8 Tips for a Successful Career Break

Posted on October 22, 2011 by

Last week, the career break movement Meet Plan Go! took place in 17 cities around North America and as you would have imagined, plenty of people showed up. Aimed to encourage and teach others how to travel the world and make it beneficial to your career, the movement obviously struck a chord among us travelers – myself included. I’d left behind a high-paying job as an analyst in a bank and ditched my Engineering degree to travel and write full-time. I’ve never been happier. If you’re stuck in a dead-end job or just need a change of environment, this could be the right time for a break. Extended travel can help bring new perspectives and allow you to reexamine your life goals – and at the end of it, you might just return to your job with renewed motivation or find your new calling. Who knows? Here are some of my tips to help you plan a successful career break.


1. Research Online and Meet Other Career Breakers

How do you take the plunge? Go online and start researching. Google career break or long-term travel and you’ll be surprised to find thousands of people who are already chasing that dream. Read their blogs, talk to them online and find out how they did it. If they’ve done it, so can you! You don’t need a big fat savings account or a job upon your return – as long as you make a rough plan, decide on how long you want to travel, estimate a budget, make sure you’ll have enough money and off you go!

2. To Quit or Not to Quit – Ask Your Boss

If you want to keep your job, then the best way is to speak to your boss and ask for an extended time off. Some companies, especially in Europe, have quite a generous approach to extended leave. If you’ve been with the company for a considerable period of time, use that to your own benefit and try to convince your boss that you’re loyal and trustworthy. If your boss is unwilling to bend the rules, ask for a transfer to another branch in a different country – while it wouldn’t be exactly a career break, at least you’ll be in a new environment and experiencing a new life.

3. Give Yourself Plenty of Time to Prepare

It’s not easy taking an extended period of time off to travel – there are the bills to worry about, family matters to take care of and relationships to think about. Give yourself at least six months to figure out how you are going to pay off bills, sustain your travels and handle other stuff in life. Try to start saving for the trip and trimming down your expenses as soon as possible – skip the fancy dinner and eat at home instead, cut down on shopping and sacrifice a few girls’ night out. Start your pre-trip preparations way in advance to avoid last-minute dashes – apply for visas once you know your rough itinerary, buy annual travel insurance and get your vaccinations in order. You can get quite good deals when you nab early-bird specials or purchase round-the-world tickets; numerous cheap online holiday insurance websites also offer discounts for early booking.


4. Travel on a Budget

Whether you are returning to a job or not, you need to be careful with your money. Extended travel means that you’ll be on the road, without a steady income, for at least a few months. Even if you’ve saved up substantially, you’ll have to make sure that your money will last you the whole way through. The worst scenario is having to cut short your trip and return halfway through! Your best bet would be to come up with a budget and try your best to stick to it. It’s impractical to keep to a daily budget as you’ll probably want to treat yourself to a bottle of wine at times or fork out some money for a wildlife safari. To keep track of my travel expenses, I usually take note of how many times I withdraw money from the ATM and check my bank account often.

 5. Volunteer, Do Part-Time Work or Freelance While Traveling

While on the road, there are a few ways to earn some extra cash and add value to your CV. While a career break might mean taking time off from your work, it doesn’t mean you have to be traveling full-time. At times it can be more meaningful to add an experience to your travels. For instance, you could volunteer at an orphanage or teach English in a school – not only do you get to know the people and place better, you also add some meaningful experience to your life. If you’re looking to make money while traveling, find work at a hostel or a bar by talking to locals and travelers. You could also work as a translator or guide. On the internet, you can easily find freelancing gigs if you have experience in writing or design. At the end of it, you can include all these work experiences on your CV – which will definitely be a stepping stone for your future career.


6. Let the Wind Take You!

When you’re on an extended trip, there are times when you just need to be spontaneous and go with the flow. It’s not possible to plan out a six-month trip itinerary in advance. If friends you meet along the way invite you to join them, ditch your old plan and have fun! If opportunities arise to house-sit somewhere off your itinerary, change your plans and try it out – you never know how it’ll turn out. Feeling lonely or home-sick? Try couchsurfing or go for a meet-up, mingle with locals and meet new people! Some of my closest friends are the ones I’ve met on the road. What I’m trying to say is be open-minded and flexible and you’ll have the time of your life.

 7. Take Your Time and Travel Slowly

As you’ll be on the road for an extended period of time, there’s a high chance you may get travel fatigue at one point or another, especially if you’re zipping your way from one destination to the next. Take your time and go slow – spend at least one week in each city to get to know the people, immerse the culture and… smell the roses. If you find a place you really like and there’s no rush to get anywhere, find an apartment and stay for a few weeks or even a month. After four months of traveling South America, we were rather drained so we took a few weeks and made Antigua our base – it did wonders for our mental and physical wellbeing. Not long after, we were ready to head off for new adventures again.

 8. Stay Connected with Your Friends At Home

If you’re hoping to find a job as soon as you head home, be sure to keep yourself informed on the latest happenings and events. Stay in touch with your friends and colleagues to make sure they update you with job openings or opportunities. Stay connected with the outside world on Twitter and network with like-minded people or friends in the industry. It’ll not only help you with job hunting but also ease your way back home upon your return.

Have you taken a career break to travel? Any tips of your own? We’d love to hear from you!

Disclaimer: This post was made possible by UK Virgin Money.

About Nellie Huang

Nellie Huang is a professional travel writer and blogger with a special interest in off-grid destinations and adventure travel. Her mission is to visit every country in the world. In her quest, she's climbed an active volcano in Iceland, swam with sealions in the Galapagos, built a school in Tanzania, waddled with penguins in Antarctica, crossed into North Korea and drank beer in Palestine.

9 Responses to “8 Tips for a Successful Career Break”

  1. loca 4 motion October 22, 2011 3:55 am #

    A great list Nellie and I'm really glad that you and Alberto took time out in Antigua so we got to know each other! It was fun!

  2. Katie October 22, 2011 1:34 pm #

    Great tips! I think the hardest thing for me so far has been the last point – keeping in touch. I've done what I could do by posting regularly on Facebook and Twitter, but a lot of my friends aren't active on those sites so don't keep up with much and when I have tried emailing sharing my stories and asking about their lives, I get little response. It's been disappointing. That being said, connecting with other travelers and career breakers has been wonderful – the support has been tremendous!

    I'd also love to discover some way to freelance or work while traveling when you don't have writing or design or other portable technical skills – as a lawyer and fundraiser whose entire career path has been based on face to face contact, I've struggled with finding something I could do while traveling.

  3. Nancy $ Shawn Power October 23, 2011 1:09 am #

    Some great tips in there! And this gal knows what she's talking about! :-)

    Nancy & Shawn

  4. Fie April 22, 2012 5:47 pm #

    This is really inspiring Nellie. I have been thinking a lot about quitting a comfortable job and to just go but there seems to be quite a few things to settle (bills etc) before I can do that. At least with these tips, I can plan ahead and save for a 6 month adventure (at least) before coming back for another comfortable job (ha ha). :)

    • Nellie April 22, 2012 6:16 pm #

      Great to hear that these tips have helped you in some way! That was what we used to do – quit a high-paying job, travel for a few months or a few years then return to another job. It\’s not a bad way to travel!

  5. Neetuagarwal April 9, 2013 7:48 am #

    These are few more tips that may help you to have a successful career break. Start planning your career break as early as you can. The more effort you put in now, the more you'll enjoy it when you're on it.
    Make sure you're doing something that you really want to do – try not to be persuaded by what other people think you should do. You might have to compromise here and there, but your main activity should be something that you're going to get a lot out of.
    Plan to spend your career break constructively. No-one's going to be impressed if you laze about on a beach for 6 months, and you won't feel a sense of achievement at the end.

  6. Hannah Sutton April 17, 2013 3:09 am #

    Hi Nellie, Great post. Very inspiring.

  7. solowayfarer September 17, 2013 2:35 pm #

    Thanks for this post Nellie! I've just taken the plunge myself and am currently working out my notice period. Currently planning and working out logistics before I head off in about 1.5 months! Always nice to hear how well it's worked out for others like yourself. :)


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