In the US, one of the first questions we ask upon meeting someone is, “What do you do?” The response, “I am a [fill in the blank]” reveals a great deal about the emphasis of work in our culture and how it defines our identity. While the cultural imperative of “hard work” has created a lot of prosperity, diversity, and organization in our country, it has also come to dominate our lives. If the long hours with no overtime and only two weeks’ vacation have gotten to you, it may be time to consider taking some time for yourself on a career break to complete the trip you have always dreamed of. Take some advice from a teacher who has been fortunate enough to plan a “career break” every summer, to plan the best vacation experience for you to finally take time for yourself.
Hit the road
There is nothing more liberating in travel than to be behind the wheel, navigating to your destination, deciding when to stop, when to take that scenic detour, and where and what to eat along the way. A road-trip to explore your own country could be the perfect long trip for a career break. Exploring by car allows you to see all the details and nuances of a place generally overlooked by the transit that connects the major tourist attractions. With this microscopic view you will easily be able to plan a trip of any length to occupy your time during a career break. If you are outdoorsy, introspective and independent-as-hell, then a road-trip (either solo or with a friend) may be the perfect career break trip for you.
Plan your route along a part of the country you haven’t had the opportunity to explore. Buy a tent and a sleeping bag and your accommodation is easily and cheaply taken care of. If you are by yourself, you can plan to visit the old friends who are scattered around the region. No matter how much time has passed, most people are excited to have a visitor and show off their new hometown.
Traveling during a career break can be both a blessing and a curse when it comes to timing. On the one hand, if you don’t have to worry about using work vacation days, you can go at any time and explore on the off season to save money. However, it can get lonely if you are unable to plan a trip with a companion who has to plan around a rigid work schedule. While solo travel may seem daunting, the term is misleading, as you are rarely truly alone.
Staying in hostels you will meet many travelers traversing many of the same places on your itinerary. Booking at most hostels listed in Lonely Planet and on sites like hostelworld or Hosteling International (HI) will ensure you are surrounded by many potential travel buddies. Strike up a conversation over the free watery coffee and stale cornflakes for breakfast and plan to travel onto the next leg of your journey together! Traveling with different solo travelers is common, so no need to feel shy or awkward. If you gather up the courage to meet new people and travel with someone new, you will have a completely different experience from navigating on your own. If the pairing doesn’t work out, you can always change your plans and duck out on an impromptu trip to another site and insist that your travel buddy carry-on with their plans without you.
Another option if you want more structure and to meet people in the process, is to spend two weeks or a month of your trip volunteering. Most destinations in developing countries offer volunteer programs to promote sustainable tourism and ensure that the sights we treasure now will remain in the same condition for future generations. The range of programs are endless: you could count baby sea turtles in Costa Rica, build houses in an Indian village, teach English to children in Vietnam or help out at an elephant sanctuary in Thailand. A simple Google search on “volunteering abroad” will yield a number of websites that will help connect you with a program. Do your research online first to make sure it is legitimate. It is worth considering visiting the volunteer organization once you are in the country before paying any program fees to volunteer. You may find that you would rather arrange your own food and accommodation than live in those provided by the program.
If you are planning a longer break, you may decide that you want to completely immerse yourself in another culture by living abroad. A great way to do this for anywhere from a summer to one year, is to research international fellowships and apply. There are many programs based in every country imaginable which utilize a variety of skill-sets, where your previous work experience could come in handy. Decide on a country you have always dreamed of exploring at length and search online for “fellowships in [county].” You are sure to find a few options.
It can be a daunting decision to leave a stable job to go and travel, but it does not necessarily mean a financial loss. Depending on where you decide to travel, you can break even or travel cheaply if you plan accordingly.
If you are taking a break from your career, chances are you could be returning from your trip to a new job. If this is the case, why not give up your apartment and spend the money you would pay on rent to travel? You can make this money go a lot further by traveling in cheaper countries where the exchange rate favors the dollar. India, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia in southeast Asia, Argentina and Bolivia in South America, Greece and Eastern Europe and North Africa are all places where your monthly rent could become your travel budget with some careful planning and bargain hunting.
Just because you are traveling doesn’t mean you can’t make any income. Look for jobs on craigslist that can be done abroad by a computer. Maybe you can come to an agreement with your current job to work overseas? In an age of cloud computing and instantaneous communication via Skpye and email, there are more possibilities than ever to work from anywhere in the world with an Internet connection.
If you’ve been fantasizing about breaking out of your tired routine, embarking on a new adventure and testing yourself, then it may be time to take the plunge. The only thing that is holding you back from traveling on a career break is yourself.