When we returned home after our 3+ month stay in England I asked myself why I had waited until I was thirty-five to first attempt something like this. My accounting of income and expenses, completed for tax purposes the following April, showed that this English adventure cost 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 paycheck from Macalester, and rental income from our home in the US. The extra costs were due to family jaunts to Scotland, Paris, and the Lakes District. 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.
Making it even more lucrative was my discovery, on the night of April 14, of the “Temporary Job Away From Home” tax deduction—an IRS fine point of which I had been completely unaware. If you work away from home for less than one year with the expectation of returning upon completion of the assignment—the very definition of a working vacation—you can deduct the cost of airline tickets, housing, and a per diem for meals and incidental expenses (M&IE). This can lead to a huge deduction with the potential to offset much of your working vacation income and a significant chunk of regular salary as well. (However, I am not a CPA so check with your tax preparer or a good tax manual. I don’t think the IRS will accept the argument “But Schneider said . . .”) For example, the current M&IE per diem rate for London, set by the U.S. State Department, is $148/day. If you were to work for an identical 105-day period this would result in a tax deduction of $15,540–a great way to live and work overseas with not only your host country but also Uncle Sam picking up a portion of the tab.
Not only was the trip a financial success, it was a professional and cultural success as well. I initiated scholarly activities that resulted in two publications and just as my wife said—and how I hate it when she is right—they helped me achieve tenure. We had the opportunity to live in and be part of an international culture and to make overseas friends with whom we are still in contact today. My children had the chance to meet and play with British children raised in far different circumstances and, although they are now 37 and 40, they still fondly remember their first overseas summer.
All my imagined doubts and problems 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 could think of nothing I would have changed over the course of those three months except, perhaps, to host a bit fewer house guests.