The perfect MBA applicant does not actually exist. However, the perception of the perfect applicant absolutely does—such an individual scales greater and greater personal, community, and professional peaks undeterred 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 believe they are automatically at a disadvantage. They worry that the admissions committees will see the gap(s) in their professional timeline and dismiss their candidacy outright. After all, the schools probably have many other, seemingly more determined individuals they could admit instead, right?
Time off has the potential to be destructive, true. If you spent a year sitting on your couch watching reality TV, you might 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 an eligible candidate 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 a purpose behind your decision and reveal a broad record of competency, a school should still see your merits. Admissions officers are (this may be surprising to some!) actual 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.