Day-to-day cubicle doldrums didn’t motivate me to take my career break, instead it was an inspiring interview for a travel-related job. While I didn’t get the position I still remember what the interviewer said to me: “If you want to travel, then travel.”
I can’t picture being where I would be today if I had not taken the leap and simply booked a flight to New Zealand. While smart financial decisions and pre-entry planning made returning easier, it was ultimately a positive attitude and helpful support from others that prepped me for the adventures that have followed.
1. Start with your strictest budget and finish without being in debt.
Whether your budget is hotel- or hostel-sized, adjust your expectations early on. It’s much easier to start and stay frugal instead of splurging on luxury and whim in the beginning and then trying to scrap together a few dollars for a cot later. By buying a cheap car that also served as our closet and pantry, we were able to see every corner of the country by camping and tramping (including many of New Zealand’s famed Great Walks). So what if we passed on the 90-second thrill of a bungee jump and a little room service.
After hanging out with broke backpackers who had resorted to fruitpicking, and briefly trying to land temp jobs in Wellington, we decided on our trip’s motto: “Working is for Suckers.” But this made it all the more important that we sold our car instead of taking a loss. After 10,000 km and a few afternoons hustling at car markets, we got back nearly all of our $1,000 investment. As those Kiwi kids say: Sweet as!
2. Know the power of networks and support systems.
I’ve never liked the term networking. It always seemed cold and corporate to me. But it’s well worth planting the seeds for your return in advance as these things take time to grow. It’s amazing how much goodwill and good info you can get by asking contacts to share their experience and demonstrating your industry knowledge. And as tempting as it is to leave the office with a grand speech in a blaze of “Working is for Suckers” glory, burning bridges is never a good idea.
After an enthusiastic welcome by our loved ones, friends and family also offered opportunities that made a big impact. Accepting an aunt’s loaner laptop made freelancing easier while everyone had good advice and contacts to share.
3. Use the time to figure out what’s important to you.
I love that the average person will change careers five to seven times. Even my mom “still doesn’t know what she wants to be when she grows up.” When I took an extended trip (a career break?) before getting a “real” job, I had time to catch up with some reading and really think about my future. And it was my love of books that led to an editorial job in New York City. Later in New Zealand, I began to plan how I could get more travel in my work. While I had experience that included writing a camping guidebook, most travelers today have a blog to highlight their own interests and adventures.
When I was fortunate enough to get an interview at Fodor’s Travel, my passion for travel was an asset. While other potential employers might not be quite so understanding, do you really want to work for someone who doesn’t understand career breaks?
4. Expect some things to change – and others to stay the same.
While I did have the option of a leave of absence, it was important for me to go in a new direction. It wasn’t all different though, as I had kept my affordable apartment and returned to many familiar things.
But not all change is under your control. While part of our life had been paused, the lives of our friends and family continued. For some, three months passed in the blink of an eye, while others were in a dramatically different place.
5. Don’t let re-entry worries end your trip early.
Plan some fun things for your return but don’t check e-mail every day or you’ll already be back mentally. For me, it definitely helped to come back to some exciting summer plans.
Before coming home, I was especially excited for a week stopover in Tahiti for one last chance to relax before reality. There was one last surprise that the trip had for me though, as my boyfriend got down on one knee at the base of a waterfall. Yes!
Cate Starmer is the Online Editor at Fodors.com and a career breaker. She looks forward to returning to New Zealand with her husband Aaron to complete all of the Great Walks (and maybe bungee jump).