What’s the Right Amount of Time on the Road

When I first started backpacking nearly 20 years ago, I never heard about gap-years, or for that fact, career breaks. I was traveling as a college student, adding to my education by backpacking through Europe and studying in London. That experience led me to realize that I wanted to incorporate travel throughout my life – whether it was three months in SE Asia or two weeks in Ecuador.

San Blas, Panama

And during the majority of my travels, the Internet was not a prevalent part of my planning until the past few years. So I was unaware of any other people outside of my circle taking sabbaticals or career breaks to do extended travel.

But since co-founding Briefcase to Backpack, many more career breakers and RTW travelers have come on my radar. And sometimes it seems like many feel that they need to travel for at least a year or more, and in some cases, sell all of their belongings to do so. But in my experiences, I don’t feel that that is always necessary. Yes, there are many fascinating places in the world to see, but is it really necessary to check them off all at once?

I’ve found that I much prefer taking shorter breaks (a minimum of two to three months) every few years – focusing on a certain area of the world. And knowing that that is how I prefer to travel has also made it easier to incorporate those breaks throughout my career – utilizing time between jobs to travel. And personally, I really look forward to returning home.

My most recent career break was only just three years ago (my fourth), and I’m continuously asked when my next break is going to be. And I thought that it would actually be at the end of this year, when I celebrate my 40th birthday. I’m not sure if it is the milestone birthday or the “pressure” from writing and editing other people’s career break stories – or a combination of both – but my recent vacation made me realize that I may not really be ready for a break. I’m very happy building a business and living with my husband and two cats in New York City.

San Blas, Panama

I think that because of my early travel experiences I have learned how to really make the most of my vacations, using the week or two to also experience new cultures while enjoying the time off. Michael and I just returned from 10 days in Panama, where we took in the diverse neighborhoods of Panama City, experienced the Canal from various vantage points, visited the Pacific beaches on the Azuero Peninsula, and enjoyed the seclusion of the San Blas islands. It was during that vacation that I realized it’s not the length of the trip that is important – it is what you do with your time that is. And that is something I learned from my various career breaks.

Of course RTW trips are an amazing opportunity for many people, and I don’t discount them. I just know that that style of travel is not for me. Nor is the nomadic lifestyle of my business partner, Sherry Ott.

In fact, when we first started Briefcase to Backpack, we didn’t want to tell people how to plan their own career break, because we knew it is a very personal experience. But by featuring the experiences of others, you could find a variety of inspirational stories and then decide what would work best for you. I just want people to also realize that a career break and extended travel doesn’t have to be a one-off experience – it can become a part of your life moving forward.

So in planning your own career break travels, really think about the amount of time and experiences you want to take in. Don’t necessarily worry about keeping up with the Joneses of the RTW travel community.

Other comments

9 Comments on "What’s the Right Amount of Time on the Road"

  1. Debbie Beardsley on Mon, 11th Apr 2011 1:01 pm 

    This post was great. It is very important to realize there are many different ways to travel and experience life. This decision needs to be made by the traveler. We all need to balance our life to meet all of our goals and expectations. Balance is the key and is what is missing in many people’s lives.

  2. Katrina on Mon, 11th Apr 2011 1:55 pm 

    I had a bit of a difficult moment in Morocco recently because I realized a totally nomadic lifestyle was not in the cards for me, whether or not I end up creating it for myself. I really cherish my downtime, as well as my alone time, and simply don’t function well without it. Realizing this was hard, as my vision of breaking free took a rather extreme shape in my fantasies.

    I think your idea of slow travel through one region of the world, a few months at a time, is shaping up to be more my style. A year-long RTW trip sounds daring and romantic, but I do love my nest, my belongings — and my husband! Home base as a launching pad and safe haven upon return sounds much more inviting.

  3. Roy | cruisesurfingz on Mon, 11th Apr 2011 10:42 pm 

    Great advice. There is no one-size fits all approach to travel. Personally I prefer the 2-3 month travel to a massive RTW trip.

  4. Link love (Powered by ruffles and picnics in the park) | Musings of an Abstract Aucklander on Fri, 15th Apr 2011 9:12 pm 

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  5. Chels on Sun, 24th Apr 2011 8:26 pm 

    I got out of college and was attempting to decide how long to travel for. Three to four months is a perfect amount of time I feel to really get to know an area and explore a bit. I was very glad to read your post and was inspired by the fact that you were able to balance a career and travel as well and for months at a time. I would like to know how you managed this balance.

  6. Karen on Fri, 29th Apr 2011 3:55 am 

    thanks for this article. my husband and i are just starting to plan about 3 months of travel over 4 months (i guess you could call it a mini career break?), and i have been feeling like i can’t really be part of the travel blogger community because we’re not planning a big RTW trip. it’s nice to know there are others of us out there.

  7. MeetPlanGo on Tue, 17th May 2011 9:50 pm 

    Hi Karen! You are definitely not alone. Would love to hear more about your travel plans. And be sure to check out local meetups and national event to see if any are happening in your area. It’s amazing meeting fellow career breakers in person!

  8. megan on Sat, 30th Apr 2011 11:56 pm 

    Great points made here. A friend I travel with fairly often also subscribes to this career break method – she prefers to do a few months at a time and stay more connected to life at home.

    Personally, I’m all about hitting the road and not looking back – each to their own 🙂 There’s no one right way to do it!

  9. Bluegreen Kirk on Thu, 5th May 2011 2:59 pm 

    Its great that you see it from a different point of view. I believe that its true that we each can travel for a certain period of time before it gets a little well…like a job or habit. My wife could go for weeks while I am more of a couple of days then need to rest. Nice write up.

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