What to Do: Overview

If you are like me, you work hard – very hard. However, all of a sudden I was looking forward to a year of free time to do whatever I wanted – no work and all play! Yes, a dream come true but overwhelming at the same time. So many decisions to make.

My first instinct was to escape to a beach and relax, but I knew that I couldn’t simply ‘vacation’ for a year. And I knew it wouldn’t take long to get the ‘vacation bug’ out of my system. So after that, then what?

This is the time you can try things that you have always dreamed of, but you never had the time to do. If you don’t know where to start, here are some ideas based on my itinerary. Keep in mind, though, this itinerary evolved as I traveled. I didn’t have it all figured out when I started my break; it was far from being figured out. It’s important to leave yourself open to changes and reconsider your plans after you’ve been out on the road a bit!

Great Heights
[singlepic=1346,200,,,right]One of my career break goals was to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. This had been a goal of mine for a while but it was hard to make a reality with my meager corporate American vacation time. This meant that I would need to wait until my retirement, however who knew if I would even be able to climb when I was retirement age. I was in shape now, so why not go now? This Kilimanjaro goal was one of the main impetuses to my career break. It started the wheels turning; considering a long-term break from work so that I could do the things that I wanted to do while I was still healthy.

Not only did I climb Kilimanjaro, I also chose other peaks and athletically minded things to do on my career break. I climbed Mt. Kinabalu, kayaked in the Milford Sound, did the famous Milford trek, climbed Mt. Sinai, hiked up the Franz Josef Glacier, trekked the Great Wall, and hiked Tiger Leaping Gorge.

Don’t be afraid to take on some of those goals that you thought you were saving for retirement!

Language Immersion
[singlepic=1343,200,,,left]If you’ve ever tried to learn a language in the US, I’m sure you’ve thought about how much easier it would be if you weren’t in an English speaking country and working 50 hours a week. If you could just focus on it and be surrounded by it, would it be easier to learn? I had tried to take Italian for a year while living in NYC, but this was my chance to put my money and time where my mouth was – go to Italy and learn Italian.

I took a month of my career break time to live in Italy with an Italian family and attend language school. If there is a language that you’ve been trying to master, check out the various immersion opportunities to assist you in your quest! Here’s a good comprehensive website for all languages and locations around the world – Language Study Abroad.

Self Improvement
I also took this time to take a serious hobby and try to focus on improving it. I had always been an avid photographer, but I wanted to learn more. While traveling I was shooting everyday, however, I really needed some critique and feedback on my work. In addition, I wanted to learn more and really improve my photography. I searched for photography workshops/classes in the cities on my itinerary. It led me to a photography school in Bangkok. After speaking with Jonathan Taylor, the founder of the photography school, he helped me tailor a trip to Laos to work on photojournalism. My travel with Jonathan was one of the highlights of my break.

[singlepic=1338,175,,,right]In addition to photography, I also endulged in another hobby of mine – cooking. In pretty much every country you can find cooking classes; from one evening to a full-month of intense instruction. I did all of the above. A night in Vietnam, a day in Thailand, and a month in Italy…Bellisimo!

Travel Photography
In Asia – Jonathan Taylor Photography School 

International Cooking
Global Cooking Classes
Culinary Schools

Volunteer – Give Back
[singlepic=1342,200,,,left]When I initially started out on my travels I didn’t plan to do any type of volunteer work. All I could think about was getting out of my corporate life and traveling. However, once I started traveling around to various developing countries and seeing it with my own eyes, meeting the locals, and seeing how terribly unfair the world can be, I knew that I had to become involved in some way. I started to feel a bit guilty having the time of my life while traveling around the world and not doing something to give back to it. It was then that I started to consider volunteering.

There are many companies that can help you find the volunteer solutions for you. You can share a skill, help the disabled, set up a business, build a home, teach, develop communities, volunteer with wildlife, and even do sports coaching; the opportunities and needs are endless. For me, I first chose the area that I wanted to volunteer in, India, and then decided upon the company, Cross Cultural Solutions. By talking to them I decided what type of work I wanted to do.

[singlepic=1351,200,,,right]There are many ways to volunteer. A fully supported program is normally more expensive but you have an immense amount of resources at your disposal. Keep in mind that even if you are a self-starter at home, it’s a different game within a foreign country and having in-country support can be very beneficial. The lesser expensive programs depend more on you to take the reigns and may not be able to offer as much support. These are usually smaller organizations within the country that lack NGO status. However, these programs are a great way to really immerse yourself within the local culture.

Here are some great sites to begin your search:

  • Idealist –  a great resource for volunteer opportunities abroad and at home. Michaela found her program in Peru through Idealist.
  • Matador Travel – offers a large database of local NGO’s. This is where I found my NGO in Nepal. Matador also offers some great articles about volunteering.
  • i-to-i – offers a broad range of volunteer travel opportunities.

Voluntourism is a wonderful way to accomplish a couple of things; giving back to the countries that you are traveling in AND really immersing yourself in the culture and meeting locals. It’s something that you’ll never regret!

I had a roommate in college who grew up on a farm in Nebraska. I went to visit her home town and heard the story about some German travelers that came and lived with her family for a month during the harvest to see what a real ‘midwestern’ harvest was like. I remember thinking to myself – who in their right minds would want to do that? Apparently, there are many people that want to do that! If you are into organic farming, eating, or are just a foodie, then you may want to consider volunteering at a farm anywhere in the world. It’s a chance to learn more about the agriculture of that country and of course a super chance to immerse yourself in a new culture. Here’s a site with a pretty good list of farm work opportunities from around the world – Farm Work Abroad

What Next?
The list of things to do during your career break is infinite – narrowing it down is the challenge. But don’t get frustrated – you don’t have to plan everything in advance!

We’d love to hear from you:

Tell us about the activities you did during your career break. Share your career break ideas here

Other comments

2 Comments on "What to Do: Overview"

  1. Alonna on Tue, 9th Jun 2009 11:48 pm 

    Sherry, I really liked this article. My husband are about to start a 1-year career break in July, and we’re still unsure what we’ll do the whole time. This article gave me some good ideas, thanks!

  2. Michaela Potter on Thu, 11th Jun 2009 5:26 pm 

    Thanks for the feedback Alonna! We look forward to following your upcoming travels and hopefully you’ll have some advice to share with future career breakers!

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