We won't leave you stranded when you are on the road. You'll have a community of like-minded people to ease you through culture shock, how to stay in touch, and the realities of life on the road. Plus, you can share your stories and adventures with others providing inspiration for more Briefcase to Backpackers.
Many of us leave our jobs to go travel the world thinking it will be the best thing ever. What could be better than not having to go into work every day AND having the freedom to experience foreign countries? I was one of those people too. I wanted to take a round the world trip for so long, and when I finally found a way to make it happen, I couldn’t have been more excited (ok, maybe a little nervous too).
My situation was a little different in that I quit my job in Atlanta in order to move to Germany after getting married. I decided this was the perfect time for my career break trip, even though my new husband Andy couldn’t come with me. I planned out a five month itinerary, used miles for a round the world ticket, and hit the road a few months after moving to Germany. Andy even booked a flight to travel with me through New Zealand for two weeks around Christmas and New Year’s.
I stayed in touch with friends and family back in the United States, and I Skyped with Andy as often as possible. I missed him, but that was to be expected. What I didn’t expect was to be so overwhelmed after a month in Southeast Asia by homesickness that I didn’t even want to get out of bed. Andy and I had spent the entire first year of our relationship long distance, why was this so much harder? I had dreamed of this adventure for years, why wasn’t I enjoying it more? I tried to brush it off as just your average culture shock, but after a couple weeks, I knew this dark cloud wasn’t leaving me anytime soon.
Finally, I decided the best thing I could do was take a break and go home to Germany to see Andy. It was a hard decision, and even though I knew I’d be back on the road two weeks later, I felt like I was giving up on my dream trip. But I also knew that I was missing sights and experiences due to my homesickness, and trying to keep going when I was feeling that way wasn’t fulfilling my dream either. So I booked a ticket to Germany and spent two weeks mentally patching myself together.
I spent three more months traveling after that break. My husband joined me for two weeks in New Zealand as planned, and I still missed him when I was on my own again. But I felt refreshed and better able to handle the rest of my round the world trip. My expectations were more realistic, and I was having fun again. Taking a break from my trip was the best decision I could’ve made.
Most round the world travelers don’t plan on going home until it’s all over, and sometimes that works just fine. But I learned that my travel dreams didn’t look the way I hoped they would, and that it’s hard to be away from those who are most important to me. And that it’s ok to feel that way. Maybe being with your family for the holidays is something you want to go home for, or maybe your sister is having a baby while you’re gone. Maybe you just need a little down time with your friends. Flying back home for a week or two doesn’t mean you’re giving up or doing it wrong.
It might just be the thing you need to keep going and enjoy your career break even more.
Ali Garland is an American expat living in Germany. Her travel addiction led her to visit all 7 continents before her 30th birthday. She recently returned from a round the world trip and is now fumbling her way through life in Germany. She is currently searching for the perfect salsa recipe. Ali writes at Ali’s Adventures, and you can follow her on Twitter, @aliadventures7. She also just launched a new travel-related website, Travel Made Simple.
The first step is admitting you have a problem. That famous first step isn’t typically related to career breaks and long-term travel. But it is important for you to realize that you will experience culture shock at some point during your career break. It could be day one, it could be day ten, it could be day one hundred thirty seven. But at some point, you will be overwhelmed by your surroundings.
The key is preparing and dealing with it in a positive manner to get over it as quickly as possible and get on with your travels. You may go through different stages during your career break, and you never know when culture shock will strike. It might not necessarily happen right at the very beginning of your trip either, so it’s important to be prepared and know what to do when it happens.
Prepare Yourself Before You Go
There are several things you can do to help prepare yourself for culture shock before leaving. You already know that some things are going to be very different. In some places, everything will seem completely upside down, and you’ll feel like you’ve entered the bizarro world (India, anyone?). While you’ll never be able to replicate what’s going to happen on the road, there are certain things you can do to prepare yourself for what lies ahead.
Learn some of the local language
Wherever you go first, it’s probably a good idea to learn some of the local language. If you start in Latin America, realize that English is still spoken quite a bit, but for the most part, you’re going to need some Spanish to get around. Taking a Spanish class before you leave will help tremendously in your adjustment upon arrival, and there are plenty of places to do it.
There are free online resources, including an awesome page on BBC’s site that offers free online courses in several languages.
Lenguajero is also a free language learning community where people meet to practice conversational Spanish and English.
Community colleges often offer pretty cheap travel related language classes.
Check out “lessons and tutoring” under “services offered” on Craig’s List – sometimes you can work out a language exchange with a tutor where you’ll meet with someone and help each other out.
At the very least, learning key phrases – hello, good bye, thank you, you’re welcome, how much does it cost, where is the bathroom, etc. – is always a good idea. You’d be amazed at the response you get from locals when you at least try to use their language.
Be brave in what you eat
Part of traveling is trying new, interesting, and sometimes really unique food. If you’re a picky eater, it’s time to change your habits. You will have to be open to new things, especially if you don’t want to spend 2-3 times more on food than you have to. Eating in western restaurants are usually much more expensive than eating locally.
Before you leave for your trip, you can start training yourself by going to new restaurants. Eat ethnic food you’ve never eaten before. Order something off the menu that you don’t recognize, and don’t ask the server what it is (the point and smile method of ordering is commonplace for many travelers in different areas of the world). Start getting in the habit of not really knowing what’s going to come out of the kitchen on your plate. It’s sometimes a scary yet exciting thing, and it’s going to be the norm when you’re out on your career break.
Read and research your destination as much as possible
You would think this is a common sense tip, but you’d be amazed at the amount of people who don’t read up on the culture and everyday life of the place they are visiting. You know those beginning parts of a guidebook that talk about the history, customs, and culture of a country or city? Read those! Knowing about the people, the customs, and what they’ve gone through is a huge part of trying to understand their culture. Understanding that putting your feet up in an Asian country can be highly offensive is a very important thing to know. In fact, voicing anything negative about the King in Thailand could land you in jail!
Reading about common scams and tips for not being taken advantage of is also a great idea. Anyone going to Bangkok should already know before touching down that tuk-tuk drivers are notorious scammers. When you want to go to one of the famous sites, the Grand Palace, chances are they will tell you it’s closed today, and they’ll instead take you on a ride (literally) all around Bangkok, seeing some temples but also to their buddies’ jewelry shops, rug shops, and any other shop a friend might own. The scam is mentioned in nearly everything written about Bangkok, yet unsuspecting travelers fall for it every single day. This would never happen if people just read up on a country before visiting.
Talk to people who have been there
It’s never been easier to obtain first-hand information about a place than it is today. With social media sites and blogs, getting instant feedback is the norm. Bloggers in particular are very forthright when it comes to helping people out and answering questions about a place. So if you’re reading a particular post about a country you’re going to and you have some questions, contact that person and ask. Chances are he or she would love to talk with you about your upcoming trip and answer any questions you may have. Getting the lay of the land before leaving, and knowing what to expect in certain situations will help keep you comfortable and will help tremendously so you don’t feel too out of place. And what better way to get that information than from someone who is there now?
What to Do On the Road to Combat Culture Shock
If you decide to uproot your life by taking a career break to travel the world, you will be going through a roller coaster of emotions upon your departure. Nervousness, fear, excitement, elation – all those emotions will be coursing through your body when you get on that first flight. Upon touching down, everything may be a bit overwhelming, crazy, and new, but chances are you will be so amped up and excited that the culture shock may not hit immediately.
This honeymoon period may last a few weeks, a month, or even more. Everything will be new, everything will be exciting, everything will be the best ever. When you have those feelings, even though you may be overwhelmed at times, that excitement and joy seems to overtake any culture shock you may feel. After a while on the road, though, those things that at first excited you may start to annoy you. That tuk-tuk driver who hassles you every morning when leaving your hostel is suddenly aggravating instead of funny. The fact that you can’t communicate starts to become a burden. The lack of a routine starts to get tiresome instead of fun and exhilarating. When these feelings start to pop up, it means the honeymoon is over. Time to readjust.
Learn the language
If you ignored the advice given in the pre-trip section, chances are you will change your tune once on the road. After a while, not being able to communicate becomes difficult and tiresome. Only being able to talk to other travelers or your traveling partner is annoying after a while, and not being able to ask simple questions becomes really difficult. In most countries, though, there are plenty of opportunities to learn the local language. Language schools about in many places, and full immersion classes are usually the way to go. You’d be amazed at how much you can learn in just a few weeks of language classes, and how much of a difference in will make.
Traveling slowly is something you should do to avoid travel burnout and burning through your money quickly. The longer you stay in a particular place, the more you learn about the culture and customs, and the more comfortable you’ll feel there. Really getting to know a place is just as valuable (if not more) than ticking sites off your list. By traveling slowly, it’s a lot easier to deal with the differences in cultures and not suffer from culture shock. Moving often and quickly not only throws you into different cultural situations all the time, but it starts to become stressful. Constantly packing and unpacking, having to catch an early bus or train, traveling overnight – it all becomes tiresome after a while, and the more tired you are, the more prone to culture shock and burnout you become.
Know when to say “No!” and when to say “Yes!”
Part of travel, particularly in developing countries, is dealing with touts and people constantly asking you for things. At first, this can be cute and funny. After a while, it just becomes annoying. You don’t necessarily want to become jaded towards local people and always be stand-offish, but it’s important to find a balance between talking to everyone and shrugging everyone off. After a while, you start to develop a sixth sense for recognizing the touts who are only going to hassle you. Don’t be afraid to firmly say “No!” and keep going. Walk with an air of confidence, like you live there and know what’s going on. On the flip side, there are so many warm and inviting people you’ll meet while traveling, so it’s important not to dismiss everyone. You may miss out on an incredible opportunity by automatically thinking someone wants something from you. Trust your instincts.
Develop a slight routine
One of the main reasons people decide to take a career break is to get out of daily routines. Getting up and constantly doing the same things every day gets boring. So why would we suggest developing a routine on the road? We are creatures of habit, and after traveling for a few months, we start to get anxious without having any kind of routine. The “What do you want to do?” question and answer sessions if you’re traveling with someone else get infuriating after a while. You don’t have to do the same things every day, but just doing something simple, like getting up for a run or long walk each morning before breakfast can make all the difference in the world. Consider hunkering down in one city for a month or so, rent an apartment, unpack your bags, and live a somewhat normal life for a bit. This is a great way to really immerse yourself in a culture (and a perfect time to take some language classes), and the routine you develop, if only for a month, will re-energize you for what’s to come.
Never underestimate the importance of a big, hearty smile. Not only does it make you feel better, but it makes those around you get the warm and fuzzies. If you really aren’t clicking with a particular place or its people, offer up a warm smile the next time you encounter a local and chances are you’ll get one right back. A nice smile can really make you feel great, and when you’re feeling down and overwhelmed, it really can make a difference.
It’s important to know that you will experience culture shock and travel burnout at some point along the journey that is your career break. Even if you follow all these tips, it’s still going to happen. Whenever you take someone out of his or her comfort zones, no matter how much preparation that person has done, it’s inevitable he or she will feel overwhelmed at some point. You simply can’t prepare for every situation. What’s important is recognizing those feelings quickly and doing something about it.
Struggles On the Road
JoAnna Haugen shares how those “A-ha Moments” you experience on the road help you deal with the daily struggles you may be facing.
Extended travel is not a vacation. Some people think of long-term travel as an escape from everyday reality or a pleasant jaunt into a world of leisure and relaxation. These people know nothing. Long-term travel is hard work; the planning, budgeting and personal fortitude required for such an adventure is not for the faint of heart or the weak of will.
Yes, the many online travel agents and right-on 2014 holiday companies can offer everything from cabanas on beaches to mountain view ski chalets, but long-term travel typically means working with a strict budget and indulging some underlying desire to search inside oneself. The lessons learned on the road are practical, profound, sometimes surprising and assuredly not the stuff of package holiday getaways.
One of the most important lessons learned on the road is logistical in nature – a heavy bag is a serious hindrance. Many travel tips will include this helpful tidbit but until you’re on the road yourself, running for a train and missing it because of the excessive weight on your back, you won’t fully understand this one. Heavy bags break, they’re a pain to carry around, and they increase frustration exponentially. If there are things that can be taken out, take them out. Be ruthless. A lighter pack means you can wander the streets with ease instead of waiting in a bus station for hours because you can’t be bothered to lug it around.
Another significant lesson is less tactical and far more personal – volunteering is an incredible way to experience a place. Travel is fantastic and it undoubtedly broadens the mind, but truly immersing yourself in a culture is a challenge. Language barriers can be cumbersome, locals can be standoffish and the truly authentic pockets of the world can be near impossible to access on your own. Wwoofing is a fantastic way to save money (most room and board is free in exchange for labour), see incredible parts of the world and truly understand a culture. Volunteering is symbiotic in its most wonderful sense, you are helping others and by doing so, gaining authentic and memorable experiences which make you feel fantastic.
The last lesson is slightly more abstract – manage your expectations.
There are some places in the world that are so ubiquitous as a result of films, movies, history classes and cultural lore that it’s impossible not to have an idea about them before you arrive. In some cases these expectations can be met and even exceeded, but in many cases, they can lead to frustration and disappointment. Travel can become focused on how a place doesn’t match an idea rather than the immediate experience of being there in the moment. Travel teaches time and again that the most remarkable things are the ones we least expect. Shedding expectations and embracing the unknown will lead to an experiential immediacy that will allow you to be present in the moment, to soak in a place, to observe the local people and to consider something for what it actually is rather than what you thought it would be.
This post was written by travler Jasmine Williams who has been on the road as long as she can remember (well, about three years anyway). She carries a lightweight back and is amazed by something new every day.
There are plenty of great posts and articles discussing all of the wonderful things travel has to offer. But like most good things, there is also a downside to traveling – it’s just that no one ever talks about that. Christine Talianis of “Bert & Patty”shares with us the frustrations she’s faced on the road during her year-long career break. Many people will be able to relate!
What are some of the unexpected frustrations you’ve encountered on the road?
I think the biggest thing is we didn’t know it was going to be so much work. Seems like we spend an awful lot of time planning our next move, figuring out where we are and how to get around (get a guesthouse, find somewhere to eat, laundry, find out what to do in that town/city, public transport, local scams, etc.). By the time we do all of that, we barely have time to journal, write in blogs and upload photos. So, we opt for a beer and get another day behind. I also thought there would be free wifi everywhere, and there definitely isn’t—guess we were spoiled in Seattle.
Is there anything you wish you knew in advance to help prepare yourself for them?
I wish I had a heads up that it wasn’t always going to be fun and exciting. Seems like nobody talks about the downside to long term travel and it’s even worse when we read other blogs and it sounds like others are having the time of their lives while we are struggling (I guess who’s going to write about it or take photos when they are struggling anyways, right!). Then we just feel crazy and felt bad because we were supposed to be having fun!
Rainer Jenss was a Vice President and thirteen-year veteran of National Geographic. As the Publisher, he helped transform National Geographic Kids into the most widely read consumer magazine for children throughout the world. In the summer of 2008 he decided to put his professional expertise and personal passion to the ultimate test by traveling around the world for a year with his family.
Rainer continues to report on family travel as a Special Correspondent for National Geographic Traveler’s Intelligent Travel Blog and shares with us why traveling is a great way to build a foundation of learning in your children.
If you’re reading this post, you’ve probably fantasized about quitting your job, packing a suitcase, and leaving town for a while to travel the world. When we first got married, my wife Carol and I often contemplated taking the leap — sometimes seriously, sometimes not. There always seemed to be some excuse why we couldn’t, wouldn’t or shouldn’t. Our careers, responsibilities, and commitments had to be considered, and how about what our friends and family would say? It was always something. Then after the birth of our sons Tyler and Stefan, all this talk about packing our bags seemed to suddenly fade away. After all, you can’t possibly do something like this with kids, right?
If we teach our children to travel, we thought, then they will travel to learn –
a foundation that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.
In January 2004, it all came roaring back. I had just returned with the family from Europe after visiting relatives for the holidays when Carol and I started reflecting on how much the boys (then seven and four) seemed to enjoy the experience of being in another country. Couple that with the post-9/11 mood of a country that was getting deeper into a war in Iraq and isolating itself more from the rest of the world, and suddenly it dawned on us that taking a year off to travel the world might actually be more sensible now that we had children. Increasingly, we found ourselves looking at taking a year off to travel not from the perspective of what we had to lose, but from all the benefits we could gain.
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:
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.
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.
With access to the internet in many parts of the globe, it’s easier to stay connected with friends, family, . . . and your favorite TV shows. Unfortunately, blocked content (due to licensing agreements) is a common problem for travelers when out of their home country. Luckily, I found a little known site, called VIPTV.net, which allows me to access TV shows without having to deal with blocked content problems. There is also a trick with Amazon Instant Video to watch a movie when away from wifi. I admit, sometimes I skirt legalities by unblocking content with the use of a web proxy, because having the ability to watch my favorite TV shows and various movies is a small luxury to have while on the road.
Best site for TV shows
VIPTV.net is my favorite streaming content site. On my last count, they offered 780 TV shows; everything from drama, comedy, action, sci-fi, reality, and animation – even old, discontinued shows! Not only do they provide unblocked content, but VIPTV.net has the best pricing with a non-expiring, pay-as-you go membership instead of a monthly fee; perfect for those on a limited budget. Their website is a bit unorthodox with the process of purchasing ‘F$’ credits and then exchanging them for points to be used to watch shows, but otherwise pretty simple to use. VIPTV.net only offers TV shows, so you’ll have to find other options if you want to watch movies during your travels.
Best site for movies
Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, has also jumped onto the streaming content bandwagon. Amazon Instant Video does offer TV show episodes, but it is my ‘go-to’ source for renting premium movie titles. Movie rentals cost approximately $2.99 – $4.99 US and will stay active up to 30 days; however, once you start the movie you’ll have 48-hours to finish it. Amazon allows you to download your rental onto certain mobile devices so that they can be watched without the need for internet access. I’ve used this trick to load my Kindle with movies to enjoy during long flights and train rides. If you travel out of your home country and wish to watch your rental on your computer, you may need to use a web proxy as the video might be blocked.
Using a web proxy
The use of a web proxy is simply to tell the internet that your computer is located in a particular country/location. Using a web proxy to access blocked content from your own home country for your private viewing is one thing, but using a proxy to watch videos licensed in a different country than your own is bordering on illegal, so please be mindful.
There are oodles of proxy options available. The service I use is Hide My Ass (seriously, that’s their name) as they offer a free proxy to hide my computers actual location as well as encrypt my browsing history. HMA’s web proxy can show my computer as home and allow me to watch my Netflix movies, documentaries, and special events without running into content blocking problems. Read more about web proxies towards the end of this FoxNomad article.
More and more streaming content options continue to become available, such as Hulu, Crackle, Slingbox, even sites for sporting events! With the use of a web proxy, ‘internet-free’ movies from Amazon, or pay-as-you-go TV shows from VIPTV.net, travelers have ways to kill time during a layover or reconnect with a bit of home.
Jannell Howell recently returned from an around-the-world journey that took her through many countries including Thailand, India, the U.A.E., and Europe. Before she left, Jannell discovered a love of researching travel-related gear & services and shared her favorite finds on her blog, Traveljunkie’s World Tour. Jannell will soon relocate to New York City and continue to pursue a location independent lifestyle.
One of the best parts of taking a career break trip is getting the opportunity to go local in a destination. When we’re grinding away at the 9-5′s and take our one or two weeks of vacation each year, it’s extremely difficult to really dig into a culture – for several reasons.
1. Time: Learning about a new culture and its people takes time. And traveling in a destination for a week or two rarely affords us the time to really get to know a place.
2. Priority: Often digging into a culture isn’t on the top of our priority list when taking a vacation. We are tired and just want to relax during the little time off we get – which is perfectly reasonable.
But taking extended time off for a career break will afford you that opportunity.
BootsnAll hosts a chat every Wednesday afternoon (3:30 EST) on Twitter entitled #RTWchat, and this past week’s chat was all about going local. They also do a corresponding video chat with a few guests, and they invited one of Meet, Plan, Go!’s co-founder, Sherry Ott, along with LL World Tour’s Lisa Lubin, to give their expertise on what it means to Go Local. Check out the video and the following resources to see how you can best connect with locals during your career break trip!
Read the following articles to learn more about going local on your trip:
Without a doubt, Lebanon is one of the most complex countries I’ve visited. On one hand, you have the cosmopolitan capital, complete with a seaside Corniche, trendy restaurants, high-end shopping, and colorful street performers. On the other, Lebanon offers a glimpse of an ancient rural life that still exists throughout much of the Middle East.
About a year and a half ago, I was invited to Beirut to work with the nonprofit organization Baladi. The organization is dedicated to preserving and promoting Lebanon’s heritage to youngsters by encouraging students to learn about their country’s cultural diversity and works to foster mutual understanding between communities. Baladi sees Lebanon’s shared culture as one way to peacefully address regional conflict.
For my Lebanon visit, I accompanied my close Egyptian friend Inji, whom I met volunteering in Cairo the year before. She introduced me to her friends and colleagues in the country. I was most grateful for this personal introduction to a fascinating country.
In addition to the diversity of landscapes, I found the people and the cultures of the region incredibly absorbing (justifying Baladi’s great pride in their indigenous communities). Here’s a snapshot of my impressions during my short time spent in this most remarkable country.
City Life in Beirut
While staying in Beirut, we shuttled between our apartment in the city’s center to the suburban residence of Joanne, Baladi’s founder and CEO. It was here in Joanne’s home that we did the bulk of our volunteer work of providing philanthropic business development and fundraising advice. (Nonprofit development is my profession in the U.S., and I often provide pro bono consulting during my overseas volunteer stints.)
One of the advantages of meeting in a private home is the ability to see a modern-Lebanese lifestyle up-close. Our friend Joanne lived with her extended family in a stylish apartment with sweeping views of the Mediterranean. I got the chance to meet her charming husband and her children.
I especially enjoyed meeting Joanne’s mother. Our conversation was a bit stilted, with Joanne translating for me, but upon my departure she gave me a blessing to protect me during my onward travels. Looking back, I credit these heart-felt good wishes as one reason I survived my 2-year journey relatively unscathed.
As peaceful as the Beirut suburbs are, the reality of the country’s ongoing political conflict is never far away. During our city stay, there were three incidents that reminded me I was in a country that continues to experience deep and long-running political tension:
– After dinner one night, Inji and I were walking back to our apartment we heard a series of loud shots. We were uncertain if the noise was fireworks or gunshots or an incoming missile. We took cover under an apartment overhang, just to be on the safe side.
– Driving to meet a potential donor, we made it through the city in record time. The reason? Traffic was light because there was a bomb scare. (I, of course, was wondering why we were still out and about when everyone else had retreated inside.)
– While strolling through the winding streets, Inji pointed out the main headquarters of Hezbollah, a Shi’a Islamic militant group and political party which is based in Lebanon. I kept my head down and eyes averted as we walked past the guards stationed outside.
After a few days of intense work, Joanne arranged for several of her Baladi guides to give us a 2-day tour of northern Lebanon as a thank you gift. This was an extraordinarily generous offer, and I cherished the opportunity to be shown the country by these trained historians and local experts. Highlights included:
– Bekaa Valley: Here we visited a Druze temple, came across an itinerant Bedouin family living out of a wagon, and hiked through the fertile valley observing the natural wildlife and beauty of this biblical valley.
– Baalbek: Formerly known as Heliopolis during the Roman period, Baalbek is an extremely well-preserved example of a temple compound from these ancient Roman times. Baalbek is also a Hezbollah stronghold, as evidence from the black flags and pictures of Syrian President Assad lining the streets, political murals on the walls surrounding the Roman ruins, and loudspeakers blaring revolutionary music outside a Lebanese military base.
– Mount Lebanon: This mountain range which includes the highest mountain in the Middle East is covered in snow 4-6 months out of the year. I admit, I was dumbfounded to still see traces of snow on the ground in June. The mountains are also the known for their famous groves of cedar, Lebanon’s national symbol.
– Maronite Village: We spent the night here in a village nestled high on the mountains. In the morning we visited several ornate orthodox churches and observed the caves carved into the rugged mountainscape that were sanctuaries for monks seeking complete solitude. With more than 3 million Maronites (about 22% of the population), Lebanon retains a distinctive Maronite character.
– Tripoli: The country’s second largest city, Tripoli was founded as long ago at 12th century B.C. and has a large Sunni majority (as evidenced by the preponderance of abayas and head scarves worn by the women). It was here that I had the best meal of my entire 2-year trip, a hand-made feast of full of lively mint and lemon flavors.
Quintessential Volunteer Experience
Even though the country might be in the midst of fluctuating degrees of conflict and unrest, it still provided me with a wonderful volunteer experience. In fact, as I look back, my quick trip to Lebanon was the ultimate volunteer experience, affording me the opportunity to:
– Do some good by lending my business development skills to a worthwhile nonprofit doing important work on conflict reconciliation in the region.
– Visit and learn about a country I wouldn’t have necessarily traveled to on my own.
– Benefit from a personal tour of the country to see first-hand the richness of the culture and the physical beauty of the landscape.
– Make friends with local Lebanese, providing me with a window into their lives and some insight on the challenges they experience each day.
– Push my limits of where I felt comfortable in terms of physical safety and erode some lingering stereotypes about Arab countries.
Volunteering in Lebanon opened up a new frontier for me and helped me put into context the struggles that we hear so much about through the news. I consider myself truly lucky to have had this wonderful volunteer experience.
To read more about volunteering and travel in Lebanon, check out the following articles:
A former finance executive, Erin Michelson is now an “Adventure Philanthropist,” who recently completed a two-year global giving adventure, visiting all 7 continents and exploring 60 countries. Volunteering with global non-profit organizations along the way, Erin helped build a house in the Philippines, a well in rural Uganda, and a library in northern Laos, sponsored secondary school education for a young woman in India and helped provide self-defense training for young girls in Israel. Read more about her experiences on Go Erin Go or follow her on Twitter @GoErinGo.
Photo credits: Lebnen18, all other photos courtesy of the author and may not be used without permission.
You might be thinking of taking a career break, but going traveling doesn’t always mean you have to give up on the idea of work altogether. Often a great way to meet people, dip your toes into new career opportunities, and of course, fund your trip, there are many reasons to consider working while you are abroad.
Whether you’re off to explore Europe, Africa or Asia, consider the following options for working on the road:
A Teaching Job
A lot of people assume that to be able to teach abroad, you need to have teaching experience at home. However, this is a myth! Thanks to an ever increasing demand for English speakers abroad, you can learn to teach English with a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) course. No previous experience is required: anyone who is a native English speaker can do it. In addition to being quite fulfilling, a teaching job while traveling could even lead to a new path in life. More importantly, it can be something you can pick up wherever you are!
A Social Job
If you’re more of a social butterfly, or are more interested in using traveling as a way of meeting new people, try finding a job tending bar or waiting tables. Although this type of job might mean becoming a bit of a night owl, it can free up your days for exploring the surrounding area. The great thing about bar or restaurant work is that it’s fairly easy to pick up and is always in demand – all you’ll need is enthusiasm, basic math and a friendly manner!
An Outdoor Job
If you’d prefer to earn money while enjoying some fresh air and exercise, there are plenty of opportunities for labor work abroad. This doesn’t necessarily mean anything too challenging; agricultural jobs can range from fruit picking, to peeling or even just packing. With farm owners constantly requiring people to help out, this type of job can even be quite lucrative. What better way to enjoy life in the great outdoors?
If you’re thinking of ways to make your money go further while abroad, another good tip is to look for discounted flights or accommodation; with a quick search you can easily find free vouchers for Hotels.com or other travel companies. Alternatively, looking for a job overseas needn’t mean you have to sacrifice time spent enjoying yourself – in fact, it could end up enhancing your travel experience!