Posts Tagged ‘anxieties’

When the Light Bulb Went On
Friday, March 6th, 2015

Little did I know it then, but a letter to my mother my senior year of college has set me on a path that will inevitably change my life. 

It was 1995.  Being a naive college grad, I was eager for what was next in life, yet I was scared to face reality at the same time.  The letter I wrote to my mom that year captured my restlessness, my wanderlust, and my questions about how I was going to live my life now that I had satisfied all the prescribed obligations of early adulthood.  Now that I was free to choose what I wanted to do with my time, traveling and having new adventures was much more appealing than going to work.  Settling down to a cubicle?  Really?  Ugh, boring!  I was no stranger to travel having spent the previous summer studying in Denmark and touring Europe in my spare time.  I just didn’t know how to make my dream of traveling the world happen.

Want to plan your<br />
own career break?
Want to plan your
own career break?

So, I did what any broke 22 year-old would do – I went to graduate school and then got a regular corporate job.   

Jump ahead 13 years through graduation and student loans, a move, a year of volunteering, a career change to the public sector, and numerous awesome vacations where I couldn’t help but want just one more day before coming home.  My trip and the desire to explore the world would always come to mind during those vacations, and I would usually think it was just a crazy dream or that it couldn’t happen now – I had other things to do.

After being downsized early in 2008, I faced a crossroads.  Would I strike out on my own and start the business I’d been thinking about, would I travel, or would I try to find another job?  The economy was going south and I had a mortgage.  Being fiscally responsible was what I thought I should do even though my heart was on the road somewhere in Mongolia.  I made the decision to start the business and look for (and a year later, I ultimately found) a full-time job so I could keep paying the mortgage.

During that year, it felt like I was being slapped in the face every day to know I now had the time and opportunity to travel long term, but felt stuck with my current situation.  I thought I couldn’t spend the money I did have on anything other than necessities to keep myself, and the lifestyle choices I had made, afloat.

Fast forward through another 3 years of cubicle-land and a broken heart after being turned down for the fellowship I desperately wanted.  I remember the exact moment I was on the phone with my mom to tell her the news, tears streaming down my face.  The words came out of my mouth a bit flippantly, but nonetheless, I voiced what I had dreamed about since 1995.

Maybe I should just go on my trip.

Her response?  “Yes, you should.”

And that was it – everything clicked and the light bulb came on.  It wasn’t that I was looking for permission.  It was that I had finally stopped thinking about my trip as an impossibility or a pipe dream.  I had finally decided I could really do it and realized it was more important to me than anything else.

So, the trip I’ve been thinking about taking since writing that letter in 1995 launched in February of 2013.  Two unsolicited job offers were even turned down the year prior to leaving because I knew I couldn’t put it off any longer.

The enormity of my trip was an eye-opener and made me reconsider more than once.  But I had already made the one decision that really counts.

I decided to GO.

Beth Fenger took off on her own in February of 2013 for her round the world trip, visiting Patagonia, Cambodia, Mongolia, India, Turkey, Jordan, and Namibia.  She’s also an amateur photographer, zealous wine taster, obsessive trail runner, avid camper, adrenaline junkie, and finds her current career calling in the non-profit sector.  She can be found toting her camera, tent, and corkscrew, while running trails in various US cities and on Twitter and Facebook.

In the Career Break Closet
Thursday, October 16th, 2014

Are you stuck in the closet – afraid to come out and act like you really want to? I bet you are. In fact – I bet about 90% of you are. You are lurking in the dark, afraid to declare your secret desires, but willing to watch; from a safe place.

You are in the career break closet.

Research shows that about 90% of the people who read online media do not actually participate in the conversation; consumption vs. production. That’s fine, I understand, communicating online isn’t for everyone.

However I’m willing to believe that a percentage of that 90% are not lurking because they want to, but because they feel like they have to. They are staying in the closet because they can’t yet let people know about their career break plans. They must stay in the closet in order to remain at their jobs and while they quietly plan their getaway.

Keith and Amy Sutter from Green Around the Globe share their time in the career break closet:

[singlepic=1668,300,,,right]In January of 2009 Amy and I made the big decision, to travel the world for a year. And with all of the excitement and anxiety that comes with such a big decision there was one unpleasant aspect that regularly kept us up at night. We now had a huge secret to keep from everyone we knew. There are practical elements to keeping your decision a secret initially. What if you decide not to do it? What happens if something comes up? A family member gets ill, you get ill. There are any number of potential events that could change your plans. So Amy and I went into the “traveler closet” for 6 months. This meant that as we were doing our initial research, reading books, blogs and anything else we could get our hands on, we had to be sure to keep it all under wraps. When friends came over for dinner we had to spend 10 minutes scanning the condo to make sure an incriminating book was not left laying out.

When we did start telling people, starting with close family we had to bring them into our “circle of trust”. We had to make sure we controlled who knew when. Practically it was to make sure we handled giving notice at our respective workplaces on our terms and in a professional manner. We could not afford, either financially or professional, for word of our plans to leak back to our companies before we were ready. The other reason to control the information is so that we would be the ones to personally tell every one of our family and friends. That reason was selfish, we wanted to be there to see or hear their unfiltered initial reactions. One of the best parts of planning the trip is telling the people you are closest to and getting their reactions.


Taking a Break From Your Career Break
Thursday, November 14th, 2013

Many of us leave our jobs to go travel the world thinking it will be the best thing ever. What could be better than not having to go into work every day AND having the freedom to experience foreign countries? I was one of those people too. I wanted to take a round the world trip for so long, and when I finally found a way to make it happen, I couldn’t have been more excited (ok, maybe a little nervous too).

My situation was a little different in that I quit my job in Atlanta in order to move to Germany after getting married. I decided this was the perfect time for my career break trip, even though my new husband Andy couldn’t come with me. I planned out a five month itinerary, used miles for a round the world ticket, and hit the road a few months after moving to Germany. Andy even booked a flight to travel with me through New Zealand for two weeks around Christmas and New Year’s.

I stayed in touch with friends and family back in the United States, and I Skyped with Andy as often as possible. I missed him, but that was to be expected. What I didn’t expect was to be so overwhelmed after a month in Southeast Asia by homesickness that I didn’t even want to get out of bed. Andy and I had spent the entire first year of our relationship long distance, why was this so much harder? I had dreamed of this adventure for years, why wasn’t I enjoying it more? I tried to brush it off as just your average culture shock, but after a couple weeks, I knew this dark cloud wasn’t leaving me anytime soon.

Finally, I decided the best thing I could do was take a break and go home to Germany to see Andy. It was a hard decision, and even though I knew I’d be back on the road two weeks later, I felt like I was giving up on my dream trip. But I also knew that I was missing sights and experiences due to my homesickness, and trying to keep going when I was feeling that way wasn’t fulfilling my dream either. So I booked a ticket to Germany and spent two weeks mentally patching myself together.

I spent three more months traveling after that break. My husband joined me for two weeks in New Zealand as planned, and I still missed him when I was on my own again. But I felt refreshed and better able to handle the rest of my round the world trip. My expectations were more realistic, and I was having fun again. Taking a break from my trip was the best decision I could’ve made.

Most round the world travelers don’t plan on going home until it’s all over, and sometimes that works just fine. But I learned that my travel dreams didn’t look the way I hoped they would, and that it’s hard to be away from those who are most important to me. And that it’s ok to feel that way. Maybe being with your family for the holidays is something you want to go home for, or maybe your sister is having a baby while you’re gone. Maybe you just need a little down time with your friends. Flying back home for a week or two doesn’t mean you’re giving up or doing it wrong.

It might just be the thing you need to keep going and enjoy your career break even more.

Ali Garland is an American expat living in Germany. Her travel addiction led her to visit all 7 continents before her 30th birthday. She recently returned from a round the world trip and is now fumbling her way through life in Germany. She is currently searching for the perfect salsa recipe. Ali writes at Ali’s Adventures, and you can follow her on Twitter, @aliadventures7. She also just launched a new travel-related website, Travel Made Simple.

Getting Over Your Fears
Thursday, October 31st, 2013

Long-term travel isn’t usually a decision that is made overnight. There is often a deep, long-lasting desire within a person to tread on dirt roads, watch sunsets from other horizons, see new colors woven together by diverse histories and traditions, share unique moments, appreciate differences, learn to be self-sufficient and free, enjoy simplicity, and to rejuvenate the mind, body, and soul. For some, the dream to leave a life behind to follow an uncertain road seems impossible or too scary to attempt. But when the desire to go surpasses the desire to stay, one should prepare for the waves of emotions that follow. As a single mom with two young children, there were almost too many emotions to sort through.

The decision that it was possible

Marriage and kids kept me in one place, and my travel dreams were reduced to pictures on a Pinterest board. In 2011, I was divorced and broke. I had a small, empty apartment in Austin, two children (then ages 2 and 4), no job, no car, and a blank canvas with which to create a brand new life. I began an online marketing business that allowed me the flexibility to be at home with my children and to travel when we wanted to.

After a year of running my business, making sure it was successful and profitable, I envisioned what my life would look like in 6 months. I saw turquoise blue waters, warm weather, and knitted hammocks. So on Christmas morning of 2012, new luggage, passports, swimsuits, and beach toys were wrapped beneath our tree. My gift to my children and myself was a long trip to Cozumel, Mexico, which seemed like the perfect introduction to traveling outside of the US. I sold, gave away, and packed our belongings, and anticipated our departure date in May. I was overwhelmed with excitement until one late night 6 weeks before we were scheduled to leave, I wanted to cancel the whole trip.

Fears set in during the planning stages

I had been spending my evenings reading travel articles, travel blogs, travel tips, cultural differences in Cozumel, Mexican laws, and other books. I mapped out a detailed plan that exhausted me to look at, but I felt secure that everything in Austin would be taken care of when I left. I hired staff to take care of tasks that I couldn’t be present for, and on paper, my plans for my exciting journey seemed thorough. But exciting journeys aren’t about a plan on paper.

About 6 weeks before leaving, I began to feel displaced. My thoughts and energy had been focused on Cozumel, and it pained me to feel uprooted from my comfortable life in Austin. I felt adrift- some place between Austin and Cozumel. Knowing I wouldn’t be with my friends in a month, I stopped making plans with them, and I was sure I would be forgotten. I feared that there would be nothing to come back to, that friends would move on, and that I would no longer have a place.

I questioned whether this was best for the kids- to uproot them when we had made a comfortable spot for ourselves in Austin. I was content there to a degree, so maybe I could be okay. Maybe life abroad isn’t really what I had imagined, and maybe I was setting myself up for disappointment. I was sure of my life in Austin. I knew what was coming, and I knew what to expect. But in another country, I didn’t know what to expect. Was the excitement of the unknown worth the risk of having no permanent home?

I questioned everything. I began to panic and started holding on to any reason to stay in Austin. Talking about my trip made me cry. I couldn’t sleep, and I cried more in that last month than I did in the past year. I wrote out how much it would cost to cancel my trip, get a new place (since I had given notice at my apartment), put the kids in a new pre-school, and continue living just like I always had. I was so disappointed in myself- I claimed to be a free spirit, but I was terrified of venturing out with only a couple of pieces of luggage, my two children, and my little dog.

So did we go?

I thought I needed comfort and roots, but what I really needed was resolution and wings. I began having long chats with a seasoned world traveler friend of mine. He assured me that these feelings were normal, but that I needed to find a way to put them in their place. I could cancel the trip and go on living the way I was, or I could take this chance, and get a glimpse of something that could be incredible. If I didn’t like it, I could always return to Austin, but my friend assured me that if I would just get on the plane, I wouldn’t regret it. I was allowing fear to ruin the possibility of a deeply-rooted dream, of a free vagabond lifestyle that I had designed in my head for years. But I wanted this adventure enough that I had rid myself of all material things, structured a business around a travel lifestyle, and prepared my children to be little world explorers.

I had been blindsided by the waves of emotions I felt from day to day and even hour to hour (sometimes minute to minute). Finally, a couple of weeks before leaving, I found ways to manage my fear and move forward. If I failed, I could still have a good life in Austin, but if there was even a glimmer of hope that I could pull this off, I was going to find out.

I began envisioning myself in my new life, free in my spirit, but grounded in who I was. My stability would be within myself. My children would find their safety in my own stability. My comfort would be in knowing that the world was an exciting place, and that my children and I had the privilege of living in it- all of it if we wanted! My fears would not be passed on to them, and they would feel free and open to wander and discover, while I watched them in amazement. I realized that I could have roots, but also be fluid and mobile.

I ran, I meditated, I drank hot tea, I listened to soothing music, I took bubble baths, and I began to surround myself with only positive, calming energy and people. I reflected on all the amazing memories I had in Austin, but looked forward to new ones. I read books written by other wanderers and vagabonds who discovered things they were looking for and found even more that they weren’t. I studied maps, and beautiful cultures, and revived my excitement for seeing them myself. I recognized my fears, and then released them, as I began to expect the best from our trip. I spent time with people who had been traveling, I saw their appetite for life and exploration, and I regained my own enthusiasm for my journey. There were moments of fear, but I had resolved that we were going to do this. On May 23, 2012, the kids and I boarded a plane together, each of us with a stuffed animal in our hands.

What about now?

Questioning this move was a really helpful part of the process, now that I reflect on it. It helped me realize how strong my desire was to travel to new places. Had there been no struggle in my decision, in the end, I may not have been so resolved and focused to release myself from my own boundaries. My children and I have been in Cozumel for 3 months now, and we have all adjusted well. We have extended our trip through the school year, and we plan to live in Costa Rica next.

Sometimes, I wonder what I’m doing here, or I fall into habitual fears and mindsets. I worry that we may lose everything, that my business will fail, and that I won’t have the ability to pay for our home here.

But I guess even in a worst case scenario, I could just tie a couple of hammocks between two palm trees on a beach, and really, that doesn’t sound too bad at all.

Autumn la Bohème is a single mother of 2 who left her home in Austin Texas to disprove the word “impossible”. Always labeled a gypsy soul, she had a dream to live absolutely free, to travel with no geographical ties, to roam, to explore, and to make the world more real to her than the pictures she saw in books and magazines. She is a writer and online marketing manager for Bodhi Leaf Media, a business that she started to fund her travels. She also documents life and travel on her blog It’s All About a Journey. She loves daydreaming, open skies, and listening to tales of other nomads and vagabonds on their journeys. Her children’s adventurous spirits have added to the excitement of their journey, and now they have their own list of areas to visit as they slowly explore Central and South America.

Photo credits: Jimee, Jackie, Tom & Asha, all other photos courtesy of the author and may not be used without permission.

Reverse Culture Shock: Dealing With It Without Spreading It
Friday, May 31st, 2013

You’ve just returned from a life-changing adventure around the world, where every day brought you something new and exciting to experience. You can’t believe how much you’ve accomplished in such a short period of time, yet the second you walk through the door to your home, it feels like you never left, as everything looks the same.

And that feeling is only enhanced when you meet up with family and friends, as it may seem as if nothing has really changed with them either. But you have changed, and you’re not sure what to make of the roller coaster of emotions you’re feeling. You, my friend, are experiencing reverse culture shock.

You’ll be happy to know that you’re not alone. Just about every traveler experiences it in some variation (including our very own Sherry Ott). And although it’s not contagious, you can spread it to non-travelers. Here are some tips on how to deal with Reverse Culture Shock without spreading your anxiety, and even depression, to those around you.


Are Societal Pressures Stopping You?
Thursday, March 14th, 2013

When pondering the idea of a career break, there are a multitude of hurdles one has to overcome. We have touched on the “career fears” that prevent one from embarking on a career break. Another fear we come across are those that society places on us. Many people can’t relate to taking a career break and veering off the expected path in life – and those people are the ones that can make you question your own decision.

Many of our career break experts for Meet, Plan, Go! share the reactions they received when telling family, friends and colleagues about their decision to take a career break to travel. And you may be surprised by how positive people can be.

Meet, Plan, Go! NYC Panel

So what were some of the reactions our panel received?

Brook Silva-Braga (A Map for Saturday)
Co-workers and family were surprised such a career-focused person would up and leave. They didn’t understand my ambition transcended money, it was an ambition for accomplishment and adventure in various forms. But in my experience very, very few people took a negative view of the decision; they were jealous or perhaps confused, they didn’t think it was realistic for them (for a series of dubious reasons) but they thought it was a cool idea.


Breaking Free: Five Stages to a Career Break
Monday, April 23rd, 2012

For me, taking a career break wasn’t what rational people did.  Just quitting work was not “realistic.”  That’s what I had been raised to believe.  To get to where I am now–on a career break in South America since January–I had to go through five stages:

Stage 1: Envy

Having gone through university, I never took the opportunity to study abroad and was always envious of those who had.  My friends who returned from Italy, England and Spain with stories to tell was awe inspiring to me.  Then I had those friends who did the whole backpacking thing after college.  Again, that was a fleeting idea to me because (1) I didn’t have a trust fund and as a 22 year old, I did not have the finances for such an adventure and (2) I was of the mindset that after college I had to get my career started, and that meant entering the job market as soon as I exited university.

Stage 2: Regret

Envy inevitably leads to regret.  A few years into my advertising career, I was working in the New York City office of a company that happened to be based in London.  Upon threatening to resign, I was offered the opportunity to transfer to their London office.  While this was thrilling, my internal self was torn.  Being away for an indefinite period was exciting, but scary.  In my head, I thought about all the moments I would be missing back home and I knew my parents were not thrilled at the idea.  In the end, another company made me an attractive offer and I wound up staying in New York.

Stage 3:  Antsy-ness

One may ask, how can I be bored in a city like New York.  Living in New York, I’m constantly meeting people who are from other parts of the country — people who packed up their lives and took the dive to move to the big city.  I was once expressing to a friend of mine this envious feeling I had toward those people, and my need to take the same sort of plunge.  What she said has always stuck with me.  She told me I was one of those lucky people to have grown up with one of the best cities as my backyard.  For some reason though, I wanted more.  I wanted to live outside of my norm, to live outside of my box.  To live and work somewhere else, outside of NY, had an aura of excitement for me.

Stage 4: Guilt

The year 2008 marked a time of increasing unemployment.  At this point in my career, I had already “lived through” multiple rounds of layoffs at previous companies.  At the time, I was working for a national newspaper, and layoffs were fierce.  Colleagues would come into my office, worried about their jobs and the future of our team.  While I reassured them that we didn’t need to worry, inside my heart, I was truly hoping that my name would make the company cut list.  These thoughts made me feel a bit guilty as I watched the news and read about all the unemployed people struggling to pay their bills.  In truth, I wanted to switch places with them.

Stage 5:  Guts

It was the summer of 2011 and I was working at a digital start-up.  I always considered myself to be a person who did not shy away from a challenge, and I decided it was time to act.  What kept going through my head was the expression, “if not now, when?”  That meant getting some guts, quitting my job, leaving New York, packing up and saying goodbye.

I started to put my game plan together. I would give two months’ notice and travel to South America.  Focused on Ecuador, I started to look for volunteer opportunities in the country and borrowed Rosetta Stone from a friend of mine.

Fortuitously, lightning struck, and in September I was informed that the New York office would be closing its doors.  My head was spinning.  My team members were frantically updating their resumes, while I secretly thought to myself, “FINALLY! The stars had aligned and it was my turn.”


Sheryl Neutuch is a marketing professional from New York who took the plunge.  She is traveling, volunteering, learning and exploring in South America.  She is living her dream.

You can read more about her adventures on her blog, Smiling in South America.

Fear of Quitting
Monday, February 27th, 2012

In our 2011 post event survey, the number one reason people were afraid of contemplating a career break was the fear that they wouldn’t be able to save enough money. No surprise there. But what was surprising was that a fear of quitting their job was second. Besides being afraid of not finding work post-break, what is so scary about the actual act of giving notice?

Lori Sussle, a member of our Basic Training community, was terrified to give notice. But the positive reactions she received from colleagues and friends took her by surprise.

Giving my notice and making it ‘really’ official was a lot more nerve-racking than I had originally thought it would be. I was nervous to give my notice for several reasons, one of which was that there was no going back after that!

My boss was unbelievably supportive, which was great, since he is based across the country and I have never given my notice on the phone before. I was shaking before I told him, after I told him and still shaking once our conversation ended.

Once I gave my notice, I felt comfortable officially announcing it. Well, a day later. I was still trembling as I prepared to hit send on an email I had prepared a week prior. Close friends and family had known of my plans, but those that I did not see as frequently were not as in the loop on my process, so I am pretty sure I threw some people for a loop.

As you can imagine the response to my announcement was overwhelming. There were three emails from friends that stood out to me.

Two of the three I had not seen in some time and therefore knew nothing of my plans. Neither of the two know each other but at the times in our lives when we were the closest, I considered them like an older brother, and I am pretty sure they felt like I was their younger sister.

The third just had a life change herself and did know of my plans, just not how far they had progressed. Here is an abbreviated version but you can get the point, and the support!

Wow. You once pointed out to me a saying “Leap …. and the net will appear.” Worked for me, will work for you. This is awesome. I will follow you along the way. Safe travels and keep me updated!
Once again, I am completely in awe of your youthful enthusiasm and adventurous spirit… have fun kid! I’m going to try to come [to my going away party] – figure it’s the least I can do for one of the ballsiest people I’ve ever known!!!
I AM SO FREAKING PROUD OF YOU!!!!!!!!I know the feeling of shaking, crying, fear and exhilaration all too well, and the funny thing is, it will only last until you leave. Once you’re gone, you’ll be swept-up in the sheer excitement of being in new places, seeing jaw-dropping beauty that the US simply does not possess, and feeling so completely FREE and independent.
YOU. GO. GIRL. CONGRATULATIONS!!!!!!!!!!!! You’ve just taken the first (HUGE) step to changing your life and fully following the mantra, “if not now, when??” Love it.

What reactions have you received when sharing your career break news?

Marketing Your Career Break
Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

How to market your career break, prepare your resume and incorporate your career break into interviews.

Before You Leave

1. Choose your itinerary with some thought about coming back to the workforce. All of these ideas can be highlighted on a resume or in an interview with a little creative forethought. Travel can be about building skillsets, and soft skills which are valued in the workplace.

• Include volunteering
• Learn how to blog
• Sign up for and learn how to utilize social networks
• Improve a skill such as a foreign language, photography, business through microfinancing, sailing, or cooking.
• Include some countries on your itinerary based on cultures you interact with in the workplace currently. For example, does your company manufacture something in China, or do you outsource resources from India; then these could be great cultures to explore and learn more about on your career break.

2. Update your resume with your most recent work experience! This is crucial to do now before you start traveling and forget the details of what you used to do.

3. Contact your business contacts and let them know that you are leaving to travel and why you have chosen to do so. Let them know the additional skills you expect to gain while traveling and when you expect to return back to connect with them again on a professional level.

While On The Road

1. Periodically stay in contact with colleagues and provide them updates of your travels and experiences. This will keep those networking and communication ties open. This can be as simple as keeping a blog or sending out a monthly email to friends and colleagues recapping your experiences.

2. A few months before returning:

• Take stock of what you have learned and how you have changed. What soft skills have you gained.
• Updating your resume with some of your travel experiences.
• Reach out to your networks and let them know that you’ll be returning shortly and looking for employment.
• Start communicating with recruiters.

When You Return

1. Consider what your goal is:
• Do you want to return to the ‘Briefcase’ on the same career track?
• Do you want to return to the ‘Briefcase’ but on a different career track?
• Do you want to utilize your skills and talents to pursue freelance work?
• Do you want to pick up the ‘Backpack’ and never return to corporate?

This is not a quick, or easy decision to make. It often takes a lot of soul searching and potentially negotiating with a significant other. The main thing is to not force a decision if you don’t have an answer. If the answer isn’t coming to you, then simply dip your toe into all of the options, send out resumes, and see where it lands you.

2. Update Your Resume:
You don’t have to hide your career break, you should address it. You may want a number of versions of how you address it depending on the jobs you are applying for.

3. Prepare for Interviews:
Understand how your travels contribute to who you are. This may take some careful retrospection, however if you kept a blog or journal while traveling it may become a bit easier. Consider what you learned in the various countries and cultures you experienced and how would that apply to doing business internationally.

4. Have a Positive and Confident Attitude about your Career Break Experience:
One of the most important things to possess as you are working your way back into the workforce again is to have confidence in your ability to do so. If you don’t believe that your career break was beneficial and you are simply trying to create a sales pitch, then it won’t be as successful.

Be proud of the experience and include it on your LinkedIn profile and Facebook Timeline.

As you converse with future employers and network with colleagues, you must ooze confidence about your career break. No regrets!

We get more in depth on how to market your career break and prepare for interviews in our Career Break Basic Training.

Safety is Relative
Monday, February 13th, 2012

I was just sitting down to dinner at a deserted hotel a few miles from Chichen Itza when I got a frantic call from my wife that we’d been robbed. She had come home from school to find our front door wide open, a window broken, our cats escaped, and our place ransacked. She was scared, worried, and alone.

Not knowing if the perpetrators were still inside, she hid in the car while waiting for the cops to arrive. Thankfully, the hotel had WiFi and while both visual and audio Skype failed, SMS worked, so I was able to keep her virtual company during the three-hour wait. It pained me to be so far away, powerless to help. Eventually the police showed up, and she left to go file the report. There was nothing I could do but be thankful she was ok and hopeful that not too much was stolen. (It turned out that only our PS3 and a bowl of change seemed to be missing, most likely by a couple of bored and underprivileged kids.)

Ironically, before I left for Mexico, a number of people cautioned me, “Are you sure it’s safe?” The worst thing that happened to me was being swindled by a gas station attendant.

It just goes to show that safety is relative. While I was in what many consider an unsafe country, our home in the U.S. was broken into. For many years I’ve heard people say that they wouldn’t go to a country deemed risky by the State Department. And yet countries like Mexico, Afghanistan, and the Philippines are places where you can find exquisite natural beauty, rich cultural history, and warm-hearted people.

While it’s true that the chances of something unexpected happening in such places might be higher than in Japan or Norway, it’s wise to remember that danger exists everywhere, and crime tends to increase exponentially with population density. There are several U.S. cities in which many Americans might feel comfortable, but some foreigners might consider too risky, Oakland included.

One might be tempted to let the fear of the unexpected keep them from leaving home, yet even that isn’t a guarantee of safety. It’s better still to go out into the world, appropriately cautious but unafraid, and lead by example, treating people with respect and kindness. If and when the unexpected happens, the following two principles will work in almost every situation;

  1. Find a safe place, calm down, think rationally, and get help.
  2. Think positively, learn from the experience, and move on.

Learning to both manage a critical situation in the moment, and to let go of negative minimally-serious outcomes afterwards are key components to traveling safely in many parts of the world, and in your own neighborhood.

An adventurer at heart, Ted Beatie is at his happiest when he’s off the beaten path. His deepest passion is sharing the world through his photography and writing, which can be found at The Pocket Explorer.

He is also the managing editor for Rolf Potts’ Vagabonding, where he publishes a weekly Case Study series. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Career Break Guide Table of Contents

Meet Plan Go