Fitting your work and your life around your dreams of travelling the world is not only possible, but by taking career breaks when it suits you and not your employer you could be doing yourself a whole multitude of favours too.
Gap years aren’t just for the young anymore. Even ignoring the surge in pensioners blowing their kids inheritance on extended round the world jaunts there is a vastly growing trend of professional travellers taking a gap year or longer to travel in their thirties and forties. And the once frowned upon – and mostly unheard of – practice of a career break is now not only becoming normal, the benefits are being increasingly recognised by both employees and employers.
And it is about damn time. I can actually start to feel vindicated for being selfish and looking after my own interests for years. Apparently now a work/life balance is a good thing! Who’d have thought?
Look After Yourself, Because No One Else Will!
I have not exactly lived what most people would call a conventional life. With two separate degrees, two wholly different professional careers and more than twenty years of backpacking around the world under my belt whilst doing these things, my defiantly obtuse attitude to my work life balance has pretty much set me against the traditional life script society tried to force on me.
The usual path of school, work, bills, marriage, kids, bills, more bills and death has never really appealed to me for some strange reason. I never fully understood it or why anyone would allow themselves to be subjugated by it. It always seemed to me like that paradigm was old fashioned, like it was suitable for a time and a place that doesn’t really exist anymore.
And it doesn’t.
We live in a 24 hour society now. We don’t have job loyalty or security. People lose or switch jobs as it suits, sometimes quite frequently, and staff retention has become a very big problem for a lot of firms for whom gen X ers are in management positions and millennials have become the primary workforce on the ground.
For Gen Xers and Xennials like myself – the lost sandwich generation who have none of and all of the morals and attitudes of the generations before and after us – things are even more confusing.
We have in general terms had a lot of opportunity but have been screwed over a lot too, and we aren’t as willing to put up with it as the generations behind us.
That world our parents and grandparents grew up in where you had a good job for life, could afford a good lifestyle on a basic wage and got a decent pension at the end of it is gone. It has been replaced by a world with no job security, no work life balance, a punitive cost of living, punitive taxes, no pensions, devalued education and no rewards for hard work. We live in a world that does not care about you, will use you up as it sees fit and then throw you on the scrapheap without a second thought when it is done with you.
Why would you become a corporate or production line slave and work yourself to death for that reality? That is mental!
And that is why I created the life I wanted to live for myself instead. I wanted an education, so I fought hard to get one. I wanted certain careers and went for them. I worked my arse off to climb up the ladder.
Doing It For Yourself.
Did I do this for society? No. My employers? Hell no. I did it for myself. I did it to create a position for myself where I was in control. And when I wanted to travel I put my priorities above that of anyone or anything else and did that too. Did that suit my place of work? Who cares? My bosses didn’t like it? So what? It wasn’t their life I was living.
Is that selfish? Well yes. But one of the perks of being selfish is that I don’t really give a shit.
And I continue to do that now. I work when I need to and create different income streams to give me security, I make enough to pay my bills and mortgage and then I leave all that behind to pursue my other life’s interests too. I travel whenever I feel like it and for as long as I want to.
It’s an old trope but I work to live, I don’t live to work.
In essence I have the best of both worlds because I have had the mindset to say screw you I’m doing what I want. There is no way am I missing out on everything I want to do, everything I want to tick off on my bucket list and everything life has to offer me until I am too damn old to be able to do it!
And a large number of people are starting to agree with me about it.
Not only are career breaks more popular than ever before but everyone is starting to see the benefits to taking them for both parties involved.
From an employers point of view giving their staff the freedom to take time off to travel or even pursue other dreams is nothing but a benefit to them.
They will allow their employees time to take a break, to rest. They will reduce burnout and workplace stress which will lead to a happier, more productive workforce.
Employers know that employees will often not have any loyalty to them if they are denied their wishes, and with staff retention at an all time low across almost all sectors and research showing two thirds of employees will consider leaving their place of work if it suits them, it makes no sense for employees not to adapt.
Investing in employees is an expensive business; training, on the job qualifications, experience, these things cost a lot of time and money. By allowing staff to take sabbaticals or career breaks they can ensure that they retain that when the employee comes back instead of losing it outright, and many firms like the progressive Virgin are now starting to see the light and are doing just that, offering sabbaticals and career break options as incentives to staff who they know are likely to just take them anyway.
But employers also gain a lot more than simply not losing their investment. They can retain employees who are more resilient, better educated, have experience far beyond academia and the workplace and soft skills such as languages, cultural knowledge and understanding, logistical aptitude and many more besides that are all beneficial to any employer.
But as good as taking a career break is for the employers, it is more importantly even better for you.
Apart from the many joys and benefits of world travel itself, which if anything should be reason enough alone, taking time out from your career or your life can give you a new perspective on things. It can give you the time and the opportunity to reflect on yourself, your life and the direction you want to take in the future.
Taking time out can be a huge boon to your mental and physical health, it can help curtail or even stop any feelings of stress, anxiety or burnout that your working life may have been causing you.
A gap year is a great time to build on a whole host of new skills that can benefit your CV as much as they can your spiritual and mental wellbeing. Learning a whole host of the soft skills that employers love such as language and communication skills make you a better rounded person, but taking time to get a TEFL qualification as you travel can really make your CV pop.
And quite frankly, it just means you are out living your life and filling it with awesome experiences beyond the usual Monday morning commute.
So why the hell wouldn’t you take that opportunity?
Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.
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Study, Work, Career And Gap Years, The Middle Way.
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This was such an amazing read and so well times as I am planning my own career break at the moment and it is so nerve racking! I always regretted not taking a gap year and after 8 years now in a career that I love but is very stressful I’m ready for a change. I havealmost everything saved and am about to hand my notice in. So scary! But thank you so much for easing a few nerves and giving me inspiration that it can be done! I love your site and keep up the good work.
Thank you so much Helen. I’m really glad I’ve helped you even just a little bit. You’ll do great and I promise you won’t regret it!
I really fancy one of these sabbatical thingy’s! Can you fit me in your suitcase Mike?
A suitcase? How dare you! ;D I only travel with a carry on backpack! Haha
I totally agree!
I’ve taken a career break to travel twice (two times). Once to travel around Eastern Europe (3 months), and once to travel (GAP year) around Asia (one year). I would like to do this again in the next 2 to 3 years, but to do the Trans-Siberian thing and travel from Berlin to China by train. Spend a few weeks in China, and then fly back!
Hubby isn’t so keen to spend 3 weeks on a train, so I would probably break it into manageable pieces like fly to Moscow then take the train, or take the train to Moscow then fly to China. He doesn’t really like travelling so I would have to compromise and probably do it in the summer break ‘cos teen son is 15…!
Career breaks are amazing aren’t they? I don’t know why more people don’t take them! That sounds like an awesome trip though! And breaking it up is a great idea, I do that myself on really long and arduous trips (I will never fly direct to Oz!) I’m sure a trip like that would bring your hubby round to the joys of travel!
Ha! Ha! I hope so too. He’s not a total I-don’t-want-to-travel person, but his comfort level is two weeks! Sigh!
Having said that for America, I pushed him for 3 weeks, and for Thailand / Bali, I managed to get 3.5 weeks too! We’re going to India next summer (I know), but I could only get exactly 3 weeks from him, and only AFTER the World Cup, so we’re leaving the next day!
I do a lot of solo travel, and also travel with my son alone, who’s a chip off the old block (me), but I like to travel with my husband too. Who wouldn’t? He’s pretty cute!
There is so much truth in this! Especially when you talk about taking control over your own life. Why do so many people not think that they are slaves to their work?
I know what you mean!
This is so so true! I took a career break myself last year, only for 2 months, but it was the best decision I ever made! I had a real dream to do a little bit of travelling but really love my job too (it isn’t anything fancy but I love it) so I asked for extended unpaid leave, got it and had the time of my life! And when I came back my job was waiting for me. I really don’t know why I put it off for so long and now I want another breaknext year (longer this time!)
That is awesome to hear Megan, and it’s great to hear success stories like yours where you have took that positive work/life step and made it work for you! Where are you planning on going next?
Such an amazing outlook on life! Love it!
Thanks Elaine, I’m really glad you think so. 🙂