Re-Entry

You've had an inspirational, exciting adventure, but now that you're back, what do you do next? No matter how long your break was, you still may want to utilize the Briefcase to Backpack community as you experience reverse culture shock, decide your next steps, and reflect upon your career break.

Check out articles in the following categories:
Reflection | Reverse Culture Shock | Next Steps



Recent Posts

What to Expect When You Return Home From Travel
Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

 


Expect culture shock.

Expect struggles.

Expect feeling a bit lost.

Expect to have people not understand.

Expect that you will be changed.

Expect to be patient with yourself.

Expect that you will be happy to see friends and family.

Expect that you will have no regrets.

Coming back home is not always easy. There are a few pieces of advice we can provide you, but until you live it, it’s hard to say how you will feel about returning. We’ve been collecting career breaker re-entry stories for years now – you can find them here in our Re-entry section.  Or simply bookmark it and read them when you return home – I’m pretty sure you will be able to relate to these other career breakers in many ways.  Each person’s experience is unique. However there are some things that hold pretty constant for all career breakers.

Reverse Culture Shock

Yes, even though you are returning to your home culture after experiencing many new different cultures, you still will be in some stage of shock. Odds are that the first time you walk back into a grocery store in North America you may be thrilled to be there, but you will also be a bit dazed and confused with all of the choices.

After JoAnna Haugen was gone in the Peace Corps for an extended period of time, she talks about how she combats the shock of being home.

Travel Changes You

Travel is a great way to learn more about yourself, in addition to world cultures. And as Paul Milton shares, the experience will certainly change you – for the better.

Craft Your Environment Again

It’s important to surround yourself by people who’ve gone through a similar experience and love travel. Remember the support group you identified while in the planning stages? They are still your support group and understand the same struggles that you may face when you return.

It’s helpful to stay active in Meet Plan Go events and the online traveler community – helping others who are planning their breaks provide you an outlet to share all of the knowledge you gained.  In fact – we recommend that when you return you hop on over to the traveler community again and update your profile with your latest travel accomplishments and be there to encourage and help others plan their career break.  It’s a great way to ‘pay it forward’.  

And be warned…there will be people who aren’t very interested in hearing stories about your travels. Learn to identify them before you bore them to death and find people who do want to hear them.

RE-ENTRY REFERENCES

It’s important it is to take time to process the emotions, questions, and concerns that come up after a career break abroad.  Here’s some tips on how:

>> How to Make Processing Part of the Re-entry Process

>> The Ultimate Guide To Coming Home

>>Reverse Culture Shock – Dealing With It Without Spreading It

What A Career Break is Really Like
Thursday, August 1st, 2013

Before leaving the United States for my 11-month journey around the world, I figured I would ultimately work in corporate sales when I returned. For nearly seven years leading up to my journey, I’d worked as a recruiter and communicator, and I have some connections in the field, so it made sense to me.

After six years of planning, I turned 30, left my job, packed up my house and left the country. It’s a decision that’s shaped my life indelibly, just as any traveler will tell you. But the truth is, it was tough for me. For all the incredible experiences, there were also challenges, frustrations and hard times.

Discomfort, Uncertainty, and Responsibility

With long-term travel comes discomfort, uncertainty and ultimate responsibility for everything that goes on in your life, which is always the case of course, but when you’re at home you might have people who help you out – make you dinner, give you a ride, or buy you a ticket to the game. Plenty of people are willing to help you out while you’re traveling – an incredible amount actually – but it’s not something you can count on like close friends or family. It’s different. And being truly on your own, in a strange country without hotel reservations or signs in English, can be uncomfortable.

Being disconnected may have its merits, but it wore me down over the months. Granted, I was connected to the Internet more days than not. I could email, Skype, Facebook, and connect to my friends and family most of the time. But everyone is still back home, and you’re still out there.

You miss the things you love doing the most. For me it was playing and watching sports. I was able to watch a fair amount of sports truthfully, but watching the NFL in Portuguese is not exactly sitting on the couch with your bros drinking beer. And outside of skiing, playing football, softball, volleyball, basketball, and golf – each once over the 11 months, plus one tragic international cricket debut – there were not a lot of sports for me (that might sound like a lot, but in reality, it’s less than one sport every six weeks for a guy who normally plays some type of sport two to five days a week, at a minimum).

Mostly, it was about always having to figure it out – where am I going next, how am I getting there, who am I meeting, where am I going to sleep, how am I going to eat, and what am I going to do when I get there. What am I going to do right NOW? It’s all on you. On top of that, you always have to be cautious about your money, as there are always people grinding you down – asking you for money, trying to hustle and sell you crap, you name it. Many of these people you end up being friends with after all, but it becomes tiresome.

These and other challenges made it tough sometimes, but they made me stronger. Traveling is almost as much about working on yourself as it is seeing the world. You figure it all out. You learn the ropes and toughen up. And you learn some things in the process, about the world and about yourself.

Is it Worth It?

After all that it sounds like traveling sucks! That’s not true at all. The challenges are easy in comparison to what you get out of traveling. There is no greater education or experience, and you might never really discover the real you until you travel.

So was it worth it?

Absolutely. I would do it a thousand out of a thousand times, 100%. It was my life’s great adventure. No matter what happens, I’ll always have that, and I’ll absolutely never regret it.

I returned to the US in December of 2012. Somewhere along the way I decided against climbing the corporate ladder. Instead, I’ve started a company with my best friend and business partner while writing a book about my trip around the world. It’s interesting; most travelers I know or read about tend to go their own way after their adventures. It must be something about freedom.

If you’ve ever thought about traveling, do yourself a great favor and just go. Anywhere. Make immediate plans and set a firm date. Be resolute. If you think about the reasons not to go you’ll find plenty, but they’re all meaningless once you make the decision to do it.

Chris Healy Biography

In a series of planned moves, Chris left his job of seven years in December of 2011, embarking on his 11-month, 6-continent, 28-country adventure around the world. His journey focused on Growth, Connection, Service and Fitness.

Chris returned to the United States in December of 2012, moving to San Diego, CA where he’s started a creative/design/marketing studio with his friend and business partner. Chris writes about fitness and the road to personal success, while also working on a book about his world adventure.

Visit Chris’ blog at www.followchris.me.

Mourning the Loss of the Journey
Thursday, July 11th, 2013

I walk through the arrivals gate at the airport late one evening, a practice I have completed time and again over the past year, but this time it’s entirely different.  This time there isn’t another destination close in my future or a hostel to find in the middle of the night.  This time the airport is entirely familiar:  the art installations, the signage, the advertisements showing off familiar products with new labels and updated logos…  After 15 months, there should be some elation that comes with my re-entry. I should feel excited to be home.  I feel jittery and nervous… oddly lost.  Everything feels comfortably familiar and alarmingly foreign at once.  Welcome back.  This is home.  I live here.

Fifteen months ago I left on an extended trip with my husband.   We had a rough idea of the direction we were going to travel and an even rougher timeline. We had estimated our trip solely on the size of our savings account, with the help of an online travel calculator.  We’d been planning to give this a go for years, never knowing if we’d be able to save enough or be willing to take the plunge and actually go for it.  But against all the adversity that arises in a monolithic adventure like this, we were able to pull it together.  The easiest part was jumping on that first plane.

Perhaps the hardest part was coming home.

Nevertheless, our trip was the single best thing I could have done. Now that we’re home, things are a bit confusing and we haven’t quite pulled our lives back together.  It takes more time than I anticipated.  We’re living with family, working side jobs while seeking more permanent employment, and catching up with old friends.  We laugh, we adjust, and we worry sometimes.  But nothing can take away what we’ve accomplished.  You won’t find us regretting a thing about our decision to travel.

Our travels through 22 countries, including a boat ride over the Atlantic, were extraordinary.  People at home thought we were crazy.  The feelings of freedom, self-discovery and empowerment were astounding.  We discovered new foods in Cambodia, dove the barrier reefs in Australia and Belize, stayed in tiny thatched huts in Malaysia, and learned native dance in Guatemala.  We worked at an Italian cooking school in New Zealand, surfed the infamous waves in Bali, and tasted prosciutto in Spain.

Every day was about new experiences, brilliant colors, and laughable moments. Now that I’m back, sometimes life just feels like everything went to beige after a year in a rainbow. My experiences abroad broke down both personal and cultural barriers for me.  I learned how to communicate without using language, how to let go of my need to control things, how to quickly adapt, and how to thrive in unfamiliar territory.  In many ways it was the perfect preparation for coming home; I am stronger, more willing to adapt, and seem to take things as they come.  I worry, but not all that much.  We know ourselves well enough now to know that we’ll land on our feet.  More than anything, I just miss being out in the world.  I miss the adventure, the confusion, the uncertainty, the mind-boggling views and the tiny villages… In a way I feel more at home out in the midst of it than when sitting in a familiar living room.  That realization is weird to me.

My initial re-entry was so much less shocking than I had thought it would be.  That first night at home didn’t bring on the stress of reverse culture shock in the way many had warned me about.  Things felt almost normal, oddly normal.  It started out with general observations more than anything else. We scooped up magazines we hadn’t seen in a year, ate citrus from the farmer’s market, and drank coffee from the little place on a corner we use to frequent.  The sidewalks seemed impeccably clean, a 6-lane freeway looked enormous, drinking water from the tap was a luxury, and finding that every house and business had plumbing came as a shock.  Grocery stores were a maze of new products and old standbys.  We were thrilled at seeing our favorite local cheese, and we devoured tacos from the best cart in downtown. Throughout our first few weeks back, it was the little things that got us the most: no food was spicy enough; public transportation ran on an actual schedule, ice cream flavors were so ‘normal’… These insights are comedy; they offer little smiles throughout the day, they are mementos from our travels that sneak up on us daily.

The knowledge I come away from this trip with personifies everything I wish for humanity—everything I wish we understood about each other and everything I strive to understand myself.  Lately I feel like I have been mourning the loss of my journey.  Many people will say that to travel long term is to become desensitized to what you see or what you experience, but for me this couldn’t be farther from the truth.  I was aware of the sanctity of every hour of my trip—the long bus rides, the frustrating travel days, the language confusion and the angered border crossings—even in the most aggressive of situations I was still elated to be in that moment. I now harbor experiences that few can completely comprehend and fewer make effort to understand.  It is something I strain to find the words for, but my soul has grown wiser because of it.

Seeing the world has become my muse, and the brilliance is that no matter how much I try, I will never run out of it.  The world is too big, to dense, and too varied to ever be fully discovered.  For us, there is peace-of-mind in that, because no matter how life changes here, there will always be an adventure out there waiting.

To learn more about re-entry, check out the following articles:

 

Stacey Rapp and Dave Roberts love hiking, scuba diving, cooking, and of course, traveling.  They decided to take a career break after years of planning imaginary trips on a world map taped up on their living room wall. Now back in the US, they have relocated to San Jose, California from Portland, Oregon for work.  They are busy unpacking boxes and getting reacquainted with their cat, Baja.  The couple documented their travels on their blog, Breakfast on Earth, and they look forward to adding more posts whenever the next adventure comes around.

Reverse Culture Shock: Dealing With It Without Spreading It
Friday, May 31st, 2013

You’ve just returned from a life-changing adventure around the world, where every day brought you something new and exciting to experience. You can’t believe how much you’ve accomplished in such a short period of time, yet the second you walk through the door to your home, it feels like you never left, as everything looks the same.

And that feeling is only enhanced when you meet up with family and friends, as it may seem as if nothing has really changed with them either. But you have changed, and you’re not sure what to make of the roller coaster of emotions you’re feeling. You, my friend, are experiencing reverse culture shock.

You’ll be happy to know that you’re not alone. Just about every traveler experiences it in some variation (including our very own Sherry Ott). And although it’s not contagious, you can spread it to non-travelers. Here are some tips on how to deal with Reverse Culture Shock without spreading your anxiety, and even depression, to those around you.

(more…)

How to Deal with Reverse Culture Shock
Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

Springtime in London

The day was bound to come: your career break is over and you are headed home for the first time in months, maybe even years. You are returning from a life-changing adventure, where every day brought something new and exciting, and you are proud of all you accomplished.

And then you get off the plane and everything feels familiar, yet different. You walk through the door to your home and it feels like you never left. You stroll around your neighborhood and everything looks the same.

That feeling is only enhanced when you meet up with family and friends, as it may seem as if nothing has really changed with them either. But you have changed, and you’re not sure what to make of the roller coaster of emotions you’re feeling. You are experiencing reverse culture shock.

You’ll be happy to know that you’re not alone. Just about every traveler experiences it in some variation (including our very own Sherry Ott). What can you do to make the transition easier?

Make it a two-way conversation

Coming home can be a selfish act. It can be easy to assume that everyone wants to hear about your trip and all the exciting things you encountered. But don’t forget that they were living a life as well – make it a two-way conversation. Don’t make your friends or family members feel as if their lives are any less relevant because they didn’t travel – even if they insist that their lives have been “boring” compared to yours.

One way to make this transition easier is to stay up on what they were doing while traveling. You may have started a blog to allow family and friends to follow along with your journey, but make sure the communication is a two-way street. Schedule Skype dates, stay in touch by email, take advantage of instant messaging and follow their updates on Facebook. And don’t be offended if loved ones don’t keep up with your blog – it doesn’t mean they don’t care; thy may just not feel like they can relate.

Be careful of sharing too much information too fast

When someone asks you the general question “how was your trip?,” you may be tempted to go into every detail – from the tree-climbing goats you searched out in Morocco to the baby goats you fed by bottle staying in a village in Thailand. But for the most part, you’ll find that most people ask the same few questions.

Sherry Ott found that preparing some quick answers to the questions people wanted to hear was very helpful. She even created a Reflection By Numbers list so that should could quickly reference some fun facts, like how many bodies of water she dipped her toes in (10), the number of overnight trains she took (10), and the number of photos she had taken after editing (11,868).

And be aware that others might be jealous of you. In her post on Vagabondish, “How to Survive Reverse Culture Shock”, Amanda Kendle warns:

Be careful not to drop your travel tales into too many conversations. After traveling pretty widely, I know I’m guilty of this at times, and there is a clear reaction from some people if I begin a story with “When I was on the Trans-Siberian …,” which seems like one of jealousy. Not everybody has the same opportunity as you to travel abroad, but they might want to – so be sensitive about who you discuss your experiences with.

Try to introduce your friends to new cultures at home

Many travelers can get depressed after returning home from around-the-world travels, finding life at home less than stimulating. Matthew Kepnes put it best in his post, “The Joy of Coming Home”:

Back home, boredom can happen pretty fast if you don’t keep yourself busy. On the road you move around everyday but there is a certain static-ness that comes with being back home. Even if you keep yourself busy, returning home can be a little underwhelming sometimes.

It’s easy to start complaining to friends and family about how boring home is, but they may feel as if you are calling them boring as well. And your cultural adventures don’t have to end as soon as the plane touches down on the tarmac. Seek out restaurants, events, museums and other activities in your area that can make you feel as if you are still abroad. And better yet, invite some of your friends or family along so they can get a taste of what you experienced.

Make new friends

Your career break experience has changed you and while you may return home hoping to reconnect with your old friends, you may find it easier to seek out new friends – fellow travelers who understand who you are now. Caz Makepeace advised in her post, Dealing with Reverse Culture Shock:

Accept that you are not the same. You see things with different eyes and people may not recognize this anymore. Understand that is okay. Remain true to who you are. And if it means that some friendships change as a result then so be it. Things change, it is the nature of life.

Spend time with those who accept the new you and start making new friends. We joined the Sydney Travel Tribes group which is full of travellers who understand us. It always feels comfortable and easy to be with them. I still enjoy hanging out with my closest friends, but it’s nice to be a different me with others as well.

So keep in mind that adjusting to life back home will take some time. As long as you are aware of the signs of reverse culture shock, the better prepared you will be to deal with it.

How I Found a Job After Taking a Career Break to Travel
Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

Without a doubt, my biggest fear when I quit my job to take a career break to travel was whether I would be able to find a job again upon my return.  The fear plagued me throughout my thirteen months on the road. Not a week went by that I didn’t worry to some extent about what I was going to do next.

I started my job search early – and unless you have enough money in the bank to get you by for several months after you return, I recommend you do the same. With two months to go before I would return to the United States, I signed up for job alerts, updated my resume and started applying for jobs. I made it clear when I would be back in the country and that I was available in the meantime to speak via Skype. Indeed, I did two Skype interviews while I was still on the road.

I was alternately overconfident and insecure as I plunged into my job search. I only budgeted for two months’ worth of living expenses after my return, thinking that if I started early, I would surely find something within a couple months. When I got my first Skype interview, I had visions of doing an in-person interview as soon as I landed in Chicago and being back to work within a couple weeks.  Unfortunately, it didn’t go so well and my hopes were dashed. Then my anxiety grew as I sent out resume after resume with no response – not even for the jobs that seemed to be a perfect fit!

Back in the United States, I focused on three main areas in my job search. I long thought I wanted to pursue a job in travel after my trip, so I looked at a variety of travel company jobs. I could also see myself combining my professional background in event planning and fundraising with my international interests by working for an internationally-focused non-profit.  Finally, I knew I had the experience to land a job back in my old field, working at another law school or university. I customized my resume for each area and tailored my cover letter for each position to which I applied. I also started networking like crazy, reaching out to friends and former colleagues, looking to make new contacts wherever I could.

It wasn’t long before I started getting calls for initial phone interviews – primarily for the jobs in my old field, but also one for a tour company and one for a non-profit with a bit of an international angle. Before I knew it, I was juggling multiple interviews and my confidence was through the roof. I got an offer for a job with a tour company exactly a month after I returned from my trip, but while I once thought such a position was my dream job, I made the tough decision to turn it down – the pay was too low, the benefits non-existent and overall, it just wasn’t what I thought it would be.

I soon realized that the process can take a long time. I got a call in mid-October about a job I applied for back in August.  I had rounds of interviews spread out over two months.  Employers don’t necessarily review resumes and start contacting people immediately after posting a job and once they do, trying to coordinate schedules among candidates and multiple interviewers can take a lot of time.

More importantly, I never got the impression that my career break was much of a factor – good or bad.

While some interviewers commented on it (“that’s cool”), no one asked many questions and some didn’t even realize I wasn’t currently employed – they just saw my previous job at the top of my resume and assumed I was still there. I was still attractive to employers in my old field because I had the exact experience they desired. On the other hand, aside from the offer for my so-called dream job, I didn’t have much luck with the internationally-focused positions I desired. There were several positions that made me say “yes, that is exactly what I want to do,” but I got nowhere with those. While my international experience could have been seen as a bonus, it wasn’t enough to make up for other skills or experience that I lacked.

In the end, I was invited to interview for about one-third of the jobs I pursued and ultimately received 5 job offers within 3 months of returning.  I know I am extremely fortunate to have had so many options, but I also think I positioned myself as well as I possibly could have.  I started early, did a lot of research, customized every cover letter and resume, and approached the whole process with a positive attitude. I really enjoyed networking and interviewing and learning about all of the options that were out there. Sure, I didn’t end up where I thought I would, but I’m thrilled to be bringing in a regular paycheck again while gaining valuable experience and preparing myself for whatever comes next.

Katie Aune quit her fundraising job in 2011 to spend a year traveling and volunteering throughout the former Soviet Union and is now back at work as the director of alumni engagement for a law school in Chicago. You can read about her travels, job search and re-entry experience on KatieGoingGlobal.com or follow her on Twitter at @katieaune.

Making a Permanent Escape
Monday, October 29th, 2012

For months, people asked me, “what will this do to your career?

I was tired of answering the question. I knew there was another path for me. But I was scared of removing the proverbial golden handcuffs. In 2009, I was a seventh year associate on partnership track at the largest law firm in the world. After a severe bout of tendonitis, all thanks to what is known as “document review” in the legal biz, I was sure I needed a change.

At the time, though, I felt lost. I wasn’t sure what I wanted. I wasn’t sure that I could walk away from the title that was almost within my reach. My husband, Eric, and I considered putting all of our belongings in a few suitcases and moving to Spain or Italy to live life more slowly, to savor food and wine, to enjoy each other and our life together. At the time, though, we weren’t ready for so permanent a change. And so the decision to travel the world for a year evolved. Our friends termed it the “Master Plan.” Little did we know then what our Master Plan would ultimately become.

Making the decision was the easy part. Telling my boss about the Master Plan? Not so fun. Still, I found the courage and waltzed into his office one morning and asked him if I could take a leave of absence. He was pretty stunned and requested that I stay until the end of a big project. Let me translate that. The big project could have delayed me for 18 to 24 months. I considered this option, knowing that 24 months could turn into four years, knowing that there would always be some reason to stay.

It was time to jump, to take a risk. After months of discussion and negotiation I was told I could take a leave of absence, with qualifications. I quit my job with an understanding that I was leaving on good terms and would need to reapply if I wanted to return in a year. My job was not waiting for me when I returned. Although some partners continue to sell my leave to naive young law students as a “sabbatical,” they’ve got it all wrong. I had to quit, remember?

After 14 months of traveling through Australia, New Zealand, Asia, South America, and Europe, I emailed my boss and expressed my interest in returning to the firm, my interest in willingly putting the golden handcuffs back on. I was good at my job. I thought this would be easy. I was wrong. I was forced to run the gamut, interviewing with over 20 different attorneys, many of whom I knew intimately.

Although they ultimately made me an offer, I was “punished” for taking time off. They decreased my associate class year and salary. But on the bright side, I was back on partner track, and, most importantly, was employed after 14 months out of the game. The “sabbatical” seemed to have little effect on my “long term” career. They would still allow me to practice law for another 20 or 30 years. Lucky me! In just one month, I was sailing back into my “normal” life. Or so I thought.

[W]e always know which is the best road to follow, but we follow only the road that we have become accustomed to.” – Paulo Coelho

In the end, my biggest problem was readjusting to the monotony of my day-to-day – taking the Metro, sitting at the same desk every day, eating at the same boring restaurants in my “faux urban” neighborhood, and dealing with friends who just did not understand my fascination with seeing the world, with pursuing a different life, the right life for me. I had only been to 40 countries. There was so much more to see and experience!

Another Escape? Already?

Eric and I realized quickly that we were unhappy – call it Life ADD. We started to save our money and live more simply. My hope was to make partner and stay for another 5 years. But I lasted just a little over two. I was thirty days from making partner and still walked away. Why? Because I was working crazy hours, counting days until I found the courage to quit or collapsed from the exhaustion and stress. What’s worse, I was bored. And so I did quit.

Today, Eric and I are off on the road again, having just started our second round-the-world (RTW) adventure. This time it is a permanent one. Our first trip whet our appetite for adventure – a more simple life, with new and unique experiences every day. It also made it blatantly clear that we are free spirits, destined to settle somewhere outside of the United States and outside of the predictable life. Most importantly, it helped me to discover that I don’t belong in an office.

When I left the firm for the second time, my boss, management, and HR told me that I could return whenever I pleased. I am not sure quite how sincere that was, but it is nice to know that it was offered. Will I ever go back to the rat race? I doubt it. We have a nest egg and wanderlust, and we will keep traveling until we find someplace where Life ADD is a farfetched proposition. We are not on the “Master Plan 2.” This time, it’s a “Life Plan.” I am certain of one thing. I never want to sit in a sterile office under fluorescent lights for 60 or 70 hours a week again!

After 10 years as an attorney, Amber Hoffman left her job at the largest law firm in the world and decided to start living her life. She is now a recovering tax lawyer, traveling the world with her husband, exploring Europe, Latin America, and ultimately settling into a happy existence somewhere in Asia, where her passion really lies, outside the law. You can read more about her travels on With Husband in Tow or follow her on Twitter as @ashworldtravel.

Ghosts of Sabbaticals Past
Monday, September 3rd, 2012

Sometimes, when I walk past the hallway closet, I swear I can hear my hiking boots whisper.

We used to be your daily companion, don’t you love us anymore?”

You see, I have neglected my hiking boots in recent months. It’s been about eight months since I last paid any attention to them. They lay there patiently, covered in a mixture of caked-on sand from Namib dessert, muddy speckles from Kilimanjaro, dusty patina from the Great Wall, reminding me of this adventurous woman I had become during my career break.

I came home to New York City in November of 2011 after 9 months of travel that took me through mainly Africa and Asia. New York is home for me and I can honestly say that I appreciate this city so much more now than I did before. The assortment of cultures in New York is the reason why.

My new career is in real estate- I’m not someone that particularly enjoys sitting in a cubicle for 9 hours a day. I need to be moving, meeting people and doing something. Besides, I have always been fascinated with the variety of homes in NYC and I enjoy meeting new people, so this career is an ideal choice at this stage in my life. However, it sadly does not require my hiking boots at all!

Thankfully, here in New York,  I can be reminded each day of what a great international city this is. When I stroll through Harlem and spot the Kilimanjaro Restaurant on 116th Street- and I feel an amazing sense of pride. Climbing “Kili” is no longer just an item on my wish list, I was actually was there in the flesh and I climbed it!

On the West Side I see the mural of an elephant in the Natural History Museum subway stop, I reflect first on how completely out of scale it is and then that the mural simply does not do any justice whatsoever to the true majesty and grace of an elephant! But for a split second or two a can feel as though I’m in Botswana’s Chobe National Park. I know the thrill first hand of being just inches away from one of these creatures, and for a few minutes I feel that I’m there.

Now I understand so clearly why people call it a travel bug. I definitely have it and can’t kick it- nor do I want to. I have become determined to find a way to make a trip like this happen again. Why? Solo long-term travel gave me the ultimate sense of freedom. I finally felt alive for the first time in a long time. As a traveler, I could let go of any and all pretense and be myself in the truest form, without the makeup and suit and fancy handbag. It forced me to push my limits mentally, physically, psychologically, and even gastronomically!

It’s as if I had grown wings for nine months and could truly fly. That’s a great feeling! It was not hard for me to decide that I would need to structure my life in a way that would allow me to travel long-term again at some time in the future. Solo adventure travel is way too exciting to only do it once in a lifetime!

While I work in real estate, I have decided to invest in reshaping and redefining my blog InternationalButterfly.com. I am also working on a small business idea that would enable me the freedom to perhaps not travel for nine months at a time, but that would allow me to take a one month journey from time to time. My ultimate goal for this phase of my life is the location independent lifestyle.

Perhaps I’m just experiencing adrenaline withdrawal, but I find that I’m a curious person. I need to explore new things- not just within this city but also on a global scale! I am determined to create a mobile lifestyle that will allow me to work from anywhere on the planet that has a half decent Internet connection.

I look forward to the day when I can strap on my hiking boots once again!

Sonia Virtue was born in London, but has lived in New York since the age of eight. After 15 years in sales and marketing, she saw her daughter off to college and took a career break in March 2011. She spent 9 months traveling from Nairobi to Cape Town, Portugal, Spain, South Korea, China, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos.  You can read about her travels at  InternationalButterfly.com.

5 Things to Expect When Returning Home
Monday, July 9th, 2012

Nothing can prepare you for the emotional rollercoaster of returning home after a sabbatical or career break. Even those of you who have done the research, reading the posts and the warnings, will be in for a surprise. You tell yourself that everything will be peachy-keen on the way home. And, for your sake, I hope you are right.

For those of us who have a less-than-peachy homecoming, I give you the following: A few realistic things to expect when returning home.

1. Travel Depression

It starts off as a nagging feeling in your head and heart, telling you that you are missing out on adventures while you are back at home. Your day-to-day falls back into a routine, lacking the discovery of yourself, new people, and new places. You’re adrenaline isn’t pumping like it did before- but all of this can be overcome.

One of the things that we found imperative to combat this is to give yourself a few days to hide out when you get home. Life went on while you are gone, a few extra days is not going to be the end of the world for your family and friends.

This time allows for decompression, de-stressing, and time to sort out the feelings you have about being home already. We sequestered ourselves in with our best friends in Phoenix, Arizona. This time was a “No Judgement” time filled with movies, video games, and beer. While this may not be everyone’s cup of tea, find what makes you happy and participate in it. The buffer will help you adjust for what is next.

2. Reverse Culture Shock

After being gone so long you would not believe how much you have accepted the terms and customs of the cultures you have visited. If you have spent a lot of time in third world countries, it can be especially bad.

Shaun and I had spent a year traveling through Central and South America. Towards the end of the trip we spend 6 weeks in Bolivia – one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere – and grew to love it. We learned how to navigate through outdoor markets and really started to connect with the community aspect of shopping for food.

When we returned to the States we were in shock and awe the first time we went into our neighborhood supermarket. Not only was it MASSIVE but I almost had a small panic attack when looking for butter as I was barraged by a wall of 25 different kinds. I sat there for a good 5 minutes trying to make up my mind. It was only when my husband came to find me to tell me he couldn’t pick a box of macaroni and cheese because there were 17 types that I realized what a predicament we were in.

3. Not everyone wants to hear your stories

The instinctual icebreaker when someone sees you for the first time after your return is almost always “How was your trip?” But many of those people are really looking for simple, one word answers. Although, it is usually quite apparent when someone actually wants to hear about your experience.

Needless to say, I was a bit surprised that very few people really wanted to hear about my life changing career break/sabbatical. I found that it helps to either come up with an intriguing one word answer to get them to ask more questions or make sure you have a support group that is willing to listen to you. Going to travel tweetups and local Couchsurfing events definitely cures this issue. Surround yourself with like minded people that do want to know and understand that family and friends sometimes just don’t understand what you went through.

4. People will have moved on with their lives without you

You are going to have to expect it. While you spent some length of your life volunteering in orphanages or walking through Patagonian glaciers, they kept living their lives at home.

Keep in mind that while you have changed, so have many of them. I think that was the hardest one for me to realize. People have had children, gotten promotions, turned vegetarian, bought new houses, etc. They won’t always be able to instantly make time in their lives for you again. It takes a bit to figure out where you fit in the big picture. This adds to the travel depression mentioned above.

5. It takes time to get used to things again

This is especially prevalent if you were in different cultures without access to the same things you had at home. You will revel in air conditioning, feel awkward about carrying a cell phone, stress out over how quickly things move back home, or like me, take weeks to stop deciding whether or not I should throw the toilet paper in the trash can or the toilet.

Luckily this one passes the quickest and you will be surprised how grateful you are about the small things in your lives – like dryers. I love hot, dry clothes. Apparently the rest of the world doesn’t use them. Who knew?

Not this girl.


The sooner you realize what emotions you are feeling when you return, the easier the transition will be back into your life at home. While the road is definitely not going to be an easy one, be assured by the fact that your recent experiences have helped prepare you for everything life can throw at you – even this.

Erica Kushel is 1/2 of the team at Over Yonderlust. After a year of backpacking and taking part in photographic delights in Central and South America, they are currently planning their next adventure: Iceland and Europe.

Travel Makes Better Executives
Monday, May 14th, 2012

As a long term traveler on sabbatical, I am occasionally asked, “Are you concerned about coming back to work?  How will you explain the large gap in your resume?

Each time this question is posed, I calmly reply “of course not.” As the months have passed, some of the lessons I’ve learned are easier to articulate than others. Nevertheless, here are five skills that I have tuned while traveling. I am sure that these skills will make me a more confident executive leader and apply to other travelers as well.

Separate the Wheat from the Chaff

At some point every executive has had to make a decision with less information than would be considered prudent. In a complex business environment, executives need strong analytical skills for sure, but the best leaders regularly listen to their intuition. As Malcom Gladwell describes in his book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, we do that by “thin-slicing,” using limited information to come to our conclusion.

In what Gladwell contends is an age of information overload, he finds that experts often make better decisions with snap judgments than they do with volumes of analysis. He also mentions that sometimes having too much information can interfere with the accuracy of a judgment, or a doctor’s diagnosis. This is commonly called Analysis paralysis.

The challenge is to sift through and focus on only the most critical information to make a decision. The other information may be irrelevant and confusing to the decision maker. Collecting more and more information, in most cases, just reinforces our judgment but does not help to make it more accurate.”

The book argues that intuitive judgment is developed by experience, training, and knowledge. Travelers thin-slice every time they choose to hire a tuk-tuk, accept a gift from a local, or share a drink with new friends.

Mystic Connection with Nature

Steven R. Covey wrote that “[e]very human has four endowments- self awareness, conscience, independent will and creative imagination. These give us the ultimate human freedom… The power to choose, to respond, to change.” Further, he shares that “[t]he way we see the problem is the problem.”

It follows then that with an awareness of the true nature of universal timeless principles, we can alter reality. As a traveler, you are frequently vulnerable. We can choose to see power in this vulnerability or we can find weakness. Specifically, vulnerability exposes us to scams, theft, and crime. Vulnerability also inspires a heightened sense of awareness and curiosity that helps us embody true “presence” or appreciation or our surroundings.

Super Human Hops

As a traveler you are often faced with unique situations leaving few resources at your disposal. Even the best planned itinerary can result in flight cancellations, unexpected bus delays, or an unforeseen arrival during a regional celebration or workforce strike.

Finding solutions to travel surprises expands confidence in out-of-the-box thinking, and reinforces creative problem solving skills.

Having the confidence to hurdle over unexpected challenges makes the difference between an average worker and an exceptional team contributor.

Stomp Out Insecurity

Until your team feels trusted, understood, valued, and enabled, synergistic results will remain elusive.

Insecurity is that feeling inside us that prevents us from becoming deeply empathic listeners. If we are to cultivate empowered teams which operate over the foundation of high trust relationships, deliver passionate contributions, and produce synergistic results – insecurity must be at a minimum.

Through an exposure to foreign religions, manners, and cultural norms we naturally gain an appreciation for varied cultural views. This appreciation shifts the fulcrum allowing increased understanding and reduced fear. By eliminating fear we can stomp out insecurity.

Multiple Perspectives

As mentioned earlier, empathic listening is critical to success in an interdependent reality. To achieve empathic communication at least one party must be engaged in seeing reality from multiple perspectives. It is only by reflecting content and feeling, accurately and completely, that communication barriers are replaced with profound understanding. Having awareness and being centered in compassion are the first two requirements for such understanding.

Travel long enough and you will eventually find yourself a sleep-deprived, under-fed traveler whose fate depends on the services of an under-paid, under-appreciated, and under-educated world citizen. In these scenarios, empathic communication will often make the difference between a seat on a train, a room in a hostel, or a bite to eat and utter frustration. Through necessity travelers develop empathic listening skills.

In the end, travel creates executives equipped to achieve synergistic results through heightened awareness, empathic communication, and out-of-the-box thinking. With practice, these individuals can be shown to make quality decisions given limited information. Now that’s a leader worth hiring!

Matthew K. Sharp is the co-founder of Inertia Interrupted and is currently trekking, volunteering, diving and photographing the world with his wife, Luz.  You can connect with him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

Career Break Guide Table of Contents