What to Do

5 Reasons to Incorporate a Group Tour into Your Career Break
Monday, October 3rd, 2016

small group tour career break

Take a break from your career break and try a small group tour

Taking a career break to explore the world is a tremendously freeing experience, during which you’ll have the chance to learn much about other cultures – and yourself!  However, planning a long-term trip can be a daunting process. Solo travel is rewarding, but also nerve-wracking, and while on your travels you may find yourself needing to take a break (from taking a break!).  This is where a group tour can provide some relief. Guided tours provide an opportunity to let someone else take care of all those pesky logistics: like accommodation, transportation, and daily itineraries.

You may be wondering “but group tours are so limiting! Will I get to see everything I want?”

The short answer is: “yes!” Group tours are often different than people expect. Particularly those who tend to travel independently. You may be surprised by how much independence you actually have during your tour! Sherry Ott, who took a solo career break in 2006 notes of her own experience: “If you choose the right companies, small group tours can be some of the most rewarding travel you do on your career break – it was for me. The group tours I did arranged all of the logistics (transportation and hotels), but the rest was really up to me. I could eat with the group or go alone, do the tour or explore on my own. But the best part was that you always had a local guide with your group that traveled with you, ready to answer questions. It was a way to get much closer to the culture of the country than I could have on my own.”

Here’s 5 reasons to consider a group tour during your extended travels:

1. Easily Socialize with Others

You’ve been on the road for a while. You’ve met people along the way, but everyone is transient, on their own adventures around the world. It starts to wear on you a bit. Though it’s still exciting, you begin to wish you had more than a few hours here and there with new friends, to really get to know your fellow traveler.

On a group tour, you’ll have a lot of time to meet and get to know like-minded travelers. And some tour companies even provide ways to pre-meet each other in forums or local city meet-ups! While you might not be life-long friends with everyone on your trip, you will likely find a few people that you automatically click with.

small group tour

A group dines in Morocco together on a small group tour of the country

2. Cultural Immersion

Though some may argue that true cultural immersion only comes from striking out on your own, many tour operators give you the opportunity to venture deeper into local life. This is especially true of more dangerous destinations, where solo tourists are advised to stay in very specific areas.

But with a tour, oftentimes your guide will have connections in the area. And you are granted the unforgettable experience of dining in a small local restaurant, meeting local families, and getting a true glimpse into a new culture. This is especially true if you join a small-group tour, where group sizes are usually 10-16 travelers maximum.

3. Some destinations require you to be on a tour

Then of course, there are some places where you simply cannot visit on your own. Interested in seeing the diverse wildlife of Africa? A safari will get you up close and personal with the animal residents of the Savannah.

Although tourism regulations to Cuba have been greatly relaxed, a tour is still a good idea – it will help guarantee accommodation, and you’ll be able to explore the farther reaches of the island.

Want to check that 7th continent off your list? Antarctica is only accessible by tour (unless you’re a scientist!).

Antarctica group tour

Go with a group to Antarctica

4. Local Expertise

Getting to know a destination through the eyes of an expert is an incredible way to have a deeper travel experience. They bring the boring plaque next to the landmark to life, provide context to a famous building, and introduce a new way to think about cultures and customs. Many tour companies employ only local guides, so it’s sort of like traveling with a friend who knows the best places to eat and find that perfect gift for a loved one back home.

5. Maximum bang for your buck

Busy days, covering long distances, checking off famous sites. On a guided tour, you will have the opportunity to see a lot more in a condensed period of time. This can be helpful for those wanting to take a break from the “slow wander” and pick up the pace, participate in activities, watch demonstrations, and get special access to landmarks and attractions. Often times, tours will save you money over solo travel since operators get deep discounts on things like accommodation.

When considering group tours, there are so many options you’re sure to find the perfect one suited to your personality. Let your sabbatical be enhanced and made easier by incorporating a fun guided trip into the experience!

About Samantha Scott

samantha2Samantha Scott is the Content Manager for Stride Travel, a marketplace where you can search among thousands of trips, read reviews, and find the perfect guided travel experience for you.

Top 10 Reasons to Try Experteering
Monday, February 22nd, 2016

When you look back on your life will you regale your friends and grandchildren with “that month you were slightly more productive at your corporate job”…or that time you “helped a Brazilian non-profit save a virgin rainforest from a logging company”?

Are you an engineer, lawyer, graphical designer, or IT professional thinking about taking a Career Break? Now you can finally volunteer in your area of expertise around the world!  Experteering allows you to make the most of your career skills by volunteering for causes that matter to you, while exploring exotic places in ways most travelers could only dream.

Enter our Experteering Contest
Enter our Experteering Contest
Use your professional skills on your career break! Sign up to win a MovingWorlds.org membership in partnership with Meet Plan Go, and Experteer around the world for FREE. Make your career break count.

Here are ten of the many reasons you should seriously consider Experteering for your next adventure.

1. Travel the world

experteering volunteering

See Experteering Opportunities around the world.

Finding a project in one of your bucket list countries will allow you to combine two of the best experiences: travel and making a difference in the world. Experteering gives you the reason and road to get the places you’ve dreamt of exploring.

2. No donation required

While volunteer opportunities like building a house or volunteering at an orphanage can cost anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, Experteering rarely costs any money at all, and some even provide travel stipends. MovingWorlds’ organizations desire your skills and passion much more than your money and connects you to immersive local experiences in exchange for your skills.

3. You will make lasting change

No matter what your skill set, from accounting to graphic design to finance to copywriting to social media to engineering to blogging, you can help make an organization stronger than you found it. MovingWorlds has a multi-pronged approach to help you make the most of your Experteering opportunity, and removes any unnecessary stress from the process.

4. Cultural immersion

experteering volunteering

Integrate with the local community! Photo by MovingWorlds.org

Unlike a traditional vacation or even a backpacking trip, you will be fully immersed in your destination. You will get to know your local grocer, barista, bus driver, and co-workers and undoubtedly be welcomed into the community. It’s the fast track to truly “live like a local!”

5. Build your resume

Anyone who has been on a job interview in the last 10 years knows that it’s all about differentiating yourself from the other candidates. Come to the table with a unique and memorable story…and what better story than your experience Experteering half-way around the world, making a positive change while honing your various skills.

6. Make wonderful friends

Experteering and volunteering are naturally self selecting, so you will be interacting with like-minded folks who love travel, altruism, and thinking outside of the traditional social confines.

7. Change things up at work/life

Sometimes a little stir of the pot will bring out a bunch of new flavors, and life is no different. If you are going to work thinking “what am I really achieving here, am I making anyone’s life better selling more X, Y or Z?” then maybe it’s time to try something fresh and fulfilling.

8. The gift that keeps on giving

experteering volunteering

Work with business peers in other countries. Photo by MovingWorlds.org

When you realize that your skills can make a supremely positive change on an organization, and you get to explore a fascinating region of the world, you will want to repeat the experience. The good news is MovingWorlds allows you to sign up for unlimited future projects, without any extra admin fees.

9. Learn a language

You will have the opportunity to practice the region’s language as much or as little as you wish, and undoubtedly come away with improved communication skills.

10. Life is short. Carpe Diem. You only live once. Follow your dreams.

The list of clichés could go on and on…and you could share them all on your Facebook wall, pin them to your Pinterest inspiration board…or you could put a plan in motion to make your dreams your reality.

 

*CONTEST* Meet Plan Go is giving away a MovingWorlds membership to someone who would like to try Experteering in 2016. If you are interested you can enter the contest here.
Meet Plan Go & MovingWorlds March Giveaway

If you would like to learn about the opportunities available for career breakers, simply visit the MovingWorlds website, enter your skills and the regions of your world you would like to visit. There is no cost to browse the website and review the numerous opportunities, and the projects do not require any monetary donation. The only cost is a one-time administration fee when you decide to start an application so that the MovingWorlds team can guide you through the Experteering process and provide you personal support as you need it (and even that is discounted for MPG members at checkout). If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me!

– Mike Howard, Mike@MovingWorlds.org
Ambassador, MovingWorlds.org
Founder, HoneyTrek & RTW Packing List

 

Need help planning your career break trip? Check out the following articles and resources:

MovingWorlds March Giveaway
Sunday, February 21st, 2016

Enter to win a lifetime membership to a network of free, life-changing volunteer opportunities

Meet Plan Go & MovingWorlds March Giveaway
What is MovingWorlds? If you’re looking to make a real difference on your next trip, and you don’t like the idea of having to pay to “volunteer,” then it’s the perfect time to check out MovingWorlds.org. MovingWorlds connects people who want to travel and volunteer, with social impact organizations around the world. They selectively source and qualify social impact organizations working in the field so you can be confident your skills will make the most impact. “Experteers” have access to MovingWorlds exclusive training, resources, and planning guide to help ensure safe, high-impact engagements.

See our Top 10 Reasons Career Breakers Should Include Experteering in their Itinerary

What is this giveaway? Meet Plan Go has partnered with MovingWorlds.org to share the awesome work they are doing in the volunteering space around the world. They have given us one Full Membership (with unlimited phone support) to giveaway to the Meet Plan Go family. See Terms and Conditions

Explore MovingWorlds.org: If you would like to check out the various opportunities on MovingWorlds, they have provided us a link that allows you to review the complete details on every single opportunity they have available (and if you don’t see the perfect opportunity, they will reach out to their global partners and find one that fits your criteria). Follow this link, http://MovingWorlds.org/MeetPlanGo, click “Join Now” on the top right, and you will have unfettered access to the site, and never be asked to pay a thing until you find the perfect opportunity (and when you do find that perfect opportunity MPG members simply pay an administration fee of $112).

volunteer experteer

How to enter this giveaway:

  • Meet Plan Go will be giving away one full MovingWorlds Membership PLUS additional support to someone who is interested in volunteering in 2016 (value: $300)
  • Everyone who would like to enter should email Mike@MovingWorlds.org with the following:
    – Your First Name, Home Country & the Email you used in your MovingWorlds profile
    – Link to your favorite 1 (or) 2 MovingWorlds “Experteering” opportunities
    – A few sentences telling us why you would like to volunteer for this organization in 2016
    – Confirm that, if you win, you are willing to share your experience with the Meet Plan Go audience via a few blog posts
    The email you send will earn one entry in the contest, and is mandatory for anyone who wishes to enter
  • Optional: If you would like to earn a second entry in this giveaway, post a tweet with a link to the MovingWorlds opportunity you are interested in. You can say whatever you wish, simply include the link to the project and mention @MeetPlanGo & @Experteering in your tweet.
  • Optional: If you would like to earn a third entry in the giveaway, head over to this Facebook Post, and leave a comment that includes a link to your favorite MovingWorlds opportunity, along with a few sentences about why you want to Experteer there.

Deadline: On March 31st 11:59 PM EST . We will add each entry that meets the criteria (including each Twitter & Facebook entries) on their own row in an excel file, and use Random.org to randomly choose the winner. Winner will be notified by email (via the email address that was used to make the first submission) within five (5) days following selection of Winner.  Once the winner accepts, we will mention the winner on social media for both Moving Worlds and Meet Plan Go.

Please read all Terms and Conditions prior to entering.

Questions: If you have any questions about MovingWorlds or this contest please email Mike Howard, Mike@MovingWorlds.org

Camper Van Relocation: Cost Comparison
Thursday, July 10th, 2014

Earlier in the week Amelia Tockston wrote a post about her experience with Camper Van Relocation in Australia. The following is a detailed breakdown and cost comparison for anyone interested in doing the same on their career break trip.

Details and itinerary

  • I had a Britz Hi-Top, 3 person sleeper — all to myself!
  • Van amenities included: stove, fridge, microwave, kettle, utensils, cups/bowls/plates, table, bed, linens/pillows/sleeping bags, sound system, sink, electrical plugs, window screens, storage bins and lights.
  • I could extend my contract for $75 day (max 2 days). But in my case, I could extend for one day only, since paying customers needed the van on Dec 29 in Hobart.
  • My schedule: Depart Melbourne Dec 24, arrive Hobart Dec 28.
  • My US car insurance did not provide coverage for camper vans, nor did my credit card company, so I purchased insurance through the rental company:
    • $12/day to reduce damage expenses to maximum $500 out-of-pocket, in the event of an accident.
    • Important noteIf relocation driver rolls the van, rental insurance does not apply and driver is responsible for full cost of vehicle damage. And since rolling a vehicle generally totals a car, the driver would be responsible for the cost of entire van! Horror story, a tourist from China, with no insurance of her own, rolled her luxury camper van and subsequently owed the rental company $170,000 AUD. Lesson here: DO NOT roll your camper van, take corners cautiously and slowly.
  • Bond requirement: My credit card was charged $1,000 AUD. This would be refunded to my credit card upon arrival to Hobart Airport, but given two contingents:
    • No damage to vehicle and I arrive ON TIME. If vehicle is returned damaged, I would forfeit up to $500 AUD. If I failed to return the van by 3 pm on December 28, I would forfeit the entire $1,000 AUD. Not a good day to be late!
  • I was receiving $350 AUD towards fuel and ferry crossing. The least expensive ticket for a Melbourne to Devonport, Tasmania on Christmas Eve is $369 AUD. And this is for a recliner! Part of the pros and cons of traveling over the holidays.

My 4-day camper van itinerary

December 25 – Arrival to Devonport / Drive to Cradle Mountain National Park / Afternoon hike / Christmas dinner in camper van / Overnight at Cradle Mountain Holiday Park

December 26 – Morning hike around Dove Lake, Cradle Mountain National Park / Drive to Ross / Overnight Ross Inn Caravan Park

December 27 – Drive to Freycinet National Park / Hike to Wineglass Bay / Swim at Honeymoon Bay / Drive south to Triabuna / Overnight at Triabuna Caravan Park

December 28 – Drive Richmond / Drive to Hobart Int’l Airport, fill up petrol and clean out van / Return van to Britz office before 3 pm – don’t be late!

Additional Information

  • US driver’s license and passport were sufficient for the rental (I do not have an international license).
  • Relocation driver must be 21+ years of age.
  • Extra Kilometer Charge: $0.55AUD
    • This is the amount charged per kilometre if you exceed the kilometre allowance. This did not apply to me.
  • Imoova.com charges a $25 service fee. To avoid this charge in the future, book directly through rental company, thl (www.thlonline.com).

Cost breakdown

Typical van rental expenses:

  • $770 AUD – Regular daily van rental ($154 AUD/day)*
  • $280 AUD – One-way fee
  • $60 AUD – Van insurance through rental company
  • $369.00 AUD – Ferry Crossing
  • $88.27 AUD – Groceries
  • $57.00 AUD – Caravan Parks
  • $40.50 AUD – National Park Entrance Fees
  • $102.32 AUD – Petrol

Total: $1,767.09

*Over the Christmas period, the minimum hire period is 10 days; so a normal 5-day hire is not possible unless driver is relocating the vehicle. Above $770 AUD quote is based on 5 days; a 10-day trip would be $1,540 AUD just in daily rental fees!

Relocation expenses:

  • $20 AUD – Daily Rental Fee ($5/day)
  • $75 AUD – Extra rental day
  • $60 AUD – Van insurance through rental company
  • $25 AUD – Imoova service fee
  • $32.18 AUD – Ferry Crossing (difference from reimbursement from rental company)
  • $88.27 AUD – Groceries
  • $57.00 AUD – Caravan Parks
  • $40.50 AUD – National Park Entrance Fees
  • $102.32 AUD – Petrol

Total: $500.27 AUD

Total savings: $1,266.82

Amelia Tockston has maintained a longterm love affair with travel. Since beginning her career break in January 2013, she has explored New Zealand’s north and south islands, eastern Australia, Chukotka Russia, Mexico City, Singapore, Palau in the South Pacific, Indonesia, and hopes to reach Nepal and India this coming fall. Prior to taking her career break, she worked for an expedition travel company for nearly eleven years directing the Marketing department. Amelia feels the most alive and present when traveling and has an eye to appreciate the boundless wonders that Mother Nature offers. She’s also realized, particularly while on sabbatical, that the people she’s encountered and their stories are equally as inspiring as the destinations discovered.

Traveling with Purpose
Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

Why Water? Because unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation cause 80% of diseases and kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war.

I am revisiting one of my favorite countries from my initial career break – colorful, loud, sense-tingling India. India is a country which was pivotal to leading me on the path to creating Meet Plan Go along with Michaela Potter. It was also a country where I had my first experience of volunteering and giving back to the world for what it gave me during my career break.

One of the most exciting and difficult parts of planning a career break is deciding where to go and what to do. After all, it may be the first time in your life where the world is really your oyster! At Meet Plan Go we talk often about planning itineraries with purpose and your career in mind. How will you decide to enhance your career value while on your career break?

Traveling with a purpose can bring focus to your trip and add new skill sets to your career break resume – for example:

“I spearheaded negotiations with tribal chief and facilitated a young couple’s marriage with the chief’s blessing and a roast goat for the whole village.” –Charlie Grosso

Even though this is a bit tongue and cheek, there are many ways to add purpose to your career break – volunteering, learning a language, enhancing a skill, photography projects, immersion in a country that is important to your career, working in natural disaster areas, teaching, or fundraising for a cause.

I’m in India for a purpose. The aforementioned Charlie Grosso and I are participating in the Rickshaw Run. This is not an actual run, but a transportation adventure in the most massive sense; a two week adventure driving a motorized rickshaw 2000 miles the length of India for two purposes.

To raise $15,000 for charity: water – a charity I believe deeply in and have witnessed the repercussions of contaminated water around the world.
• To experience India close to the ground on a massive adventure that is unique and will test my communication, decision making, and driving skills.

This is a way I can infuse unique adventure into my travel itinerary as well as participate in a worthy career-enhancing cause AND do good.  After traveling the world for 7+ years and starting Meet Plan Go as well as Ottsworld.com – I think it’s important to give something back to this world that we live, travel, and operate in. I’m happy to be taking on this fundraising mission for everything the world and its cultures has given to me.

If Meet Plan Go has ever inspired you to travel, then we’d love your support towards our fundraising mission, but we’d also like to give you something in return – the chance to win a few great travel prizes you can use on your career break travels.

Learn more and enter the contest here

The raffle runs through the time frame of our Rickshaw Run, April 1st through April 22nd. We will choose 4 winners from the entries for the 4 prizes.

Increase your chances of winning by making a donation to charity: water

Here’s the travel prizes you could win by entering:

Urban Adventures Voucher for 2 – The day tour with a difference! In just a few hours you can get under the skin of the city you’re visiting – so you know it like a local. Urban Adventures will open up a whole new dimension on many of your favorite cities around the world. Destinations worldwide – Bangkok, Sydney, Delhi, Hanoi, Rio, Hong Kong, Istanbul and MANY more!

Telecom Square Mobile Internet Voucher – Get reliable, and hassle free internet while you travel abroad! Save money on data while traveling by using TelecomSquare mobile internet hotspot devices for your career break. You’ll enjoy unlimited wireless internet access for up to 5 devices, everywhere you go. We are using our Mifi device to stay connected during the Rickshaw Run!

London’s Small Car Bit City Voucher – smallcarBIGCITY have a fleet of beautifully restored vintage Mini Coopers to take you down all of the little back streets and show off London’s hidden gems for the ultimate guided tour of London!

AFAR Magazine Subscription – Get inspired with beautifully told travel stories and photography in this award winning travel magazine.

You can enter the Rickshaw Run Travel Raffle Here

And if you are considering infusing some adventure into your career break itinerary like the Rickshaw Run or Mongol Rally, you can follow #RickshawRun in Twitter or my Ottsworld social media to follow us live across India and see if it’s something you’d like to do!

No donations or purchases necessary…but of course we’d love it if you do donate something AND it increases your chances of winning by 10 times!

Resources to Help You Learn about Teaching English Abroad
Friday, September 6th, 2013

Teaching English in Cambodia

 From China and Cambodia to Costa Rica and Chile, teaching English abroad provides hundreds of thousands of opportunities for English speakers from all backgrounds to work and get paid to live overseas, making the field ideal for those who truly want to become part of a local community in a foreign country.  Because demand for English teachers worldwide is so high, it also provides a viable means of income for those who want to engage in extended career break travel, but who don’t have the $10,000 – $20,000 in the bank that may be required to undertake a 6-12 month foreign adventure.  And guess what?  You don’t have to have a background in education, professional teaching experience or even a college degree to get hired, though a TEFL certification provides the training and qualifications most language schools around the world seek when hiring English teachers.

That said, if you are considering teaching English abroad, there are numerous questions and variables you will need to consider, including (to name a few):

  • Where can I teach English abroad based on my own personal background?
  • What kinds of schools will hire me and who will my students be?
  • If I want to teach English in Mexico, China or Japan, do I need to have a college degree?
  • What are salaries and benefits for English teachers in different countries?
  • How do I actually find jobs and get hired – do I need to line up a job prior to my departure, or can I find jobs in my destination country upon arrival?

The answers to such questions will vary from country to country and getting a job to teach English in Costa Rica will be a very different process and experience than teaching English in South Korea, Russia or Spain.  To help you sort out your options, answer your questions, and assist you in learning more about opportunities for you to teach English around the globe, here are some great resources worth checking out.

  1. Check out this Country Chart, which compares teaching English in more than 50 countries worldwide by salaries, hiring requirements, interview procedures, hiring seasons, visa regulations and more.
  2. Major ESL job boards like www.daveseslcafe.com,  www.eslemployment.com and www.eslbase.com feature job listings for teaching English in dozens of countries around the globe and feature forums where English teachers around  the globe share their experiences and insights.
  3. For more in-depth personal accounts and insights check out this index of more than 100 blogs, interviews and articles from actual people teaching English around the globe. You can also find many great videos like this one on YouTube and through Google or any search engine that provide informative and often colorful perspectives on what it is like to actually teach English abroad.

  1.  There are a number of good books about teaching English overseas, but the tops is probably Susan Griffith’s Teaching English Abroad, which features hundreds of pages of country profiles, listings for schools and other potential employers and tips for teaching English in all regions of the world.
  2. The International TEFL Academy website features an index of more than 150 articles and FAQs about all aspects of teaching English abroad and TEFL certification, from salaries and hiring procedures to visas and housing arrangements.
  3. You can also call International TEFL Academy, which certifies nearly 1,500 people a year to teach English abroad, at 773-634-9900 to speak for free with an expert advisor who will answer your questions about teaching around the world.

These are just some of the resources you can use to research opportunities to teach English abroad and to learn how teaching overseas can help you achieve your goal of traveling and living abroad.  To learn more, request a 30-page eBook about teaching English abroad from the International TEFL Academy or call 773-634-9900 to learn more about teaching English abroad and TEFL Certification around the world.

 

About the author: John Bentley is a Senior Admissions Advisor at the International TEFL Academy, which trains and certifies 1,500 people a year to teach English abroad and provides lifetime job search guidance to all students and graduates.  John wrote for the Egypt-Israel edition of the famous Let’s Go! travel guide series and he has worked in the field of international travel and education throughout his career.  He also grew up in Egypt and has traveled to more than 50 countries around the globe.

 

 

 

Volunteering in Dangerous Places: Beirut, Lebanon
Thursday, March 7th, 2013

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.

Road-Trip Lebanon

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.

A Career Break With A Purpose
Monday, July 25th, 2011

When preparing for a career break, a big question is always “what to do?”. Some people use the time to learn a new skill and others may volunteer. For Lisa Dazols and her partner Jenni Chang, they wanted to bring some meaning to their break. They will be traveling for a year across Asia, Africa and South America in search of gay people who are creating change for the LGBTQ community and they will feature a collection of their conversations on their website, Out and Around. By telling the stories of these Supergays, Out and Around hopes to inspire the gay community, decrease homophobia, and raise awareness on gay issues in the developing world.

Lisa Dazols & Jenni Chang

As if taking a year off to travel the globe was not enough of a thrill, Jenni and I decided to give our trip a little something extra. Overachievers by nature, we wanted to use our year abroad to accomplish something meaningful.

What began as a conversation with a friend who spent a year interviewing healers around the world for her PhD has now turned into an ambitious project to tell our story as a lesbian couple and interview gay people across the globe. We named our project Out and Around: Stories From a Not-So-Straight Journey and launched a website to tell these stories. Our latest goal is to raise $6,000 to make an educational documentary out of our journey

During our travels through sixteen countries, we’ll be on the hunt for the Supergays – individuals who are leading the momentum on the LGBT movement. Supergays may be directly involved in community organization, or they may be using their influence in politics, health, arts, entertainment, or business to raise awareness and make progress on gay issues.

The funny thing is we aren’t writers, photographers, web designers, or filmmakers. We’re a social worker and a business manager. Overwhelmed by the steep learning curve ahead, we started to prepare by taking classes in writing and photography. We involved our friends with a range of professional backgrounds who guided us. Then when all else failed, we Googled our questions and watched how-to videos on YouTube.

Lisa Dazols & Jenni ChangWe learned that when you want to make something happen and follow your passion, people reach out to support and guide you. We’re very ordinary people who found extraordinary support.

In our everyday lives in San Francisco, we are fortunate to live in a supportive “gayborhood”. We know how lucky we are. We live in a city that not just tolerates difference, but celebrates diversity.

At the same time, no one is free from the sobering properties of homophobia. As a social worker, I chose to work in HIV to accompany individuals who struggle with the devastating mental and physical impacts of stigma and discrimination. Meanwhile, Jenni fights the good fight at home trying to educate her devout Evangelical parents who are adamantly against her relationship with me.

Our vision for this project is fueled by our desire to seek out individuals who have struggled and succeeded across the world. Increasing visibility as lesbians traveling abroad also empowers us. The positive responses we have already received from the LGBT community fuels our passion even more. As we prepare for the big trip in July 2011, we are giddy with excitement and we hope this project helps to act as a meaningful ripple in the larger LGBT movement.

You can follow Jenni and Lisa’s journey on Out and Around, on Facebook and also on Twitter.

You can also learn more about their documentary and fundraising efforts.

Out and Around

Preparing to Leave as an International Volunteer
Monday, November 1st, 2010

International volunteering is something many career breakers are interested in doing. And we are no strangers to the experience! Between the two of us (Michaela and Sherry), we have volunteered abroad in Peru, Thailand, Nepal and India. And we’ve discussed how to choose the right volunteer program for you. Now that you have – how do you actually prepare for the experience? Jane Stanfield, of Where Is She Heading, shares some advice with us.

Phase one is complete. You have decided which volunteer project will benefit from your enthusiasm, expertise, and time. Congratulations!  Take a short breather because you are about to enter phase two – preparing to leave.

TELL ABSOLUTELY EVERYONE what you will do, where it is, and when it will happen. Help them imagine it by giving them glorious details of what you will see, hear, taste, and smell. Describe what it will be like to do the work and how wonderful you will feel upon completion. This is done, of course, in a non-smug way because your intention is not to instill envy, but gain enthusiasm for your volunteer work.

CREATE YOUR TO DO LIST of everything that needs to be accomplished, not only before you leave, but also while you are abroad. Decide how you want your affairs handled.  Immediate family can do many of the items if you are only gone for a month. If you will be gone for an extended period however, you may need a team of people to keep your home life rolling while you are away.  As this topic is covered in detail through the Briefcase to Backpack program, I suggest a preliminary list of topics to be considered:

  • Job
  • Legal issues
  • Bills
  • Insurance
  • Mail
  • Home – Possessions, Pets and Plants
  • Car
  • Special Events
  • Commitments to others.

Brainstorm other issues specific to you and your trip with your family.

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ESL Certification: Teach Around The World
Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

This week Alisha Robertson told us her tips on how to incorporate teaching ESL into your career break travels. She mentioned that she actually got certified to teach ESL while she was still living in America; but what does that certification entail and is it really necessary?

First of all, certification normally comes in a couple different forms – CELTA (Certificate for English Language Teaching to Adults) is the most known and recognized. It’s a certification offered by Cambridge University and known throughout the world. Most places require that you have a certificate in order to teach at an English Language school. Keep in mind that certification is not necessary for volunteering, however it does help your effectiveness!

CELTA certification is the same all over the world. It consists of 4 weeks of learning content. It can usually be done in an intensive one month of classes or in night classes over the course of a number of months. It’s not a cake walk – there are homework assignments and instructors are grading & constantly critiquing you.

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Career Break Guide Table of Contents

Meet Plan Go