Monthly Archives: July 2011

Realistic, Not Escapist, Travel

When I began writing Other Guy’s Dime I searched for blogs focusing on overseas travel and work for professionals and their families.   I wanted to locate like-minded individuals who love their home and job, but who also appreciate an occasional overseas adventure to add some variety to their life.  Surprisingly, that is not what I encountered.

What I found were blogs describing life styles most of us would classify as thoroughly unrealistic; sites I would put into a group called “Abandoning The Rat Race And Seeing The World, Although I Have No Idea How To Pay For It.”  One author blithely states the idea of regular employment gives her the “heebie-jeebies” so she decides to head overseas and has been traveling ever since. Another blogger describes how she quit her job and embarked on a personal “odyssey of discovery” in the style of Eat, Pray, Love.   A third encourages his readers to throw caution to the winds, abandon the cubicle and see the world as he and his partner have done for five years.   Nowhere in the description of these exotic travels are answers to two important questions 1) How are you paying for all this, (although one site stated they partially fund their adventures by playing the guitar in subway stations) and 2) What will you do when you get back?

I am happy these individuals have jumped off the work/family treadmill, and understand that spontaneous getaways makes perfect sense when you are in your early or mid-twenties.  However, many older professionals like myself actually enjoy what we do.  Many skilled workers are happy with their lives and don’t want to completely abandon their laboratory, lecture hall, court room, corner office, or operating theater. They are happy with the salary they earn and are thankful for the comfort and convenience it affords.

However, they would also be pleased to include short-term working vacations in their daily routine, and that is the group for whom I am writing. The purpose of my blog is not to describe how to run away from family, job, home, and friends; it is not to teach you how to escape overseas to avoid relationships and responsibilities; it is not to explain how to have an “odyssey of self-discovery” by gutting your savings, spending your inheritance, or soaking your ex. Instead, it is a blog (and book) for professionals who would enjoy a “temporary overseas posting” whose costs can be met through high-level work in the host country.

Although the blogs described above make great “escapist” literature, most of us are not going to quit our job and head to some exotic locale for years at a time, all the while blogging for readers eager to live vicariously through our adventures. But, it is both realistic as well as financially sustainable to take a short-term working vacation with you and your family for a couple of months. In the long run I believe that realistic easily trumps escapist.

New York, New York

In my last post I wrote that it is a big world, and you might consider some less well-known locations to reduce competition and increase the likelihood of an eye-opening cultural experience. That is what I did when I lived and worked in such exotic locales as Zimbabwe, Mongolia, Mauritius, and Bhutan. However, while I believe in this strategy, and even wrote a book about it, there are times when you unexpectedly hit it big and score an all-expenses paid posting to “tourism central.”

The Main Campus of Columbia University on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City

My wife and I are currently residing in a lovely and extremely affordable two-bedroom apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan thanks to the largesse of Columbia University (the building owner) where I am a Visiting Professor through this December. In addition to the huge rent subsidy I also receive a generous salary for teaching one course two days a week. This income, when added to monies from the rental of my home in Minneapolis, allows us to live a very comfortable life style in what must be one of the most expensive cities on planet Earth.

Now the point of this post is not to say you should immediately apply for a professorship at Columbia, Harvard, or Princeton! Instead, I want to argue that you may be qualified for overseas positions you mistakenly believe are  beyond your reach; I want to convince you not to lower your sights or your standards because of some misplaced and misjudged “inferiority complex.” When I sent in that application for a Visiting Professorship some of my colleagues laughed at me–and I mean that quite literally. They guffawed at the idea of a rather average scholar at a small Midwestern college (Macalester in St. Paul, MN) thinking he was qualified to apply for, let alone fill, a faculty position at a prestigious Ivy League school. Well, the laugh is on them as I settle into my lovely apartment in one of the most desirable sections of this most fascinating of cities. And, to prove this was not a once-in-a-lifetime “lightning bolt” I have already met another visiting faculty member from an even smaller and less well-known school–Lake Forest College in Illinois. Like me, he was not discouraged by his colleagues dire predictions of embarrassment and utter failure.

So, my advice is not to be deterred by what other people may think or say about your background, abilities, or talent. Aim high and give it a try. If the response is negative then smile, say to yourself that at least you gave it your best shot, and load up for another attempt. When it comes to working vacations remember this credo: You only need to hit the target a single time to end up with a superb, not to mention free, cultural and professional experience.

Question:  What do they call a person who sent out a hundred working vacation applications and got back only a single positive response?
Answer:  An overseas traveler!