So You Want to Write a Travel Memoir
Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

You’ve just returned from an inspiring career break and are inspired by the experience to write a book. Think it’s not possible? Alexis Grant offers tips on how you can make it happen.

How to Write a Book About Your Travels

When travelers hear I’m writing a book about backpacking solo through Africa, they often confess that they, too, have dreamed about telling their travel story. “But I don’t really know how to go about it,” the traveler says. “How should I get started?”

Indeed, a book-length work can be daunting. But if you have a blog – and many travelers do – you’re already ahead of the pack. Blogging gets you in the habit of writing regularly and gives you an outlet for feedback, so you can get a sense for which stories resonate with readers.

So what’s the best way to turn your ideas into a book? Here’s how to get started on your travel memoir:

Read other travel memoirs

Think about why each book works (or doesn’t). Try well-known authors like Bill Bryson and Mary Morris and Paul Theroux, but also browse your local bookstore’s travel section for up-and-coming writers. Since my book is about traveling solo, I look specifically for books by women who have done just that. How is the story structured? Why did it sell? How will yours be different – and better?

Alexis Grant - Mada

Figure out your message

Your memoir should be about more than your trip; you need an overarching theme that readers can relate to, a story arc that includes personal growth. Look back at those travel memoirs you read. What’s their message? You can bet those stories aren’t simply a chronicle of “first I did this, then I did that.” There’s some thread, some theme that ties their experiences together and makes them meaningful. How can you turn your story into a narrative that people who don’t know you will want to read?

Bert & Patty: Where Are They Now?
Monday, January 24th, 2011

In the summer of 2009 we introduced you to three career break couples, including Christine & Paul Milton – aka Bert & Patty – from Seattle. Christine & Paul started their career break by getting married in the Cook Islands and knew from the start that they would end in Edinburgh, Scotland, where they hoped to settle down.

In between, we checked in with them as they offered some travel tips they gained on the road as well as sharing frustrations most travelers face on the road but rarely speak about. It has now been several months since they wrapped up their travels and settled in to their new life in Edinburgh. So we decided it would be a great time to check in!

Christine & Paul

As part of your original career break adventure, you always planned to end in Edinburgh, Scotland. What transpired in the months since moving to Scotland?
Oh, yes, our great adventure was to start in the Cook Islands with a lovely sunset beach wedding, travel for 13 months (talk about an amazing honeymoon), and then end up in Scotland. To our great surprise we quickly found a lovely apartment right in the city. We thought, “wow, this is easy, we will have jobs in no time.”

I (Christine) found a volunteer job right off and we both proceeded to job hunt. Right away, we started hearing gloomy reports about the economy and prospective job cuts for the next couple of years as a way to deal with the deficit. We were still hopeful. We heard many Scots talking about the job market and how difficult it was to secure a job and how many people were already getting laid off in recent days. Seemed like everyone was singing the same song. Never mind, we were determined to make it work in good ol’ Edinburgh. After all, we shipped all of our worldly possessions there—we were committed.

We got involved in, met some nice people and enjoyed the city. We even bought bikes and peddled til our heart’s content. Still, we were hopeful and continued to job hunt but as the months wore on, we started to wonder if and when we would actually get a job and how long our savings was going to hold out.

Paul contacted his old employer to see what was going on and to his surprise, he was offered a job with a significant raise. Although we had our hearts set on starting a new life in Edinburgh, we couldn’t pass up the offer and I was a bit homesick so we thought it would be the sensible thing to do. We are excited to get established in Seattle and who knows, when the British economy starts rebounding, we may just find ourselves back in the UK.


Reflection: Getting Back in the Game
Monday, October 18th, 2010

In July 2009, Alonna Scott and her husband Ben set off for their year career break – which we followed from the beginning: Alonna gave tips on how she “negotiated a sabbatical“,  we highlighted their site along with two other career break couples, saw how they were adjusting to “life on the road“, and we checked in with them during the 6-month mark when they gained their “road experience“.

[singlepic=1887,300,,,right]Since they’ve returned, their career break experience continues to inspire their life choices. And when faced with a tough re-entry, Alonna turned to self-reflection to get her back in the game.

When I left my job in 2009 to travel for a year, I hardly gave a second thought to what it would be like to come home at the end. I was fortunate to get a Leave of Absence from my employer, and I assumed that I’d return to work refreshed and motivated. But what I didn’t realize is that taking a break and traveling would change my attitude and perspective on life.

Returning from a Leave of Absence
Coming home after my round-the-world trip was exciting – it felt great to unpack for the last time, sleep in my own bed, and choose from a huge closet full of clothes every day. But the end of my Leave of Absence loomed before me, and I knew I only had two choices: quit or return to work. Considering my dwindling bank account balance, I chose the latter.

Unfortunately, the transition back to work was much harder than I expected. Although I loved engineering, had a great job and awesome coworkers – I wasn’t ready for the change in daily routine and the stress of long to-do lists. I also felt a loss knowing that my trip-of-a-lifetime was officially over. And most of all, with a lack of direction and purpose I was left feeling completely unmotivated. I even questioned whether my career break had done more harm than good.

Luckily, all it took to get me back in the game was a little time and some self-reflection.


Reflecting: How Travel Reawakens Your Passions
Monday, August 23rd, 2010

Extended travel offers an inspiring break for more than just those stuck in a rut in their career. It is also great for those who need to recharge their lives – like Teresa Gotay and Mike Tieso from Art of Backpacking. They share with us how travel reawakened their passions and set them on their life paths.


Teresa Gotay

Teresa in Peru

When life give you lemons, you don’t always have to make lemonade. What if you’re in the mood for iced tea? You envision your life to go one way, and it ends up another. All my life, I envisioned a cookie cutter lifestyle of going to school, starting my career and getting married before the age of 25. As my 24th birthday recently passed, I have yet to complete any of the three.

In early 2008, in my Senior year at St. John’s University, I lacked financial aid, decent credit and the motivation to finish school. For years, I was surrounded by the notion that you had to finish school as soon as possible before the rat race began. After working countless 9-5 jobs, bartending in between, moving in and out of many apartments in New York City, my life battery needed a recharge.

2010 became the year of travel and self-discovery. I spent 5 months traveling through South America getting a taste of the backpacking experience. It left me with a craving for more and the appreciation of people, culture and travel.


Reflection: Morgan’s Tale
Monday, July 26th, 2010

[singlepic=1854,250,,,right]In August of 2008, the Cooney Family set off on their year-long travels. Together with their three teenage sons, Mike & Catrell wanted their children to have a unique experience. “Our theory was to give our three sons a way to see the world, experience other cultures and appreciate what all of us tend to take for granted before they go to college.  That experience, coupled with a good education, will almost assuredly put them on the road to success, regardless of the vocation they choose.”

Were they successful? Ask their son Morgan.

In the months leading up to the trip that would take our family across six continents and through 23 countries, we could not have imagined the things we would do, the people we would meet, or the places we would see. No book, TV show, movie, or story could have taught us what we would learn in the months of travel through Central and South America, Southern Africa, Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji.

A textbook would never give you the experience of watching the sunrise a top a Mayan pyramid set deep in a jungle or teach you how to make coconut curry while overlooking the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. There is absolutely no substitute for travel and having those experiences firsthand.

“We must go beyond textbooks, go out into the bypaths and untrodden depths of the wilderness and travel and explore and tell the world the glories of our journey.”  – John Hope Franklin

[singlepic=1853,250,,,right]When my brothers and I were younger, our dad would show us a map and would teach us about other countries. We would always ask if we would ever go to these exotic places in Africa or the Inca ruins in Peru and he would say, “Yes, one day we will go.” When my parents first told me about a trip around the world it was as if my dreams came true. The mysteries of other countries have always held my thoughts.

I have always dreamt of learning about other cultures and new places. Even at a young age, I realized that watching the Travel or Discovery Channels would never fulfill my need to explore. The burning desire to wander to new lands cannot be quenched by anything other than through travel itself.

[singlepic=1851,250,,,right]A day does not go by without me thinking about my family’s yearlong trek around the world. Smells, sights, and sounds bring my mind away from where I am, and back to where I have been; the billabongs of Australia, the bushland in Africa, the beaches of Brazil. The trip I took with my family was the best time of my life, we followed our dreams of travel and I encourage everyone to do the same! In fact, the dream is still alive and kicking inside of us. My twin brother and I are leaving in September for a three month expedition to Costa Rica and perhaps will visit a few adjacent countries as well.

As my mom and dad like to say, “Travel is the ultimate education.”, and my brothers and I are living proof that this statement is true.

Morgan, 19 years old, has now graduated from HS and is attending college in between traveling. His future plans are to work with animals and he has spent years volunteering at the Central Florida Zoo and Gatorland.

You can meet Morgan and the Cooney Family at Meet, Plan, Go! in Orlando on September 14, 2010. Be inspired by their world adventures and learn how you can follow your own dreams.

Meet, Plan, Go! Orlando

Reflecting Through Mandalas
Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

[singlepic=1836,175,,,right]In my recent post Gap Year to Career Breaker I highlighted the differences in travel during 1995 vs 2010. For the most part the differences are logistical & technical, but the experiences are always magical.

And as a photographer, I’ve been surprisingly delighted in the transition from film to digital. No longer do I have to lug around dozens of rolls of film, worry about them getting damaged in multiple x-ray machines, having them developed, then scan them in to edit (I was a big fan of shooting chrome [slides] because of the vibrancy in color it offered). And when digital was first introduced, I was a bit slow in making the transition more so because of cost than convenience.

[singlepic=1831,175,,,right]Either way, images are a great way for sharing your travels with others. However, as an artist, I wanted viewers to take away more than just “oh that’s beautiful”. Rather than just showing these images and how I see them, I wanted to find a way for others to have their own contemplative journey of my experiences – and for them to walk away with a little piece of what I felt at that moment. I struggled with how to go about doing that.

Then I reflected back on the time I spent in Nepal during my 2001 career break, where I was introduced to mandalas. Mandala is an ancient word for circle. They represent wholeness and have been used for millennia in cultures worldwide as a tool for self-expression, spiritual transformation and personal growth.

[singlepic=1828,175,,,right]Over a period of time and experiments, I finally figured out a way to create my own mandalas. These digital images are created with photos from my world travels and each one represents the emotional and spiritual essence I experienced on my various trips and invite the viewer to have their own contemplative experience of my journeys.

What creative outlets have you used to share your travel experiences?

Gap Year to Career Breaker
Monday, June 28th, 2010

It was 15 years ago this week I was wrapping up my first six-month journey. Here’s how it brought me to where I am today.

[singlepic=1823,225,,,right]Location: Somewhere over the Pacific

Date: February 7

Well, here we go. It’s so hard to imagine that after all this time of planning we are finally on our way to New Zealand and Australia. It’s just unimaginable what adventures we are going to come across. I haven’t even allowed myself to think about it because I know from past experience that it is impossible to do so. I just hope that I will figure out what direction life should take me, at least temporarily. I’m just living for the moment and will make the most out of everything.

Year? 1995

This was my first journal entry at the beginning of my gap half-year, but it could easily have been an entry from the career break I took in 2001, the one in 2006, or even the one in 2007. And reflecting back on that time and experience, I am grateful that I was exposed to the wonders of extended travel early in my life (in fact, what led to this 6-month adventure was a summer of backpacking in Europe in 1992 followed by a study abroad program in London).

I’m grateful because it cemented in me a love for travel and the need to incorporate it into my life – not treat it as a one-time experience.

[singlepic=1825,275,,,right]And because of that a-ha moment, I’ve always looked at jobs and careers as more of a way to fuel my wanderlust. I wasn’t worried about climbing the corporate ladder – I was focused on earning money to climb the Inca Trail. Instead of saving for expensive heels that would give me blisters walking the cobblestone streets of Manhattan, I shopped for hiking boots that hopefully would keep blisters at bay as I hiked the Annapurna Circuit. And rather than acquire all of the latest labels, I am much prouder over the number of patches acquired on my backpack.

It’s been exactly 15 years since I returned from that trip and I’ve been making my way around the globe ever since, with breaks to fuel my funds as well as my need for a sense of home. Unlike many RTW travelers today, I don’t feel a need to trek around the world in one trip. Yes I want to see as much as possible, but I also like having a place to come home to. I like plotting my next adventure from my couch and the anticipation that builds up to that moment of departure.

For me extended travel isn’t a one time experience – it is one that lasts a lifetime. And I believe that those just discovering it for themselves will experience that as well.

HOW I TRAVELED IN 1995 vs. 2010

Planning Resources:
Travel Agent vs. Internet

Pay Phones vs. Cell Phones

Post Cards vs. Emails

Sharing the Experience:
Waited until we got home vs. Blogs

Travelers Checks vs. ATMs

Mixed Tapes (yes, tapes) vs. iPods

35mm vs. Digital

How we got around without the Internet, cell phones, emails, blogs, ATMs, iPods and Digital cameras? Just fine, if you can believe it.

The three things that are still the same?
My backpack – my travel journals – and my sense of adventure


Trading in Your Backpack for the Briefcase
Monday, May 31st, 2010

Cindy Peterson (aka The Blonde Wanderer) interviews her husband, Bill, about trading in his backpack for a briefcase again after 14 months of travel. We also featured some of Cindy’s itinerary tips in a previous post.

[singlepic=1791,300,,,right]My husband Bill and I recently returned from fourteen months extended travel. When we stepped out of our corporate jobs in November of 2008, we both wondered what would be in store for us after our planned year of exploring the world. And as tempting as it was to continue our adventure living in a foreign country, or finding enough work to continue to travel like so many of the “career” travelers we envy, in the end we made the decision to re-enter life in the United States.

While I embarked on some new business adventures and am keeping our travels alive through continued travel writing, Bill headed back to the Semiconductor industry that we had both walked away from to live our long-term travel dreams. In truth he never completely left – he kept up on industry news and worked to keep his network alive – a key to him finding work in the field only a short two months after we returned to the US.

Bill’s path back to the corporate world seems to be the exception, not the norm, when it comes to long-term travelers. Our friends at Briefcase to Backpack, along with many of our fellow travelers, friends, and family, were curious as to the motives behind Bill’s decision and how his perspectives toward work have changed with the experiences he gained while traveling.

Bill always left the majority of the travel blogging and writing to me, and this is no exception – so I’m here to interview my own husband, the other half of the Blondewanderer travel team on his career break and re-entry. At least this is one interview that I could do in my pajamas over coffee!


The Lasting Memories of a Travel Sabbatical
Monday, March 22nd, 2010

[singlepic=1732,175,,,right]Taking a traveling career break or sabbatical is not a new concept. But more than 20 years ago Stuart Tom drew up the nerve to ask for a year leave of absence from his advertising job (something unheard of at the time) to venture off and explore the world. He shares with us how that experience still lives on.

When I was 6 or so, I spent hours flying my battery-operated TWA DC-9 around my living room. I was in love with its smiling tin stewardess and retractable stairs. It wasn’t long before I graduated to collecting travel brochures from chain hotel lobbies. I read them over and over, memorizing every hyperbolic detail. Thinking back, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t preoccupied with the thought of going someplace new, someplace else.

So it was without much trepidation, after 6 years of employment, that I walked into my boss’s office and asked for a 12-month leave of absence. O.K., I didn’t so much ask as make a declaration. It helped that I was prepared to leave my job if the answer was no. But it wasn’t. The economy was in the crapper, and maybe my boss figured I wouldn’t want to come back after a year. So his agreeing didn’t surprise me. What did was the revelation that I was the first person at my ad agency to ask for a leave of absence. My first thought was, you’ve got to be kidding. Then I secretly congratulated myself for being such a trailblazer. In the end, I got to keep my health insurance for the year (a definite advantage of taking a sabbatical over quitting), and my job was waiting for me when I got back, which was a good thing because after 12 months of not working, I was flat broke.


Reflection: Setting Goals for 2010 Part 3
Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

The end of the year always inspires reflection. But it also offers an opportunity to set goals for the future. We’ve already featured some of our favorite travelers and career breakers travel and career goals for the upcoming year, so now it’s our turn to share!

[singlepic=1624,200,,,right]BRIEFCASE TO BACKPACK – MICHAELA POTTER
I’m embarrassed to admit that my passport has collected a fair amount of dust and not enough stamps over the past couple of years. After returning from my career break travels with Michael at the end of 2007, the only other overseas trip for me was volunteering on an educational production to South Africa in February of 2008. And I haven’t stepped foot out of the country since then.

To be fair, life “got in the way”. During 2008 Michael and I focused on new careers, buying an apartment, planning a wedding, and building Briefcase to Backpack. And in early 2009 we launched the site and I have spent a great deal of the year focused on inspiring others to travel abroad. But “life” also brought up many weddings and family vacations – most of which involved domestic travel. So I did get to travel to Florida, Washington State, California, Las Vegas, and the Jersey Shore.

So in 2010 I resolve to dust off my passport and travel to at least one new country. And chances are looking pretty good so far! We have a trip to Italy planned with Michael’s family (which I’ve been to twice) and plan to add on Croatia afterwards.


Career Break Guide Table of Contents

Meet Plan Go