This is a guest post by Sherry Ott, a refugee from corporate IT who is now a long term traveler, blogger, and photographer. She’s a co-founder of Briefcase to Backpack, a website offering career break travel inspiration and advice. She also runs an around the world travel blog writing about her travel and expat experiences at Ottsworld. She is one of the driving forces behind Meet, Plan, Go! events across the country to inspire more people to get out and travel.

There are many terms for extended travel:

  • Vagabonding, Round-the-World (RTW), Travel Sabbatical, One Year Off, Backpacking, Location Independent, Extended Travel, Gap Year, Career Break.

kid with rolling suitcase

They all kind of mean the same thing…don’t they?

I think not.

Let’s take Gap Year vs. Career Break; in my opinion these are not interchangeable.

golf in cubicleWhat’s The Difference? – The Foundation

If you are taking a career break that implies you actually have a career to break from. If you are 18 and just graduated high school or 21 and graduated college, then you don’t have a career; instead you take a gap year and go backpacking.

For those of you who are commuting to work everyday sitting in a sterile cubicle answering emails and attending conferences, then you have a career; and you’d probably like a break from it!

The word ‘career’ actually implies progression so for that reason I would say the average career breaker is someone who’s been in their job a while and is in the age range of 27 to 47.

sliding out of office chair

Style of Travel

Gap year travel tends to be about budget backpacking. The backpacking youth of the world stay in hostels, bus station floors, Couchsurf, and party their way through Europe or Thailand. While the career break traveler is also on a budget, it’s a bit more comfortable. One good thing about staring at those cubicle walls for years is presumably you may have some savings; at least more than you did when you were 18. Career breakers also use hostels, but they can also splurge more frequently on a nice dinner, hotel, or a tour.

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Whereas the Gap Year traveler is more likely to travel and socialize their way through countries playing beer pong; the career break traveler is more likely to include some sort of educational activity in their travel itinerary. They may take language classes, and most of them build volunteering into their plans.

couple at grand canyonTravel Partners

Gap year travelers tend to travel with a friends; or meet friends along the way and travel together for a while. Many gap year travelers even start relationships while on the road. However a significant number of career breakers are couples.

Frequently couples who are burned out on working 9 to 5 and are looking to simplify their life will seek out a year off. Some couples even do career break travel as an extended honeymoon. In addition, you will find full families out doing career break travel; this is more rare, but it certainly happens.


Here’s where the real difference lies. Gap year travel preparation is very different than what a career breaker goes through. Typically a career breaker has to consider the fact that they are deeply entrenched in their mid-life pursuits; meaning they have homes, apartments, significant others, cars, pets, kids…and careers. This ‘stuff’ keeps them tied down to their jobs, so breaking away to do career break travel is significantly more difficult than taking a gap year after college.

Because of these differences, career break travel preparation, both mental and physical, require some added thought and hurdles to get over. However the hurdles of career break travel are surmountable.

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meet plan goMeet, Plan, Go!

If you are a want-to-be career breaker and need some extra inspiration, then come meet travel experts who have successfully taken a career break and overcame those hurdles.

  • On September 14th, Briefcase to Backpack and Three Month Visa are holding free career break travel events across 13 cities. Meet, Plan, Go! is bringing together experienced extended travelers with those who have only dreamed of traveling to help inspire them in person.
  • In addition to offering inspiration at these events, they are also offering resources to help get them started. GAP Adventures is even giving away a trip to Peru and GeoVisions will be giving away a volunteer trip abroad.

briefcase to backpackView the Meet, Plan, Go! website and sign up for the newsletter for more details! If you can’t make it to a Meet, Plan, Go! event then check out Briefcase to Backpack where we offer travel advice and inspiration to corporate Americans planning a career break or sabbatical year round!

Thank you very much Sherry for this guest post highlighting the differences between gap years and career breaks. For those of you interested in taking some time off from your career to travel, look for a Meet Plan Go! event near you on September 14th or head to Briefcase To Backpack for more information on getting started. You can also follow Sherry on her own travels around the world at Ottsworld, one of my favorite travel blogs.

[photos by: firma (kid with rolling suitcase), ryarwood (golf in cubicle), joelogon (sliding out of office chair), airtrent (couple at Grand Canyon)]