The Return Trip Starts Before You Leave
You have saved the money, your flight is booked and you have a vague idea of your itinerary. Perhaps it has been a year in the making or maybe it’s been three – either way, your career break is about to become a reality. You are finally leaving it all to travel the world!
But what about coming back?
While some career breakers decide to pursue location-independent lifestyles so they can keep traveling, many return home and jump back into the working world. If you think you’ll likely return, there are steps you can take before you leave home to make that re-entry a little bit easier.
First of all, dig deep and ask yourself – why are you going?
Are you running toward something or are you running away? (and it is perfectly okay to admit you are running away) Or are you simply strolling along, finally fulfilling a dream of traveling?
Now, why does it matter?
You will need a coherent narrative that you can use in an elevator speech or in heart-to-heart conversations with friends, family, and past and future employers.
If you are using your career break as a springboard for the next chapter in your life, think about what you are running toward. Do some research about the next gig and talk to people who are doing it and ask them how they might use a break – what would they learn? what would they do? Plan to incorporate “learning breaks” into your journey to build skills that you can use in the next phase.
On the other hand, are you running from a job that you hate or running from people who have made you miserable? Honestly debrief yourself (or ask some friends to help you). Separate the misery-making tasks, toxic work environments, people you neither liked nor understood, your commute, your cubicle, or your wacko supervisor so that your narrative is matter-of-fact and not whiney. If you are running from a bad relationship, know it, own it, and don’t whine about it.
It may be enough for you to say “I have always wanted to travel,” but other people will look to you for a story that makes sense to them. “I have always wanted to travel” needs substance -for example, “since I was a teenager, I have wanted to backpack across the Andes” or “since I began planning my retirement, I have thought about teaching English in countries of the former Soviet Union.” The more detail that you can provide to these people who will be alternately skeptical and supportive will help them understand you. Meet, Plan, Go! travel planning resources will add credibility to these conversations.
Finally, take concrete steps to ease your return.
♦ Keep a diary or write a blog. The discipline of daily writing will help you create your continuing narrative. What did you do? How did you arrange it? How did it work out? What did you learn?
♦ Keep a list of the people you meet, their contact information, and note the context of your meeting. You won’t be able to recreate this information after you get back.
♦ Connect with other travelers. Although you may be traveling alone, meeting up with other travelers along the way will give you important support, new ideas, and great stories.
♦ Stay connected with the folks at home. There will be some people with whom you stay in almost constant contact (family, close friends), but there are others with whom it would be wise to check in with occasionally:
♦ Your Mean Old Boss (particularly if you were fired or left on a bad note) should hear from you occasionally so that your accomplishment (planning and making this career break happen) will be top of mind when the inevitable reference check happens. You want to implant something positive into this person’s brain that may supplant whatever awkward departure you had.
♦ The personal and professional networks you left behind: Career services professionals, former colleagues, people you have identified who do work that you might want to do, people whose blogs have inspired you, people you have met along the road (see above), alumni groups (include fraternity/sorority/extra-curricular), religious organizations. Keep your “connections” radar setting on “high” throughout your Break.
♦ Prepare for re-entry conversations. People will want to know why you went and what you learned. They will ask right away, even before you have unpacked.
♦ Keep an up-to-date electronic copy of your resume on your laptop. You never know when someone will want it. Store it in the cloud (Google Docs or Dropbox, for example).
♦ Carefully describe your career break on your resume. Do not write a “backpacky” paragraph, which gives short shrift to an amazing year:
The Original Backpacky Paragraph: Do Not Do This
In 2012, I traveled through 20 countries, including studying Russian language in Russia and Ukraine and volunteering in Russia, Armenia and Tajikistan. Prior travel includes Australia, Egypt, Peru, Norway, the Czech Republic, Hungary and most of Western Europe.
The Revised Professional Approach
♦ Drafted fundraising proposal for new Visitor Information Center.
♦ Analyzed existing national tourism website and drafted proposal for new website.
♦ Prepared request for proposals to hire a developer for new tourism website.
International Education and Volunteer Experience
♦ Expanded cultural views and intercultural communication skills while volunteering and traveling over 13 months in 20 countries.
♦ Researched and created a detailed itinerary and saved for two years prior to departure.
♦ Tracked all expenses and maintained a daily budget.
♦ Studied Russian language in Russia and Ukraine.
♦ Studied Armenian language in Armenia.
♦ Taught English in Russia and Tajikistan.
♦ Created, launched and maintained the travel website, Your Blog.com.
♦ Contributed travel articles to leading travel websites and blogs.
Your Blog Name
♦ Edit and publish a travel website that averages 4,000 unique visitors and 10,00 page views per month.
♦ Write 3-5 articles for publication each week.
♦ Manage social media promotion and search engine optimization.
It doesn’t matter if you are running toward a new career, running away from an old one or just strolling along. Taking the steps to prepare for your eventual return before you ever board that first flight will make your re-entry just a tad bit smoother.
Of Susan Gainen’s 7 or 8 careers spanning 4 decades, she has spent more than 25 years as a career counselor. Currently a multiple entrepreneur (national career speaker, painter, cooking teacher), she has a wealth of experience and perspective on creating and managing unexpected careers. After nearly 2 decades as the director of career & professional development at the University of Minnesota Law School, Susan now lectures nationwide on career change and alternative careers for lawyers while providing a plethora of career-related advice on her blog, Pass the Baton. You can also follow her on Twitter as @PTBSusanGainen.