Don’t Fear It; Don’t Fight It; Do Enjoy It!

My wife and I have been on 15 working vacations in the last 32 years–from Australia to Zimbabwe, Mauritius to Mongolia, Borneo to Bhutan–and I consider myself a “gold medalist” in the overseas work arena.  However, at the start I certainly did not have that kind of global curiosity; heck, I had never even been more than a few hundred miles from home.  I was a reluctant traveler frightened by the prospect of living in a strange new place, so when I received an invitation to spend a summer teaching at Imperial College, London I immediately came up with dozens of reasons why this cockamamie idea wouldn’t work.  Thank God my wife was far more adventurous and convinced me to give it a try, a decision I have never come to regret.

The most common problem I encounter when talking with friends and colleagues about working vacations is their fear of doing something totally different; the uncertainty that comes from pulling up roots, even for a few months, to become part of  a new and different culture.  Overcoming those initial fears is the biggest impediment to working travel because once you have done it you appreciate how rewarding, invigorating, and personally exciting it can be.  Then the only issue becomes how to do it again.  Let me illustrate.

Imperial College, London Where I Taught For 3.5 Months On My Very First Working Vacation

When we returned from that amazing 3+ month stay in England I asked myself why I had waited so long to attempt something like this. My accounting of income and expenses, completed for tax purposes the following April, showed that this English adventure had cost us a grand total of $1,500 in out-of-pocket expenses, about $3,800 in today’s dollars.  Our stay in London had been a break-even proposition, perhaps even generating a small surplus, due to my Imperial College living allowance, summer paychecks (I have a 9-month teaching job, but I spread the income over 12 checks), and rental income from our home in the US.  The extra costs came from our many family excursions throughout the region.  We could only marvel at how many things we had seen and how well we had lived at a cost that probably would not cover a two-week family stay at an upscale Caribbean resort.

Not only was the trip a financial success, it was a professional and cultural success as well.  I initiated scholarly activities that helped me achieve tenure a few years later. My wife and I had an opportunity to be part of an international culture and make new friends with whom we are still in contact.  My children had the chance to meet and play with British children raised in far different circumstances and, although they are now fully grown, they still fondly remember that first overseas adventure.  Finally, given three-plus months, rather than just a week or two, we had plenty of time to discover the hidden gems of this wonderful city and enjoy spur of the moment weekends to Devon, Cornwall, the Lakes District, Scotland, and Paris.

Looking back on my imagined doubts and problems I now realize that they were just that–totally imagined.  Not a single one of my deep-seated worries came to pass and none of my irrational arguments for foregoing this trip were valid.  I can think of nothing I would have changed except, perhaps, to host fewer house guests.  (Not only do I enjoy traveling on the other guy’s dime, so do friends, family, and neighbors!)  It was such a transformative experience that after returning home I immediately began planning our next jaunt, which came only two years later and took my wife, two children, and me to Jerusalem.  The pattern had been set.

So, please believe me when I say I understand your initial reluctance to give working vacations a try–I felt exactly the same way.  However, also believe me when I say that taking a short-term working vacation is a decision you will never regret.  It can make an enormous change in your view of the world (and your children’s) and give you a new and refreshing outlook on life.  It certainly did with me.

(Read about that summer in England and our subsequent 14 working vacations in my book, On The Other Guy’s Dime: A Professional’s Guide To Traveling Without Paying.  It also explains how you and your family can experience the same type of cost-free adventures.)

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One response to “Don’t Fear It; Don’t Fight It; Do Enjoy It!

  1. Just back from my first “working vacation” in Alicante, Spain. In this case I was able to get a Fulbright Senior Specialist fellowship. It and the host university paid my airfare, living expenses, in-country travel (to/from airports…even to pick my son up in Madrid). I stayed over in Spain two extra weeks visiting Barcelona and the Pyrenees on the living expense funds we would have had to pay had we stayed at home.

    The university work day in Spain in the summer was from about 9 a.m. to about 2:30 or 3 p.m., then usually a long lunch with my co-workers. Not too terribly difficult by any means. On weekends my wife and I rented a car and did some excursions up into the mountains and around to see castles, etc. We enrolled my son in Spanish school summer camp that included sailing, kayaking, and other ocean/beach activities for two weeks. He loved it.

    It was not all smelling like roses though. My son came down with strep throat, but we found in Spain you can buy antibiotics over the counter. A quick Skype call to his pediatrician at home got us the info we needed to buy the correct antibiotic. And, my wife picked up some sort of virus and we went to the local hospital emergency room for an evaluation and meds. Either of these things could happen at home, but we were able to deal with them and now I’m looking for my next “working vacation.”

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