Trading in Your Backpack for the Briefcase
Cindy Peterson (aka The Blonde Wanderer) interviews her husband, Bill, about trading in his backpack for a briefcase again after 14 months of travel. We also featured some of Cindy’s itinerary tips in a previous post.
[singlepic=1791,300,,,right]My husband Bill and I recently returned from fourteen months extended travel. When we stepped out of our corporate jobs in November of 2008, we both wondered what would be in store for us after our planned year of exploring the world. And as tempting as it was to continue our adventure living in a foreign country, or finding enough work to continue to travel like so many of the “career” travelers we envy, in the end we made the decision to re-enter life in the United States.
While I embarked on some new business adventures and am keeping our travels alive through continued travel writing, Bill headed back to the Semiconductor industry that we had both walked away from to live our long-term travel dreams. In truth he never completely left – he kept up on industry news and worked to keep his network alive – a key to him finding work in the field only a short two months after we returned to the US.
Bill’s path back to the corporate world seems to be the exception, not the norm, when it comes to long-term travelers. Our friends at Briefcase to Backpack, along with many of our fellow travelers, friends, and family, were curious as to the motives behind Bill’s decision and how his perspectives toward work have changed with the experiences he gained while traveling.
Bill always left the majority of the travel blogging and writing to me, and this is no exception – so I’m here to interview my own husband, the other half of the Blondewanderer travel team on his career break and re-entry. At least this is one interview that I could do in my pajamas over coffee!
What made you decide to take a career break?
[singlepic=1794,300,,,right]It had been a lifelong dream for me to travel the world. I lived in Belgium for six years for work, and had the opportunity to explore much of Europe, which only made my desire to travel stronger. During the winter before my wife and I were married we started talking about “What if we could take a year off to travel”, and over time it became clear that it was more than a dream. Our momentum towards the idea kept growing, until it was a question not of IF we would do it but WHEN. I think we both felt that if we DIDN’T take this opportunity, we would regret it for the rest of our lives.
What were some of the ways you prepared for this new experience? Were you able to apply your skills from the Corporate world in the planning process?
Well, at first we both made separate lists of places we wanted to visit – using Excel, of course! (Side note: Both Bill and I have engineering backgrounds, so planning a year of our life without Excel would have been impossible!) We discussed our lists and made a plan of what countries would travel to by combining our lists. Then we created a budget – again, using Excel! Creating budgets and planning expenses were a key part of our corporate life, and that skill really helped make our dreams a reality. Also, both Cindy and I traveled for work, so international travel wasn’t a big, scary leap for us. Plus we had LOTS of airline miles to use for our trip – that really helped out with our travel budget. So our work turned out to be a big enabler for us to live our dream of traveling full-time.
What surprised you the most about yourself during your travels?
[singlepic=1793,200,,,right]When you travel long-term, you learn that things will just work out and you learn to let go of what you think should be your “plans”. Early on in our travels, when we didn’t understand how we were going to get from point A to point B, or how we were going to find that bus we needed to be on, the ambiguity would often stress me out. We were used to having our precious vacation time – one or two weeks – planned out completely. Long-term travel is very different, and for Americans letting go of the minute-by-minute travel planning can be hard. But by the end of our trip, I had a different level of acceptance of those situations and an attitude that no matter what, things would work themselves out. It was all part of the adventure!
How was your experience returning home? Did you struggle with reverse culture shock?
I don’t think I struggled with reverse culture shock coming home – in fact in the couple of months before I started working I really enjoyed reconnecting with friends and family. But the first few weeks back in a corporate environment were particularly challenging. I no longer thought of myself as a “cubicle” person. I particularly missed my time on the road and interacting with new people. You interact with people differently in a work environment – even though I work with a variety of cultures, everyone is conforming to the Corporate work environment. It was a difficult transition.
Reflecting on your career break, what insight have you gained?
I feel I understand other cultures better – at my current company there are people from many different cultures – and I feel that my understanding of their countries and backgrounds and my cultural experiences have helped me better connect to people at work. When people hear that I have visited their home country – something many of them don’t expect – there is a different level of camaraderie.
What was it like trading in your backpack for your briefcase again?
I had a lot of mixed emotions. On one hand I was starting to miss the mental stimulation that I feel work provides, and I was starting to miss the idea of having a home base somewhere that truly felt like home. On the other hand, I wanted to continue traveling – seeing new places and experiencing different cultures. Once a traveler, always a traveler!
How are you going to apply lessons learned from your experience to your life now?
[singlepic=1795,300,,,right]Looking back at our planning before we left on our trip – we booked our camper van for New Zealand (our first destination) a full six months in advance, along with our plane tickets – we didn’t need to do that and didn’t save any money over just finding a good deal when we arrived. We have learned how to travel on the cheap – and how often it pays to wait until you are in a country to make a plan, because likely it will change once you get there, learn more about the country and talk to other travelers. Plus you have more adventures along the way and see places you didn’t plan on, all because you kept your travel plans flexible. I plan to travel more spontaneously than have before – even on shorter trips.
Secondly, I want to maintain my involvement with charitable foundations, both ones we interacted with during our travels and also ones closer to home. I was having lunch with a colleague the other day, who happens to be of Indian descent. He asked me “What do you think the biggest problem in the world is moving forward?” and I answered “Access to clean water”. I would never have had that perspective if we hadn’t traveled extensively. Even seeing what I’ve seen with my own eyes, watching people wash their clothes in the same water they drink – while we, because we could afford to, drank bottled water – there are things that you never think about if you don’t travel to many countries. Being involved in projects and charities that improve living conditions for those less fortunate and with fewer resources than we have is now a priority than me.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of making a career break?
I would say, “Go for it!” unequivocally. You will never regret your time away from the work world. But make sure your finances are in order first. Have a budget and be sure to plan to have money in reserve for “re-entry” so you have time and funds to settle back into life – whatever you choose that to be!