I'm taking an 8-month break from my job to focus on my mental health and goals. Here's how I planned and saved for it.

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I'm taking an 8-month break from my job to focus on my mental health and goals. Here's how I planned and saved for it.
Taryn Williams.Taryn Williams/Insider
  • Taryn Williams is taking an eight-month career break after teaching in Alaska for three years.
  • She set a savings goal of $20,000 and budgeted to spend around $1,500 a month in South America.
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Taking a gap year before or after college is becoming increasingly common, and it can be very beneficial for those who have it as an option. But for many, a gap year isn't possible for financial or other reasons.

Though I would've liked to take time off after college, and briefly considered it, it wasn't an option for me financially. Instead, I chose the closest option I had, which was to take a fellowship abroad.

Now that I'm financially able to take a break, I've decided to take a gap year in my 30s. Here's why I've made this decision and how I'm going to make it happen.

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I applied for my first job at Dunkin' Donuts the day I turned 14 and could legally work

I've worked consistently since. I only had "time off" in the spring of 2020, which wasn't much of a vacation.

I've also lived through an unstable childhood home environment, emotionally abusive relationships, and very challenging work environments. These situations have helped me realize it's vital to focus on my emotional well-being.

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In the past, I've only been able to turn to self-care techniques I had at my disposal, such as yoga, healthy eating, and meditation, but that's about to change.

I'm taking 8 months to go on a journey focused on my mental well-being

Much consideration and a change at my employer that didn't align with my goals led me to decide to leave my job and take time off. I've spent my entire life putting my mental health second to my schoolwork and career, and I plan to spend this time rebalancing those scales and finding clarity in what I really want to spend 40-plus hours of my week doing.

I've spent the past three years as a teacher in Alaska, which was a dream come true, but I'm going to spend the majority of this coming year in South America. I leave at the end of September.

I'm going to South America in part because the cost of living is much cheaper than in the US, and it's been a lifelong dream of mine to spend time there. I plan to stay in Airbnbs, hostels, hotels, and campgrounds.

I'm going to embrace ethical and slow travel

I'm planning to visit Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, and Ecuador. I want to stay in each place for as long as possible, enjoying the culture and learning about the people who call the area home.

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I'm going to strive to regain the Spanish fluency I've lost over the past few years, meditate daily, and get outside every day. I plan to leave a lot of flexibility in my days so that I can go for walks, meet new people, and (literally) stop and smell the flowers.

I also have some habits related to my holistic growth that I plan to focus on: incorporating daily yoga practice, journaling regularly, and doing anything I can that excites me.

I set a goal of saving $20,000 and started saving last year

I was able to do this by taking on extra side hustles. I upped my freelance work, took on a summer position, and worked on extra projects for my primary employer.

I've also cut costs wherever possible. I don't order delivery unless it's 100% necessary, and I sold my car since I won't need it when I'm gone. This money will allow me to live comfortably — but frugally — in South America for about eight months, based on my planned budget.

I arrived at this amount by reading blogs from people who've done something similar, and I eventually landed on a goal of $1,500 a month. I also plan to take a 10-day side excursion to Antarctica that will cost just over $7,300. I haven't hit my full savings goal yet, but I'm close and still awaiting a few payments.

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Our society is rife with contradictions about the different ways to live

You can either focus on career success or buck societal expectations and live in a van for a few years. It's easy to feel unsure about whether you're on the right path, but there are ways to experience the gray area in between.

You don't have to give up your career to live in a van — you can do something like take a sabbatical so you can hike the Appalachian Trail and still have the security of knowing that you have a job to return to.

I've done relatively well at caring for my mental health and prioritizing my well-being as much as I can while also holding a job, pursuing fellowships, and volunteering, but for the first time in my life, my mental health is going to be my entire focus.

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