Have you have ever dreamed of “taking time off” and wondered how to make it a reality?
Travel writer extraordinaire Pico Iyer once said “To travel is … to believe anew in many of the deeper qualities that get mislaid on the office desk.”
Perhaps now more so than ever, travel is essential to maintaining our balance and perspective in life. Our office desks are no longer stationary items that we can leave behind after 5 p.m. With the introduction of cell phones and PDAs, many of us are forever wired and always accessible from the moment we wake up in the morning to the time we go to bed at night. In an age when we are hearing more and more about work/life balance, it seems increasingly difficult to truly “unplug.”
Nonetheless, many people today are doing just that. Eschewing their daily routine and stepping out of the “rat race” to travel for months or even years at a time, busy professionals are rediscovering life on their own terms and you can, too. Here are five tips for planning YOUR travel sabbatical:
Before making plans for a sabbatical, it is important to establish what exactly you want from your time off. Ask yourself not just where you want to go but what you want to accomplish while there. Do you want to rekindle a sense of adventure? Need time for calm reflection or to rediscover your roots? For some people, the perfect sabbatical is river rafting and sky diving—for others, ten weeks spent in a hammock with nothing but a stack of books to occupy their time fits the bill. In order to have your experience be most meaningful and beneficial to you, it is important to be clear on what you want before looking at where you might get it.
At home, we often fall into routines and often define ourselves by our habits or the things we consume, i.e., “I’m a management consultant,” or “I’m the soy latte drinker.” We even go so far as to define ourselves by what we don’t consume—“I’m the eco-conscious canvas shopping bag user.”
What if you could change your perspective completely and re-define who you are against a different geographical, cultural, emotional, and spiritual backdrop? Hitting the road means stripping away a lot of the artifice of our daily habits and getting down to the marrow of what truly makes you YOU. What if you could suddenly say “I’m the amateur photographer living in Prague,” “I’m the volunteer cleaning up beaches on the Galapagos Islands,” “I’m the ESL teacher in China,” or even “I’m the vagabonding backpacker with no itinerary whatsoever?” Work from the space of possibility that opens up when you give yourself permission to dream and redefine what you want your life to look like.
Recalibrate the way you look at money
When preparing for time on the road, it is often necessary to re-examine one’s finances. Saving for a long-term travel experience doesn’t need to be painful, however. Small changes in your everyday life can add up to big savings. Here are some strategies for helping pennies add up to Rupees (or Baht or Yen):
Make your wallet “travel friendly”—tuck a photo of your desired travel destination into your wallet where you can see it and then LOOK AT IT every time you reach for your credit card or cash. Ask yourself if that purchase is really necessary. If not, skip it!
Realize that small costs add up … do you really need that fancy coffee drink? I once had a client who swore that she couldn’t afford to travel abroad but when I had her write down all of her daily costs for two weeks, she realized that she was spending about $25 per week on her café-chic coffee habit … that’s $1200 per year (the cost of a round-the-world plane ticket), on coffee alone! Brewing coffee at home was an easy step for her to take that added up to major savings for the road. When examining your budget, keep in mind that the four dollars you spend on that daily latte could get you a hotel room AND a couple of meals in countries like Nepal or Thailand. Be honest with yourself—do you want to have a lifestyle or do you want to have a life?
If fancy coffee isn’t your thing, there are other places to look for savings without feeling overly deprived. Could you give up your cable TV? Sell your car and ride public transportation for a year? Invite friends over and have an in-home dinner party rather than splashing out on expensive restaurant meals? Figure out what you need to save, tighten the belt in simple ways, and keep your eyes on the prize! When you find yourself realizing the trip of a lifetime, basking on the beaches of Brazil, spotting elusive Geisha in Kyoto or hiking the Himalaya, you won’t miss that grande extra-hot half-caff mocha soy latte one bit.
Have Family, Will Travel
Think that global vagabonding is something you can’t do because you have kids? Think again! Spending time abroad together can be one of the most bonding, transformative experiences you can share with your family. For proof, look to Tom and Anne Andrus who have taken their family of six on an around-the-world odyssey for an entire year. Traveling for as little as $75 / day, they are chronicling their journeys at www.sixintheworld.com.
Another source of inspiration for would-be vagabonding families is the book One Year Off: Leaving It All Behind for a Round-The-World Journey with Our Children By David Elliott Cohen
Think Outside the “Tourist” Box
Many people are looking to stretch themselves beyond the “package tour” route and get a deeper, richer experience during their travels. The good news is that there are myriad ways to do so. Rather than just circling the globe as a free-spending tourist, consider options such as volunteering or working abroad. Not only will you stretch your money and time on the road but you will get a deeper, richer experience of your time immersed in another culture. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Teaching English abroad is a very popular way to drill down in a local culture and there are reputable places in the SF Bay area to get your TEFL certification, many of which also offer job placement assistance.
- Do you have a special skill set that travels well? (i.e. Yoga Instructor or Copy Editor?) If so, look into places that you can work while you are traveling.
- Before hitting the road, send out an email blast to friends and family letting them know your projected itinerary and that you are interested in meeting people while traveling. Chances are someone has an acquaintance there, too! Visits with locals (or local expats), can enrich your experience.
- Look into international organizations like Servas, a world-wide non-profit network of travelers and host families that promotes world peace and friendship through cultural exchange and visitation programs.
Still not convinced that a long-term travel sabbatical is right for you? Look at ways that you can integrate “time off” into your every day life. This could be time to journal, read, play an instrument, do Yoga, or meditate—as long as it is time to unplug and get re-centered in who you are and what you want. Better yet, take a mini-sabbatical—take off for a weekend (i.e. to a spa), and look at how you feel returning to work on Monday; rested, refreshed, recharged. Now imaging having that type of experience for MONTHS at a time. Use the inspiration to move you towards your goals of world travel.