Monthly Archives: December 2010

Ask, but Ye Shall Not Always Receive–Part Two

Almost every traveler fantasizes about life on a remote South Pacific island—a thatched-roof cottage ringed by date palms, white sand beaches, and turquoise colored surf.   I wanted to live this idyllic lifestyle, not just dream it. I had already fulfilled my wishes to go on a safari, hike the Dead Sea, and roam the ancient bazaars of Istanbul, so why not a tropical isle? The beauty of the working vacation concept is that you are free to choose and plan whatever fantasy you want, and this was mine.

So, on a particularly cold Minnesota winter day I drove to our local bookstore and purchased the Lonely Planet’s Guide to the South Pacific. Each night before bed I would read about the island nations that dot the Pacific until I could discourse intelligently on the cultures of Fiji, the handicrafts of New Caledonia, the bird life of Samoa, and the beaches of Tonga.  Eventually I found that one perfect Eden, the place visited so often in my dreams—the tiny island nation of Palau, about five hundred miles due east of the Philippines.  The guidebook’s photographs were a globe-trekker’s dream, and it did not take much on that cold January night to convince me that this pearl of the Pacific should be our next working vacation destination.

The Magnificent Rock Islands in the Republic of Palau

The only institution of higher education in the Republic of Palau is Palau Community College (PCC), a two-year vocational school. This type of career-oriented junior college is thoroughly different in curriculum and philosophy from my school in St. Paul, a highly selective four-year liberal arts college. However, when it comes to planning a working vacation such differences are immaterial. I was not going there to carry out high-level research or puff up my résumé; I simply wanted a place to spend a few glorious months living and working. Don’t be overly picky when it comes to evaluating working vacation opportunities—focus on the location and the cultural experience, not the institution.

The Beautiful Coral Formations To Be Found All Around the Island

I now knew where I was going to apply and felt fully confident that Ruth and I would soon be on our way to the South Pacific.  After all, every other time I planned a working vacation it had come to fruition.  I was ready to buy snorkels, swim fins, and lay in a good-sized stash of SPF 50.  But, alas, this time it was not to be.  I will tell you why next time, and let you know what to do when disappointment strikes.

Ask, but Ye Shall Not Always Receive

Reality check time: For the last few months I have described my resoundingly successful cold-calling exploits–all sevens, blackjacks, and cherries across the bar.   These cold calls led to an amazing three-month stay in Nairobi (Hakuna Matata, No Problem Man),  a truly unique working vacation in Istanbul (Cold Call, Take Two!), and, finally, our return to the African continent to work in Harare, Zimbabwe (Back to Africa).  This unfailing good fortune might lead you to believe that traveling the world on the other guy’s dime requires nothing more than a contact name and cleverly worded e-mail, with a few academic letters after your name for good measure.  As you might imagine, this is not the case.

Yes, I had good luck in response to my blind calls, but I would be remiss if I did not also share some of my more abject failures, if only to convince you not to lose hope when the inevitable disappointment strikes. I learned this important lesson from a writing instructor in New York City, Mr. Kurt Opprecht, who walked into class the first day and proceeded to boast he had published forty articles in magazines, guidebooks, and major metropolitan dailies.   Since my own total of published travel stories was zero, I was duly impressed. But then he opened his briefcase, removed a stack three inches high, held them up for all to see, and announced he was also the proud recipient of more than three hundred rejections. His moral was clear—if you plan on becoming a professional travel writer you need a thick skin and a short memory. We can adapt his advice to our situation–if you plan on applying for a working vacation you need those two attributes as well as patience, perseverance, and a Gandhian willingness to accept rejection without losing hope.

Just remember that an initial “No thank you” response is not the end of the line; simply the first step.  In the next few posts I will provide some personal examples of cold call  rejections that ultimately morphed into fascinating, no-cost working vacations.

It Ain’t Just for Teachers Anymore

Let’s give a big thank-you to Kirk Horsted for his insightful post, It’s About the Time, Not Just the Dime. His story helps me clear up a big misunderstanding with my readers about who I am writing for and who can take advantage of working vacations.

Many people think you must be a teacher or professor to take a short-term sabbatical–after all, we are the ones with that fabulous three-month summer vacation every year.  And, in all honesty, when I started this blog and began writing my book I did envisage it being primarily for high school, college, and university teachers.  However, after talking to individuals like Kirk, I quickly realized that the potential audience for my career break travel advice is far wider than that.

Kirk is a great example as he is a self-employed creative arts specialist who made the decision to close up his office once every few years to enjoy the benefits of a short-term working vacation.  In addition to the self-employed, I have talked with retired professionals  (attractive to overseas institutions because of their extensive experience) who took advantage of their newly acquired free time to live and work internationally.  Skilled individuals who, because of the poor economy, are “between jobs” may wish to take a temporary overseas hiatus before sending out their resumes and searching for a job.  Finally, many doctors, lawyers, engineers, business specialists, etc., if given enough lead time to make alternate arrangements for their clients and patients, can apply for and be granted a short-term leave of absence–I have a dentist friend who recently returned from a few months living and working in Australia.

So please don’t think my advice is only meant for those in the classroom.  It also applies to the self-employed, temporarily unemployed, and the no-longer employed as well as those with the motivation and drive to apply for and receive short-term leaves. Regardless of your specialization or schedule, if you have a skill of potential interest to overseas institutions you can have that career break.  Honestly!

Listen To My Interview On Wisconsin Public Radio

On December 7th, I was interviewed by Jean Faraca of Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) for the show Here on Earth: Radio Without Borders.  The one-hour call in show covered many of the working vacation topics presented in this blog and discussed in my book On The Other Guy’s Dime.

Sitting in the Public Radio Studios

If you would like to listen to that interview the show is available on-line.  Simply go to the WPR link  At the top of the page enter the date December 7th, 2010 and click on GO.  When the day’s list of programs appear on-screen scroll down to 3PM and click Listen.  I hope you enjoy it, and please let me know what you think.  I have a number of upcoming interviews, and I would love to use your thoughts and opinions to make them as helpful as possible.

(Note: If you are in the Philadelphia metro area you can listen to me on the Brian Greenberg Show, WNJC, 1360-AM, Tuesday, Dec. 14th, at 6:45PM.)

It’s About the Time (Not Just the Dime)

(Please welcome our guest writer, Mr Kirk Horsted.)

Hello dear readers,

Kirk Horsted, Our Guest Poster

I’m an imposter—not the real Michael.  However, he graciously invited me to submit a guest-post to his blog, so here goes.

My credentials include 4 sabbaticals in the past 20 years as well as a blog containing stories about my adventures and helpful short-term sabbatical travel tips.  If you want to take a peek the URL is

I know that many people say they’d like to take a temporary break from work, but precious few do, claiming that it is impossible because of their job.   However, I am living proof that a wide range of professionals, not just professors, can schedule one of these life changing getaways.  I am one-half of the firm 2 Heads Communications, a Minneapolis creative arts agency known for its copywriting and ideas—as well as its peculiar practice of occasionally closing up shop to take short-term career sabbaticals.   These breaks have ranged from 69 to 355 days, from Grandma’s farm to around the world travel.  Sadly, though, unlike Michael’s odysseys, they have all been on MY dime.

Of course, I’d rather have someone else pay for my wanderlust, and maybe that will happen someday.  In the meantime, though, a wonderful trend is emerging right here in the USA:  People are less obsessed with spending and more concerned about enjoying the time they have on this Earth.  That matters when you start planning your own professional BreakAway.

So what’s the secret? In my case, one secret to sneaking away from my job is self-employment.  Sure, it’s scary sometimes, since there is little income while I am gone, but the payoff is time, which I now value far more than the boss’s dime.  Beyond that, the biggest secret is to simply live within your means, as I preach in my one-page money manifesto, “11 Commandments to Fiscal Fitness.”

The upside of downturns:

While few folks are cheering this relentless recession, there does seem to be a movement against focusing exclusively on the size of one’s bank balance.  Could it be that we’ve discovered that McMansions won’t make us happy—and are no fun to keep clean?  Could we finally have enough “stuff?”  Could we have learned that the wisest investment may not be great stocks but great memories?   Sure, I miss the NASDAQ at 5,000, but I’m enjoying the wave of values clarification and thoughtfulness expansion that happens when portfolio and housing values shrink.  Making friends can bring as much personal reward as making money.

In today’s paper, a local consumer behaviorist disses the Consumer Confidence Index and describes how “Americans feel good about not overspending.”  Just two days ago, columnist Kristin Tillotson shared stories of families now “Living with less, on purpose.”   And my favorite (hey, he’s a friend) comes from travel writer Leif Peddersen.  He had to coin a new word for his blunt self-help guide:  “Slackerology 101:  Five steps to clearing out your life of the clutter and excess to make time for what really counts—like chilling out or learning more about the world around us.”   Leif ought to know.  He’s spent years traveling—both on his and The Man’s dime.

Ah, the Joys of Travel

So thanks, Michael, for the chance to suggest that when someone else won’t pay you to travel to your heart’s content, there are other ways.  Be practical.  Manage bucks and stuff wisely.  But by all (or any) means, find a way to run away now and then.   I have.  And to put it simply, they have been the best times of my life.

Some Great Blogs To Check Out

A few weeks ago I attended a meeting of the Twin Cities Breakaway Group, an assemblage of mid-career professionals who are thinking about living and working overseas.  They are seeking a cultural immersion as well as the opportunity to try something new and exciting in their lives–exactly the people I am addressing in my blog and my new book.  It was fun to spend time with this group of like-minded individuals.

The speaker at the meeting was Sherry Ott, author of  OttsWorld: the Travel and Life Experiences of a Corporate American Runaway.  Sherry is a 40-year old ex-IT professional who, four years ago, quit the cubicle scene and set out to see the world.  She has been blogging about her travel experiences since 2006.   Sherry is also a contributor to the Web site Briefcases to Backpacks which offers useful travel information and assistance for those planning to take either a short-term sabbatical or an extended career break.  Finally, she is also the founder of a movement entitled Meet, Plan, Go whose goal is to motivate and empower people to realize their  long-term overseas travel dreams.  The group sponsors an annual Career Break Boot Camp (this past year it was held in 13 cities) to help people plan and carry out their career break aspirations.  Sherry’s message is exactly the same as mine–if you want, there is absolutely no reason why you cannot take a short-term hiatus from your job and career to have an enriching, eye-opening, and oftentimes life-changing experience.

These are all sites that you might wish to check out, and I have added them to my blog roll in the right-hand column.