On Tuesday evening, I attended Meet Plan Go in Austin, Texas. This event was held nationally at 13 different locations. According to the Meet Plan Go website, it is “a nationwide movement to raise awareness about career breaks and extended travel.” The event encouraged adults to consider taking career breaks or sabbaticals that involve going abroad, whether it be for volunteering, teaching, or just exploring.
The event covered the steps of planning this type of trip, such as budgeting and making an itinerary, plus advice for having a successful career break and dealing with re-entry into normal life. It was very inspiring, and the panelists discussed how much you can learn from taking a break from the traditional work life and experiencing new cultures. I had been very concerned that a career break would create a damaging gap on my resume, but all of the panelists agreed that it actually makes you a more interesting candidate, and that in some cases, it can even give you an advantage.
The Austin Meet Plan Go event was emceed by Jeff Jung, founder of Career Break Secrets, an awesome website that offers video guides and advice for people interested in taking career breaks. Here were the panelists:
1. My good friend Olga Garcia, who spent a year backpacking around the world with her boyfriend. She is the community manager for Goinglobal, a company that helps people land international jobs and internships.
2. My friend Erica Kuschel. She and her husband run the travel blog Over Yonderlust, and in three months, they are embarking upon a long-term trip through Central and South America.
3. Gary Hoover, a well-respected Austin businessman and entrepreneur who loves travel.
4. Jen Spencer, a business and executive coach who has advised people about career breaks.
5. Katie Warner, a writer and lawyer who has gone on several career breaks.
6. Bryan Tighe, the founder of Budget Your Trip. He and his wife went on an 11-month RTW trip together.
7. Jay Whitchurch, a very experienced world traveler and CEO of campus2careers, a company that matches college students and recent grads with jobs and internships.
Here are my favorite tips, anecdotes, and insights I gleaned from the panelists.
Everyone emphasized the importance of developing a core plan and doing research, but also leaving room for spontaneity. Some said that if you build a complete itinerary with no wiggle room, you’ll be disappointed if you find out about a cool town while you’re out and about and don’t have time to visit it.
- Research your visas ahead of time! Olga and her boyfriend were in Thailand for 33 days. When they went to the airport to fly to a different country, they were detained for unknowingly overstaying their 30-day tourist visa.
- Your accommodation choice dictates your budget. Figure out your comfort level. Do you want to stay in a hostel? A B&B? A hotel? She doesn’t like camping, but enjoyed traveling throughout New Zealand for a month in a camper van. Olga reminded us that there are some nicer hostels out there, and many offer private rooms with their own bathrooms. She emphasized that they’re a great place to meet fellow travelers. She also said that hotels in third world countries are really inexpensive, so it’s more affordable to upgrade.
- She saved lots of money on her RTW trip by cooking dinner and lunch in the hostel kitchens rather than eating out.
- It’s OK to be scared! Quitting your job and going to a foreign country for a long period of time is terrifying.
- She and her husband are planning a trip for 6-12 months, so while she is closely planning and researching certain aspects of the trip, they are leaving some of it open-ended so they have room for spontaneity.
- Leave your job for a career break on good terms. She had such a good reputation at her company and ended things so cordially that her employer told her that she’s welcome to come work for them again when she returns!
- Americans don’t know enough about geography. Sure, the world is just one click away with the Internet, but get a geography book and really learn about the lay of the land! (Gary suggests the textbook Regions.)
- You may worry that when you come back from a career break, a prospective company won’t want to hire you. Gary asks, “Would you really want to work somewhere that doesn’t value someone who has spent time traveling the world learning new things?” If not, why waste your time with them, anyway?
- If you have a mortgage and can’t rent out your house while you travel long-term, consider a home swap/exchange. [Emily’s note: There are many websites for this now, such as HomeExchange.com.]
- It can take many months to get a job even without any traveling involved, so she recommends you prepare before you go. Nail down some potential future employers and contact them to let them know who you are and what you’re about to do. Ask them if it’s OK for you to contact them about jobs when you return (this will help you gauge whether they would be interested in hiring you post-career break so you don’t waste your time applying to places that won’t be interested).
- Remember that if you don’t turn your U.S. phone off while abroad, even if you don’t answer the call, you will still have to pay for the time it rings and goes to voicemail.
- She had a cell phone horror story; she bought AT&T’s international plan, but it turned out not to be such a good deal, and she got smacked with a $500 cell phone bill. She thought she avoided paying for the phone while turning it off, but when she turned it on one time to use her GPS, tons of text messages came through from while it was turned off, and she was charged for all of them. She recommends that in order to avoid exorbitant cell phone bills, get an unlocked quad-band cell phone where you can replace the SIM card in each country.
- Some think a career break can kill your career, but she said as far as she knows, it’s only ever benefited her—she has found that it actually looks good to potential employers. It’s a good conversation piece. She feels that travel has never hurt her.
- She warned that long-term travel can change you, but not in a bad way. She said her travels caused her to change her career path and grow significantly as a person.
- Give your schedule some padding so you can go off and explore other great places you only find out about once you’re there.
- Your money goes really far in third-world countries. He and his wife were able to get by on as low as $18/day in India.
- Taking local buses instead of tour buses—it’s way more affordable and it’s a way to meet locals rather than other tourists.
- He and his wife wanted to reduce at-home costs while traveling, so they gave up their apartment and just paid small amounts to store their stuff and their car. He set it up so his bill was auto-drafted, so he didn’t have to worry about it.
- Treat a career break like a job. Go into it with goals and accomplishments and weave those into the story of your career break when you return and are explaining it to potential employers.
- Employers and recruiters don’t like aimless people. Explaining that you “needed to spend a year backpacking the world to explore yourself” doesn’t sound good. Saying “I spent six months training to hike Everest, ending the trip by hiking it” or saying “I spent a year in South America to learn Spanish with my degree in elementary education” is impressive.
- Spontaneity can be great. One time he was in a small town in Santorini with his wife, and on his way back to the big town. His wife was mad they had no restaurant reservations (I guess because all the restaurants were full?), and along the way back, they ran into a Greek man who spoke some English. They ended up talking for 30 minutes, and the man was excited to have people to practice English with, so he invited them into their home for dinner. Jay said he left four hours later having met some incredible people, learning so much about the Greek culture, and having had a phenomenal authentic Greek meal.
- Planning for your travels can be equally important as spontaneity. One time, he needed to get from Croatia to Venice for a flight and assumed he would just take a bus. It turns out buses don’t run in Croatia on Sundays, and he didn’t think to research that. So that he wouldn’t miss his flight, he and his wife had to rent a car and spend $1,000 to get to the airport in time.
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