If thwarted wanderlust was a country-and-western song, it might go something like this—feel free to sing along:
My heart is in Rome
But I just can’t leave home
‘Cause my job and my car
Keep me from goin’ far.
There’s ants in my pants
And I want to see France
But after the rent
My whole paycheque is spent.
One week, maybe two
Is all I can do.
It’s all so unfair
That I’m chained to a chair!
Why can’t work be like play?
Oh I dream of that day!
But I’m too afraid
Of not getting paid…
Tired of that old tune? Then it’s time to start singing a new song.
Because when it comes to the old I-want-to-travel-but-I-need-to-work dilemma, it turns out you can have your travel cake and eat it too. You just need to get a little creative.
Here are a whole bunch of solid suggestions for how to see more of the world without giving up a regular paycheck—at least not permanently:
1. Get more bang from vacation time
There are lots of easy ways to stretch the vacation time you already get. Even if you’re only entitled to a meager two weeks a year—Americans, I’m lookin’ at you—you can make those 14 days feel like more if you arrange your travel to leave town on a Friday red-eye and return on an early Monday flight and head straight to the office. Think of your vacation time as days rather than weeks and think strategically about when you use them: tagging them on to statutory holidays can turn a long weekend into a proper mini-holiday.
2. Use professional development funds to attend conferences
If your employer sets aside a certain sum of money each year to advance your professional development, consider using it to attend conferences in interesting destinations. Even if it’s not a lot of money, you can use it to offset travel costs. And be sure to tag on a few extra vacation days at the beginning or end of the conference.
3. Bank salary to “buy” a year off
Some employers—especially in the education sector—will allow you to bank a portion of your salary for several years so you can effectively “buy” a year off. Some teachers in Canada, for example, take 80% of their pay for four years so they can take a fifth year off—with 80% pay.
4. Roll over vacation time
Many employers allow their staff to roll over unused vacation time from one year to the next. Consider not using all your vacation days one year so you can plan a longer and more ambitious escape the next.
5. Transfer within your company
Do you work for a company in Los Angeles that has a satellite office in Seattle? Or maybe a company in Toronto that has operations internationally? Look for opportunities to change locations without changing jobs. In your off-hours, you’ll have the excitement of exploring a new environment. And don’t kid yourself—you don’t have to go far to encounter culture shock: to a New Yorker, New Mexico might seem pretty foreign.
6. Negotiate play-vs-pay
If you’re accepting a new job, or are in a position to negotiate new terms for your current position, consider asking for more vacation time instead of more money. Many employers are getting wise to the fact that money isn’t always the best motivator and they’re willing to talk about other benefits instead—like more time off. (See below for tips on negotiating.)
7. Take advantage of exchange programs
In some professions—nursing, teaching, firefighting —there are opportunities to exchange positions with a similarly skilled person in another country. Sometimes the exchange occurs simultaneously, and sometimes it’s staggered. The beauty of exchanges is that the tedious administration process—the arranging of work permits and such—is minimized.
8. Take a sabbatical
Research terms once available solely to university professors, sabbaticals—sometimes paid, sometimes unpaid—are now available in other professions as well. Talk to your human resources department to find out your options.
9. Negotiate a job-share or compressed work week
If you have more modest travel goals and simply want to be able to enjoy more short getaways, talk to your human resources department or union rep about the possibility of a job-share or compressed work week (such as a nine-day fortnight: work nine long days and get an extra day off every second week). If you can work from home, you can work anywhere; push those “work from home” days to the end of the week and make it a long-weekend getaway. You’ll need to put in work hours during the day, but at night you’ll be free to explore.
10. Find a job abroad.
Check out sites such as Go Abroad and JobMonkey—and there are many others—to find a new job in a new country. Sometimes there’s a fee involved, ostensibly to pay for work visas and administration costs, but beware of scams.
11. Take a leave of absence.
Maybe you want to go help build a school in Africa. Maybe you want to take a one-year teaching contract in Korea. Many larger employers are open to holding your job for a period of time—often up to a year rather than lose a valuable employee. You continue to pay for your benefits while you’re on leave; if not, you may have to re-qualify on your return.
12. Find inspiration at Meet Plan Go’s Career Break Boot Camp
With the motto Stop Dreaming-Start Packing, Meet Plan Go is broad-based informal movement that helps would-be wanderers find the confidence to take career breaks. Consider signing up for their “Basic Training” to help focus your goals and find a tribe that can help you realize them.
I’ve talked a lot about negotiating with your employer, and for some people the idea of asking for what you want—and then actually getting it—is a foreign (and sometimes even terrifying) concept.
There are lots of helpful primers on the web–just search “how to negotiate”–but the essentials are simple:
- Go into the meeting with a clear idea of what you want to leave with—and what your bottom line is (with the extreme being you’ll quit if you don’t get it).
- Ask for slightly more than what you want so that you can appear to “settle” for a mutually satisfactory solution.
- Explain the details of your request clearly and then back it up with specific examples of why you’re deserving of this consideration: what have you done for the company that they wouldn’t want to lose? What evidence can you produce that you are a reliable self-starter who can be trusted to telecommute?
- Sit back and let the negotiation dance begin. Learn the power of silence. Let your boss or human resources counselor do the talking for a while.
It takes bit time but it is an empowering process and one that you can apply on that long vacation when you find yourself ready to haggle in a marketplace…
Need more inspiration? Check out five reasons to take a career break, and read Why It’s Not Crazy For Working Professionals to Quit Their Jobs and Travel the World
Author Julie Ovenell-Carter writes BootsnAll’s Canada Travel Guide