Next Steps: Turning a Passion into a Business

We have shared many inspiring stories of Americans who have taken a career break to travel. But then we were contacted by Jorrit and Nicky Jorritsma, a couple who reside in the Lake District of Great Britain with their 11-year-old daughter Kiah. They are self-proclaimed “Briefcase to Backpackers” and wanted to share their story of how they turned their passion for traveling into a business. We found their story to be incredibly inspiring and felt you would as well.

[singlepic=1611,300,,,right]Hi, we’re Jorrit and Nicky. Today we produce and sell classic, sustainable travel bags and outdoor gear but it was a long journey to get here. Here’s our story of how we went from backpack to briefcase, then back to travelling, and finally re-designed our lives to bring our work and our love of adventure together.

We hope that our story will inspire you to take some time out to travel – and to draw on your travels to reinvigorate your life on returning to the workplace. Having married and later set up our own business as a result of travelling, we passionately believe in mixing the worlds of work and adventure!


Jorrit – In Europe, many teenagers go travelling in a Gap Year between school and university. However, despite the fact that we’re both European, that actually wasn’t our story. After our school studies, neither of us took the option of a traditional Gap Year. Instead, we headed to university and, on completing our degrees, immediately entered the world via work and military service. Nicky joined the management programme of United Distillers, part of the Guinness Group, while I did military service in Holland (my homeland) as an officer in the Strategy Department. And it was for very different reasons that we each ended up travelling after that.

Nicky – For me, I came to a point where I felt that I needed to review my career plans. I’d been working for United Distillers for a couple of years. But, within a short space of time, my Grandfather died, my Dad fell ill, a four-year relationship ended, and I found myself in two car crashes. Chatting with a girlfriend at work, I decided to plan to head to South America for a year and see where to go from there. My key motivations were:

  • Realising that life can be short and alter quickly – it’s important to grab chances while we can.
  • To feel the freedom of making my own choices day by day.
  • To experience the excitement of exploring unknown countries.
  • To test my ability to deal with whatever happened while travelling and hopefully grow in confidence.

[singlepic=1612,300,,,right]Jorrit – My reasons for travelling were rather different. Having completed my military service, I wanted to travel and end up in Australia. My plan was to apply for residency there. I’d studied in Queensland and fallen in love with the country – its landscape, weather and lifestyle. Now I wanted to return to Australia while whetting my taste for adventure on the way. My plan was to take a circuitous route via South America, North America and Asia before ending up in Oz again. To that end, I worked as a hotel porter by night and a taxi driver by day to fund the trip. And then I bought my one-way ticket.

Nicky – I left work in Britain in December 1992 and flew to Venezuela with two girlfriends. We spent Christmas in Caracas where there had just been a military coup. Then we started travelling by road, opting for air in the more dangerous areas of Colombia. In some ways, we were taking real risks but we didn’t want to opt for an organised trip. We wanted to be self-sufficient and plan our own route.

This is fine in principle but tricky when all three people prove to have different needs and wishes! After a month together, we decided to go our separate ways and I set off alone for the small village of Vilcabamba in Ecuador – a town with a reputation for the longevity of its inhabitants. There I met my future husband, Jorrit.

Jorrit – I’d been travelling in Ecuador with an English woman and Australian guy. When I met Nicky in Vilcabamba and love struck, we carried on travelling as a group of four. Before we knew it, we’d found our way through South America, Asia and North America, spending almost two years away from home and having the experience of a lifetime.


Jorrit and Nicky – We were both concerned when we returned from travelling to re-enter the job market. Would we be viewed as a pair of freeloaders? Far from it. We only received positive feedback from employers. This is what we realised as we digested the impact of our two years of travel. A backpacking trip can:

  • Build your confidence in dealing with unexpected events.
  • Increase your communication skills and ability to create speedy rapport with people.
  • Teach you how to assess people and circumstances very quickly.
  • Broaden your perspective of life, giving you a new sense of proportion. Often it’s the people who have very little in terms of possessions who prove to be the richest in their welcome, wisdom, generosity and insight.

On the flip side, the bug for travel and freedom never leaves you! Today, we still hanker for travel and adventure at times. You can sense this when you find yourself comparing prices for cars, sofas and presents with the air fares that you could buy for flights to dreamed-of destinations!


[singlepic=1613,250,,,right]Nicky – It was work-life stress which eventually sent us travelling again, this time in a different style as we now had an eight-year old daughter, Kiah. Jorrit had been working as a Managing Director of Kangol, based in West Cumbria, but travelling constantly to New York, Europe and Asia. At the height of his work, he could be away two to three weeks every month. Living in a remote rural community, we found family life suffering because of Jorrit’s work, exciting and stimulating though it was.

And when my Dad was diagnosed with cancer, it was another reality check. We decided to commit to making changes in our lives to regain a healthier work-life balance.

Jorrit – Around my fortieth birthday, as a result of the stresses that Nicky has outlined, I left my job and took a year out to review where I wanted to go next. A Dutch uncle gave me some wise words which persistently echoed in my ears – “The first forty years are about quantity, the second forty are about quality”. I started to work out the real values that were important to me and my family. I walked in the fells of the Lake District, learned to kite surf, and started travelling again with Nicky and Kiah.

This time we stayed closer to home, swapping Great Britain for South America and Asia, and ditching backpacking for a camper van with wetsuits and boogie boards on the roof. We toured Britain, living simply as we were wage-less but feeling happier and more fulfilled than we had for ages. Gradually, we decided that it was time to take a bold step – to bring the fruits of our travels and our working life together and establish our own business.

Three elements went into the mix of our thinking:

  • A desire to inspire people to make simple decisions that can improve the way that we all live and protect the planet’s resources at the same time.
  • My lifelong passion for bags, vintage items and travel memorabilia.
  • Reading a great book on an insurance clerk turned adventurer, Millican Dalton, who lived wild in the Lake District in the early twentieth-century, pioneering a life of simplicity and adventure.

With these three thoughts in mind, we decided to launch our own bag brand, naming it Millican after local legend, Millican Dalton.


[singlepic=1614,250,,,right]Jorrit and Nicky – Of course, after travelling for a year without a salary, we had little in the way of a lump sum to start a business. However, inspired by our travels, we set off with an idea and a business plan and were lucky enough to find local investors who loved the concept of Millican. They wanted to support a grass-roots business inspired by and created in the heart of Lake District. With a strong vision and financial support, Millican the company was born.

Today, the biggest challenge for us now that our business is up and running is constantly reminding ourselves of the really important elements in our lives. And taking time to enjoy them and each other. There is always work to be done, especially when it’s based in your home. But work-life balance was the prime motivation for starting the business. We would be untrue to ourselves if we let that balance slide.

For us, it’s about taking the lessons and wisdom we’ve gained from our travels and feeding that back into our everyday lives. Why set up a sustainable business if it isn’t sustainable for us as a family? The choices aren’t always easy and sometimes we make mistakes. But it feels like a great adventure to be on – and we’re learning and growing, not stagnating.

So, go on – take time out if you need to review your life. Distance, travel and new variety brings invaluable perspective. And there is always life on your return, whatever your fears. In our experience, life after travelling has proved to be far better than the life we had before.

Check out Millican’s beautiful products at

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Other comments

8 Comments on "Next Steps: Turning a Passion into a Business"

  1. Tweets that mention Next Steps: Turning a Passion into a Business | Briefcase to Backpack - Travel Advice for Career Breaks or Sabbaticals -- on Mon, 21st Dec 2009 10:44 am 

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Travel & Adventure, Melissa. Melissa said: Next Steps: Turning a Passion into a Business | Briefcase to …: Today we produce and sell classic, sustainabl.. […]

  2. Lina Zaproudi on Mon, 21st Dec 2009 12:11 pm 

    Very inspiring and interesting story…
    I checked out the bags and they look very attractive.

  3. brian | No Debt World Travel on Mon, 21st Dec 2009 3:39 pm 

    Great looking products. I know it is gratifying that you’ve been able to combine your passions into something that helps other people and puts food on the table and a roof over your head.

  4. aTravelAroundTheWorld on Wed, 23rd Dec 2009 5:59 am 

    Wow, your story definitely inspire people to take some time out to travel, life is short 🙂

  5. Millican Bag Give-away | Ottsworld on Wed, 23rd Dec 2009 10:04 am 

    […] because they came up with this fabulous company idea while on a carer break!  Jorrit and Nicky turned their passion for travel into a business after their career break. They started Millican, a travel and outdoor lifestyle brand for […]

  6. Alonna on Sun, 27th Dec 2009 11:05 pm 

    I love hearing stories like this about people finding a way to use their passion in a new career or business. Thanks for the inspiration!

  7. Garrett on Fri, 12th Feb 2010 8:36 am 

    I think the most important thing about staying travel “passionate” is figuring out how to integrate it into your life in a sustainable way.

    I took 3 huge trips in my early and mid-20s and have 41 countries under my belt, but I’m also goal-focused, so I had a growing feel that I needed to “build” something with that passion. Having traveled in the pre-blog days, I would have done a much better job of digitally documenting my trip which I may have been able to monetize, but with a background in design and product development, new ideas popped up.

    I initially launched a business that allowed folks to create online travel posters that combined all the details of their biggest trips – photos, trip route, their style – in to a custom poster they could frame and hang. Great idea, a bit before its time.

    With a background in apparel, Hostel Dog was the next sensible move. With designs focusing on the experiences of the passionate backpacker, I’m hoping to mirror the voice and sentiment of those away from home.

    Great story! I went to the Millican website and I love their gear and lifestyle.


  8. Michaela Potter on Fri, 12th Feb 2010 11:11 am 

    Hi Garrett! Great to see another veteran of the pre-digital backpacking world!

    And it’s wonderful that you have also been able to intertwine your passion for travel into your life and business. Many think it must be one or the other, but you are another example of how you can really do something you love and support yourself at the same time.

    Best of luck with Hostel Dog! We already a big fan of your clever designs!

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