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We Can’t Afford It!
Friday, March 27th, 2015

Can you take half a year off from your job?

The vast majority of working people automatically answer by saying that they can’t afford it. Relying on salary and living from one paycheck to the next, the loss of income may be financially devastating. The idea that we can’t afford it gets reinforced as soon as we sign up for a mortgage or bring offspring into the world. These represent semi-permanent, burdensome financial obligations which may not be compromised or even put at risk. Too much is at stake. The severity of the burden is paralyzing, or at least blinding.

I can testify to being blind myself, up until the day I decided to create a financial plan.

But how? I know more or less how much money my family spends on a short sailing vacation in the Mediterranean Sea. But this time we wanted more – a six-month sabbatical in the Caribbean.

Surely we can’t afford that, right?

Playing at the beach Canouan

Many people live under such limiting assumptions, not even pausing to ask themselves: How much does my dream actually cost?

I log into my online banking and export all our expenses for a twelve-month period to an Excel file. I have about 1400 individual expense lines out of my checking account. One by one I sort them into categories: household, cars, vacations, media, kids, food, taxes, etc. I add some subcategories according to where the money was spent: gas stations, department stores, supermarkets, hardware stores, restaurants, hair salons, garden centers, etc. After a few hours of sorting, I discover for the first time our family’s financial profile.

Under the bottom line expenses of each category in the past twelve months, I create two additional lines: one for the next twelve months, and another for a sabbatical sailing trip.

This is our budget plan.

I spend the next few hours trying to estimate future expenses, giving some thoughts to the various categories. Most of our expenses at home would probably stay at the same level in the next twelve months or increase slightly.

During a sailing trip, however, we can expect significant changes:

  • We avoid any expenses for car maintenance, car insurance, and gas stations.
  • We don’t need to buy any furniture or pay for music classes.
  • We don’t worry about heating the house and electricity bills.
  • In any sailing destination we choose, food in supermarkets would most likely be cheaper than it is at home, although we might want to eat out more often.
  • Health insurance requires additional coverage and higher cost. I increase the health category for doctor visits and pharmacies as well, because I can’t rely on the health insurance to refund medical bills promptly while we’re away.
  • I increase our budget for books and communications, just to make sure we would have sufficient reading materials at all times and that we stayed in touch under all circumstances.
  • The category Vacations is certainly unnecessary while sailing, and also prior to it. I replace it with airfare to get to the base marina, as well as marina charges and entrance fees to tourist sites.
  • We can forecast significant savings for taxes due to the loss of income during the trip.
  • For the yacht I reserve a generous amount, to cover either renting or a buy-sell deal.
  • For our variable mortgage I budget extra, for the unlikely event of increasing interest rates.
  • Shall we rent out our home during our absence? I play with this thought, although I don’t count on it and leave an empty line for it in my calculations.

Once satisfied with the estimations, I add a bit of reserve for some of the categories as well as one line for additional unexpected expenses.

When the exercise is completed, I call my wife, Laura: “Look at that! Isn’t it amazing?!”

“What do you see?” she asks, her eyes scan the cloud of numbers on the laptop screen and go blank.

I check the Excel formulas again to verify that all rows are properly accounted for.

“At the bottom line,” I say, “living on a boat is slightly cheaper than living at home.”

“How is that possible?” Laura asks in disbelief.

I show her all the expenses we avoid by not living at home. We laugh at the idea that we can actually save money by sailing on a yacht. It reminds me of the story of an old lady who decided to spend the rest of her life on a fancy cruise ship instead of moving into a home for the aged. She enjoys first class service, first class food, travel and entertainment included, and it’s the cheaper option!

Of course, we don’t want to wait for retirement, so we still need to save enough money to account for the loss of income during our trip. So I open a savings account and do the simple math: a sixth of our income has to be parked there every month for three years in order to compensate for half a year away.

Or even better: a quarter of our income each month for the next two years. I wonder whether we can reduce our running expenses so dramatically. I create a standing order for the savings account to start filling up. At this point in time, the idea of a sabbatical is still vague, and there are no concrete plans to speak of. We have no starting date, no chosen destination, and no confidence that it would actually come true. The financial plan and the savings account stand by just in case we ever decide to go for it.

Our capitalist world is full of temptations: a trendy mobile phone, a fancy restaurant, a fluffy winter jacket…the list is endless. Sometimes we resist, and sometimes we don’t. One of our weaknesses as imperfect human beings is that we tend to opt for the quick, certain reward. As a result, long-term uncertain goals fall behind.

Even with above-average income, our budget is limited and our choices hard. I sometimes have to ask myself: What do I really want to achieve in the next two or three years? Do I want to have a comfortable life? Is my goal to buy food and clothes without thinking twice? Shall I choose the higher hotel category for the weekend in the mountains? OR do I want to fulfill my dreams? I would feel awful if those daily temptations prevented me from realizing the big plans.

Imagining my life in retrospective sometimes helps me clear my thoughts. If an old friend meets me after a “long time no see” and asks me, “How is it going?” would I rather answer:

1. “Great! Check out my new gadget and my wellness package!”

Or would I rather say:

2. “I took my family sailing around the Caribbean.”

Resisting the temptations is easier with a specific goal in mind. New designer shoes or a night out suddenly seem less essential when you realize that the same amount of money can finance a train ticket or accommodations at your dream destination. Frankly, in my own opinion, taking my family sailing for six months is the best thing I can do with my money.

Other ways to save money

Chilling Antigua

Reducing expenses is just one way to save money. Increasing the income is another viable option. For example, our savings account is boosted by additional funds when we decide to auction stuff online and at the same time liberate precious cellar space from the burden of old relics like an empty aquarium, a fitness machine, a baby bed, gardening equipment, and many other items.

When a neighbor tells me about his challenges in keeping up with his fast-growing business, I offer to help him with my expertise as coach and business consultant. Informal conversations soon evolve to a formal engagement and additional income on the side.

The months go by, and our sabbatical savings account grows steadily. By the time we leave home we already know that we have sufficient funds plus reserves. The yacht charter was less expensive than we had anticipated, and Laura found cheap flights to Fort de France, Martinique. We managed to rent out our house for a fair price.

Still, I want to keep track of our spending. Laura and I agree on a weekly budget and aim to keep our total expenses below it. After exiting each island, and at the end of every month, I add up our expenses and brief the family crew: “Tobago is our cheapest island so far. There was nothing to spend money on: no marinas, no car rental, no fancy restaurants, and only basic supermarkets. It compensates for Grenada, where we rented a jeep, purchased deep sea fishing gear, and had dinner out almost every evening.”

As the trip progresses, I notice that we manage without special efforts to keep our expenses below the intended budget:

  • Ground transportation: With time on our hands and the ambition to mingle with local islanders, we take every opportunity to hop on a bus, walk, or hitchhike.
  • We stay away from marinas because we like our peace and our morning swim in pristine waters. Out of 196 nights on the yacht, we only pay for two overnights in marinas.
  • We hardly ever use the diesel engines for more than anchoring maneuvers or navigating dangerous shallows. We log 2840 nautical miles and only fill up the diesel tank three times. Wind power in the Caribbean is quite reliable and costs nothing.
  • The five t-shirts plus two swimming suits we brought in our luggage are sufficient for the entire trip. Buying clothes is limited to birthday presents or a single souvenir. We do our own laundry by hand.
  • With the exception of one Dutch bookstore in Curaçao, we purchase e-books online for a fraction of their shelf prices, or exchange paper books for free with other sailors and at the book corners of yacht clubs.
  • Communications with relatives and friends cost virtually nothing because we find free WiFi almost every day.

By the time we reach the British Virgin Islands, about halfway through our trip, I look at the expenses list and announce: “Going forward, we can afford to eat in restaurants almost every day.”

“Yes! More WiFi!” My daughter cheers.

“If you ask me,” says my Dad, “my favorite restaurant by far and without competition is our own cockpit. It serves delicious food, including the freshest fish, bread and tropical fruit.”

“And we always get the best table at the waterfront,” I add.

“Including romantic views of the sunset,” says Laura.

We also prefer to drop anchor in secluded bays where shopping opportunities are absent. Some yachties look for stylish beach bars or the comfort of docking. We look for serenity, natural beauty and a short swimming range to the coral reef.

The most beautiful things in life come free of charge.

A global citizen, Tomer Lanis has been working and traveling in 78 countries in the past 24 years. Following his six-month sailing sabbatical in the Caribbean, he recently published a book – You Can Take Six Months Off – demonstrating how anyone can, and why everyone should.

Photos courtesy of the author and may not be used without permission.

How to Go Local in Istanbul
Thursday, March 19th, 2015

Of course when you go to Istanbul, Turkey you’ll be drawn to the ancient sites and Ottoman history in Sultanhamet – the old part of the city. However, many career breakers are looking for more local connections and experiences the longer they travel. If you are looking for local experiences and a chance to escape the tourist crowds in Istanbul – here’s how!

Local Markets

Skip the Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar and if you really want to go local – then head to the Sunday market in Tarlabasi. Just down the hill from the glitz of Istiklal Street is what many locals might refer to the ‘wrong side of the tracks.’ This is a neighborhood that has not quite succumbed to gentrification yet – but I’m pretty sure in a few years it will look very different. However, if you are looking for an authentic experience – this is it. I spent a few hours at this market shopping for produce and taking photos. Every single vendor and person there were a joy to interact with. I was constantly stopped and asked if I would take a photo or simply try food – as a foreign traveler, I was definitely in the minority. Plus the best part is that I walked away with bags of produce and only spent about $10 US.

Local Getaway

Go where the locals go to escape the loud, crowded streets of Istanbul – Princes’ Islands. It’s a short 50 minute ferry ride to the string of 4 islands – Kınalıada, Burgazada, Heybeliada and Büyükada. Ferries depart from Bostancı, Kartal and Maltepe on the Asian side, and from Kabataş on the European side and cost about 2 Turkish Lira per ride ($1.10 US). During the Byzantine period, princes and other royalty were exiled to the islands which is why they are referred to as Princes’ Islands. But these days it’s a pleasure to escape to these islands where little seafood restaurants dot the perimeters and there is no motorized traffic. You’ll hear (and smell) plenty of horses, though, as horse and buggy are the main forms of transportation for people. Go spend a day at the islands and soak up what it’s like to be a local Istanbulite escaping the city!

If you really want to experience the local life on the islands, then go out on a weekday as the islands are filled with the people who live there as opposed to just Istanbul day trippers that head to the islands on the weekends.

Go to the Outskirts

Most tourists stay in Sultanhamet and Beyoglu – but if you want to get really local then venture out further past the old city walls! I took a very in depth walking tour of the Balat and Eyüp neighborhoods and quickly realized that they had a completely different vibe then what I had so far experienced in Istanbul. Most notably the Eyüp Mosque is one of the most sacred places in Istanbul. The mosque of Eyüp is a place of pilgrimage for Muslims from ancient times. In addition, Eyüp has some of the most spectacular views of the city and Golden Horn if you ride the cable car up the hill. Tourists seldom get to this part of the city.

In addition, if you want to see modern Istanbul then head to the Cevahir Mall and neighborhood just a short metro ride past Taksim. There, you will be amazed by what modern Istanbul is really like – businessmen and women in suits, chain stores, and even an amusement park inside the mall. I rented this room in an apartment behind the mall and seldom saw another tourist around!

Take Opportunities

Lose your shyness and take any opportunities you can to meet locals as odds are you will end up with a new friend who will take you around to their favorite places and share their favorite foods. Before I went to Istanbul I reached out to friends who had been there before to see if they could introduce me to any local contacts they had. I ended up meeting 3 or 4 different locals through this course of action and had my own personal tour guides to Istanbul! The Turks are extremely kind and excited to show you their city and culture, so be sure to take advantage of your connections.

Stay Local

I stayed in a couple different neighborhoods while renting apartments through Wimdu. Each neighborhood had something different to offer – but each also had one thing that was the same – a real local culture that I quickly became immersed in. Wimdu has all kinds of neighborhood choices in European and Asian Istanbul that get you out of the tourist areas and hotels and into real neighborhoods. Plus, by staying in an apartment, I was lucky enough to meet the apartment manager, Fatih, who also showed me around the neighborhood and made sure I knew where the market and restaurants were.

Local Transport

Skip the taxis whose drivers seldom speak English and rarely get you to your desired destination.  Instead get comfortable using local public transport. Get an Istanbul Card and it will be your gateway to buses, ferries, trams, metros, and funiculars. The transportation system in Istanbul can seem confusing as there are so many options and none really connect exactly with each other – but they all do work together to get you across the city. In the evenings around 6PM the trams can be very crowded with locals going home from work – but it’s a fun experience to see and interact with the commuters!

By going more local in Istanbul, your time there will be more rewarding and you’ll leave Turkey feeling as if you know more about the modern day culture of this fascinating country and city!

Disclosure:  Sherry Ott was a guest of Wimdu.co.uk during her stay in Istanbul.  However all of the opinions expressed here are her own. 

When the Light Bulb Went On
Friday, March 6th, 2015

Little did I know it then, but a letter to my mother my senior year of college has set me on a path that will inevitably change my life. 

It was 1995.  Being a naive college grad, I was eager for what was next in life, yet I was scared to face reality at the same time.  The letter I wrote to my mom that year captured my restlessness, my wanderlust, and my questions about how I was going to live my life now that I had satisfied all the prescribed obligations of early adulthood.  Now that I was free to choose what I wanted to do with my time, traveling and having new adventures was much more appealing than going to work.  Settling down to a cubicle?  Really?  Ugh, boring!  I was no stranger to travel having spent the previous summer studying in Denmark and touring Europe in my spare time.  I just didn’t know how to make my dream of traveling the world happen.

Want to plan your<br />
own career break?
Want to plan your
own career break?

So, I did what any broke 22 year-old would do – I went to graduate school and then got a regular corporate job.   

Jump ahead 13 years through graduation and student loans, a move, a year of volunteering, a career change to the public sector, and numerous awesome vacations where I couldn’t help but want just one more day before coming home.  My trip and the desire to explore the world would always come to mind during those vacations, and I would usually think it was just a crazy dream or that it couldn’t happen now – I had other things to do.

After being downsized early in 2008, I faced a crossroads.  Would I strike out on my own and start the business I’d been thinking about, would I travel, or would I try to find another job?  The economy was going south and I had a mortgage.  Being fiscally responsible was what I thought I should do even though my heart was on the road somewhere in Mongolia.  I made the decision to start the business and look for (and a year later, I ultimately found) a full-time job so I could keep paying the mortgage.

During that year, it felt like I was being slapped in the face every day to know I now had the time and opportunity to travel long term, but felt stuck with my current situation.  I thought I couldn’t spend the money I did have on anything other than necessities to keep myself, and the lifestyle choices I had made, afloat.

Fast forward through another 3 years of cubicle-land and a broken heart after being turned down for the fellowship I desperately wanted.  I remember the exact moment I was on the phone with my mom to tell her the news, tears streaming down my face.  The words came out of my mouth a bit flippantly, but nonetheless, I voiced what I had dreamed about since 1995.

Maybe I should just go on my trip.

Her response?  “Yes, you should.”

And that was it – everything clicked and the light bulb came on.  It wasn’t that I was looking for permission.  It was that I had finally stopped thinking about my trip as an impossibility or a pipe dream.  I had finally decided I could really do it and realized it was more important to me than anything else.

So, the trip I’ve been thinking about taking since writing that letter in 1995 launched in February of 2013.  Two unsolicited job offers were even turned down the year prior to leaving because I knew I couldn’t put it off any longer.

The enormity of my trip was an eye-opener and made me reconsider more than once.  But I had already made the one decision that really counts.

I decided to GO.

Beth Fenger took off on her own in February of 2013 for her round the world trip, visiting Patagonia, Cambodia, Mongolia, India, Turkey, Jordan, and Namibia.  She’s also an amateur photographer, zealous wine taster, obsessive trail runner, avid camper, adrenaline junkie, and finds her current career calling in the non-profit sector.  She can be found toting her camera, tent, and corkscrew, while running trails in various US cities and on Twitter and Facebook.

Recharge Your Soul with a Career Break
Monday, February 16th, 2015

When I quit my job in 2013, my soul was pretty dried up. I had become a cog in the machine and needed something to remind me my heart was still beating.

Travel filled that void in the past when I’d take my two-week vacations, but I was looking for something more. I wanted to… brace yourself for the ultimate cliché… make a difference. Or maybe it was more selfish than that and I just wanted to smile at myself in the mirror again.

I’d been a Kiva lender for a few years and absolutely love the organization. In fact, it took me about 20 seconds to run back to my office and look for my first borrower after initially hearing about them from a co-worker. I later learned they also have a volunteer fellowship program. That changed everything.

Who is Kiva?

If you’re not familiar with Kiva, it’s a non-profit whose mission is to alleviate poverty through lending. You select a borrower from the website and lend as little as $25 (also known as a microloan). Over the course of a year, your money is paid back. While you don’t earn interest, you are empowering people to create a better life. Putting your faith in another person gives them a vote of confidence, an added incentive to succeed. This endorsement contributes to Kiva’s astonishing 99% loan repayment rate. Ask any bank what theirs is!

Learn more about how Kiva works.

What’s a Kiva fellow?

Kiva Fellows

The Fellows Program started in 2007 as a way for volunteers to be Kiva’s “eyes and ears” on the ground. Because they are non-profit and their network of partners around the world continues to grow, they simply can’t visit each of them as often as they’d like. Instead, they send carefully selected fellows who are interested in using their skills in exchange for a unique learning opportunity. Each fellowship is different, but you’re essentially a liaison between Kiva and their global network. You may help train a new partner, perform borrower verifications in the field, scale-up new initiatives, or fill any number of needs.

My fellowship experience

In April 2013 I was poking around the Kiva website while planning my corporate escape. It was there I discovered the fellowship program and was instantly sold, so I applied. I didn’t have experience in international development, but I did teach English in Japan and traveled in developing countries. Over the next three months I had two Skype interviews and ultimately an offer to go to India. It felt like the process took forever, but once the wheels were in motion, it all happened very quickly.

Instead of working five days a week for a paycheck, I worked six days a week for free. BJS was a brand new Kiva partner, so I trained them on Kiva processes and procedures and helped them write compelling borrower profiles for posting on the website. I had the opportunity to meet loan recipients in rural areas and attend presentations on financial literacy with them, which is one of the services BJS provides. Watching women huddled together in colorful saris, absorbed in learning about saving money in a bank and how insurance works, was transformative.

My brain could barely absorb everything I was experiencing while the empty part of me was quickly filling up. On my last day the staff of about 15 gathered for a good-bye party where they each went around the room sharing a special moment or something they learned from me.

I sobbed. And sobbed. Soul successfully recharged.

Post-fellowship I traveled around Asia and Latin America with a newfound focus on contributing locally. There are a number of social enterprises that support communities, from village artisans to at-risk youth. I have Kiva to thank for changing the way I travel and interact with locals. Now I work as a location-independent marketing consultant and freelance writer.

While my break wasn’t temporary, you don’t necessarily need to quit to have a life-changing travel experience.

Who is a fellowship good for?

  • People looking for a break from corporate life and can take a four-month sabbatical
  • Grad school students before or after their program
  • Career-changers
  • Job quitters (like me) or the unemployed

What are the requirements of a Kiva fellow?

Kiva fellows 2

Previous experience with international development or a background in finance will work in your favor, though not requirements. What they do want to see is time spent in developing countries, and ideally some international work experience. It’s not like a trip to Paris, so they want to be sure you’re comfortable in places where you can’t drink the water, living conditions may be sparse, and business etiquette is totally different. Naturally you need to be adaptable and willing to work outside your comfort zone. You’ll also need to show you’re able to fund your trip yourself or through fundraising. It is a volunteership, after all.

Kiva has recently expanded their program to include media fellows- those with a background in photography and/or videography to help build Kiva’s library of assets.

Read more about the requirements.

How much control do you have over your location, and what is housing like?

They ask for your preferences, but nothing is guaranteed. For each fellowship class, the Kiva team receives requests from the field, and those spots are filled based on the applicant pool. Language requirements can also narrow your options. You must speak Spanish for Latin America, and French for Francophone Africa, but there are a number of countries where English alone is sufficient. Of course additional languages are a bonus and may assist in placement, but not necessarily required.

You may have your own apartment, stay in a hotel or guesthouse, or have the opportunity to live with locals. The choice is yours based on what’s available.

How much does it cost?

The program itself has no fee, however you do need to cover your expenses for the entire fellowship. These include:

  • Travel to/from San Francisco and accommodations during training week (This is a requirement, regardless of where you live)
  • Flight to/from your assignment
  • Accommodations during your fellowship
  • Meals
  • Personal travel (weekend or holiday trips), shopping, and other expenses

Is there an “alumni” network?

Yes! There are private LinkedIn and Facebook groups, and alums will receive periodic email updates from the Kiva fellows team, including job opportunities throughout their network. Plus it’s not a bad addition to your resume!

How do you apply?

Visit the Kiva fellows page to apply. There are three classes per year, each lasting about four months, with approximately 25 fellows per class.

A Kiva fellowship is not a “voluntour” where you pay exorbitant fees for the privilege of working for free. Kiva invests a lot in training its fellows yet doesn’t charge for their program, so the application process is selective. If you’re looking for a fill-up in the soul department, have experience working, living, or traveling in developing countries and can commit to four months away, a Kiva fellowship might be for you.

Bio: Shelley Graner is a former Kiva fellow who likes to travel slowly and support local communities. She left the corporate world and now spends her days as a location-independent writer and marketing consultant. Read more about her travels and Kiva experience via her blog.

Pulling the Trigger – I’m Doing it!
Friday, November 7th, 2014

leap

Take the leap and do it!

What is it that makes you go from “I want to do that” to “I’m doing it!”? I suppose it’s different for everyone, but after working with people who want to travel through Meet Plan Go for the last 5 years, I know one of the things that makes you pull the trigger is meeting other people who have done (or who are doing) what you want to do.

In September we brought together a group of future career breakers with veteran career breakers and long term travelers and something happened – people started the day with “I want to do that” and ending the day saying “I’m doing it”. Sure, maybe the Belgian beer and waffles  helped, but they weren’t what made people pull the trigger. It was the support and networking with other people with similar goals.

I loved reading this article from one of our attendees the next day – Long Term Travel is for Real – she had some wonderful insights (and you should definitely read the entire article!):

“For me, Meet Plan Go was my first opportunity to meet long term travelers in person, to hear them tell their stories first hand, to learn from them during personal conversations. It was proof that anyone can take a travel break or travel forever without their lives imploding. It was proof that I can too. This is reality.”

Success Stories

In my eyes, the day was a big success. We brought together 8 career break & rtw travel veterans who presented on how to get over hurdles, determining a budget, working on the road, volunteering, preparing to leave, choosing insurance, figuring out complicated airfare routes, and finding working when you return. People feverishly took notes and asked questions. We even had small group discussions where people with like plans could converse and talk about their plans and fears. And then we parted – so that we could start to go DO.

Meeting people with similar goals is key – and fun!

A month after the event I reached out to our private Facebook group of attendees and asked them how they were progressing towards their goal and was overwhelmed with excited responses:

“I leave Tuesday to go to Mexico for two months of scuba diving and then after about a week at home for the holidays I’ll be moving to South Korea to teach for 2015! I had thought about applying for a while but since MPG I have applied, interviewed, been offered multiple positions, and accepted one”

“Since the meeting I went to visit my bank and consolidated all my debts into one loan, freeing up some margin to put money aside each month towards my future trip. I’ve been giving myself a benchmark of 2 years from now.”

“We are busy packing up our house to sell, eliminating as much as we can.”

“Just filled out my application with IFRE to volunteer in Cusco, Peru.“

“We made the leap. Our round the world adventure starts in exactly 12 months. Real estate is on the market, resigned positions, and beginning to detail plans.” 

How You Can Meet Others With Your Same Goals

Even though our main event is completed for 2014, we still have ways that you can meet others in person (and virtually) and work towards your goal.

• We have a meetup in NYC coming up on Dec. 3rd (RSVP here).
• Join our free 30 day online Career Break class that you can start as soon as tomorrow!
Follow us on Facebook and stay up to date with career break travel news and ask questions of the community.
• Check out our Calendar of upcoming local events 
• Search for travel themed meetups in your area on  Meetup.com and EventBrite.com
• Participate in the Around the World Twitter chat (#RTWChat) hosted by Bootsnall.com
• Stay tuned for more ways to get involved and get on the road to your career break in 2015 by signing up for our monthly newsletter.

Preparation: Budget Concerns
Thursday, October 30th, 2014

A concern many career break-dreamers face is that they can’t afford to do it. But if you believe enough in your dream, you will find ways to make it happen.

It’s all about prioritizing and budgeting: even on a non-profit salary, you can make it happen.

See what some of our career break experts have to say about budgeting for long-term travel: 

Brook Silva-Braga (A Map for Saturday)
Travel requires savings but not much; you can travel for less than you pay on New York rent, and you can always save more by indulging less at home. Money and time are commodities with an inverse relationship, you can only acquire one by spending the other and travel taught me free time is more valuable than additional money.

Jennifer Baggett (The Lost Girls)
Since I made the decision to travel about a year and a half prior to departure, I was able to properly budget and save for the money I’d need in order to spend a year on the road.  And I was definitely not making that much money considering I was paying Manhattan rent and living expense (about $65K – I’m happy to be completely transparent) nor did I have financial help from anyone else.

The biggest money saver, honestly, was that I literally stopped purchasing anything frivolous (clothes, shoes, electronics, expensive dinners, etc.) and socked away a percentage of every pay check (including 100% of my annual bonus), cashed savings bonds from childhood, even sold books/CDs on Amazon and most of my furniture on Craig’s List. Amanda, Holly and I also chose to visit predominately third world and developing nations where you can easily live off of $20-$30 per day.  Of course traveling as a group definitely helped as everything from lodging, taxis, food and other items (travel guides/books, some toiletries, etc.) could be split up and shared. Other big ways we saved:  Round-the-world plane tickets (ours took us from Kenya to Australia – with multiple countries in between for only $2200), eliminating almost all bills/expenses back home (rent, cell phone, electric bills, cable, etc.) penning the occasional travel article while on the road, crashing at friend’s (or friends of friends) places overseas and keeping costs fixed by doing a structured volunteer program/staying in one location for multiple weeks.

(more…)

Re-entering the Workforce: 7 Tips From an HR Professional
Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

The thought of re-entering the workforce after a sabbatical or career break can be daunting. However, I am here to tell you it does not have to be. I’ve worked in Human Resources for 15 years, have been involved in various aspects of hiring, and I know a career break doesn’t mean career suicide. If you are willing to put a bit of planning into it, you will set yourself up for success when you return. All it takes is a bit of prep work, maintenance, and effective storytelling.

Prep before you leave

Prep your network. Make sure you inform your network (trusted colleagues, former supervisors/clients, friends, family) about your career break and keep them updated during your journey. This will keep you top of mind when you return from your break. Even if you don’t plan to return to the same industry, your network is invaluable. The contacts you have made are the shortest distance between you and your next job; they are your connections to multiple industries and companies. Statistically, you are 70%-80% more likely to receive a job offer through your network than through job boards and direct applications.

Plant the seed for when you return. If you do intend to come back to the same industry, plan ahead of time. Tell your hiring manager and other potential employers that you intend to come back while you are still top of mind. Your return dates may change, but if you share your intentions, they will have more investment in following you while you are away and be ready for your return.

Stay connected while you are away

Don’t unplug completely. Use social media to stay in touch. Blogging or simply posting updates to LinkedIn or Twitter can achieve that connection. Include quick updates of your trip and examples of what you are learning so your network will see the value of your travel experience. It is easy today to stay in touch with your contacts in the US. Online tools and smart phones make it simple…Google Hangouts and Skype for video calls, Social Media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn) for updates, Email for Newsletter…the list goes on.

Volunteer or be part of a trade organization. This is another way to remain visible to your network and stay current regarding trends in your field. For trade organizations, offer to write blog posts or help with activities that can be done remotely. There are also many global organizations that offer volunteering opportunities. The Gates Foundation provides a great resource for volunteering in the US and abroad. Chose one that fits with your current field and/or an area where you want to gain more experience. This is where a little bit of planning goes a long way.

Learn new skills. Remember your career break is also a chance to add new skills, particularly ones you want to learn. Perhaps you want to become a better writer. Use blogging to practice and share your skills. Maybe you always wanted to learn HTML or build a website? Use this chance to build a travel website. These are all useful skills to learn while away and are very relevant to the work place. The tools you use to stay in touch (video conferencing, blogging) also make you a stronger communicator and emphasize your ability to connect with people remotely. These are important skills as the workforce becomes more global and remote workers become more prevalent.

It is important to review your experience and evaluate the skills you are learning along the way. Perhaps you do decide to volunteer. This may take the form of organizing an event or tutoring a student. These experiences provide you with skills such as leadership, team building, and marketing, which are all transferable to your potential job. Don’t overlook the potential of what skills you are learning.

Stay relevant. The skills above can certainly prove that you have been working and staying relevant. However, if you know that you want to enter into a new industry or even return to the one you were in, you can stay relevant by participating in industry webinars, MOOCs, reading books, earning online certifications, etc. This shows your potential employer your passion and excitement for the industry and your drive to stay current. This goes a long way in the mind of a hiring manager.

Sharing your story when you return

Explaining your career break. How you tell your story can make the difference between whether you get the job or not. Many people are intrigued to hear about a sabbatical or career break, but if you don’t share the story in a way that is relevant, it can impact your job search.

Think about this from the employer’s point of view. They want to know your career path and how this career break fits into that. Include your sabbatical/career break on your resume. Share the relevant experience you gained as discussed above. Succinctly share the details of when and why you took the sabbatical as well as the outcome. If you are enthusiastic and upbeat about this time away, your passion will shine through and will excite your potential employers as well. Perhaps it will also trigger a relatable experience for them.

If after you share your story effectively and the company decides not to hire you, this is likely not an environment in which you would like to work. Culture is every bit as important in your job search as your skill set. The company certainly is evaluating your fit for the company, but you are just as much evaluating whether they are a good fit for you. If they do not understand why you would chose to take a career break, this is likely a sign that their culture overall is not going to foster an environment in which you would like to work.

Your time away does not have to sabotage your job search if you focus on how it adds value to your personal brand and your future employer. You will be successful in finding that next job, just be sure to do a bit of planning before and some maintenance during your trip. And always be thinking about how you will share your story to your next employer. Safe travels!

Read more about re-entering the workforce:

With over 15 years of talent acquisition experience, Heather Baker has worked with a wide range of companies to build sustainable workforces in technology and marketing. Recently, she channeled her skills to the other side of spectrum to help students gain and implement valuable assets that help them compete in the workforce at a Higher Education Startup called Experience Institute. She is passionate about the future workforce and enabling professionals at all levels find their career strengths while matching those strengths with workforce needs.

Photo credits: Rawpixel, Quka, Olga Danylenko

In the Career Break Closet
Thursday, October 16th, 2014


Are you stuck in the closet – afraid to come out and act like you really want to? I bet you are. In fact – I bet about 90% of you are. You are lurking in the dark, afraid to declare your secret desires, but willing to watch; from a safe place.

You are in the career break closet.

Research shows that about 90% of the people who read online media do not actually participate in the conversation; consumption vs. production. That’s fine, I understand, communicating online isn’t for everyone.

However I’m willing to believe that a percentage of that 90% are not lurking because they want to, but because they feel like they have to. They are staying in the closet because they can’t yet let people know about their career break plans. They must stay in the closet in order to remain at their jobs and while they quietly plan their getaway.

Keith and Amy Sutter from Green Around the Globe share their time in the career break closet:

[singlepic=1668,300,,,right]In January of 2009 Amy and I made the big decision, to travel the world for a year. And with all of the excitement and anxiety that comes with such a big decision there was one unpleasant aspect that regularly kept us up at night. We now had a huge secret to keep from everyone we knew. There are practical elements to keeping your decision a secret initially. What if you decide not to do it? What happens if something comes up? A family member gets ill, you get ill. There are any number of potential events that could change your plans. So Amy and I went into the “traveler closet” for 6 months. This meant that as we were doing our initial research, reading books, blogs and anything else we could get our hands on, we had to be sure to keep it all under wraps. When friends came over for dinner we had to spend 10 minutes scanning the condo to make sure an incriminating book was not left laying out.

When we did start telling people, starting with close family we had to bring them into our “circle of trust”. We had to make sure we controlled who knew when. Practically it was to make sure we handled giving notice at our respective workplaces on our terms and in a professional manner. We could not afford, either financially or professional, for word of our plans to leak back to our companies before we were ready. The other reason to control the information is so that we would be the ones to personally tell every one of our family and friends. That reason was selfish, we wanted to be there to see or hear their unfiltered initial reactions. One of the best parts of planning the trip is telling the people you are closest to and getting their reactions.

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Could Bad News Be Your Ticket to Ride? Big Boom Road Show
Thursday, October 9th, 2014

You know the scene: I’m at my desk, avoiding “real” work, and surfing the web. In this case, I’m exploring Boomers and long-term travel. I find an upbeat, popular article with 555 comments, leading off with this one:

“This is crap. As a boomer, I am broke and live paycheck to paycheck, like all the other boomers I know.”

Beware the self-fulfilling legacy

“This is crap?”

What a buzzkill! One must feel sorry for this guy; who’s putting Dire Drops in his water? I don’t mean to go all power-of-positive-thinking here, but really, he’s not likely to escape his quandary or his paucity without a serious attitudinal U-turn.

So let’s help Mr. Boomer Bummer out. Let’s help any of us who are trapped in pessimism about prospects for a dream. Just for yucks, let’s take life’s big bummers and turn them inside-out into opportunities to fly away from, well, hell?

Sometimes, what’s (initially perceived as) bad news could be a prophesy for a BreakAway.

Morphing pitfalls into paradise

You’re fired! Most folks will work at least 7 career jobs. Some will end rudely. Is that tragic? Or could it be the best thing that ever happened to you? Be ready: Sudden freedom could be your chance to shake it up and change your life plan—potentially on a blissful beach somewhere.

I don’t love you any more. That’s bad movies. And possibly heart-breaking, yet rarely out of the blue. Why not have the next laugh, store your stuff, and pack your bags for somewhere far away from Mr. or Ms. Over N. Done? Heck, you may even meet your next love interest.

It’s time to down-size. Boomers are facing this now, by the millions. Yet everybody will—at various ages and stages. When that pad has become too big and the possessions too piled up, consider upsizing your life with a remote pause that refreshes.

Loved ones are passing on. Death happens. Reflection follows, not to mention denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and, eventually, acceptance. Maybe a sojourn to somewhere peaceful would help you move on; maybe it’s to a place once shared with the departed beloved.

Your (inheritance) ship comes in. Although our “that’s-crap” commentator lives paycheck to paycheck, Boomers stand to inherit around $12 trillion—and may pass along up to $30 trillion to their offspring. For some, prosperity from heaven will arrive. If your ship comes in, why not set sail for a life-changing voyage?

You’ve paid off a big loan. Could be college—yours or your kids’. Could be house, cars, cabin, or credit cards. Save something first, please. But then a celebration of your new! Improved! Debt-free life might be a brilliant reward!

You survived a health scare. They’re facts of life: Accidents, diseases, conditions that can kill. When your time comes, and the doctor finally says, “You’re cured,” it’s time to party. Dinner and Dom? Sure—in France! (For the record, my own RTW trip was largely a reward for surviving a year-long recovery from falling off of a roof.)

You’re nearing retirement, but… Know what? Most people fear retirement. And many who get there don’t do well; they often experience loss of purpose, depression, and boredom—or just drive their spouse crazy. Recommendation: Try temporary retirement. You’d test-drive a car, right? Retirement is a much longer, more relevant ride.

You’re already broke. Bummer. Or maybe not. If Broke Dude above is convinced he’ll never get ahead at home, why not be broke somewhere else? Maybe he’d thrive in an less pricey country where he could teach English and save some money. Some great travelers buy a one-way ticket, get to work, and make it work.

If you just read this and are thinking, “That’s crap,” the author apologizes—for provoking you so and for your ill-fated predicament. This column was written for the folks willing to open your eyes and minds to the idea that bad news may be inevitable, but need not be the end of the world.

A world of possibilities awaits. Always Godspeed!

Kirk Horsted blogs at MakeYourBreakAway.com and offers speeches and seminars too. Since 1990, he’s taken five sabbaticals ranging from 35 to 355 days, from Grandma’s farm (SD) to Waiheke (NZ). He’s embarked alone, with partner, and with his perfect children. When he must, he works as a writer, creative consultant, and college teacher.

Photo credits: Efired, the other photo is courtesy of the author and may not be used without permission.

8 Tips For Preparing To Leave on a Career Break 
Friday, October 3rd, 2014

One can desire to take a career break, but often the act of actually beginning the process can undermine those dreams. I say, “Put one foot in front of the other, and soon you’ll be walking out the door!

What makes one want to take a career break? Is it disinterest in your current career? A personal life change? Or a desire to shake things up as you enter a new phase of your life?

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For me, it was all three. I had an interior decorating business that wasn’t exciting me anymore, my mother had recently passed away from an aggressive cancer, and I had stepped over the that magic age of 50. I wasn’t getting any younger, and the realization that we can all “go” at any moment propelled me to seek change. It was time to take matters into my own hands. It began as a question: Could I get away with checking out of my complex life for a few months?

While trolling the internet, I happened upon Meet Plan Go and realized at that moment that I was not alone in this quest. I scoured the website for every tidbit of information on how others had made their career break a reality, and then I began to envision my own journey.

Tackle the career break process one step at a time.

Anyone with an established life in their own town or city knows it is not possible to just wake up one morning and announce that they are chucking it all and heading off to the airport.  Sure, we’ve all had that “Calgon take me away” moment, but honestly can we act on it? I have two children, a home, a small business, and a life rich with friends. I needed to go slow, be methodical, and break it down into manageable pieces so even I could process the concept of upheaving every aspect of my life.

So, I addressed each of these areas one at a time.

1. Budget planning

First things first, with little savings to speak of or a winning lottery ticket in my pocket, in order to finance the bulk of the trip, it was clear that I would have to put my one asset to work: rent out my house.

I contacted a real estate agent friend of mine who educated me on the rental market. Then armed with that information, I slept on it…for weeks! I mulled over it and chewed on it and debated the possibility of being able to travel long term. It took me about 4 months to get the courage to take this step forward.

In anticipation of making the leap, I also began to be more mindful of how I spent my money and seriously cut back on unnecessary expenditures, so I could pay down debt instead.

2. Downsizing

Start purging NOW! – closets first then paring back your living areas.

The nervous excitement I felt while arriving at my decision I put to good use. I began to clear out closets…I figured even if I couldn’t make the break, I would have clean closets, and if it did happen, I would have less to deal with as moving day drew near.

Downsizing our stuff is no small task when living in a society that encourages acquisition. As I cleaned out each cupboard and closet, I asked these questions:

  • Have I used it in the last 2 years?
  • Do I like it?
  • Can I take it on the trip (that was almost always a no!)?
  • Do I want to see and deal with it when I come back?

If the item in question didn’t have a yes attached to it, I jettisoned it. (See, even my stuff got to take a trip!) Craig’s List, friends, Goodwill, and the local recycling center were all great places to relieve me of my things. Be ruthless in this process, you will be happy you did later.

Once I had finally decided to rent out the house, I had to make it “viewing” ready for prospective tenants. Real estate agents prefer showing a house devoid of personal items, so in preparation for the open house, I packed up photos and artwork and pared down the furnishings. Within 3 days of the open house, I had a tenant. Yikes! Now I really needed to get in gear. I had six weeks to completely pack up and vacate…better get organized.

3. Make a to-do list and revise it regularly

I love To-Do lists. In my work life they have always been effective in aiding me in getting the job done. I prefer using a legal pad when I am making major lists. Each page has a topic and I begin by organizing the seemingly endless tasks onto those pages. Each item – large and small – gets a neat little checkable box next to it. When the task is completed, I check it off – at the end of the day I can see the progress I made (or didn’t make).

For preparing my career break, I did a “data dump” almost daily and revised these lists often, and gradually the To-Do’s began to shrink. As moving approached, these lists gave me a sense of control and helped keep me focused on my end goal of taking off on my solo journey.

I was lucky enough to be able to store my things in half of my basement. I could move things down there as I packed them up, which gave me a real sense of accomplishment as well.

4. Keep your loved ones informed before and after you go

Concurrent with packing up, I regularly discussed my career break with my children to help prepare them for my absence. My daughter would be away at college during the period I had allotted, and my son would be taking a semester at a boarding school. I could be available anytime to them with FaceTime and Skype, and I would have a SIM card for my phone so I wouldn’t have to rely on crappy wifi. It was important to me that they did not feel that I had fallen off the face of the earth. Facebook was perfect for staying in touch with old friends and new ones that I met on the road.

5. Pay down your debt

I was extremely attached to my home, and what it represented in my life. To move out was one of the bigger decisions I have grappled with in recent years. I knew that if I jumped on a plane the day I handed over the keys, I would not enjoy the first few weeks on the road as I would still be “letting go” of my old life.

Therefore, to make the initial departure easier, I decamped for a few weeks to a friend’s home in my old hometown and took a breather before I began working on the next phase of my career break planning. I wanted to be mostly debt free when I began the journey, so I further curbed my spending and put every cent I made into paying off credit cards. Suddenly, my goals were actually becoming attainable..

Putting the final part of the plan together

After that little period of adjustment, I went back to Brooklyn, rented two rooms from a friend of mine and spent four months completing my decorating projects. Thanks to a couple of last minute jobs, I cleared my credit card debt, too.

6. Know yourself and what makes you comfortable to go

Planning a solo trip is like being a kid in a candy shop; I could go anywhere I wanted to because this was solely my trip!

When you unburden yourself of your possessions, free yourself of debt, and open your eyes to a world of possibility, there is no looking back, and suddenly what you want becomes quite clear.

For me it was, “Who am I? and What do I really want out of the next phase of my life?” Those were the driving force in my pre-trip planning.

I created a framework for where I wanted to go, but also kept things loose enough to be open to any fun opportunity that might arise. Ultimately, other than a fully planned 5 weeks in Africa and my first 3 nights in Bali, I was open to where the journey would take me.

7. Plan your departure during a quiet time of year

I waited to depart just after the holidays. That way I didn’t miss out on the usual end of year celebrations with family and friends, and I had something to look forward to in the new year. I would be leaving for Africa just as the cold of winter settled onto the city.

8. Say YES!

I traveled with an open mind and an open heart, and in so doing I had countless experiences that I never dreamed of during the whole planning process. Among many experiences, by saying “Yes!” I found myself on a surf charter boat in Sumatra for 13 days making wonderful friends and experiencing a part of the world that is rarely seen by humans.

I ate foods I had never heard of, but when coaxed by a local, you most certainly cannot say no!  I saw temples and world heritage sites I would have skipped save for a great recommendation by fellow travelers.

I met so many wonderful people along the way, and the best thing through all of it was that I felt truly alive and present in my surroundings.

Going slow and preparing in a thoughtful manner enabled me to get the most out of my career break. The experiences were plentiful, the memories are abundant, and my life is richer now than I could have ever imagined.  So, what are you waiting for?

Tamara made the career break leap this past January (2014) and has just returned to New York City after having the opportunity to visit 15 countries, experiencing the wilds of Africa, the tropical landscapes of Indonesia, the rolling hills of Tuscany, the beautiful coastline of Cornwall, and the archipelago of Sweden. Traveling solo for most of the adventure gave Tamara an excellent opportunity to spend time with herself and to really think about and shape the next chapter in her life as she re-enters the work force. You can connect with Tamara through her website and on Twitter.

Photo credits: Thinglass, trekandshoot, Jenn Hulls, Lisa S., Marin Veraja, elephant photo courtesy of the author and may not be used without permission.

Career Break Guide Table of Contents

Meet Plan Go