The question: My partner and I want to take a year off work to travel. How do we get our dream off the ground?
The answer: While many of us flirt with the idea of an extended career break – especially after a painful work week and a glass of wine or three – few seem able to make the leap. Paralyzed by everyday commitments, jumping ship for a lengthy jaunt that reboots your life seems great on paper, but impossibly difficult to realize.
But it doesn't have to be that way, according to Jeff Jung, author of The Career Break Traveler's Handbook and a popular blog (careerbreaksecrets.com) that encourages dreamers with practical advice and first-hand stories.
The first step? "Understand why you're taking a break and what you want to get out of your time off," he says. "Focus on a couple of main goals, then aim to let the other details of your trip just happen. Then, before you let people know what you're planning – especially those you work with – get your finances, budgeting and savings in order."
Which raises the cost issue, a main reason such dreams rarely make it past the boozy conversation stage. Jung advises drafting a three-part budget, starting with pre-takeoff expenses – those daily living costs from when you leave your job to starting your travels, plus all purchases needed for the trip. Up next, an on-the-road budget for your travel expenses. And finally, a re-entry budget to cover you until you start work again.
"The first and third parts of the budget will be higher than your travel budget," he says.
Once you've crunched the numbers, you can fill in the details of what to do. Surprisingly, while many of us might daydream about swinging gently in a hammock for months on end, Jung finds most serious career-breakers have strong ideas about achieving actual goals.
"Volunteering is very popular, but many also focus on learning new skills or developing their hobbies," says Jung, who learned to ski and speak Spanish fluently on his own career break from a "crazy consulting career" back in 2007. "Others just enjoy travelling more slowly, often in an unusual or unexpected way like biking or boating."
And while some crave the freedom of continually moving – perhaps realizing a lifetime's worth of pent-up travel dreams – others enjoy shifting perspectives by immersing themselves in one or two destinations. "Travelling to fewer places and spending more time in them allows you to explore more deeply, get to know more locals and possibly save money, since you could rent a short-term apartment and cook for yourself. It also gives you a better chance to see the nooks and crannies most travellers miss."
In the end, of course, you'll have to face the mother of all Monday-morning blues when your life-enhancing journey concludes and you have to trudge back to work. But your time off means you'll never be the same. "People often come back with more confidence, feeling there's nothing they can't tackle. And while a year out is great, you can still reap these benefits with only a few months of travel."
For Jung, while one of the biggest challenges to taking off is simply giving yourself permission to do it – "finding a support structure among friends and family can help overcome your fears" – the bottom line is that anyone mulling a travel-based timeout needs to answer one key question.
"Ask yourself what exactly you want to have at the end of your career break. Fill in the blank with the things you want to accomplish. It's a good way to start your planning and ensure that you really get the most out of your time off."
OUR READERS WRITE
Read Spark Your Dream by Candelaria and Herman Zapp. They planned a six-month trip to Alaska. Now, 13 years and four children later, they are still travelling! The hardest part, they wrote, was getting started. Suzanne Morphet
Our family went on a 10-month trip in 2005-06. Be prepared to spend, say, six months organizing the logistics of leaving your home, friends and family, jobs, etc., for a year. Do some three [plus]day trips with groups. We found you get [to] know the guide, group and wherever you are visiting much better than a one-day (for example) guided trip. Take the occasional vacation from travelling during the trip. Travelling constantly takes energy! Mark Fields
Travel in regions to get a taste of the area. Example: Travel to a number of counties in Asia, then move on. Stay in travellers' areas and meet other travellers. They may be have been in areas that you are going to and will give good advice. Ethel Johnston
Just do it! So many people keep thinking they will take a career [break] and travel but keep putting it off. @BangkokgirlBlog
Start putting a portion of every paycheque into a savings account in order to fund your leave. @lisaJtoronto
Don't expect – or plan – to do the same career when you get back; travel changes your path; don't fight that. @aucuagmo
I'm going to be in San Francisco in the fall for a week and I like the idea of taking a different guided tour or activity every day. Do you have any under-the-radar suggestions? firstname.lastname@example.org