Gap years for grown ups

EVER felt like you need a break or a new experience in life? Demand for career breaks has reached an all time high as the idea of gap years for grown ups take off.

EVER felt like you need a break or a new experience in life? Demand for career breaks has reached an all time high as the idea of gap years for grown ups take off. Features editor TRACEY SPARLING reports on the trend.

IT'S no surprise to hear that half of us would jump at the chance to take a career break to travel or volunteer overseas.

That's the result of a new survey and yes many of us dream of escaping to a new life, or at least a new experience which may change us forever. Richard Harvey, boss of the world's fifth largest insurance company (Aviva, parent company to Norwich Union) was so inspired by his daughter's gap year to Africa, that he and his wife have just decided to do the same.

There's a growing trend of older people wanting to make major life changes, especially those who have slogged it out in a stressful city job, who just need time out to reassess their lives and want to give something back to society. Voluntary Services Overseas reports that the average age for of volunteers is 40 and 20pc are over 50.

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Employers are also realising the benefits of letting their staff spread their wings, learn a new skill and keep motivated.

Phil Murray, director of said: “Now, with over 90,000 workers following their dreams each year, the grown-up gap year market is seeing the fastest growth of all sectors of the travel industry.

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“Career breaks are a very real option for thousands of workers as more companies recognise the benefits. The market is now worth over £2.5 billion a year with an average spend per trip between £6,000 and £9,000.”

Charlotte Hindle, author of Lonely Planet's Career Break Book, added: “The emphasis is now on volunteering and charity travel, with strung out nine to fivers looking to give something back - from community work in India and environmental projects in Chile to diving in Honduras and expeditions to Machu Picchu, the range and variety of career break options is astonishing!”

Taking a gap year at an older age is getting more popular generally, for holidays as well as gap year projects.

Tom Griffiths, the Ipswich-based founder of said: “The average age of a first-time Harley Davidson biker is 55! They were the Mods and Rockers of the 50s, and that typifies the age group and they still want to push the boundaries. They associate more with their kids than their parents and don't want to go backwards. It's the first time in history that this has happened.

“Low cost airlines are fuelling the adventurous spirit and spontanaiety.”

He said hotspots include Africa which is now attracting wildlife lovers to Botswana in the south, as well as the traditional game reserves in Kenya, plus New Zealand is the adventure playground where you can try any extreme sport.


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Nikky Cowan, 41 from Kesgrave had never been away for more than a fortnight, when she booked to go to Thailand for two months.

She said: “I booked the trip because I had had a bad year personally and was feeling very let down and low. I needed some 'me' time to rebuild my confidence and try to get my life back on track. I was lucky in as much that my company allowed me to take three months off as unpaid leave and then all that was left was to decide where I wanted to go.

“I didn't want to waste any of my time, I wanted to do something interesting and maybe do a little volunteer work so after much deliberation and with the support of my family I decided on an eight-week trip to Thailand. Never having travelled on my own and never being away for more than two weeks!

“I booked through Gap Year For Grown Ups as the trip was fully supported, I wasn't brave enough to just 'up and go' with a backpack, even so I still had very mixed feelings about the trip and my ability to cope for eight weeks on my own.

“I need not have worried. From the time I arrived in Bangkok I enjoyed every minute. We had a mad three-week tour of Thailand, which included jungle trekking, sleeping on school floors, washing in rivers but also enjoyed very comfortable accommodation. I travelled with some fantastic people

who I am still in contact with nearly a year later. After the three weeks we had a weeks R&R on Koh Chang Island, much needed prior to going of on our chosen projects for the last 4 weeks.

My choice was working with elephants just outside Pattaya - the elephant have been put onto a camp to keep them off the dangerous city streets, they do very light tourist rides but other than that they have a safe, happy life. I had the most fantastic four weeks with my elephant Bwosi. I learned to ride her, feed her, bath her and generally look after her.

“I got involved in various tasks around the camp including brick laying when we made a new water pool for the elephants to drink from! I learned a lot about myself on the my trip and came back a much

Happier person. I had time to reflect and learn about myself.

“Spending time with people who often have so little but will always share with you gives you a different perspective on life, it made me realise that material things are not always as important as we think.

“It is now a year ago since I started my trip but I am so pleased I went. I have such wonderful memories which I will hold dear forever.”

87pc of adults in the our region are currently disillusioned with their lives

55pc want to leave the UK altogether and start a new life abroad

59pc want to quit their job and go back to study or retrain for a completely new career.

49pc say they dream of taking a career break to travel the world or volunteer overseas

46pc are just simply looking to find a way to lead a less stressful life in the New Year.


One Life Live is an event at Olympia event on March 2-4 designed to help people who are seriously thinking about a major life change and find the right opportunities. Within the six zones at the event the 'Take a Break' zone is for people looking to expand their horizons and take a year or two off doing something completely different - a career break travelling to the world's most exciting destinations or the fulfilling challenge of voluntary work.

Some of the companies exhibiting at the event include Médecins Sans Frontières, Orangutan Foundation, Clipper Ventures, Coral Cay Conservation and Gap Year for Grown Ups.

Tickets are priced £12 in advance or £15 on the door. See or call on 0870 272 0001.

Exclusive Evening Star reader offer: 2 TICKETS FOR £20 on advanced bookings by quoting EST1.

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