Featured Destinations

How the West Can Be Won
Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

Cost is an obvious, integral factor for those of us planning an overseas sabbatical.  You’ve already resolved to place your day job on pause, now it’s time to strike a balance between where you would like to visit and the amount of money it takes to get there.  While Western Europe rightfully holds an allure for all travelers, some of its more enticing cities tend to be the most prohibitively expensive.  It’s the reason we see few backpacks in Florence and a barrage in Luang Prabang; Southeast Asia is the affordable alternative, particularly when you’re sustaining yourself with US dollars.  But is it completely out of the question to be Euro-friendly?  On a recent trip to Berlin, I discovered that Western Europe can indeed make the shortlist for potential career break destinations.

There are few places in the world in which I believe the possibilities are infinite; Berlin is one of those cities.   Perhaps because certain areas appear under perpetual construction, or likely since there are invariant traces of its tumultuous past, Berlin exudes an energy that similarly sized cities notably lack.  From its trove of museums to a nightlife that puts New York’s to shame, the once-divided metropolis may sate whatever a traveler craves.  The fact that it is one of the least expensive cities in Western Europe makes it even more palatable for those seeking a bit of intrigue versus the steeply priced capitals. Food, housing, and transportation are a relative bargain when compared elsewhere within the EU; Berlin’s monthly metro/bus pass is $98, dinner and drinks runs around $50 for two, and a private flat in the city’s most convenient and compelling neighborhoods can be had for $40 per night.  You won’t reside in a lap of luxury, though that usually isn’t one’s intent when embarking on a sabbatical in the first place.

As I’m sure it will take some convincing, here’s a snapshot as to how Berlin can be your private and economical European playground:

Expense-Free Exploration

Anything pertaining to World War II is free of charge.  The Holocaust Memorial should be at the top of your list as the museum provides context for all European nations who were affected by the Nazis, while its exterior, undulating slabs of concrete are a site in and of themselves.   The former SS Headquarters, now known as the Topography of Terror, along with the Resistance Museum (think “Valkyrie”) are likewise of interest, as is the lesser-known Museum Otto Weidt, the namesake of which is attributed to a man who hired blind Jews at his factory and successfully saved them from deportation through 1943.  Also notable is the East Side Gallery, the longest remaining portion of the Wall covered in commissioned art for ¾ of a mile, while the Tränenpalast is a former border crossing that today exhibits East/West checkpoint complexities.

Note: If you need a respite from Berlin’s varied past and happen to be in town on a Tuesday, free concerts are held each week at 1pm at the city’s Philharmonic.

Cut-Rate Transportation

As mentioned earlier, a monthly pass in Berlin costs roughly $98 and covers S-Bahn, U-Bahn, and bus services.  Those who prefer to have a late start while on break should instead opt for the “Wide-Awake” monthly pass ($72), the primary difference that it may only be used between 10am-3am Monday through Friday, with all day/night continuing to apply on weekends.

Thrifty Fine Dining

On my recent jaunt I devised a gastronomic tour that encompassed any and all cuisines.  Henne, a traditional “wirtshaus” in Kreuzberg, is the frontrunner as it serves remarkable roasted chicken along with kraut salad and wine for $26.  Close seconds are Monsieur Vuong, a trendy Vietnamese spot in Mitte that I’d recommend for lunch and dinner (appetizer + entrée + drinks for one = $23), and the inventive Rosa Caleta, a Jamaican joint where I dined on a jerk platter and crispy snapper (plus drinks = $32).  For Italian enthusiasts, Muret La Barba is an inviting wine bar where the host stood at his Mac and obligingly translated the German-only menu (homemade linguine + wine = $16).   Schöneberg’s Bejte is another top contender, offering excellent Ethiopian fare that ran three of us $64, while W-Der Imbiss specializes in an array of appetizing naan pizzas ($8-10) that range from guacamole to olive tapenade.  For a meal on the go, Mustafa’s Gemuse Kebab was the best $4 I spent during my trip – expect a line.

Shelter on a Shoestring

I rented a two-room flat in Schöneberg via airbnb.com that was considerably larger than my one-bedroom in New York.  The rate was $60 per night (taxes/fees included), though I could have leased a smaller yet equally adequate space for less than $40 a day.  In addition to where I stayed, the neighborhoods best suited for sightseeing and sustenance are Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg, Kreuzberg, and Friedrichshain, the latter of which has most faithfully retained its eastside temperament.

In all fairness, it should be noted that half of Berlin was once part of the Eastern Bloc for almost thirty years, a fact that continues to impact its current economy.  Every city likewise has its perks; nearly all museums in London are free, the Paris metro is $2 per ride, and the art in Rome is unquestionably worth the price.  Is it impossible to find a meal in London for two under $50?  It’s quite feasible, actually, though your day-to-day costs on the Tube along with lodging will leave you feeling Pound foolish.  My advice to anyone who is considering a Westernized sabbatical – save the other capitals for one-off visits, and instead couple Berlin with more reasonable cities like Lisbon and Barcelona.  While Bangkok may be kinder to your bank account, the exchange rate doesn’t necessarily create a barrier between Western Europe and the wandering employee.  And Berlin is the perfect place to begin.

Paul Fusco is an avid traveler who works as an Executive Recruiter at an international management consulting firm in Manhattan.  He took his first career break in early 2010 and recently achieved a personal objective of visiting thirty countries by the age of thirty, celebrating in both Israel and Jordan.  In his spare time Paul writes, maps out future destinations, and enjoys New York City for all it has to offer.

Peru: Cusco
Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

[singlepic=13,140,140,,right]In 2006 I took a career break and volunteered in Peru for the summer.  This was the first time I really spent an extended amount of time in one place, and the experience was amazing.  The culture and people of Peru touched me in a way I never expected and this led me to my next job at Cross-Cultural Solutions.

For many years, Peru has called me – whether it was the spirit of the Incas, the mystery of Machu Picchu, or the magic of the Quechuan smile, I needed to answer the call.  In the summer of 2006, I did just that. But unlike other travels, where I tried to see and do as much as possible – never staying in one place for more than a few days – this time I wanted to have some roots.  I really wanted to immerse myself in the culture; experience life as the locals; and maybe pick up a bit of the language.

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Cusco was the perfect place.  Chosen as the capital of the Incan Empire for a reason, Cusco has a spiritual essence that can’t be explained – it can only be felt.  But if I was going to take so much from this beautiful culture, I also wanted to give something back.  And that’s when I found Peru’s Challenge.

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What to Do: Photography Lessons in Laos
Thursday, December 18th, 2008

Not all activities on the road need to be planned in advance.  During her travels, Sherry explored the opportunity to take photography lessons from a professional.

[singlepic=1001,200,,,right]I’ve had an ill feeling that has plagued me for the last year. I first remember it coming on in New Zealand. Then it hit me stronger in Vietnam. I was feverish about it in India. It is the feeling of being in some type of moving vehicle, traveling through a country, and seeing about 25 perfect photographs outside my vehicle window. I would feel ill thinking – “if only I could tell them to stop so I could get out and take a picture.” Yet I sat there helpless watching my beautiful shots go whizzing by, wondering if I would ever be able to capture this image again.

I would get queasy when I saw a group of people intimately interacting, simply being themselves, but I couldn’t get the nerve to go up and ask them if I could take a photograph. Instead, I would linger a bit, and then sulk off mad at myself for not having the guts to be a real photographer! The few times I did get the guts to go up and ask if I could take a photograph (fumbling through this conversation in broken English, pointing at my camera and smiling) they would normally say ‘yes’ and then give me some big, posed, toothy grin – transforming the shot from a nice little intimate, cultural gathering, to a Sears family portrait.

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Thailand: Homestay with Andaman Discoveries
Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

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Michael and I traveled to Thailand as part of our 2007 career break. The following is an excerpt from our travel blog.

Of all the places we would visit on this trip, the last place I thought Michael would be able to relate to the most was a small Muslim Village in Thailand.  But surprisingly, he eased right into sleeping on a mattress on a floor under mosquito netting with roosters crowing at 2am, speaking a completely different language from anyone else around us, and feeding baby goats twice a day.  But he easily compared it to consulting – traveling endlessly from one hotel to the next, needing to learn a new dialect or corporate speak, and understanding a new corporate environment and supporting it.  Makes perfect sense.

Our stay in Tung Nang Dam was thanks to Andaman Discoveries – an offshoot of the North Andaman Tsunami Relief (NATR) organization.  As their website states “we started by doing relief projects FOR community members, then we progressed to development projects WITH community members, now we are assisting with projects led BY community members.”

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Australia: The Red Center
Monday, December 8th, 2008

Michael and I traveled to Australia as part of our 2007 career break.  The following is an excerpt from our travel blog.

We left the blue coast for the red center as we made our way to Ayers Rock and the Olgas.  Known as Uluru and Kata Tjuta by the local Aborigines, the Anangu (meaning “people”), this land was given back to them in 1985.  Under the agreement, they in turn leased the land back to the Federal Government for 99 years and together they manage it.

[singlepic=208,200,,,left]Many people bypass visiting this area on a trip to Australia, but I think it’s the most magical and significant place to go in the country.  The glowing red of the sand and rocks is stunning and the vastness of this World Heritage Site is so impressive.  And to think that these land masses began to form over 550 million years ago really makes you thinks about your time and place in this world.
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Nepal: Annapurna Circuit
Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

[singlepic=851,200,,,right]Nepal was one of the countries I visited during my 2001 career break. Following is an overview of our trek on the Annapurna Circuit.

I just finished my trek through the Annapurna Circuit of Nepal and it was an incredible three-week experience.  It seems like it lasted a lifetime, yet also went by so fast.  This is one of the most beautiful countries and the quiet and peacefulness of being in the middle of nowhere at this time was a welcome opportunity.  I loved the fact that for the past three weeks we were cut off from everything.  The only things we needed to know each day was what time wake up call was and how long we should expect to walk.

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