S2-EP17: Kim Klaft on a Global Gap Year and Living Without Regret

May 8, 2020


Debbie talks to Kim Klaft, a 63-year-old woman who spent 2019 on a self-organized global gap year, traveling and volunteering in 25 countries. Kim quit a well-paid position as a nonprofit executive near Detroit, MI to work in soup kitchens, food banks, homeless shelters, orphanages and in hurricane relief efforts as she moved around the globe.



In this episode Debbie talks to a real adventurer, a 63-year-old woman who spent 2019 on a self-organized global gap year. Kim Klaft quit a well-paid position as a nonprofit executive to travel and volunteer in 25 countries. Over the course of one calendar year she worked in soup kitchens, food banks, homeless shelters, orphanages and in hurricane relief efforts (see her list below) as she moved around the globe. She did this on her own, as a single woman, with the goal of embedding herself into cultures and communities. And because it was something she had always wanted to do.

When she told her financial planner about her proposed year, she expected him to put the kibosh on it because she had not finished saving for retirement. Instead he said, “Go! Otherwise you will always regret not having done it.”

They talk about how she chose one humanitarian project after another using Google and word-of-mouth. As Kim explains it, “I researched volunteer opportunities in three ways:  1. Google searches and reading reviews; 2.  speaking with people in-country when I was fortunate enough to have a connection and/or to be introduced via e-mail; and 3. meeting people along the way who were volunteering for a particular agency. I asked questions about how volunteers were treated, whether the group was true to its cause, whether it was run in a financially responsible way, etc.”

They also talk about writing and why Kim decided not to write about her year while she was living it, so as to stay in the moment.

Kim is now back in Detroit and feeling lucky to have found work as a consultant for several nonprofits. She describes herself on her LinkedIn profile (convincingly) as having a heart for the under-served, a head for business and the spirit of an entrepreneur.

In today’s conversation, they dig into how she engineered the logistics of her gap year and how it unfolded organically.  Despite – or perhaps because of – the disparate nature of her experiences in so many different places, the trip made her life feel “in sync,” as if the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle were falling into place.

As to how Debbie found Kim, Kim sent her an email out of the blue halfway through her year saying she had just stumbled onto this podcast. She was in Budapest at the time searching for her next thing. They stayed in touch and Debbie followed up in early 2020 to ask if she would come on the podcast to talk about her experience.

At first Kim declined. She wrote in an email:

“I haven’t yet had the ideal opportunity to wrap my head around:  1) What was my purpose? 2) How did that compare to the reality? 3) I knew going into it that there would be a ripple effect but the ripples were bigger and more far reaching than I would have been able to imagine proactively 4) What unexpected humanitarian efforts arose and how can we recognize those in everyday life? 5) How have I changed (or, perhaps, what about my passions were confirmed by this experience)? 6) What’s next?”

Of course, Kim’s email touched on all the key questions, revealing that she had indeed thought a lot about her gap year.

They recorded this conversation several months ago, before the pandemic and social distancing. So at the end Debbie checks in with Kim again to find out how she’s doing now. Living without regret (her reason for taking her gap year) has an even bigger resonance today as she looks back at an extraordinary year of travel and service.


Mentioned in the episode

Kim Klaft’s LinkedIn profile

Kim’s list of her favorite volunteer humanitarian efforts:


List of countries she visited:

  • Puerto Rico
  • Haiti
  • Japan
  • China
  • Greece
  • Bulgaria
  • Albania
  • Kosovo
  • Macedonia
  • Spain
  • Netherlands
  • Germany
  • France
  • Switzerland
  • Poland
  • Slovakia
  • Hungary
  • United Arab Emirates
  • Australia
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Singapore
  • Malaysia
  • England
  • Canada
  • USA


Kim notes: “I do realize that Puerto Rico is part of the USA but I count it separately because it was a different world!”

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Thanks to our media partners

Encore.org, our newest media partner, is an ideas and innovation hub tapping the talent of those 50+ as a force for good. Founder and CEO Marc Freedman is an award-winning social entrepreneur and author, most recently, of How to Live Forever: The Enduring Power of Connecting the Generations. Looking for a great gap-year transition program? Check out Encore Fellowships, which match skilled, seasoned professionals with social-sector organizations in high-impact, paid assignments.


Modern Elder Academy is a program dedicated to navigating mid-life transitions. MEA, based in Baja California, Mexico, provides the place and the tools to start reframing your lifetime of experience. Grow whole, not old. Founder Chip Conley is a New York Times bestselling author, award-winning hospitality entrepreneur and a rock star of the mid-life transition movement. His newest book is Wisdom @ Work: the Making of a Modern Elder.


Next For Me is an important new resource for the 50+ crowd focused on rewriting life. Taking a gap year or timeout may be the best way to figure out "what's next" when you're in this stage of life. Founder Jeff Tidwell explains, Next For Me "connects and inspires our generation to evolve our post-50 lives through new work, a new purpose, or a new social contribution."