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Why I’m taking a grown-up gap year

Hand on a globeMarried fifty-something Patricia Fletcher is heading to Kenya for three months. She explains why and offers budgeting tips for those planning their own mid-life gap year.

Backpacking might traditionally be for students but more people in their 50s and 60s are jetting off on an extended break to travel the world.

This is according to new findings from the Post Office which show that a quarter of over-55s are considering a gap year within the next two years.

Its research shows that these older travellers will typically take just over three-and-a-half months to travel and will spend a total of £4,136 on their trip.

For some, a long break abroad in later life is the perfect opportunity to enjoy sun, sea, sand and a taste of adventure. For others, the experience can have a more serious purpose, such as learning new skills or broadening horizons by taking part in a voluntary project.

For Patricia Fletcher from Nottingham, who is married and in her mid-fifties, a three-month trip to east Africa is the chance to do both.

Heading to Kenya

Patricia is due to head to Nakuru in Kenya in early October to join a house-building project arranged through volunteer organisation I-to-I. Having worked as an accountant for 30 years, Patricia sees her forthcoming extended break as a “staging point” between her former working life, and the next stage of her life.

“I feel that I’ve grown up now and am ready to do something interesting,” she says. “I’ve travelled quite a lot, but for me, this is the trip of a lifetime – and a strike for independence as I’m going on my own. I’m going to be building houses with families who will then live in them, and as I’m living in a homestay, I will be immersing myself completely in a new culture. This is a massive departure from my life in the UK, and I’m hoping to expand my horizons.”

Organising finances

For Patricia, the key to making this trip a success is careful forward planning.

“I want to get the balance right between having a once-in-a-lifetime experience and managing my financial responsibilities,” she says.

Having been disciplined about saving money, Patricia is in the fortunate position of having built up a cash reserve which she has used to fund the trip.

“Altogether, it is costing me around £2,200,” she says. “I’m looking at this as an investment for the rest of my life.”

Careful budgeting

“As I’m going to be working on the building project from Monday to Friday and living in a homestay, I don’t expect to be spending much during the week,” she says. “I will have weekends off, but plan to do some teaching in my free time, as I’ve just completed a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) course in the UK.”

Day-to-day financial matters back home

As Patricia’s husband is staying in the UK, Patricia does not have to worry too much about day-to-day financial matters back home.

“I don’t need to inform our mortgage company or insurer as our home is not being left unoccupied,” she says. “I also know that all the necessary bills will get paid while I’m away.”

Returning home

While returning home at the end of the year could be a bit of a shock to the system, Patricia feels she will be ready to embark on the next stage of her life.

“I will hold onto the value of my time away, and what I’ve learnt and achieved,” she says. “Coming home knowing I’m in control of my finances will also buy me time to consider my options and decide what to do next with my life.”

Travel money

Patricia plans to take the equivalent of just £300 with her in cash, and will shop around for a competitive exchange rate on Kenyan shillings.

“I’m also going to take one debit card and one credit card with me in case I need extra funds,” she says. “But I don’t plan on using the cards too much, and want to avoid making lots of small withdrawals or purchases to avoid getting repeatedly stung by card charges.”

Specialist cover

One of the most important things for Patricia has been getting suitable travel insurance in place. “I knew that a standard travel policy would not cover me, as most are limited to trips of up to a month, so I opted for a specialist extended policy which covers me for all activities and eventualities,” she says. “This cost around £100, and gives me the peace of mind of knowing I won’t end up with medical bills and repatriation costs running into thousands of pounds.” 

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Esther Shaw

Esther Shaw

Esther Shaw is a regular contributor to and is the former deputy money editor at The Independent and Independent on Sunday. Before that, she worked as a money and City reporter on The Daily Express and Sunday Express.
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