Going Local on Your Trip
Thursday, March 21st, 2013

One of the best parts of taking a career break trip is getting the opportunity to go local in a destination. When we’re grinding away at the 9-5’s and take our one or two weeks of vacation each year, it’s extremely difficult to really dig into a culture – for several reasons.

1. Time: Learning about a new culture and its people takes time. And traveling in a destination for a week or two rarely affords us the time to really get to know a place.

2. Priority: Often digging into a culture isn’t on the top of our priority list when taking a vacation. We are tired and just want to relax during the little time off we get – which is perfectly reasonable.

But taking extended time off for a career break will afford you that opportunity.

BootsnAll hosts a chat every Wednesday afternoon (3:30 EST) on Twitter entitled #RTWchat, and this past week’s chat was all about going local. They also do a corresponding video chat with a few guests, and they invited one of Meet, Plan, Go!’s co-founder, Sherry Ott, along with LL World Tour’s Lisa Lubin, to give their expertise on what it means to Go Local. Check out the video and the following resources to see how you can best connect with locals during your career break trip!

Read the following articles to learn more about going local on your trip:

Volunteering in Dangerous Places: Beirut, Lebanon
Thursday, March 7th, 2013

Without a doubt, Lebanon is one of the most complex countries I’ve visited. On one hand, you have the cosmopolitan capital, complete with a seaside Corniche, trendy restaurants, high-end shopping, and colorful street performers. On the other, Lebanon offers a glimpse of an ancient rural life that still exists throughout much of the Middle East.

About a year and a half ago, I was invited to Beirut to work with the nonprofit organization Baladi. The organization is dedicated to preserving and promoting Lebanon’s heritage to youngsters by encouraging students to learn about their country’s cultural diversity and works to foster mutual understanding between communities. Baladi sees Lebanon’s shared culture as one way to peacefully address regional conflict.

For my Lebanon visit, I accompanied my close Egyptian friend Inji, whom I met volunteering in Cairo the year before. She introduced me to her friends and colleagues in the country. I was most grateful for this personal introduction to a fascinating country.

In addition to the diversity of landscapes, I found the people and the cultures of the region incredibly absorbing (justifying Baladi’s great pride in their indigenous communities). Here’s a snapshot of my impressions during my short time spent in this most remarkable country.

City Life in Beirut

While staying in Beirut, we shuttled between our apartment in the city’s center to the suburban residence of Joanne, Baladi’s founder and CEO. It was here in Joanne’s home that we did the bulk of our volunteer work of providing philanthropic business development and fundraising advice. (Nonprofit development is my profession in the U.S., and I often provide pro bono consulting during my overseas volunteer stints.)

One of the advantages of meeting in a private home is the ability to see a modern-Lebanese lifestyle up-close. Our friend Joanne lived with her extended family in a stylish apartment with sweeping views of the Mediterranean. I got the chance to meet her charming husband and her children.

I especially enjoyed meeting Joanne’s mother. Our conversation was a bit stilted, with Joanne translating for me, but upon my departure she gave me a blessing to protect me during my onward travels. Looking back, I credit these heart-felt good wishes as one reason I survived my 2-year journey relatively unscathed.

As peaceful as the Beirut suburbs are, the reality of the country’s ongoing political conflict is never far away.  During our city stay, there were three incidents that reminded me I was in a country that continues to experience deep and long-running political tension:

  • – After dinner one night, Inji and I were walking back to our apartment we heard a series of loud shots. We were uncertain if the noise was fireworks or gunshots or an incoming missile. We took cover under an apartment overhang, just to be on the safe side.
  • – Driving to meet a potential donor, we made it through the city in record time. The reason? Traffic was light because there was a bomb scare. (I, of course, was wondering why we were still out and about when everyone else had retreated inside.)
  • – While strolling through the winding streets, Inji pointed out the main headquarters of Hezbollah, a Shi’a Islamic militant group and political party which is based in Lebanon. I kept my head down and eyes averted as we walked past the guards stationed outside.

Road-Trip Lebanon

After a few days of intense work, Joanne arranged for several of her Baladi guides to give us a 2-day tour of northern Lebanon as a thank you gift. This was an extraordinarily generous offer, and I cherished the opportunity to be shown the country by these trained historians and local experts. Highlights included:

  • Bekaa Valley:  Here we visited a Druze temple, came across an itinerant Bedouin family living out of a wagon, and hiked through the fertile valley observing the natural wildlife and beauty of this biblical valley.
  • Baalbek: Formerly known as Heliopolis during the Roman period, Baalbek is an extremely well-preserved example of a temple compound from these ancient Roman times. Baalbek is also a Hezbollah stronghold, as evidence from the black flags and pictures of Syrian President Assad lining the streets, political murals on the walls surrounding the Roman ruins, and loudspeakers blaring revolutionary music outside a Lebanese military base.
  • Mount Lebanon: This mountain range which includes the highest mountain in the Middle East is covered in snow 4-6 months out of the year. I admit, I was dumbfounded to still see traces of snow on the ground in June. The mountains are also the known for their famous groves of cedar, Lebanon’s national symbol.
  • Maronite Village: We spent the night here in a village nestled high on the mountains. In the morning we visited several ornate orthodox churches and observed the caves carved into the rugged mountainscape that were sanctuaries for monks seeking complete solitude. With more than 3 million Maronites (about 22% of the population), Lebanon retains a distinctive Maronite character.
  • Tripoli: The country’s second largest city, Tripoli was founded as long ago at 12th century B.C. and has a large Sunni majority (as evidenced by the preponderance of abayas and head scarves worn by the women).  It was here that I had the best meal of my entire 2-year trip, a hand-made feast of full of lively mint and lemon flavors.

Quintessential Volunteer Experience

Even though the country might be in the midst of fluctuating degrees of conflict and unrest, it still provided me with a wonderful volunteer experience.  In fact, as I look back, my quick trip to Lebanon was the ultimate volunteer experience, affording me the opportunity to:

  • – Do some good by lending my business development skills to a worthwhile nonprofit doing important work on conflict reconciliation in the region.
  • – Visit and learn about a country I wouldn’t have necessarily traveled to on my own.
  • – Benefit from a personal tour of the country to see first-hand the richness of the culture and the physical beauty of the landscape.
  • – Make friends with local Lebanese, providing me with a window into their lives and some insight on the challenges they experience each day.
  • – Push my limits of where I felt comfortable in terms of physical safety and erode some lingering stereotypes about Arab countries.

Volunteering in Lebanon opened up a new frontier for me and helped me put into context the struggles that we hear so much about through the news. I consider myself truly lucky to have had this wonderful volunteer experience.

To read more about volunteering and travel in Lebanon, check out the following articles:

A former finance executive, Erin Michelson is now an “Adventure Philanthropist,” who recently completed a two-year global giving adventure, visiting all 7 continents and exploring 60 countries. Volunteering with global non-profit organizations along the way, Erin helped build a house in the Philippines, a well in rural Uganda, and a library in northern Laos, sponsored secondary school education for a young woman in India and helped provide self-defense training for young girls in Israel.  Read more about her experiences on Go Erin Go or follow her on Twitter @GoErinGo.

Photo credits: Lebnen18, all other photos courtesy of the author and may not be used without permission.

A Solo Traveler’s Guide to Polynesia
Monday, February 18th, 2013

Relaxing on a beach. Sipping fresh coconut juice from an actual coconut. Watching palm trees sway gently in the breeze. How is that picture not appealing? You can experience it for yourself if you include Polynesia on your career break itinerary.

Polynesia is a term used to describe many of the Pacific Islands in the South Pacific Ocean. There are hundreds of Polynesian islands in the South Pacific, but some of the most accessible are Samoa, Tonga, and the Cook Islands. Traveling solo to Polynesia may bring up some unique concerns, so here are some things to keep in mind.

Arriving in Polynesia

The Polynesian islands of Samoa, Tonga, and the Cook Islands are a lot less developed for tourism than their Fijian Melanesian neighbor. Flights tend to arrive at ridiculous hours of the night as well. My flight to Samoa arrived at 1 am. I am the type of traveler who usually has no qualms with sleeping in airports, and I initially planned to do that in Samoa. However, when I arrived, I did not feel comfortable to do so as a female on my own. Because I had planned to sleep at the airport, I hadn’t done much research into nearby accommodation. Luckily, I had a very helpful taxi driver who not only didn’t rip me off too badly, but also took me to the cheapest guest house in the capital city of Apia. When I arrived in Tonga, it was also late at night, but I had booked ahead with a local hostel that offered a pick-up service (Toni’s Guesthouse), so I was secure in knowing I would be safely taken to my accommodation.

Tip: If your flight will arrive late, do your research and know what hotel or guest house you want to go to. Try to find some other travelers to share a taxi with and try to bring a small amount of local currency with you as ATMs are not always reliable on the Pacific Islands.

Cultural expectations

The majority of Polynesians are devout Catholics. Everywhere you go, you will see villages competing with each other to have the biggest and most ornate church. Everything shuts down in Polynesia on Sundays, so don’t expect to get much done. Women in Polynesia are very strong and independent, so most locals won’t think it is too weird that you are traveling alone as a female. I never got any questions about whether or not I was married, or where was my boyfriend, except by one particularly hopeful young man in cafe.

With such a religious population, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that Polynesians are also very modest people. Although you do get a little bit of leeway as a foreigner, women should take care to dress conservatively. This doesn’t have to be over the top – just keep your swim wear to the beaches, and when walking through towns or villages make sure you are not showing too much skin. Under no circumstances should you walk around a village in a bikini top. I made sure to pack t-shirts instead of tank stops, and I wore leggings under my short shorts, or knee length skirts.

If you want to attend a church service (and you should – the Polynesian singing is something to experience!), then make sure you pack something appropriate. A long skirt or trousers will do, or alternatively you can “go local” and wear a sarong or lava lava. Polynesians are very proud about their dress and their religion, so make sure that whatever you choose to wear, it is clean and presentable.

Dangers and annoyances

Like in any place that is unfamiliar to you, it is probably not the best idea to walk around late at night by yourself. This is especially true if you have been drinking, or if you are walking around in areas where other people who have been drinking are congregated. In the villages and small resort towns, the bars will most likely be located in your resort so there isn’t too much worry about safety there. In the cities though, you need to be more careful when walking at night.

I didn’t find that anyone was threatening or made me feel uncomfortable when I walk at night, although I did notice a distinct lack of street lighting around. If something did happen, it is unlikely anyone would be able to notice in the darkness. If you do need to walk alone at night, stick to the busier main roads or just take a taxi – they are incredibly cheap on the Pacific Islands.

More than anything, use your common sense, and you should have no problems at all. So just relax, enjoy your coconut, and work on that tan.

Jade Johnston is a Canadian expat who now lives in Australia. She writes about budget travel, destination and adventure travel, and family travel on her blog, OurOyster.com. Follow her on Twitter as @our_oyster or on Facebook.

Exploring Phnom Penh on a Budget
Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

Phnom Penh has been a capital city of Cambodia since 1866. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, it was the capital city of the Khmer empire – one of the major powers in Asia, covering area of today’s Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. Nowadays, Phnom Penh is the second most visited city in Cambodia after Siem Reap. And Cambodia itself is becoming more popular with travelers, including career breakers.

The more tourists, the higher prices – that is one of the rules in Cambodia. Therefore, traveling in the area on a budget is getting more and more difficult. However, you can still add Phnom Penh to your career break itinerary and explore the city on the cheap by following some of these tips:

1. Never stay at The Lake area

All backpackers, once they get to the city, head straight to the Lake area in order to find a cheap accommodation. This area is full of cheap hostels; however once you stay anywhere else in Phnom Penh, you can save a lot of money finding much cheaper and nicer places to stay overnight.

2. Use local transport, avoid taxis and tuk-tuks

Phnom Penh is one place in Cambodia where there is a great variety of transport to choose from, so you can easily get around the city anytime you want. Various means of transport require different amount of money, so knowing the prices is one of the most useful thing to know. Especially when you are a budget traveler.

If you want to save some money, take local buses. They are slow, old, smoky and terribly loud, but also the cheapest when it comes to price. They run on long routes as well as short distances and you can catch them from nearly any street. You also do not need to book them in advance as the tickets are always available. Tickets can usually be purchased at points scattered around guesthouses and hostels. Moreover, you can rent a bike for just 1 or 2 dollars per day, which would be worth it in a long run.

Avoid taking motorbikes, taxis and tuk- tuks. Prices for the ride are always different as they must be agreed before you decide to take a ride and you need to bargain a lot. Otherwise, you will get ripped off, just like most tourists.  If the driver does not want to give you a reasonable price, then turn around and keep walking till he starts shouting after you. That is the best way of negotiating the price you really want. Most of the prices start from 4000 Riels ($1) no matter how long your ride is.

Shared taxis are a nightmare. These are ordinary cars which can carry up to 8 people (passenger sitting next to the driver pays double). Car rental is horribly expensive. Road conditions also leave much to be desired – but the main routes (kept in good condition) are mostly sandy, rocky and dangerous. The only place you should go by car with a driver is to Phnom Kulen near Siem Reap. Prices are high but as long as you travel with more than 3 people, they are still affordable.

3. Grab local street food, avoid restaurants with foreign food

You are in Cambodia, so use this opportunity and eat as much local food as possible. As you will notice, street food is sold everywhere, nearly 24/7 and there is a great variety, ranging from noodle soup to any rice meals, so there is no way you will not find the food that you like. Are you a big fan of fruits and vegetables? That’s great. You can find vegetable and fruit markets on every corner. Bargain a lot in order to get as low price as possible.

Take some fellow travelers with you so you can order more dishes and pay less and the bill will be shared. Never dine out in restaurants where foreign food is being served. These are the most expensive places where you pay some extra money for the service. Want to have a nice burger or a pack of fries? Wait till you get back home, it will taste much better. Swap your McDonald’s meal for a huge bowl of rice – it’s much healthier and cheaper!

4. Learn some Khmer

Depending on how long you are planning to stay in Phnom Penh (or any place in Cambodia), knowing some basic Khmer words can help you a lot, especially with haggling. As you probably know, going off-the-beaten-path places is much cheaper, but also more difficult when it comes to interactions with local people. Therefore, in order to understand people and be understood, buy a mini dictionary and try to learn some words by heart. Keep practicing every day and you will see how much your language skills will be appreciated by locals. The more words you learn and the more Khmer you can speak, the cheaper prices you can bargain.

5. Pay in local currency

Khmer people can be really tricky. They quote the prices in American dollars, but give you the change in their currency – riel. By doing this, they make you think the prices (in comparison to the prices in your home country) are still very low so you don’t need to bargain.

That is the most common rip-off in Cambodia. Before you purchase anything, check how much money locals pay for it and then you will know how much you should pay for it. You will probably pay more as Cambodians think it is unfair for foreigners to pay the same amount of money as locals, but you can at least know how far you are from the fixed local price.

Cambodia is still inexpensive compared to places in Western Europe, but you can keep your costs down – and immerse yourself more in the local culture – by keeping these tips in mind.

 Agness Walewinder is a Polish vagabond who, after graduation, left her comfort zone and set off for a journey of her lifetime to China in 2011. She has been constantly traveling the world since then (slowly, but surely as she says), living like a local for less than $25 a day. She is a passionate photography and adventure blogger sharing her life enthusiasm and travel experience with everyone around. Follow her adventures on etramping.com, on Facebook or on Twitter.


Traveling Around the World with Home Exchanges
Monday, February 4th, 2013

In 2004, my-soon-to-be husband and I decided to skip the traditional two week honeymoon in the Caribbean and instead went backpacking for 8 months. I negotiated a career break from my Occupational Psychologist role and Chris quit his job. About half way in we realized we hadn’t come so far to go back to a life we had already left behind. I quit my job and, when we returned to the UK, we moved towns.  With Chris’ new full time job to provide a steady income, I started to freelance.

After a couple of years of me as his most demanding and least lucrative client, Chris eventually left full time work to join me in developing a business together. The one thing we hadn’t really thought too much about was how working for ourselves would impact our lifestyle. Within a month we packed up our laptops and relocated our ‘office’ to France for a few weeks. We shaped our business to allow us the freedom to operate from anywhere. We rented holiday homes in Central America, the US and Europe. They weren’t so much career breaks as the work definitely came with us! But they were breaks from the usual routine and we realized that, with our business model, we could do more and more breaks.

We quickly recognized that paying for holiday rentals at the same time as covering our mortgage back home was not sustainable long term. We didn’t want to rent our place out as we liked the freedom to come and go as we pleased. But it didn’t make sense for our home to sit empty either, especially as for short breaks of one to six months we were still maintaining all our usual household expenses.

My sister had been a big fan of home exchanging when her kids were young. We weren’t too sure how it would work but decided to test the water by filling out an on-line profile. It’s a bit like internet dating! Within weeks we had an offer from a family in Canada to spend the month of June in their 4 bedroom house with pool outside Quebec City while their family visited our UK home by the sea.

In 2012, we were on the lookout for adventure so we decided to see if we could travel round the world in home exchanges, running our business along the way. We are currently 7 months, 5 countries and 15 home exchanges in and still going strong! It takes a fair bit of organization to arrange consecutive swaps for that length of time but no more so than arranging your travel and accommodation for any long trip. Everything else just stays the same- we keep paying our bills and insurances at home- we’re just living in other people’s homes rather than our own. We’ve had some amazing experiences; paddling in a Waka canoe with a group of French teachers in Tahiti, learning to wake-board with our neighbor on a mountain lake in Oregon, looking after a sheep at an artist’s home in rural New Zealand; learning Mexican cookery with a fabulous chef in Puerto Vallarta…. none of which we’d have done if we’d chosen more traditional accommodation options.

How To Go About It

There are plenty of home exchange websites.  The big ones like homeexchange.com have thousands of options all over the world. If you prefer a bit more hand-holding, there are plenty of smaller sites, like swapst.com.au, springing up to offer you just that. You’d be surprised – wherever your home is, someone, somewhere will want to visit where you live!

Although it might seem daunting, the process is incredibly easy. You browse the homes available and when you see something you like, you send them a message. You’ll get plenty of requests landing in your inbox most days too. If it’s a good match, you get the ball rolling with emails and calls to iron out the finer details.

Home exchanging doesn’t just keep your travel costs down (it’s free apart from your annual subscription fee); it also removes a lot of the hassle of traveling. You don’t have to take towels or bedding; you can eat in if you like and know the cupboards will have at least the basics; there will be books to read and information to help you explore the hidden gems only locals know about.  You can make yourself at home enough to not feel like a permanent guest while having all the benefits of a completely new environment. It’s pretty normal to make some great new friends at the same time, from the people you exchange with (you’ll get to know them in the run up to the exchange) to their welcoming and curious neighbors!

Making It Comfortable

Depending on your comfort level, it can be easy to make your arrangements run pretty smoothly.You can have a day or so to overlap so your hosts are there to greet you on arrival before leaving you to their home. Or you can travel simultaneously, leaving your car at the airport, ready to collect theirs and drive it ‘home’ at the other end so you never actually meet. You can leave keys with a concierge at the airport or mail them beforehand. The good news is there are plenty of people with experience on the home exchange sites who will show you the ropes and make sure you are as happy and comfortable with your exchanges as they have always been.

Is It Safe?

One of the biggest concerns people have is whether it is safe. The only problem we’ve ever had is working out how old that pasta sauce is that was left in our fridge! If have valuables, simply lock them away – the most expensive things in your home don’t tend to be portable anyway. We have found people to be very respectful and considerate. After all, you are in their home too. Home exchangers love to travel and it’s a fantastic way of leaving your old life behind for a while, knowing it’s there for you to return home to whether it’s a few days, weeks or months later.

Home exchanging works really well for us now that travel is a permanent part of our work and our life. It can also work really well for a career break.  If you’d like your home taken care of while you are away and don’t relish the thought of always living out of a suitcase it’s definitely worth considering.

Hannah Vallance is a location independent psychologist and dedicated traveler. With her husband Chris, she runs loveplaywork.com, where they write about their challenges and adventures, and other (slightly less fun!) businesses from both home and overseas. Learn more about their “Round the World in Home Exchanges” travel challenge here. You can also sign up for their best advice and unusual strategies for a location independent lifestyle, and receive their free Insider’s Guide to Flexible Working and Holidaying for Free at www.loveplaywork.com/meetplango.

Cruising to Antarctica on Your Career Break
Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

Career breakers plan their itineraries in all kinds of crazy ways – some itineraries are driven by a themes such as volunteering or service, food, geographic areas or photography; some are driven by budget; some are itineraries are decided by love, or skill building and some are determined by a bucket list.  However you decide your itinerary is personal to you – the important thing is to simply GO!

I frequently get asked how I decided where to go on my career back back in 2006 – and my answer is always the same,  “I decided that I would do everything I ever wanted to do because, well, finally in my life I could.”  I started by ticking big things off my bucket list such as climbing Kilimanjaro, going on a safari, taking cooking classes in Italy,learning how to sail, seeing the Taj Mahal , and camping in the Sahara Desert.  But there was one thing that eluded those original career break travels until now – Antarctica.

I recently returned from a very special cruise to Antarctica with my father  and for those who are dreaming of setting foot on the Seventh Continent as part of your career break itinerary – here’s some helpful information on what to expect.

What do you do on a cruise to Antarctica?

Once in the Antarctic region/peninsula, each day there were two zodiac landings – one in the morning and one in the afternoon.  We could choose whether to go on them or not.  After the landings of the day were complete, a debriefing took place in the Discovery Lounge for the current day’s landings as well as the next day’s planned landings.  Each night after dinner, we could watch a movie in the Discovery Lounge or listen to music and socialize in the Polar Bear Lounge/bar that stayed open into the very early morning hours!

I also kept very busy each day as the kayaking group would meet and go out during the landings too.  Normally I did one zodiac landing with my father and one kayaking excursion a day.  The kayaking excursions typically lasted about 2 ½ to 3 hours.  Kayaking was by far my favorite activity – and these are some of the reasons why.

When we were cruising through the Drake Passage to get to/from the Peninsula, we could listen to two morning lectures and two afternoon lectures on various topics ranging from Antarctica history, to wildlife, to geology.

There was always something to do.  In fact, some days I was simply exhausted from all of the activity!

What were the Zodiac landings like?

All passengers were assigned to one of four groups.  Two groups would be called down to the mudroom (the loading/unloading area) at once.  Once in the mudroom, you put on all of your gear, which normally consisted of a warm coat, waterproof pants & coat, waterproof boots (provided by the boat), mittens, cap, sunglasses, life jacket, and backpack/camera.  Then you queued to get on a zodiac boat.  You ‘checked out’ of the ship via a swipe card, stepped in a solution to disinfect your boots  (ensuring no foreign critters/bacteria made it to Antarctica) and got on a zodiac.

The zodiac would take you to land and upon landing, an Expedition Leader greeted you and explained the layout of the island, where various penguins or seals were located, what trails you could walk on and what was off limits.  They would also tell you when the last zodiac would be going back to the ship so that you knew how much time you had.  After the briefing, you were on your own to explore and take photos! You typically had about 1 to 1 ½ hours to walk around on your own.   Once you went back to the ship you were checked back in via your swipe card and went through the disinfecting process again.

What was the ship like?

The MS Expedition was built in 1972 and was refurbished in 2009.  It was 345 feet long and 61 feet wide.  It was staffed with 52 crew and about 10 Expedition Staff.  There were approximately 130 passengers on board the ship for our cruise.  It had a reception area, 3 main living/cabin levels, a mud room, a sauna, a large lounge that held all passengers, a dining room, an exercise room, library, computer room, gift shop, and a bar/lounge.

We had a Class 3 cabin, which consisted of two twin beds, a desk & chair, another reading chair, a bathroom with shower, and a decent sized window.  Some of the cabins slept 3 or 4 people and had bunk beds.  There was a daily cleaning service and a nighttime turn down service.

There were plenty of places to lounge around the ship and read or just look out the windows.  You could also go outside on deck or go up to the bridge and visit the captain and crew.

What wildlife did you see?

The expedition staff and crew were wonderful at pointing out the animals and providing you loads of information on them.  In addition, the Captain was thoroughly skilled at maneuvering our large ship very close to the wildlife but not so close that it scared them.  We saw penguins, seals, whales, and a variety of seabirds.  We saw some pretty spectacular sights when it came to the animals – about 50 to 100 Orca whales hunting/aggravating Minke whales, a leopard seal and a pup nursing, and so many penguins it was just a blur of black and white.

In addition to wildlife, we actually visited some human life on Antarctica!  We visited research bases, got our passports stamped, learned about what it was like to live at a base, bought some souvenirs, and even sat and had a drink at a bar in Antarctica!

Still have more Antarctica questions before you include it on your career break itinerary?

Feel free to leave any questions you have in the comments and I’m happy to answer them to the best of my ability!  Also, you may want to check out the ExpeditionTrips website for more information on cruising to Antarctica or simply call their hotline and talk to an expert!

Disclosure: ExpeditionTrips and G Adventures hosted my Antarctic Peninsula Cruise with my father. However, all of the opinions expressed here are my own

Sherry Ott is a co-founder of Meet, Plan, Go!, who is passionate about teaching you how you can take your very own traveling career break or sabbatical.  She is a long term traveler, blogger, and photographer seeking out unique travel experiences and writes about her around the world adventures on Ottsworld.com.

Volunteering in Dangerous Places:Lira, Uganda
Monday, January 21st, 2013

As I travel around the world, I often volunteer with global nonprofit organizations. To me, volunteering is a great way to get to know local communities and cultures and I like the idea of giving back while benefiting from the experience.

Before I left on my two-year around-the-world trip, I spoke with several nonprofit organizations and lined up a few volunteer gigs during my first year of travel. One of these opportunities was to work with an American nonprofit organization that is building wells in East Africa, bringing clean drinking water to communities in need.

I was super excited about this opportunity and planned my entire first year of travel around this particular volunteer gig, coordinating my schedule so I could accompany the U.S-based team that was to visit the region in mid-October.

Imprecise Planning

Unfortunately, once I arrived in Uganda’s capital Kampala my pre-trip preparations unraveled fast. It soon became apparent that I would need to make my own way to Lira (a 5-hour drive north of the capital), arrange for transportation to the well site (a further 3-hour drive on dirt roads), and figure out my own accommodations.

Now, traveling in northern Uganda is dangerous by any stretch—Think Joseph Kony 2012, Lord’s Revolutionary Army, child soldiers, mass rape. I had to make the serious decision on whether or not I would go it alone to Lira.

After much reflection and quite a few sleepless nights, I decided to go. Clean water is an issue in which I feel passionately. Also I was already in Uganda and looking forward to meeting the local community. Finally, this was my largest donation to date and I wanted to see the funding in action.

Ensuring Self Safety

After making my decision to move forward, I lined up my resources to ensure my own safety. Here was my 5-point plan of action:

1. Kidnap & Ransom Insurance

Before I left on my worldwide travels I bought Kidnap & Ransom (K&R) insurance. I knew that I’d be traveling alone throughout Africa and the Middle East and so bought the policy for about $1,200 a year. (Individuals can’t buy this type of insurance, but companies can. As president of my own consulting firm, I purchased the policy for myself.)

Along with the policy, you get access to a personal safety team. I called them before I left to introduce myself, thinking that if they have a voice / face with the name, they might try just a little bit harder to find you. Before leaving for Lira, I also sent emails to my contacts to let them know I would be traveling in the area, the dates I was traveling, and the name of the organization I was volunteering with.

2. U.S. State Department Registration

I always register with the U.S. State Department’s STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) before entering a new country. Not only will this alert the government that you are in the country during times of conflict, it also supplies the government with next-of-kin information.  Another advantage is that you’ll receive local travel updates, as well as invitations to parties and consular events.

3. Private Driver / Bodyguard

I decided not to take local buses like I normally do, but instead hired a driver, that could then serve as a sort of bodyguard for me. I wanted someone who spoke the local language, knew the area, and would accompany me into town.

While in Kampala, I contacted another nonprofit organization that I had worked with several years earlier. They arranged for a driver for 5 days, supplying me with his State ID, Driver’s License, and a background check. At about $1,000, this was a significant cost for me, but my driver Fred was the consummate professional, trained in Germany and incredibly serious about his job. This was exactly the person I wanted by my side.

 4. Personal Emergency Procedures

My family and I have a safe word that I can use if I’m in imminent danger. If they receive a call or message with this word, they are instructed to call the K&R team, the U.S. State department, and the local Embassy. I sent a message to my family to be on alert that I was heading into dangerous territory.

5. Self Defense Training

Before I left on my travels, I went through a 3-day self defense training course by a global nonprofit called IMPACT. The classes are taught by women, for women. The training I received was the single most empowering experience of my life. While making my arrangements in Kampala, I took the time to review what I had learned, so my skills were fresh.

Prepared for the Possibilities

In the end, my days visiting the well site in Lira were a highlight of my trip. I met many members of the community, talked with women who lived in the village, gained a greater understanding of the village’s need for clean water, and visited the children attending school in the area.

The children showed me the current well, which is too shallow and now polluted with E.Coli, and we broke ground at their Apache SDA school where the new well was being built. Tears repeated welled in my eyes as the local congregation and school children sang for me in the age-old African tradition.

Was my 5-day trip into northern Uganda worth the extra safety precautions and added expense? Unequivocally yes. I was happy that I visited Lira and got to join in the building the well.

The dedication plaque on the new well reads:  “May your life overflow with possibilities.” The opportunity to travel to northern Uganda to volunteer was a possibility that, despite the risks, I could not pass up. But it was a possibility for which I was well prepared.

A former finance executive, Erin Michelson is now an “Adventure Philanthropist,” who recently completed a two-year global giving adventure, visiting all 7 continents and exploring 60 countries. Volunteering with global non-profit organizations along the way, Erin helped build a house in the Philippines, a well in rural Uganda, and a library in northern Laos, sponsored secondary school education for a young woman in India and helped provide self-defense training for young girls in Israel.  Read more about her experiences on GoErinGo.com or follow her on Twitter as @GoErinGo.

Not All Who Wander Are Lost
Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

In 2008, my then-boyfriend George and I took a year-long sabbatical. In the first month of that trip, we went to the Nomads Hostel in Auckland, New Zealand. The tagline of the hostel was “Nomads: Not all who wander are Lost!” I took a deep breath and thought, “maybe, I will survive this adventure.” Although I had traveled extensively prior to meeting George online, I had never done so with so little pre-planning. Years of traveling while working on a cruise ship meant I only ever unpacked once. I did not carry my things around and wonder where I would lay my head and, as George told me during our travels together, there would be no chocolate on my pillow!

I did adjust to wandering and wondering and not minding (well nearly not minding) on the two nights when we did not have a place to stay. Surviving one of my greatest fears (of having nowhere to stay) along with being ill in Indonesia at New Years made me realize I was handling all the sabbatical year could dish out.

Getting engaged underwater in Thailand on our two year anniversary was a highlight of our trip and one of the main reasons we returned to Los Angeles was to get married! While we were home, we also were selected to be the hosts for the 2011 Meet, Plan, Go! nationwide event, where we met so many wonderful travelers and new friends.

During our three years in Los Angeles, we always remembered the feeling of our first night back when we contemplated our return. I asked George that night, “how did we get here?” He replied, “we got on the wrong plane.”

In July 2012, we corrected our “mistake,” and got on a flight to Bali for the beginning of sabbatical year number two. I wish I could Skype with myself back in 2008 and share how life has changed. Before our first trip, I was unsure if our relationship would endure the trials of being on the road and together 24/7. Now I know that it thrives on all this time together. Recently, George and I celebrated our third wedding anniversary in Fort Cochin, India on December 19, 2012. We had talked about going to India and Myanmar on our trip in 2009 but did not make it to either place then but both were priorities for year #2.

Having another career break has been great for our relationship and for our website! When we traveled in 2008-9, I sent a newsletter once a month. I had left behind many former students who wanted to know where we were and what was happening in which countries. I was surprised at the responses. People seemed genuinely interested in our voyage and what we were learning on the road.

In 2010, I started a blog on Blogger and wrote every Sunday. Several “helpful” people shared how writing only once a week, I would never get anywhere. I explained, “since I am nowhere now, it hardly makes a difference.” About a year later, we added a weekly website and in March 2012 made the leap to WordPress and publishing nearly every day.

During all of my travels and teaching, I have always written in a journal and written letters but now I also write articles that get published. 2012 has been the year of media for me with an appearance on National Television, a photo shoot for a National Magazine and a recent article in National Geographic! I loved it when my bio for National Geographic Intelligent Traveler called me a “Travel Writer.”

For our next project, we are hosting a travel writing contest on our site. This competition is free to enter and offers cash prizes and a raffle with travel literature from incredible published authors. Our theme is Inspiration: A Place You Love. We’re accepting submissions through February 14 – all the details are available here.

Lisa Niver Rajna is spending the year in Asia with her husband (both of whom are members of the Traveler’s Century Club and Huffington Post Bloggers). Follow their adventures at wesaidgotravel.com, on Twitter @wesaidgotravel and their Facebook page.

Travel in Style by Housesitting
Monday, January 7th, 2013

One thing that often holds people back from taking a career break to travel is the worry that long-term travel only involves living out of a suitcase on a limited budget. Taking that career break is all about adventure, which inherently means a rougher lifestyle, right?

Not necessarily. I am writing this today from Santiago de Chile, where my partner Dani and I are housesitting for two adorable Scottish terriers in a luxury condo in one of the most exclusive areas of the Chilean capital.

The owners have gone to spend the holidays with their family in Ireland. In exchange for keeping their home and pets safe, we are not paying a penny for our accommodation. While we love the free rent (who wouldn’t!) there is much more behind why Dani and I have become such avid housesitters over the past two and a half years. Housesitting allows us to travel full time and yet live a life filled with all the creature comforts most people have to give up when traveling long-term. 

During the seven weeks we are spending here in Santiago, the two of us have a three-bedroom, four-bathroom condo all to ourselves. Rather than a private room in a hotel or hostel, our condo is bright, sunny and we even have a fully-furnished terrace to spend time on, plus a swimming pool downstairs. There is also plenty of space for both of us to work out everyday, which means we can maintain our workout routine, which is difficult to do in hostels. The space is great for us as a couple, too. Traveling with your partner is such a tremendous privilege, but stuffing ourselves in small hotel rooms night after night, month after month, can be stressful.

Housesitting also frees up our budget. We are able to opt for higher quality food items at the grocery store, and we don’t have to say no to specialties like delicious cheeses and quality wines (though, being in Chile right now, even cheapie wine is delish). Rather than eating only in budget restaurants, we splurge more often on highly recommended places. On Saturdays, we walk to the nearby organic market (which we would have never found if we had stayed at a city center hotel) to pick up our fruits and vegetables for the week and then cook up any number of fun and healthy recipes. Having our own kitchen is such a blessing, especially because they are usually fully stocked with appliances like bread makers, blenders, crockpots and other fun items. During periods of heavy travel, we often have to grab whatever food is available and go, but when housesitting, we can stay healthy by being in full control of what we cook and eat.

With the money we save on accommodation while housesitting, we also opt for nicer buses or flights when we can and stay in better hotels when we get back on the road.

After 12 housesits on four continents in under three years, we feel confident in saying that, while each one is unique, one consistency we have found is that we almost always end up living in places that tourists would spent hundreds of dollars a night to experience.

We lived on a remote Caribbean beach in Mexico for two months, looking out every day at crystal clear water and working from hammocks. We didn’t just travel through Tuscany, we cared for four cats and a Bed and Breakfast which we had all to ourselves for ten days. In the hot Arizona summer we swam in our own private pool every day, and we will probably never drink water as fresh as we had in our housesit in the Bavarian Alps, where it literally flowed from the top of the mountains down out of the taps of our cottage. No matter where we have housesat, we can live like locals, go sightseeing and explore, but at the end of the day rather than return to a hotel room, we can sleep in our own comfortable bed in our own (temporary) house.

Some people housesit exclusively, but we prefer to apply only when we see an opportunity that fits in with our travel plans. There was no plan to housesit in South America, for example, but we saw the Santiago opportunity listed on one of the housesitting websites we use, so we applied and were accepted. The more experience we get under our belts, the more often we are accepted for sits. Every time, we recharge our batteries for just long enough and then get the itch to get back out and travel.

In this way, housesitting helps us maintain our zest for long-term travel. 

Curious about how we find all of these great housesits? There are several websites you can sign up to, but which to choose varies by where you are looking to housesit. We have done a full analysis of the top 20 sites in our book, Break Free: The Ultimate Guide to Housesitting.  You will also find over 100 pages packed with step by step details on how to get started and how to get your first housesit, even with no experience. Break Free shows you:

? How to find housesitting opportunities

? How to write a stellar profile

? How to be an excellent housesitter and get great refereneces

? How to deal with issues of insurance, contracts and emergencies

The book also includes samples of profiles, application letters to model yours after and full checklists that both housesitters and homeowners can use (and print!) to make sure everything is covered before, during and after the housesit.

Dani and Jess are a German-American couple who left their adopted home of London and set off to travel the world in 2010. With the motto ‘Two Girls. One Globe. No Regrets’ they have since traveled through North America, Europe, Mexico, Central America, South East Asia and now South America, while running their travel website GlobetrotterGirls.com. The girls are digital nomads, street food junkies, public transportation masters, LGBT travelers, hotel enthusiasts, street art lovers, vegetarians, and avid housesitters.

On the Road Recap 2012
Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

From the thrill of fulfilling a life-long dream to work with elephants to the dismay of a disappointing homestay to the joys of traveling as a family, our career breakers have experienced a lot this year! As 2012 winds down, we wanted to recap some of our favorite posts about life on the road.

Crewing in the South Pacific

Kelly Wetherington has been traveling since she first escaped her cubicle in 2007. Her insatiable curiosity for the world and thirst for adventure have led her to trek, dive, sail, zip, surf, climb, and paddle her way through 25 countries across Central America, Europe, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific. Last spring, she shared the story of landing her first crewing job:

As I knock, knock, knocked on the window of a sleek catamaran with a shiny teak deck, I wondered, is this appropriate behavior? Had I been visiting a house, I would have knocked on the front door, but climbing aboard seemed intrusive. No one emerged from below deck. Maybe they were out, or sleeping, or simply don’t open the door for strangers?

I scribbled the boat’s name, Summer Sol, in my notebook, under the column “try again later,” next to growing list of boats that did not need crew. Surrounded by hundreds of masts from around the world, Thomas and I were hopeful we could find a Captain to take us with them to the South Pacific. Continue…

Homestay Hits & Misses

Katie Aune spent her 13-month career break traveling through the former Soviet Union. Along the way, she stayed with several host families and shared her thoughts on the ups and downs, as well as advice on what to consider if you’re planning to do a homestay.

As I prepared for my career break and considered the different things I would do along the way, staying in a home stay was high on my list. Everything I read indicated that homestays would be a great way to connect with locals and immerse myself in a different culture – exactly what I was hoping to do on my travels. I imagined a homestay as being a true cultural exchange.

I did my first homestay almost right off the bat, just two weeks into my journey through the former Soviet Union. It was part of a volunteer program that had me living with a family in St. Petersburg, Russia and tutoring the children in English. Unfortunately, the situation was a huge disappointment. Not only were the living conditions not as had been represented to me, the family didn’t even seem to want me there. The children had no interest in being tutored and during the entire four weeks I was there, no one in the family asked me a single thing about myself or opened up anything to me about their lives. I just felt like I was in the way. Continue…

Regrouping on the Road

Leora Krause is a travel addict who started circling the globe when she was old enough to vote.  Recently downsized from corporate America, she enjoyed her second career break in 2012, traveling through Thailand, Vietnam, India and Nepal. She wrote about having to regroup after an airline she was supposed to fly went out of business.

Everyone knows the first rule of traveling abroad, especially in developing countries, is to expect the unexpected.  But when the unexpected happens, what do you do? I was a few days away from my flight from Delhi to Cochin, India, casually discussing my plans with a fellow traveler, when she said, “I hope you’re not flying Kingfisher.”

I was.

“You’d better check your flight, they’re about to go bankrupt.”

I jumped online as soon as I returned to the hotel.  Sure enough, my destination was no longer listed, but I could not find any other information.  I asked the hotel staff if they had any news about the situation, and all they could tell me was that it was bad and passengers were getting stranded.  Flights were not taking off if the airline couldn’t pay for fuel, and no one was extending credit to them.   There is no Chapter 11 here, no consumer protection, no other airline willing to offer an alternate flight, you are just plain out of luck. Continue…

Career Breaks: They’re Not Just for Backpackers

Larissa & Michael Milne turned 50, sold everything and embarked on a 1+ year round-the-world trip in August 2011. In this post, they shared how they made their career break work with rolling suitcases and apartment rentals.

When we first started telling people about planning our round-the-world trip we often got the comment: “You two are going to backpack?

The short answer was “no.” We’re in our fifties, so this didn’t seem like a good time to start teaching our old spines new tricks. Yet this is often the image of a round-the-world journey: people with overloaded backpacks trudging through airports and train stations. But there are alternatives. Continue…

Pachyderm Dreams

After leaving her job as an associate with a large law firm, Robin Devaux spent approximately eleven months traveling the world with her husband, Pierre, visiting five continents and 24 countries. She also got to finally fulfill her life-long dream of working with elephants.

I felt a bit panicky when I realized, while speaking with the bed and breakfast owner in India, that I might never work with elephants.

My husband and I were staying in the woman’s home in a rural part of Kerala, chatting with her about the wild elephants that had wreaked havoc on her banana trees the year before, when the thought of elephants caused my heart to sink. I began to tune out what she was telling us as I recalled my myriad childhood career aspirations – elephant caretaker, and also naturalist, park ranger, veterinarian, journalist, jockey, novelist. In my mind, I watched these varied and utterly incompatible aspirations fall to my sides like leaves. It struck me then as it never had previously: There was so much I had wanted to do, and so little time. Continue…

Around the World as a Family

The Van Loen family left their “normal” life in July 2012 to spend a year slow traveling around the world. Here, they share their rationale for hitting the road as a family.

Most folks travel in their twenties when they have few responsibilities or in their retirement when they have fulfilled them. We thought we’d try splitting the difference.  As a family we value experiences — learning by doing — which is why we chose an alternative school for our children that used the Expeditionary Learning (ELOB) approach. Our concept for our around-the-world (RTW) trip emerged primarily from that core value.  We talked a lot about whether we wanted to travel in between school years, or take the kids out of school for the whole year. This decision was made a bit easier by the fact that Anne is a teacher, and we can home school the kids for the year without major impacts to their overall school journey. Continue…

Want to read more?

You can find all of our guest posts from career breakers on the road HERE.

Career Break Guide Table of Contents

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