I spent the summer in Australia this year. It seemed like an outrageous idea when I first allowed it to occur, but once I started to think about it, to really think about it, I realized it was not quite so far-fetched. I replaced my reflex concerns about money, work, security, and—well, money—with motivational mantras like “be the change you wish to see in the world,” “a change is as good as a holiday,” and, “vote for change,” and set about changing my summer scenery.
You can do it, too. First, you need to allow yourself to entertain the notion. Then you need to get busy. Dreaming won’t get you there, but planning will.
Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way
The idea of relocating somewhere else for a few months in the current economic climate is intimidating. People are going to call you crazy. (Oh, pity the begrudgers for they are waiting until retirement to live their lives!) It’s not crazy to explore your options; it’s crazy not to. Just open your mind to the possibility that you could live somewhere else next summer, and see what happens. If you really want to, you can make it happen.
Make a List, Then Check It Twice
Make a thoughtful master list of everyone you know who lives somewhere else. Don’t edit yourself. Include family, friends, friends of family, friends of family friends. Start with the furthest flung and then end with those closer to home. Now add the following factors to your list:
Whom could you realistically imagine yourself crashing with for a summer? I had my husband’s second cousin Larry on my list; he has a house somewhere in Bali, which really appealed to me; but the thing is, he belongs in a padded cell. Crazy is fine—welcomed even—for me when traveling alone, but I needed a happy, well-adjusted parking spot for my two kids who were also traveling with me. Bali Larry got a big red “X” on my list. Be realistic about safety here, too: political unrest, travel alerts, or comfort issues about traveling solo or with kids should be taken into account.
Free digs go a long way toward making your dream a reality, so first highlight potential freebie accommodations on your list. Then, note relatives or friends you could rent from, or those who could perhaps help you find a good deal on a rental for the summer. Finally, indicate where you would have to make your own arrangements for a roof over your head. You don’t have to crash with someone to get free digs. Arrange an apartment swap through Craigslist  or through exchange services like Global Home Exchange , Home for Exchange , or Another-Home . Alternately, consider couchsurfing  or bewelcome , social networking sites that allow users to stay with fellow members around the world.
Knowing where you can get best bang for your American buck is key. It will help you prioritize, but don’t let it make you jump to rash conclusions and eliminate say, all of Europe, from your list. When you have all your ducks in a row, you may find that Europe is where you have free digs, lots of local contacts, no transportation costs, and cheap flights . Whittle down your options after you get a rough idea of whether the currency exchange rate is generally favorable or not.
Will you be miserable if you don’t get sun? Are you open to some rain, but not a whole rainy season? I’ve chanced traveling to the Caribbean in hurricane season to save a buck (yes, I was caught in a hurricane), and this past summer, I missed out on summer by traveling to Australia for their winter. Be realistic about how weatherproof you are. Season is also important when considering flights; off-season is obviously cheaper, but shoulder season—right before or right after your destination’s prime season—can deliver a good deal and a great experience, too.
Once you’ve completed your master escape list, you’ll start to see the trees for the Black Forest. Flesh out your notes and your decision-making process with a little more research into average costs of flights, availability of accommodations, the climate, security, and other factors important to you. Don’t forget to incorporate research of potential experiences in each destination. Do you want to experience a new culture, or are you happy just to have a different view outside your window?
Don’t Be Shy!
Hit up everyone you know for contacts, leads, tips, and freebies. Your kid’s friend’s mom mentioned that her husband’s family has a house in Greece? See if they’d be willing to rent it to a responsible individual like yourself, or even give it to you in exchange for a stay in your cousin’s summer house or a promise to maintain the property. Ask around for introductions to locals in the destinations you’re considering.
Haggle with Your Boss
There’s a good chance (sigh) that your boss can’t give you a raise or a bonus this year, so instead negotiate for a sabbatical, an extended vacation, or the flexibility of a virtual commute. Thanks to technology, you can work from any desk, regardless of its longitude and latitude. Understand that your employer may be concerned that your work will suffer when you are not under his or her eagle eye and assure him or her with a detailed plan of action. Your plan should include a schedule of regular conference calls, daily email contact, and delegation of certain in-office tasks. If you don’t have a personal assistant, perhaps you can arrange to hire a summer intern to act as in-office representative.
When you’re ready to present your plan, also be ready with statistics about companies who provide flexible work environments to staff and solid evidence that a happy employee is a loyal and productive employee!
Finally, don’t forget to schedule vacation time and summer Fridays while you are away—do not allow for the misconception that because you’re physically away from your office desk, you’re on vacation. You’re not. A virtual arrangement is not in lieu of vacation.
Make It Work
If your employer is more inclined to give you two months unpaid leave than a virtual commute, consider working abroad … for someone else. World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms  is an international program that places volunteers on farms everywhere from Australia to Arkansas to the Alps. For a small membership fee, you can prepare jam or harvest hay in Romania, build greenhouses at a sanctuary retreat in Sweden, or prepare soil for planting in Argentina—with lodging and meals completely free. Outside of this organization, you can reach out to farms in your destination of choice for harvest volunteer opportunities; I have a friend who worked as a volunteer at an olive farm in Tuscany in exchange for free room and board.
Balance Your Budget
- Start saving now. You cannot maximize on this opportunity to live somewhere else if you max out your credit cards (and find yourself homeless upon return). Cut costs and save, save, save wherever you can.
- Skip your expensive lattes so that you can have the real deal in Italy next summer. Sever all unnecessary expenditures so that you can savor a new home.
- Check your airline miles and then check into restrictions on using them.
- Sign up for fare alerts and news from sites like Airfare Watchdog , and money-saving email newsletters from sources like Smarter Travel .
- Ask friends and family to forgo luxurious gifts for upcoming birthdays or holidays, and gently suggest the gift of “travel support” by way of offers to watch your cat or plants while you are away. Contributions to your travel fund are nice too!
- Plan to suspend your mail, newspaper, and all your bills too. Call your providers and ask about temporary suspensions and/or vacation services.
- You will need more money than you anticipate—regardless of how thorough you are in your research. For instance, I neglected to factor in an additional $300 for high-speed Internet service while abroad, as well as an additional $500 to board my cat for the few weeks I didn’t have care—hey, it all adds up. Consider how much you might spend eating out, eating in, side tripping, shopping, and sightseeing—you’ll want to get out and experience your new home while you’re there, so remember more is more. Save more!
Moving home for a prolonged period allows for an authentic feel-like-a-local experience that the average seven- to ten-day vacation simply does not permit. You get a real feel for the people, the issues, and the lifestyle of a destination. You also get a shake-up from your regular scenery and routine, and a refreshing new perspective on life.
So where to? My brother is moving to London next spring, and while I’ll be so sad to see him go, I’ll be so happy to see him all next summer! (Hey, it’s cheaper than paying for summer camp for my two kids in New York City!) I have a friend in Paris I can visit inexpensively from London and from there I’m thinking Eurail and hostels. Why not? If I start planning now, it can be done.