It’s been a long time since we’ve had a guest poster here on The Occasional Traveller, but I’m very happy to introduce you guys to Scott Payne, a new American friend I made a little while ago when he got in touch with me to find out a little more about Singaporean travellers for his new travel start-up job.
He has since decided to base himself in Tokyo and forge new paths and you can find out more about him over at sehpayne, but he’s graciously offered to contribute a post to talk a little about one of the best time any occasional traveller has to take a trip – in between jobs.
It’s something I can definitely relate to – I took my very first solo trip to Seoul in the week I had from my last job to this current one, and life has never quite been the same since. So when you do hand that resignation letter in, remember to leave a little bit of breather time before you embark on your next career – maybe you’ll discover something new like Scott and I did =)
Hello everyone! I’m writing about taking a few months off to travel in between jobs. As most of us have experienced, it can be pretty hard to find time to do that trip of your dreams while you are employed. However, a job change offers the perfect opportunity to hit reset, take a few months for yourself, and GO!
Some background on me, I recently left my job as a management consultant in Chicago. Instead of finding something new right away, I decided to take off on a round-the-world trip that I had been considering for several months. It was the perfect chance to fulfill a dream, take some chances doing new things, and eventually send me in a different career direction than I would have considered otherwise.
This probably sounds like a crazy idea to most people, but it’s actually very doable if you set your mind to it and plan ahead. With that in mind, I’d like to share some tips on planning and budgeting for fellow wanderers who may want to consider a similar journey:
Start saving several months in advance!
Having some cash on hand never hurts when you go into a period of unemployment, and it’s worth making some lifestyle changes well in advance of your trip. Personally, I first got the idea for the trip about 8 months before leaving, and made changes right off the bat. I moved into a cheaper apartment, cut down on discretionary spending, and starting walking or taking the bus more instead of cabs. These changes resulted in an extra $500 per month, and really came in handy when I was actually ready to leave!
Don’t overplan your itinerary
One thing that was a big surprise to me once I actually hit the road was how flexible my plans needed to be. Dates, destinations, and activities all changed as I learned more about what was out there, had friends cancel, etc.
Of course, it’s necessary to have a good sense of what to do before you go, and maybe anchor in a few “must-do” stops. But you’ll also find that once you’re actually out there, the freedom to do literally whatever you want is intoxicating. Give yourself the room to indulge that a bit!
Leave some downtime
I don’t know how it works in other countries, but Americans get just as aggressive with our vacations as we do with other facets of our lives. If we have a 10-day trip, we’re going to cram those 10 days full of every activity we can possibly find… and come back completely exhausted!
If you’re going for a longer period of time, you can’t sustain that kind of pace. It’s perfectly reasonable to leave days where you don’t do anything, or just wander and explore with no plan. I wound up making a habit where the first day I arrived to a new country, and the following day after, were solely dedicated to getting settled and directionless exploration. In retrospect it was probably still too fast, but this was a great way of getting a feeling of having a base in each new destination.
Build a “flex fund” into your budget
Whether you’re actually building an official budget or just doing it mentally, I would hugely recommend adding ~10% for something we’ll call the “flex fund”. This is basically money that you’re budgeting to spend on things that are absolutely ridiculous expenses that you’d kick yourself for spending at home. This is critical for your sanity when traveling.
Didn’t book a reservation on time for your hotel and have to stay somewhere more expensive? Dip into the flex fund.
Lost something and have to pay a higher local rate to replace it? Flex fund
Missed your bus and have to take an overpriced cab? Flex fund
Trust me when I tell you that this is really important for your sanity. These types of things WILL happen when traveling, and if you haven’t planned ahead for it, you’re going to just feel stupid and frustrated. If you have already banked on having some unfortunate events happen, you can just shrug and move on when it does happen. Finding your way in a foreign country is already hard enough without adding pressure to yourself.
This is the most critical piece of advice I can give. I almost fell on the wrong side of it myself — it’s hard to believe now but I nearly cancelled my trip 2 weeks before departure! It’s hard to even remember why at this point.
The point is, a career break offers the perfect opportunity to get off your butt and do something for yourself for once. There’s a time freedom that you can’t get while employed. It’s also a perfect time to knock yourself out of your routine, challenge yourself, and discover some new sides to your personality. All of these things might seem naively self-centered, but do actually pay big dividends when you get back to the workplace as well.
There will always be reasons not to go, whether they be financial, budget-related, or fear of the unknown. The key is not to look for reasons why you shouldn’t go on your dream trip, but rather for reasons why you should — these are plentiful as well and the opportunity is rare to fully indulge them. Budgets can be managed by choosing the right destinations. Your experiences will be better than you expect, even (especially?) if you just show up somewhere with no contacts or agenda. Your career will not derail in your absence. So make a plan, pack up, and go!