Smart travel tips • June 2017
Taking an extended period of time off work to travel may seem risky and irresponsible as a mid-career professional, but, according to author Susan Griffith, the rewards can be immeasurable. Here are her top tips for planning that trip of a lifetime, whether you’ve got six weeks or six months to spare
Choosing from the profusion of destinations and projects can be daunting. You could volunteer at a Big Five game reserve in South Africa, maintain trails in US National Parks, or literally take the plunge and learn to scuba dive. The ideal gap year involves travel, adventure, volunteering and pursuing a hobby such as photography or cookery. But make sure you follow a genuine interest rather than embarking on something completely out of your comfort zone – you want to enjoy your time away, after all.
Grown-up ‘gappers’ are often able to use rental income from their property to help fund a big trip – but be pragmatic about budgets. Once you’ve committed to a trip, set a savings target based on a realistic travel spend and start cutting back on unnecessary luxuries. The next challenge is negotiating extended unpaid leave with your employer – it may be possible if your break coincides with a quiet period at work or if you can tee up a colleague to cover your role. The trick is to keep alive the buzz of excitement at the prospect of your sabbatical while addressing practical considerations, such as insurance, visas and deciding who will look after your pet fish. Booking flights should be the fun part of planning – round-the-world fares with the oneworld alliance can form the backdrop to a thrilling travel experience.
If you are planning a big trip with a partner or friend, you may have to compromise on your wish list – and have your relationship tested on the road. Beware of placement agencies with glossy brochures that charge volunteers too much and deliver a superficial experience. Look for ethically sound organisations such as Global Visions International and People and Places, which aim to match volunteer and professional skills with project needs. Finally, don’t worry about moments of blind panic – these are guaranteed to evaporate within 48 hours of disembarking.
Former routines will have to be revived after a period of blissful freedom from rigid timetables. Don’t be too surprised if friends, family and work colleagues fail to take an unflagging interest in your traveller’s tales and 830 photos. Things at work may have moved on, though there shouldn’t be any nasty shocks if you have kept in touch with your colleagues and employer during your absence.
You can accrue concrete advantages from a career break, especially if you’ve picked up a new skill, such as a language. You are bound to return with recharged batteries and a glorious storehouse of memories – meeting people completely outside of your normal circles and gasping with amazement at new sights. You will gain the satisfaction of pursuing a dream – and maybe even living it.