Monthly Archives: February 2011

What the Heck is a Working Vacation? (Act III)

… and now the final act.  Previously, I discussed what a working vacation is (Act I), followed by who might benefit from such a beast (Act II).  In this post, Act III,  I address what is probably the most important concern for those reading these missives–why would you want to schlep your family around the globe for months at a time to live and work in a strange new environment ?  That, good friends, is the $64 question, and I wish to provide the $65 answer.

1.  Cost. The first reason comes directly from the name of this blog and my travel bookOn The Other Guy’s Dime.  Vacations are not cheap, and long-term vacations that include spouse and children can be particularly pricey.  A working vacation is a way to travel for an extended period and not break the bank.  There are numerous books about living and working overseas (think Under the Tuscan Sun or A Year in Provence), but they always seem to have been written by independently wealthy individuals who just won the lottery, inherited scads of money, made a bundle selling a business, or quit their job and are merrily consuming their life savings.  Most of us do not fall into these categories, but we still want to enjoy the benefits of extended travel.  A working vacation, in which you earn enough via work to cover travel costs, is an option available to all, not simply the rich.

2.  Professional Renewal. I don’t care how much you love your work–and most professionals do–when you do the same things day in/day out, year after year, a sense of repetitiveness eventually sets in, and you begin to feel a “staleness” in your daily routine.  A working vacation, in which you use your professional skills in new and different ways and in a new and different place, can refresh the soul and bring a renewed sense of pleasure to the workplace.  It is an adventure that can add excitement to what may not be a very exciting life.

3.  Childhood Growth. The joys of a working vacation are certainly not limited to adults; in fact, the personal growth and maturity that accrues from living overseas can be even more pronounced in young children. Just as we know that youngsters are far more adept at learning a foreign language or mastering a musical instrument, they are like living sponges soaking up the lessons and experiences of overseas life. Being part of another culture, even for a few months, is not only exhilarating for parents, it can be a truly transformative experience for children.

4.  Cultural Immersion. On the typical 1- or 2-week family vacation you may go on tours, see historical sites, eat well, and relax by a pool.   You may climb a mountain, go on carnival rides, and build sand castles on the beach.  Fun, absolutely, but limited in that you rarely have an opportunity to meet locals, participate in their social, cultural, and religious activities, learn about the region, or get involved with community organizations.  The country is defined by the airport, hotel, and views from a bus window.   However, when you work for a local institution and have the time to interact with neighbors and coworkers you begin to understand and appreciate your host country and its people.  You learn about a culture not by observing it from a distance but by becoming part of it.

In summary, then, a working vacation is a wonderful way for the entire family to combine the relaxation of a holiday with the intellectual growth that comes from interacting with and learning from other cultures.   And all this on the other guy’s dime!

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What the Heck is a Working Vacation? (Act II)

Now that the last post has introduced you to the what, let’s talk a little about the who–namely, who is the audience for this thing I call a working vacation?

When I started this blog last year I assumed it would be speaking strictly to an academic audience–after all, we are the ones with that wonderful three-month hiatus every summer.  And, it is certainly true that many of the individuals reading these posts are teachers–elementary, high school, vocational, junior college, and university.  However, it is also true that the potential audience for the advice in this blog and my book is far, far wider than that.  Let me elaborate.

1.  Retired Professionals. Your twenty-five, thirty-five, or even forty-five years of work prior to retirement will have generated a thick resume and an impressive skill set, exactly the type of person that overseas institutions are eagerly seeking.  In addition, retirement affords you the scheduling flexibility that those still working do not have.   As long as you are still healthy enough for travel and overseas work, retired professionals are superb candidates for working vacations.

2.  The Self-Employed.  The self-employed are the boss, HR director, and setter of rules for short-term leaves all rolled into one–if you want a break just pick up and go, no questions asked.  Now I understand that when you are a sole employee and take a vacation, your proceeds grind to a screeching halt, but remember this:  1) During a working vacation you receive a salary from the overseas institution, so you will not be bereft of all income, and 2) the restorative properties of a working vacation might be more important to you than a slight decrease in personal wealth.  If work and life are becoming stale and repetitive then a temporary change of scenery may trump net income.   If you don’t believe that, read the post by Mr. Kirk Horsted, a self-employed media specialist and one of my guest bloggers, entitled It’s About the Time, Not Just the Dime.

3.  Those Currently “Between” Jobs. In this lousy economy no one is safe from the dreaded pink slip, including highly skilled professionals.  For those who find themselves in this unenviable situation, you might wish to consider a short-term overseas working vacation.  You could live and work overseas for a few months, enjoying the freedom and flexibility of this unplanned “vacation,” before sending out your resume, scheduling interviews, and settling into your next position.

4.  Anyone Who Can Request and Take Short-Term Leaves.   While it is academics who get that three-month break every summer, many professionals in the public and private sector can apply for and take short-term, unpaid leaves of absence as long as they make the necessary arrangements for customers, clients, or patients.  For example, many of us know doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and therapists who have worked short-term for Doctors Without Borders. While freeing up a two or three-month block will not be as easy for lawyers, software engineers, or concert violinists as it is for teachers, it is certainly not an unrealistic possibility, and something you might wish to consider.

On one of my call-in radio interviews I chatted with a veterinarian who took a one-month paid working vacation every year to participate in the Iditarod Sled Dog Race–an adventure that she said refreshes her spirit and revitalizes her love of veterinary medicine.  While Alaska in February may not be your cup of tea, this example demonstrates the enormous range of skills, most likely including yours, that are in demand all over the globe.

What the Heck is a Working Vacation? (Act I)

Dear Readers,

It is coming up to the one-year anniversary of my blog, and I am flabbergasted at how much it has grown.  I have reached five figures in page views and am well past a thousand unique visitors, many of them relative newcomers. While enjoying my lighthearted stories of life in England, Israel, Australia, Kenya, Turkey, Zimbabwe, and Japan (especially the monkey waiters), recent arrivals to this site may not be aware of why I am writing this blog and what I hope to accomplish. To that end I think it is a good time to revisit earlier posts explaining the purpose behind my family’s overseas jaunts. (And for those who have been with me since the beginning, a little refresher course now and then isn’t such a bad thing.)

This reprise will come in three acts:  First the what–what is a working vacation and how does it differ from the journeys, wanderings, and roamings described on countless other web sites; second, the who–who is the audience that would benefit from this advice; finally, the why–why you should be motivated to pack up your family and travel to a foreign land to work, live, and grow.

Let’s start with the what.  In this blog (and in my book) I carve out a unique travel niche–a short-term overseas career break that I call a working vacation.  What the heck is a working vacation?

1.  It involves high-level professional work.  Unlike travel blogs for twenty-somethings, I am not talking about being a nanny, au pair, waiter, or the like.  There is nothing wrong with these jobs, and they are an excellent way for recent high school and college graduates to support themselves overseas.  The problem is that many older adults mistakenly think this is the only way to live and work in another country. They are unaware that professionals such as doctors, nurses, teachers, business executives, scientists, artists, engineers, government officials, etc., are all in great demand, and international institutions will gladly pay you to come and work with them. Even though you may be well past your teens or twenties, you have the same opportunity to live and work overseas as a younger cohort.

2.  It only requires a short-term commitment.  Most professionals enjoy what they do and like the city or town where they do it.  While not averse to a short-term temporary assignment they do not want to leave home for years at a time.  Unfortunately, travel blogs for ex-pats focus on how to sell your home, quit your job, kiss friends and neighbors good-bye, and move overseas for an extended period.  But you can enjoy many of the same professional and cultural benefits in a far shorter time, as little as 1-6 months, and when the posting is completed you return to your home, job, and, best of all, your regular paycheck.  No bridge burning required.

3.  You travel on the other guy’s dime. (Hence the blog’s name)   Unlike many other travel blogs, I am not talking about volunteer tourism in which you must pay your own expenses; I am not writing for people who won the lottery, are receiving huge alimony payments, sold their business for millions, or are living off the largesse of parents or ex’es–in effect, I am not competing with Eat, Pray, Love; Under the Tuscan Sun; or A Year in Provence.  Instead, I describe how to you use your professional skills to earn enough money to pay all or most of your travel expenses–flight, housing, living costs.  The goal of a working vacation is to not dive into your own wallet to support a travel habit, but have the other guy dive into his.

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it!  Well it is, and my wife and I have done exactly that 15 times in the past three decades.  In the coming days I will address two other questions that are probably on your mind: 1) who are candidates for this type of travel, and 2) why you really should consider it.  Let me know what you think!

Some Sound Advice From Two Great Guys

I recently came across a wonderful blog entitled Two Guys Around The World.  (It was voted outstanding travel blog of 2009.)  In the words of Sam Powers, one of the two guys: “I’m young, single and just graduated from college. If I don’t travel the world now, I never will.”  So, with his friend William Reinhard, he set off to experience life in totally new ways.  They traveled the world for a little over a year, living and working in more than a dozen countries, blogging as they went.  Their goal was to inspire other young people to do the same–to leave the safety of a comfort zone full of excuses in order to gain a better understanding of the world in which they live.

These two guys are truly my soul mates, and through their writings they are trying to gain for their readers the same things I am advocating for mine–encouraging them to live and work overseas, experience a new culture, have some amazing adventures, and learn about the world beyond their home.  However, I respectfully disagree with them regarding the premise that you need to be young, single, and a freshly minted twenty-something college graduate to have this type of experience. While we are certainly preaching a similar message, we are talking to very different audiences.

I hope my postings will have convinced you that the chance to live and work overseas is not something privy only to youthful nomads who have not yet entered the workplace.  Sadly, this is an all too common misconception that has stifled the dreams of many.  I have repeatedly argued that a short- to medium-term career break, what I call a working vacation, is an opportunity widely available to us “more mature” adults as well.  And best of all, it can be achieved without having to sell your home or quit your job–as I have demonstrated in the past 70 or so postings.

So, even if you did not take advantage of overseas work opportunities in your early 20s, please don’t believe it is too late to do so now.  Don’t let your dreams remain locked in your head, never to be realized.  In the words of those two guys Sam and William: leave the safety of your comfort zone, discard those excuses about children, pets, home, and job, and actively seek out a short-term sabbatical experience that exposes you to the fullness and richness of life–even a life that is now well into its fourth, fifth, sixth, or even seventh decade.