Posts Tagged ‘adapting’

Kick-Ass Host: Adam Seper
Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

All of our local kick-ass Meet, Plan, Go! hosts have inspiring stories of their own career break travels. In the time leading up to our National Event in October we will introduce them to you so you can see why they are part of our team.

Meet our Kick-Ass St. Louis Host: Adam Seper

“I’m done.” “I can’t take it anymore.”
“I work 70+ hours a week.” “I hate my boss and colleagues.”
“I have no life.” “I can’t live like this anymore.”

When talking sabbaticals and career breaks, the above statements ring true for so many Americans. If you’re one of those people, then making the decision to say “Screw it!” and head out on the road may be pretty easy.

Adam Seper

My story took a different path. I never uttered any of those above statements. After spending the first half of my 20’s trying to figure out what it was I wanted to do, I finally went back to school to get my teacher’s certificate and master’s. I became a high school English teacher and soccer coach. I really enjoyed my job. I was happy. I was nearly through my first year of teaching and my new career when my wife first came at me with this idea of a year-long RTW trip.

At first, I thought she was nuts. We were both finally out of school and making good money. We were
paying off our debt. We were saving up for a house. We were about to fulfill the American Dream!
Why in the world would I want to give all that up?

At that point, a little over 4 years ago now, I knew nothing about this whole RTW, career break, long term travel phenomenon. I thought sabbaticals and long term travel was for rich people and Europeans. I loved to travel, sure. It was one of my top passions, and while traveling for a year sounded great, my initial reaction was that it was completely unrealistic and stupid considering our situation. After Megan’s suggestion and my immediate dismissal, we got in a fight.

The next day, links to blogs and message boards appeared in my inbox. After perusing them for a few
days, suddenly I was intrigued, excited even. I was astounded that normal people like us did this. Was
this really possible? Could every day Joe’s like us really quit our jobs at the beginnings of our careers and travel the world for a whole year?

It didn’t take long for me to change my tune. Suddenly, even though I liked my job, I wasn’t as
concerned about leaving it. I didn’t love it. While I was happy and content, I wasn’t passionate about it.
Besides, why couldn’t we both just go back to our respective careers when we returned? Once I really
thought seriously about owning a home and all the responsibilities that came with it, it seemed much
less appealing, certainly less than traversing the globe. We were saving for a home because that’s what we were supposed to do.

When we sat down and went over our finances, budget, and how much we could realistically save if we cut back our spending, I was shocked. When we ran the numbers of how much we could save versus how much it would take to travel for a year in developing countries, I was sold.

After initially being dismissive and negative about my wife’s idea, suddenly it was all I could think
about. If we could legitimately swing it, why would we not do it? At first, leaving our jobs and giving
up our lives to travel seemed crazy, wreckless, and irresponsible. After some research, reflection, and contemplation, though, we realized that if we could legitimately make this travel dream come true, it would be crazy, wreckless, and irresponsible not to do it.

So we took the plunge. What most of society would deem to be a crazy and childish decision became
the best one we ever made. Our decision to chuck it all and travel together for a year changed
everything: our lives, our relationship, our thoughts on our careers, our views of the world, and our
views on life and what it should really be like. Does that sound crazy to you?

Check out the St. Louis event details.

A Year in Paris
Monday, June 6th, 2011

Jenny SundelIn the months leading up to her 33rd birthday, Jenny Sundel’s high-paying, but deeply unsatisfying interim job ended. After a decade of working around the clock – and sleeping next to her blackberry! – she knew she needed a break. “That only crystallized further when I attempted to find another job, right smack dab in the middle of a recession no less. ‘Knowing your background as a freelancer, are you sure you could truly be happy in an office,’ asked one interviewer. ‘Um uh um uh um uh um,’ I stammered. Needless to say, they gave the job to someone eIse.”

Jenny was so burnt out that she could no longer imagine returning to her prior freelance life either. “I had lost all motivation to hustle for assignments along with any passion for my work. I felt disillusioned, purpose-less and un-inspired. And all this right as I was turning 33, otherwise known as the Jesus Year. It was the perfect time for a reinvention.” Jenny decided to move to Paris and shares with us how her life is changing

I always dreamed of a year in Europe, having taken several trips abroad from the time I turned 16. And I had been stashing money away for years due to the instability of freelancing. But that should be used for down payments, or riding out a down job market, or…Paris, as would come to me the weekend before my birthday after months of selling off my possessions to people who kept asking me if I was moving from Los Angeles, my home for eleven years. “Yes.” “Where?” “I’m not sure.”

Nearly two months after my birthday, I arrived in Paris in the middle of a snowstorm armed with my rusty high school French (sadly, not much has changed in that department!) and two contacts – an old kindergarten pal whom I had not seen in years and a Facebook “friend” who had written a letter on my behalf so I could secure a visa even though we had never met.

Eiffel TowerNotre Dame

Now, five months and three apartments later, I have made friends from all over – the Philippines, the Czech Republic, and my beloved Italy, which I have already visited twice since my arrival, lucky girl that I am. I have watched the sky change from moody grey to fairytale blue, spent all of my Euros on eye palettes and lipstick from Bourjois in a (failed) attempt to look French (on one particularly good day, I passed for Italian!), and learned to read a map so I can walk around this beautiful city rather than travel underground in the metro.

Not that I haven’t seen some uh-mazing sights on the subway, too, like the time I spotted a girl in heart tights and begged her to tell me where I could get them. (Yes, I bought the tights. No, I still don’t look French. That certain effortlessly chic je ne sais quoi? Turns out it’s not for sale. Trust me, I’ve looked. Plus, I still have a dopey smile plastered on my face – a dead foreigner giveaway.)

But there’s nothing like walking home along the Seine and spotting the sparkling lights of the Eiffel Tower every hour on the hour or looking out at the magical glow of the city perched atop one of the romantic bridges next to some couple making out (yes there is a reason it’s called the City of Light and the City of Love). In moments like these, I stop and think, “Wow, I live in Paris?!!” The surreal amazingness of it all washes over me at least once a week. Still.

But live here I do. I have my routines, my favorite walks, my go-to spots: underneath the bridge in Ile St. Louis where I often see brides posing for photos – turns out I’m not the only one who likes the Notre Dame backdrop; the café in Saint Germain with the best people-watching and the flirtiest waiters; the Aussie-owned coffeehouse in my hood where I order green tea and asparagus soup – tres important after a steady diet of croissants and macarons; the Irish bar where they know how to make my fave hard drink when I tire of my usual kirs and vin rouge (note: vodka-soda-limes are soooo not French); the Apple store at the Louvre, where they have learned to…tolerate my tech tantrums; Le Bon Marche where I drool all over the dessert case in their food hall and the tres chic (but way out-of-my-budget) designer duds in the adjoining department store.

Macarons in ParisNapping Cat in Paris

I no longer get chastised daily (just every other day?!) since I have learned to follow the unspoken rules here, or at least knowingly break them. “Bon appetit,” someone will undoubtedly say with a smirk if I choose to eat my pain au chocolat as I walk down the street rather than on a bench or in a café. When I forget to mind my manners and ask the salespeople for what I want as soon as I approach, “Bonjour,” they will remind me before forcing me to repeat my question after a proper greeting. And I still pat myself on the back when I order something in French and actually get what I think I ordered. (Although, after five months, perhaps I should set the language bar a bit higher?!)

I have given French people directions (ok, just the once, but still!); held an entire conversation in (broken) French with a locksmith when I could not open my door despite having my key in my hand; and found escargot totally palatable! There have been plenty of other surprises along the way, too. First, that I don’t actually have to know French to live in France since most people speak English (but I really should); that accomplishing a simple errand can often take all day and require a mound of paperwork; that I cannot subsist on croissants and cigarettes alone (try as I might!); and I will let just about anyone walk me home if they let me practice my French in the process (just ask one persistent stranger who took me the long way on Valentine’s Day).

From the moment I made the decision to spend a year abroad, my life has no longer felt purposeless. Yes, there are new challenges now. Don’t even get me started on this whole double-kissing business. (Is it an air kiss? A real kiss? Just me pressing my cheek gently against someone else’s while making a smacking sound?) But my biggest concern is to make sure to “profit” as the Frenchies say, from every minute I’m here. I mean that’s a lot of pressure! Especially now that half of the year has passed. Have I seen enough? Done enough? Met enough people? Should I move to another country for the second half of the year or stay in Paris now that I have created a life here and actually built friendships?
Montmarte, ParisSacre Coeur, Paris

But these are high-class problems. I no longer feel that emptiness, that void, that lack of balance that came from only focusing on my career and getting ahead. In its place, I feel a passionate desire to discover new things and – cue the cheesy soundtrack – try to live life to the fullest. Not that I’ve figured it out, but I’ve had a helluva good time trying.

My absolute favorite thing to do is just roam around Paris without a plan and see where I end up. Now, after years upon years of worrying about what’s next, that is how I have chosen to navigate life, too.

Jenny Sundel has written for Los Angeles Times, USA Today, People, Women’s Wear Daily, and New York Post, among several other publications. She is currently detailing her 33rd year of life, otherwise known as The Jesus Year, on her blog. You can also follow her on Twitter at @JesusYear.

What’s the Right Amount of Time on the Road
Monday, April 11th, 2011

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.

What is the American Dream?
Monday, January 31st, 2011

Mehdy Ghannad of The Hostel Life shares with us the journey his father took from Iran in order to pursue the American Dream and how he is now pursuing his own American Dream.

What is the American Dream? The first person that comes to mind in pursuit of my answer is my father.

Ghannad WeddingMy father immigrated to the United States in 1965 at age of 21 from Tehran, Iran with only two hundred dollars to his name. To my own surprise I only recently asked him this question, “Dad why did you take such a leap of faith with hardly any money in your bank account?” Before he could answer the question, my father had to put everything in context for me. In doing so, he had to begin by explaining the environment that he lived in at the time in Iran.

He began by saying, “Iran was a very different place than it is now. “ The government of Iran in the 1960’s was a constitutional monarchy and it had strong relationships with the western world. Iran was even seen as a top travel destination spot for many Europeans and Americans, because of its rich Persian history and for the skiing! Yes, Iran has pretty darn good skiing. However the education system was quite different than it was in the western world, more specifically different than in the United States (US).

Iran, much like the US has a college entrance exam, which helps determine which schools you can be accepted to. However, in Iran depending on what you scored, also determines what you could study. In addition to this, only 10% of applicants were admitted to Universities. This was a result of the lack of higher education offered after high school. For example, let’s say that you did score high marks on your exam; chances are that your career path will now be set for you. You were going to medical school to become a doctor IF space was available.

My father then got back to the answer of my original question. He said, “Son, the main reason I took that leap of faith, and came to America, was so I could figure out what I wanted to do and most importantly what I wanted to be”.


Letting Go: Making Other Plans
Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

Sometimes even the best laid plans can’t stand up to a curve ball or two. And that is certainly the case when it comes to planning your career break. Sonia Zamborsky of Pulpology shares with us how her original career break plans faced a detour, but rather than cancel the dream, found a new route.

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” That quote has been attributed to many different people throughout the years, and it’s always been one of my favorites. It neatly summarizes the absurdity of the illusion of having any level of control over the human condition.

Sonia & MarkSometime in 2006 I’d decided it was time for a change. I had a good job, a nice house, a great relationship and lots of interesting friends. But I also had a vague sense there was something better than sleepwalking through a comfortable existence. Nice as it might look on paper, this was not my American Dream. After some inspiration from the likes of Rolf Potts and Rita Golden Gelman, I started formulating plans for an extended trip. The lure of selling our house and getting rid of most of our stuff was intoxicating. I began collecting tips and ideas in a huge binder. I bookmarked every interesting travel site I could find. I read tons of blogs. I sketched out routes on maps and signed up for airfare alerts. In my mind, I was well on my way.

You see, I’m a planner. For me, one of the most fun aspects of travel has always been the planning and scheming and dreaming, prior to ever leaving home. Little did I know I was about to run smack into my favorite quote…

Part of The Big Plan had been to sell our house and use some of the proceeds to travel, keeping some in reserve as a default world “re-entry” cushion. In the halcyon days before the housing bubble burst, this seemed like a solid idea. But by the time my boyfriend and I had gotten our house ready to sell, things were already slipping.  By 2007, it was becoming clear that we’d have to significantly lower our price in order to get the house sold, and that put a huge crimp in the travel budget. The plan began to crumble.


Hostel Tips for Career Breakers
Monday, August 16th, 2010

It was one month into my 15 month career break and for the first time I was alone. I had the first month to ease into travels first with my friends, next with my sister; but now I stood in front of the hostel in Capetown as my sister pulled away in the taxi.

[singlepic=1443,275,,,right]I was nervous, very nervous; this was going to be my first hostel stay in my entire 36 years of life. Suddenly I was overwhelmed with fears – fears I would meet no one, fears it would be uncomfortable, fears I would be the oldest person there, fears I was somehow going backwards in my life. After all, the last time I stayed in a shared sleeping arrangement (dorm) I was in college. However, I knew that if I were going to travel for 15 months, I would need to overcome those fears.

And I did…only to come to realize how irrational those fears were.

Hostels are a great option for career breakers of all ages, and more people then you think are utilizing them to keep expenses down, and provide social outlets as part of their career breaks. If you are like me and have never stayed in a hostel before because you think they are just for young partying backpacker types, then prepare to have that myth shattered.

Before you start your career break here are some strategies for easing into hostels as an accommodation for the first time.

Take a Test Run

You’d never buy a car without driving it first – so why not use that same idea and give hostels a test run? You don’t have to be out of the country to try out a hostel; did you know that there are many, many great hostels in the US? I recommend on your next short trip, instead of booking yourself into a Marriott or Holiday Inn, check out Hostelling International USA and see if there’s a hostel in your destination. This is a great chance to try one on and see what you can expect. Some of the hostels in San Francisco , New York City , Chicago,  and Martha’s Vineyardare in amazing locations with great facilities. You’ll find the staff is very knowledgeable about the tourist attractions, and you’ll probably save half the money you would have spent on a hotel to be used at a fabulous restaurant instead!


Travel Tips: Road Experience
Thursday, February 18th, 2010

There comes a point in long-term travel where you have gained your backpacker-legs and have the confidence to help others you encounter on the road, or those preparing. Our three career break couples are at that point in their journeys and share some tips they’ve gained after six-months on the road, as well as what’s next for them.

[singlepic=1700,200,,,right]Two Backpackers (currently in Peru)
One week into our trip we arrived at Panajachel, Guatemala. When our bus stopped, 5 men were already pulling our backpacks off the roof rack and taking them to their own taxis or boats. We asked where a hostel was that we had reserved. The first man assured us that it was across Lake Atitlan, a 1hr boat ride away. We retained our bags and walked away, nervous about the situation. We found a tour shop and asked again. They told us it was a 10 minute walk up the street.

Lesson learned: Whenever you arrive at a transportation station make sure you don’t say yes to anything being offered. Get a hold of your bags and escape the chaos of offerings by finding a place you can sit down and think about your next decisions. Early in the trip we found ourselves being rushed into a bus or taxi with no clue where we were really going.

What’s Next:
Our plans have changed drastically during the last month. We have realized that traveling fast is not what we enjoy. It’s no longer a race to literally travel around the world, but rather to enjoy our visits to different countries throughout Latin America. Latin America is a vast area to explore and most countries have their own unique culture which we would like to experience. So Southeast Asia is off the list of destinations for this trip. I am sure we will get there some day. I am most excited about trekking through Torres del Paine in Patagonia and Aracely is looking forward to visiting the Amazonian Jungle.


Life on the Road: Ben & Alonna
Friday, November 20th, 2009

[singlepic=1580,300,,,right]It has been three months since the three couples from our Career Breaker Round-Up have hit the road, so we thought it would be fun to check in and see how they have been adjusting to life on the road! The fun part is that all three took off in completely different directions, so they’ll have very different cultural experiences to share as well.

We’re checking in last with Ben & Alonna, who started their travels in Europe, where they visited Amsterdam, Belgium, France, Spain, Austria, Germany, Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy and Greece. They have just returned home to Boise, Idaho this week, where they will celebrate the holidays with family before hitting the road again.

What has been the most difficult thing to adjust to on the road?

Alonna: Two things….

Trip planning on-the-fly. I’m the travel planner of the two of us, and in the past I loved planning every detail of our 1-week vacations. However, for 3 months that’s not possible, and we wanted to allow flexibility to our schedule anyway. But finding somewhere to stay, transportation, and food is a decent amount of work while you’re traveling. At first it was an adjustment and I spent way too much time planning head. But now I’ve gotten used to finding a “good-enough” hotel, and I even think it’s better for negotiating rates when you’re booking last-minute.

Figuring out the right pace. Our initial itinerary seemed pretty relaxed – at least 3 nights in each place, and we prioritized where we wanted to go. But very early in our trip we realized that we needed to slow down. This meant staying in places longer, and also not packing too much into a single day. Instead of trying to see everything the guidebook tells us to, now we just pick a couple things and spend the rest of the time walking around and enjoying the city.

Ben: Everything. Living out of a suitcase, moving constantly, choosing from the same 5 shirts, trying to figure out what to eat every day, figuring out basic communication and orienteering in every new country, etc. It’s not as bad as it sounds, but it’s a lot of adjusting.


Life on the Road: Bert & Patty
Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

[singlepic=1579,250,,,right]It has been three months since the three couples from our Career Breaker Round-Up have hit the road, so we thought it would be fun to check in and see how they have been adjusting to life on the road! The fun part is that all three took off in completely different directions, so they’ll have very different cultural experiences to share as well.

We’re checking in next with Christine and Paul of Bert & Patty, who started their travels by getting married in the Cook Islands! They have just started exploring Australia after spending that past couple of months in New Zealand.

What has been the most difficult thing to adjust to on the road?

There are so many things to adjust to while traveling for an extended period of time. For us, the most difficult thing has been having to continually carry around our food, and creative menu planning. While we were traveling in the US, we had a rental car and could keep a cooler in the car and transfer our groceries to the refrigerators once in a hostel. That was really convenient. Now that we’re traveling by the Stray Bus, we have two bags of groceries that we carry with us. One bag is for food that needs to be kept cold (milk, etc), and one for food that can be kept at room temperature (apples, oatmeal, etc).

When we were at home, like most people, we would shop for 3-4 weeks worth of groceries at a time. On the road, we aren’t getting that wonderful Costco buy-in-bulk discount. We can only shop for 2-3 days of groceries since we only have two bags for storage. We’re eating a lot of the same staple foods as well: muesli and oatmeal for breakfast – rice and pasta dishes for dinner – Leftover rice and pasta dishes for lunch the following day. It can get very monotonous.


Life on the Road: Two Backpackers
Monday, November 16th, 2009

[singlepic=1577,300,,,right]It has been three months since the three couples from our Career Breaker Round-Up have hit the road, so we thought it would be fun to check in and see how they have been adjusting to life on the road! The fun part is that all three took off in completely different directions, so they’ll have very different cultural experiences to share as well.

We’re checking in first with Jason and Aracely of Two Backpackers, who started their travels in Central America. So far they have experienced Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

What has been the most difficult thing to adjust to on the road?

JC: The constant get up and go, packing and unpacking. I can easily adjust to a new location, but right when I do, we have to get back on the road again. Constantly traveling does take a toll on the body and mind, and some days you just need to rest and recuperate.

AS: I don’t think I did a good job at picking the right clothes to bring. I have 3 hiking shorts that I never wear. I should have kept it to one hiking shorts and more casual clothes. We have done quite a few hikes but we are in towns most of the time. And I just wish I had a different selection of clothes. Such a girl answer, I know.

Are there any thoughts of what you left behind that keeps you up at night?

JC: Nothing keeps me up at night because I know I am not traveling forever. Other travelers that I have communicated with describe their homecoming as if they never left. I also believe that not much will have changed in a year’s time, except for my two young nephews that are growing up as I type.

AS: I have a teenage brother that I worry about. He’s at a difficult age, I worry about him often.


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