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Gap Year

In the spring 2010, when my then-fiancé (now husband) Cole and I graduated from Princeton University, we did what a lot of type A Princeton graduates had done before us: lined up stable jobs at prestigious organizations. It’s what we were “supposed” to do, and for the next 5 years, we committed ourselves to those companies.

I loved my job at Teach For America. Throughout my multiple roles with the organization (teaching included), I learned even more than I had in college. And I was so lucky to work with some of the most brilliant, compassionate people I’d ever met, all while doing impactful work. At the same time, I felt like I was stuck in the rat race. I was working incredibly long and intense weeks, attempting to keep up with the hustle and bustle of Manhattan life, and losing my overarching sense of purpose. I got up every day, went through the motions, went to bed, and did it all again. I lost sight of why I was doing what was doing, and felt the strong need to hit “pause.”

Cole felt the same way, and he proposed that we travel. We had saved enough money, accumulated enough job experience, and yet had not set down deep roots -- no kids, no mortgage. If we were going to take a risk, small or large, this was the time.

I panicked. Even though I felt the undeniable need to take some kind of break, the idea of quitting my job and veering from the traditional path was terrifying. How would I find a job when we returned? What employer would want to hire me with such a huge gap on my resume? What would my parents and friends think of me? These questions loomed. I had always done things by the book, and because a gap year wasn’t written into the blueprints of “success,” I had to develop my own confidence and self-assurance to take the leap. Cole encouraged me to imagine our lives in 5, 10, 20+ years… would there be a time when we’d look back and think, “Wow, we never should have taken that year to travel around the world; we should have been working...”? The answer seemed obvious -- we would likely not regret taking one year, out of (hopefully) many, to travel, spend time as newlyweds, and explore new places and cultures. But instead, we likely would regret not going. After months of agonizing over the decision, we decided it was worth the risk.

In September 2015, just four days after our wedding, Cole and I hopped on a plane to the Pacific without a ticket home. While I was still nervous, the questions had shifted: Where would we go next? How do we make the most of this incredible time? It was a whole new way of thinking, and we were thrilled to start this journey.

We traveled for 263 days to 14 countries, clocking 48 plane rides and 28 scuba dives. We experimented with different ways of living through things like farming in rural Japan and attempting veganism in New Zealand. We met new people from all over the globe, explored new cultures and languages, and discovered sides of ourselves we didn’t know existed. Read more about our travels and check out photos on our blog.

Returning to the US was bittersweet; we were simultaneously reluctant to give up our newfound freedom, but also excited to reintegrate into “normal” life, taking with us the new sense of liberation we had gained. After significant reflection, Cole and I both ended up in new jobs. Contrary to my fears, employers were thrilled to meet risk-takers, and were eager to hear about our experience traveling. I’m lucky to now work at Spotify, where I lead the company’s tech education initiatives. My perspective has shifted, and I feel much more in control of my life. My choices are far more intentional than they were a few years ago. But the itch to give up everything to travel again is always there, and I know we’ll find a way to do it again. Life is too short not to.

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