The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

Ask Mary-Sue: Is the mid-life gap year a good idea?

Mary-Sue Wallace, The Displaced Nation’s agony aunt, is back. Her thoughtful advice eases and soothes any cross-cultural quandary or travel-related confusion you may have. Submit your questions and comments here, or else by emailing her at

Welcome to May, dearest readers. I’m sure like me you find this to be an absolutely delightful time of year as a long and delicious summer stretches out before us. This month’s theme is la dolce vita — or the sweet life in American. For me that means a summer making full use of my grill and dusting off my Paula Dean cookbook. Anyhoo, let’s get on with the queries that you’ve sent in for me, hopefully I can turn someone’s frown upside down — if anything, that’s the real sweet life. Ha, who am I kidding? It’s still baby back ribs!


Dear Mary-Sue,

My wife and I are middle-aged, middle class Americans with two kids and a house and jobs. But now that our kids are grown up with lives of their own, my wife seems to have gotten it into her head that we should quit our jobs, sell the house, and have an adventure. I said, “Don’t be silly, gap years are for kids,” but she seems determined to do this. I wonder if I can talk her into taking a “gap year” at home. What do you think?

Dan from Denver

Dear Dan,

It sounds to me like you’re not that excited by your wife’s suggestion. This really needs to be a joint decision between the two of you for it to work, otherwise you’ll end up resenting your wife and she’ll feel hurt that you never shared your reservations with her initially. Talk to your wife about your misgivings. It’s a big step to quit your jobs and “have an adventure.” What does that mean anyway? Does she want you to move somewhere entirely different or travel the world? Take your wife out to your favorite restaurant, your local waffle house say, and over pistachio and strawberry waffles find out if there’s anything that excites you both. If it’s that you want to buy motorcycles and travel across the US, then maybe you could look into hiring bikes and doing a few long weekends. Find your common ground and then dip your toes a few times before you decide to take the plunge.



Dear Mary-Sue,

I am an American who has lived in England for the past twenty odd years. Initially, I was married to an Englishman but that didn’t last. Now that the big 5-0 is approaching, I’d like to take a break from this place — having had my fill of rainy weather and jobs that don’t pay well. I’m thinking about volunteering at an orphanage in Africa or somewhere like that. I told my best friend, who is English, about the plan the other day, and she said: “Why do you want to reinvent yourself in the years when you should be winding down?” Do you think she has a point or is just being negative?

Elaine from Essex

Dear Elaine,

As a committed Anglophile with a younger son who has shown me how to download from torrent sites, I have unfortunately watched The Only Way is Essex and as such it’s my considered opinion that spending a few years in an orphanage in Africa is preferable to remaining in Essex.

Yours in commiseration,

Mary Sue


Dear Mary-Sue,

I recently finished reading Susan Griffith’s Gap Years for Grown Ups, and now I’m torn between three different ideas for my mid-life gap year: 1) build walkways in the Costa Rican rainforest; 2) crew a yacht across the Atlantic; or 3) take a gourmet cookery course in the Loire Valley. Can you give me any advice on which one to choose? I should tell you that I’m a middle-aged German, twice divorced, and hoping this gap year will lead to meeting a significant other, preferably from a different culture.

Helmut from Hamburg

Dear Helmut,

I suspect that your true intentions lie in the end of your letter where you write, “I’m…twice-divorced, and hoping this gap year will lead to meeting a significant other, preferably from a different culture.” Let’s  face it Helmut, you’re a little horny, aren’t you? Don’t be shy, there’s no shame in that. I’m convinced that Mellisa from my Tuesday night Bible class who is always so excited about going to Marrakech once a year isn’t just looking forward to her “voluntary work” if you know what I mean. Wink, wink. 

Well, let’s take each option that you’ve presented me with. This idea of taking a yacht across the Atlantic? Hmm, well unless you’re planning on dating a sperm whale, I think you might find the Atlantic slim pickings. Maybe if you ended up yacht-wrecked off the Azores you might have a chance, but really let’s forget this one. Second thought, a cookery course in the Loire Valley. Well, as we’re seeing with President Hollande and Chancellor Merkel, I’m not sure about the long-term benefits of a Franco-German relationship. So that leaves Costa Rica. Last time I visited Costa Rica I was stunned by the amount of sad, lonely, pasty-faced middle-aged men in garish Hawaiian shirts who were on my flight into San Jose. Apparently, they’re getting action, so I don’t see why you shouldn’t as well.



Anyhoo, that’s all from me readers. I’m so keen to hear about your cultural issues and all your juicy problems. Do drop me a line with any problems you have, or if you want to talk smack about Delilah Rene.

Mary-Sue is a retired travel agent who lives in Tulsa with her husband Jake. She is the best-selling author of Traveling Made Easy, Low-Fat Chicken Soup for the Traveler’s Soul, The Art of War: The Authorized Biography of Samantha Brown, and William Shatner’s TekWar: An Unofficial Guide. If you have any questions that you would like Mary-Sue to answer, you can contact her at, or by adding to the comments below.

STAY TUNED for Tuesday’s post. Mary-Sue has heard it’s going to be great.

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One response to “Ask Mary-Sue: Is the mid-life gap year a good idea?

  1. Nick Smith July 16, 2012 at 8:10 am

    It annoys me when people assume gap years are only for young people finishing college/university! Most people (at some point in their life) will feel like they need a year off to do something different. Gap years are for all ages! 🙂

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