Taking the Time to Step Back

Lacey Laken has been “on the road” since September 2011 and so far her career break has taken her to Spain, Morocco, Italy (where she lived with a family for six weeks), Paris, London, Kenya, Tanzania and is now in India. She plans to be traveling through the summer of 2012 and blogs about the food she encounters along the way. She shares with us what led to her decision to take a career break from a law career that she actually enjoyed.

I lived in New York City and worked as a corporate bankruptcy and restructuring lawyer during the four years leading up to my departure. Before that, I spent nearly six years living in Melbourne, Australia where I went to law school (and also received my bachelor of arts degree). Australia is where I first became attuned to the concept of taking a year “off” to travel, because it is such a common practice there. For various reasons I never considered doing it while I was a student, but it was an undertaking that I admired.

Lacey Laken in Italy

When I got a job as a lawyer in New York, I finished my studies early by taking summer classes and handing in assignments before the end of the semester to get to the U.S. in time to study for the bar exam. I suppose since then – June 2007 – I never paused; it was go, go, go for the next four years. During the financial crisis, I was fortunate to be employed in an area of law that was made very busy by the downfall of the economy.

One thing I always managed to do, despite how busy work could be, was to take my vacation time, which I mainly spent overseas. In those four years, I visited Belize, Peru, Israel, England, the Czech Republic, Austria, Turkey, Egypt, and also went back to Australia four times.

It was after I returned from Turkey and Egypt in July 2010 that I decided to take a career break. I suddenly became so aware that there was a whole world to see, and I would never be able to do it in four weeks per year maximum (a year is not long enough either, but at least it is a good start!). I also realized that it was important for me to pause to think about my future and make a conscious decision that I was doing what I wanted to do and living where I wanted to live, rather than continuing both out of habit. I know that many people do not have the opportunity to take a break to reflect, and because I did, I think it would have been a mistake if I had not taken advantage of it.

Leaving my job ended up being one of the hardest things I have ever done. It became clear to me how much I respect my colleagues, who are also my friends and mentors. Since I have been traveling, one of the biggest realizations I have had is that I do really like my job and where I worked. I am proud of the projects I worked on and hope I have the opportunity to do so again. It is also now very clear to me how much I love New York, which I was glad to confirm. Like I said, because I worked in a sometimes all consuming field, it was so easy to slip into a routine, without taking the time to step back and think about what I was doing; for that reason alone this trip has been worthwhile.

Over the course of a year, my itinerary slowly evolved. I started off by choosing the places I most wanted to visit in the near term that I had not been before (in particular, Spain, East Africa, Japan, and Russia) and structured the rest of the trip around those destinations. I have left some flexibility, but do have a skeletal international flight structure booked. This way, I keep moving but am also able to make new plans as I go if I have a new idea or am invited to go somewhere.

Anchovies in San Sebastian

One of my favorite things about travel (and living in New York) is finding and experiencing good food. I have been documenting my culinary experiences on my travel and food blog – 365bitesaroundtheworld. Before I left, I had actually decided I was not going to write a blog because I thought it would be a burden. Eventually, after many suggestions from friends, I changed my mind. I find there to be two challenges to keeping a blog – staying disciplined and keeping readers interested.

I chose to focus on food because it is something I already devote far too much attention to and a topic many people are curious about. In the end, 365bitesaroundtheworld has been a great project for me. It keeps me on my toes while traveling and it has been a great way to keep in contact with people. It will also provide a great record, beyond the scope of photographs, of my trip, which is something I probably would not have had the discipline to do otherwise.

Food is an obsession many travelers share. What has been your favorite meal on the road?

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