The perfect MBA applicant does not actually exist. However, the perception of the perfect applicant absolutely does—he/she is an individual who scales greater and greater personal, community, and professional peaks unabated until finally applying to business school. Because of this idealized image of an applicant, candidates who have taken any time off from their professional pursuits think of themselves as disadvantaged. They worry that the admissions committees will see the gap(s) in their professional timeline and dismiss them outright. After all, the schools probably have numerous other, seemingly more determined individuals they could admit, right?
Time off can be destructive, true. If you spent a year sitting on your couch watching reality TV, you may be in trouble. If you have a strong professional history and spent one month between jobs sitting on your couch watching reality TV, your record should still speak for itself. But even if you do take (or have taken) an extended leave, as long as you are productive during that time and grow personally, you should still be just fine. In fact, an adventure may even add to your story and help you differentiate yourself.
If you spend six months or a year traveling before you start your professional career, you are certainly still eligible for a top MBA program. If you take personal leave to care for a family member, do charity work, or even pursue a personal passion—an art form, for example—as long as you can show purpose and reveal a broad record of competency, an admissions officer should still see your merits. Admissions officers are—and this may be surprising to some—human beings. They understand that applicants are not robots and that they have interests, passions, and personal lives. If you make good use of your time, they will not condemn you. They just might envy you.