Posts Tagged ‘lessons’

Regrouping on the Road
Monday, June 4th, 2012

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.

I had prepaid the hotel at my upcoming destination, plus I really wanted to spend my time in Cochin, not in Delhi sorting things out.  At this point I had a few choices:  take my chances with my current airline and hope they had made arrangements with an alternate carrier (which was unlikely), opt for a 20 hour train ride and forego the cost of one hotel  (which was unappealing),  or book a new ticket (which was expensive).   After weighing the time, money, and aggravation factors, I chose the latter.

Buying a new ticket ended up to be the right choice for me, despite the fact it set me back a few hundred dollars.  Twenty four hours before my originally scheduled flight I received an email from Kingfisher stating that my flight was cancelled, but no other option was offered.  I met an Indian woman at the airport who told me that her son and daughter-in-law were stranded by Kingfisher in London and both had to buy new tickets for 800 British Pounds each.  She didn’t seemed too surprised by this, she simply shrugged and said, “it’s unfortunate, but what can you do?”

Every situation where you are forced to regroup will be unique, but here are some tips to deal with the problem, or prevent it altogether:

Expect the unexpected – and budget for it.  We all know it will happen at some point, so by planning and budgeting for it upfront, it may not be as much of an annoyance.  If everything goes as planned, you will have extra funds at the end of the trip to splurge on some extravagance or pocket the cash.

Do your homework.  I did not have the luxury of time when I made the arrangements for my career break, but a quick internet search could have alerted me to the financial difficulties of Kingfisher and I would have been able to make alternate arrangements.  Also, check travel forums like Trip Advisor where you can get advice from other travelers.

Enlist the help of a travel agent. They are not widely used anymore, but a travel agent can be a great help.  I was extremely jealous when two of my fellow Australian travelers, also facing a possible trip cancellation, shot an email to their agent who was able to rebook them.  Another option would be to enlist the help of a travel savvy friend back home who has access to a fast internet connection and can make a few calls on your behalf.

Build extra time into your itinerary.  You won’t always have the luxury of downtime when you travel, but giving yourself extra time in “transition” locations will help to get you back on schedule if something goes awry along the way.

Get your money back, if possible.  My first attempt was to deal with a Kingfisher agent face to face who assured me my ticket would be refunded within 5 business days.  After 15 business days, this had not happened.   Even though I was promised a refund, I immediately disputed the charge with my credit card company.  They placed the charge on “hold” meaning I don’t have to pay for it until the issue is resolved.  Ideally, try to get documentation in writing from the vendor as it will help in your effort to dispute the charges.  Your travel insurance policy is another option, but read the fine print closely.  Mine states:

The following exclusions apply to Trip Cancellation and Trip InterruptionBenefits will not be provided for any loss resulting (in whole or in part) from: (a) travel arrangements canceled by an airline.”

This means it might be an uphill battle to get reimbursed.  Additionally, there are many airlines which are excluded from coverage altogether.

Embrace a new experience.  Sometimes you will just have to make a new plan.  You have two choices:  get upset about it, or enjoy the unexpected.  That outcome is entirely up to you.

Leora Krause is a travel addict who started circling the globe when she was old enough to vote.  Recently downsized from corporate America, she is enjoying her second career break (her first one was in 2003), traveling through Thailand, Vietnam, India and Nepal.  She hails from the great city of Chicago, Illinois.  You can read about her travel adventures on Restless Passport.

Homestay Hits and Misses
Monday, May 7th, 2012

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.

My next homestay was part of the same volunteer program, this time living with a couple in Moscow. Overall, it was an improvement, but still not ideal. Living with an unmarried couple younger than me created an interesting dynamic and, as they were both working professionals, they had little time left over to spend with me.

Several months later, I took the plunge again, living with an elderly woman in Kiev while I took language classes. That was pretty much a disaster, with the woman just yelling at me in Russian every chance she got. I lasted two weeks.

Finally, I arrived in Armenia last month to volunteer again and try another homestay.

The fourth time must be the charm, right?

And it was – I lived with a couple about my parents’ age who went out of their way to make me comfortable and patiently practice Russian with me. Their son (who didn’t live with them) spoke fluent English and checked up on me weekly. I even introduced them to my parents back in Minnesota via Skype. I was sad to say goodbye to Stella and Martin when I left after five weeks.

After such a mixed experience with doing homestays, there are a few things I wish I had considered beforehand:

? I assumed that all homestay hosts are motivated by the “right” reasons – a desire to share their culture with foreigners and an inclination to learn about others. However, it became apparent to me that in reality some may just be motivated by the money they earn for being a host.

? I never really thought about balancing the atmosphere of a homestay with my desire for independence. In Kiev, my host always asked a lot of questions about where I was going or where I had been and she tended to watch over me as I was coming and going. I had to ask to use the washing machine and I couldn’t use the kitchen until after she had finished her meal. In Armenia, I sometimes felt like I was living with my parents again – something I haven’t done since I was 18. While I had a key to Stella and Martin’s place and they insisted I could come and go as I pleased, the homestay rules technically provided a curfew of midnight. Sure, I shirked this on occasion but I felt horribly guilty doing so.

? I wish I had thought more about the potential location of my homestays and pushed for more information before my arrival. Only my homestay in Kiev was centrally located. When I arrived in St. Petersburg, I discovered I was staying about an hour and a half outside of the city center, in an area that doesn’t even show up on maps of the city. Similarly, in Moscow, I was on the outskirts, about an hour out of the center, and in Yerevan, my homestay was in the hills north of the city center, a 30-40 minute ride into town by marshrutka (shared taxi). In each case, I received limited information from my hosts about how to get around and the groups that organized the homestays didn’t even provide a map for me in advance. I would have felt much more comfortable right off the bat if I had that basic information before I arrived.

In the end, while my experiences tended toward the negative rather than positive, I can’t say I wouldn’t recommend trying a homestay during your career break. Do your homework ahead of time, ask a lot of questions and think very seriously about your own personality and whether you will truly be comfortable living with a family for a week or two or longer.

Katie Aune is in the middle of a career break, in which she is spending a year traveling and volunteering in all 15 countries of the former Soviet Union. She is a former attorney, event planner and fundraiser who recently joined Meet, Plan, Go! as managing editor. You can follow her adventures at Katie Going Global.

2011 Recap: On-the-Road
Monday, December 5th, 2011

Traveling with kids, living in Paris, taking a writer’s retreat, and staying in hostels – just a few of the topics we highlighted this year On-the-Road.

Traveling with Kids: Building a Foundation of Learning

Rainer Jenss was a Vice President and thirteen-year veteran of National Geographic. As the Publisher, he helped transform National Geographic Kids into the most widely read consumer magazine for children throughout the world. In the summer of 2008 he decided to put his professional expertise and personal passion to the ultimate test by traveling around the world for a year with his family.

If you’re reading this post, you’ve probably fantasized about quitting your job, packing a suitcase, and leaving town for a while to travel the world. When we first got married, my wife Carol and I often contemplated taking the leap — sometimes seriously, sometimes not. There always seemed to be some excuse why we couldn’t, wouldn’t or shouldn’t. Our careers, responsibilities, and commitments had to be considered, and how about what our friends and family would say? It was always something. Then after the birth of our sons Tyler and Stefan, all this talk about packing our bags seemed to suddenly fade away. After all, you can’t possibly do something like this with kids, right? Continue…

On the Road with Warren & Betsy Talbot

Shortly after hosting our Inaugural Meet, Plan, Go! event in Seattle this past September, Warren & Betsy Talbot (aka Married with Luggage) took off for their three year career break. Now with four months under their [shrinking] belts, we check in with them to see how they are adjusting to life on the road.

You spent two years planning your career break travels. Now that you have been on the road for four months, what have you found to be the most valuable aspect of your preparation process?
We have found that living on a budget is the most valuable skill for a long-term trip like this. In addition, doing the research to figure out what the trip would likely cost for our style of travel means that we are comfortable traveling with the budget we set out for ourselves and do not anticipate running out of money early. We lived for 2 years on a fairly tight budget, which means once we started on the trip, there was absolutely nothing to get used to. In fact, we felt like we could splurge more once we were on the trip because we had lived under budget for so long – which is a great feeling! Continue…

What’s the Right Amount of Time on the Road

San Blas, PanamaWhen 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.

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? Continue…

A Year in Paris

Eiffel TowerIn 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 else.”

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. Continue…

Studying Spanish in Argentina

Sarah GottliebMy backpack had hardly touched the floor in our new apartment in Buenos Aires when I was already illuminated by the friendly glow of my netbook, searching for a school to enroll in. I was eager to hit the books after so many years in the workplace and wanted to take advantage of every second of Spanish that I could absorb. Being a little older than your typical study-abroad student and already fairly fluent, I was a bit leery of the private language mills with their revolving hung-over students. My goal wasn’t to be able to say, “I’d like a shot of tequila please”; I wanted to speak with confidence about things that probably hadn’t happened in the past, but might have—in other words, to finally master the subjunctive mood.

I soon had a spreadsheet full of different programs ranked by cost per hour, students per teacher, reviews, and length of program. But after narrowing down the choices, I still wasn’t happy with the results. I was afraid that my classmates would all be Americans and the classes were surprisingly more expensive than I’d expected. Continue…

On the Road: Writer’s Retreat

Let’s ignore the fact that you’ll never work again. Skip over the part where you die alone and penniless on a twice-flipped mattress in some dockside flophouse. Such fates are inevitable if you walk away from your job. Accept it. Move on.

I know that’s slightly unfair to say, because I did exactly what you’re thinking of doing, and yet here I sit with all my original teeth and a perfectly pleasant relationship with my creditors. Still, it’s what folks told me, so I’m riling up your muse with an equal punch of pessimism.

That’s right. In 2007, against all warnings, I traded my desk job in Manhattan for the wilds of New Zealand. The plan was to wander a bit, to clear my head so that I may pursue a dream: Writing full time. It was a gamble, but for some reason that didn’t worry me. I knew that when I was checked into hereafter and they asked me, “did it all work out?” I could at least shrug my shoulders and say, “I gave it a shot.”

Of course, giving it a shot can mean different things to different people. Here’s what it meant for me: Continue…

The Modern Hostel Experience

Traveling is about the journey, and not reaching the destination; from the moment you start packing until you have returned. Think about how long you have planned to conquer this journey, and how fulfilling it is to participate in this traveling phenomenon; whether you’re a career breaker or a backpacker. Your travel experience is unique; shaped by the travelers you interact with. Shouldn’t the way you book your travel be the same?

The GoMio Service
Travelers love to talk; we share information about how awesome the Salar de Uyuni was in Bolivia, or where to find budget accommodation in Amsterdam. The Gomio team does exactly this; booking hostels and connecting travelers at your convenience. Continue…

Studying Spanish in Argentina
Monday, July 4th, 2011

Briefcase to Mochila: Getting the Most out of Studying Spanish in Argentina

Sarah Gottlieb and her husband Gabe initially were planning on working for a year abroad in order to travel more when they thought, “What if we just travel for a year instead?” Nine months of planning, three yard sales and two RTW tickets later, they were off and flying. While naturally curious, Sarah found herself lacking the bravery she wanted to be able to live up to the adventures the year threw at her. She began writing stories of her battles with eating bugs, swimming in anaconda infested waters and fighting thieves in Buenos Aires at Fraidypants Princess Travels the Globe. Gabe and Sarah have recently finished their year abroad and are residing in Los Angeles.

Sarah Gottlieb

My backpack had hardly touched the floor in our new apartment in Buenos Aires when I was already illuminated by the friendly glow of my netbook, searching for a school to enroll in. I was eager to hit the books after so many years in the workplace and wanted to take advantage of every second of Spanish that I could absorb. Being a little older than your typical study-abroad student and already fairly fluent, I was a bit leery of the private language mills with their revolving hung-over students. My goal wasn’t to be able to say, “I’d like a shot of tequila please”; I wanted to speak with confidence about things that probably hadn’t happened in the past, but might have—in other words, to finally master the subjunctive mood.

I soon had a spreadsheet full of different programs ranked by cost per hour, students per teacher, reviews, and length of program. But after narrowing down the choices, I still wasn’t happy with the results. I was afraid that my classmates would all be Americans and the classes were surprisingly more expensive than I’d expected.

I made one more stab at trying to decipher the public universities’ Web sites and discovered a program for foreigners at the University of Buenos Aires. In theory, it was exactly what I was looking for. I’d be surrounded by local students, with a mix of international teachers, local prices, and local professors. Unfortunately, the Web page didn’t offer much information other than an address.

The next day I felt like I was traveling back to the ’90s having to go physically downtown to speak to someone in person about signing up for classes. As luck would have it, they were testing for the new semester that week. Soon I was squeezed into a desk chair nervously biting my pen and berating myself for not thinking to brush up on grammar! After finalizing my enrollment with an ATM withdrawal, I walked back to my apartment and savored that special in-love-with-a-foreign-city romantic feeling. Soon I’d be reading Borges while sipping a cortado, in the very same corner café where he wrote the lines.

The UBA (pronounced “ooh-bah”) classes proved to be everything that I was looking for. The professors were dedicated, educated, and professional and the subject matter was intriguing. They had classes about Argentinean immigration, oration, film, etc. I enjoyed the opportunity to learn about a new culture while living in it.

My classmates were the mix that I had hoped for, with students from countries like France, Brazil, Germany, UAE, and New Zealand. It also happened to be the cheapest cost, at $3 per hour of learning.

Sarah Gottlieb

While I knew classes were the first step to getting myself thinking in Spanish again, I had told myself ten years ago while living in Spain that if I ever studied abroad in the future I’d get a tutor and make more of an effort to set up intercambios – language exchanges. Thanks to Lonely Planet Thorntree I found Maria, a private tutor teaching out of her apartment, who was part of Ñ de Español. She was able to really target major problems that I had, help me with my accent, and give me an insider’s perspective on life in Buenos Aires.

I used Conversation Exchange to set up a number of coffee dates with other local women who were looking to speak better English. We’d chat about family, food, Grey’s Anatomy, our hometowns, and anything we shared in common for a half hour in English and then in Spanish. I made a bunch of nice friends and loved venturing out to different neighborhoods and cafés to meet with friendly Porteñas.

I can’t stress enough how rewarding it was to take a portion of my trip around the world to work on a skill that I’d wanted to improve. I highly recommend setting a goal or two in the middle of a travel sabbatical; incidentally, it has made me a more valuable “briefcase” as I reintegrate into the workforce.

Travel Blog Success Review
Monday, February 1st, 2010

Think blogs are just for keeping your friends & family updated on your travels? Think again. The rise of travel bloggers has grown so much that World Hum called 2009 the “Year of the Travel Blogger”.

“Sure, travel bloggers—like travel blogs—have been around for years. But this year, travel bloggers began organizing in new and increasingly prominent ways—and as never before, they were treated to many of the same perks (and some of the same scrutiny) as traditional big media travel journalists.”      – World Hum

So if you have big dreams of doing more with your travel blog, you’re in good, and very crowded, company.

How do you make yourself standout? With Travel Blog Success!

Travel Blog Success

We recently shared David Lee’s career break story, and featured why we love his site, Go Backpacking. And now David has used the successes he has learned in travel blogging to help others achieve their goals.

There are a lot of great resources to help you build your blog, but you could easily spend countless hours sifting through forums, tweets, and websites trying to figure it all out. Travel Blog Success presents it all in one place.


What to Do: Learn a Language
Monday, December 7th, 2009

[singlepic=1600,250,,,right]If you’ve ever dreamed of learning a new language, there’s no better time than on your career break!

August Flanagan, co-founder of, a startup that helps people practice conversational Spanish, has 5 tips on how to make it happen.

1. Go to a/the country where the language you want to learn is spoken.
If you are like me and want to learn Spanish, it is pretty easy to get to the Spanish speaking country of your choice from anywhere in the U.S. Frequently, flights into tourist hotspots like Cancun or Buenos Aires cost only a couple hundred dollars one way. Once you are there, you can catch either a domestic flight or a bus to just about anywhere for a whole lot cheaper than an international flight.

2. Settle down somewhere and spend time in a new community.
If you take a few months (or longer) and stay in just one place during this time you will learn a lot more of the language than if you just travel from place to place during that time.

Forming a routine means that you’ll see the same people day in and day out. You’ll stop to chat with the same store owner or vegetable vendor, get to know your neighbors, and, of course, you’ll make new friends. Which, in my opinion, is really the best way to learn a language.

When you first get to your new home try using CouchSurfing to organize a few nights out. Aside from being a website that helps you find a place to crash, CouchSurfing is a great place to meet new people in cities all over the world.


What to Do: Overview
Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

If you are like me, you work hard – very hard. However, all of a sudden I was looking forward to a year of free time to do whatever I wanted – no work and all play! Yes, a dream come true but overwhelming at the same time. So many decisions to make.

My first instinct was to escape to a beach and relax, but I knew that I couldn’t simply ‘vacation’ for a year. And I knew it wouldn’t take long to get the ‘vacation bug’ out of my system. So after that, then what?


Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

Need some inspiration on Italy? Check out some of Sherry Ott’s posts about her Italian experiences on OttsWorld. And you can use this useful Italy Travel Guide as another resource for your travels in Italy.

[singlepic=1260,200,,,right]Maps, Loose Wine, and Nudity – Adventures in Venice!
After traveling with David for 7 days – we have fallen into our travel groove. I think everyone we meet thinks that we are a couple as we are constantly bickering about things. Don’t get me wrong…the fun kind of bickering…not the ‘ball and chain’ bickering. So – we kind of fell into the acceptance of people thinking that we were a couple and didn’t really try to explain things unless people asked. So there was no better person to experience Venice, the most romantic city in the world, than with my gay boyfriend. Read More


Costa Rica: Surf Camp
Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

We had an amazing time going to Surf Camp in Costa Rica. Here’s a sneak peak of our experience:


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Laos: Photography Lessons
Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

For detailed journal entries on Sherry’s photography experience in Laos, visit these posts on Otts World:

[singlepic=1013,200,,,right]Planes, Trains, and a Broken Down Automobile
I left Singapore on a photographic journey to head back in the world of rice fields, $4 massage, spicy food, small villages, and hill tribes – Laos. I hired Jonathan Taylor, a professional photojournalist out of Bangkok, to accompany me and tutor me for the next 9 days. These 9 days were the least planned of any of my travels to date; all I knew was that Jonathan and I were to take an overnight train from Bangkok to the border of Laos, cross over by foot, and the rest was a great big mystery to me.  Read More


Career Break Guide Table of Contents

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