconsult.com. The choice is yours!