Important decisions don’t have to be “either-or” affairs: black-and-white with no middle ground. We don’t tell women they must choose between children or working outside the home–many do both by going part-time, hiring outside help, or having a spouse take on the duties of child rearing. Following graduation we don’t tell our children they must go to college or find full-time work. Many young people spend a “gap year” seeing the world while others opt for short-term stints in the military, Peace Corps, or with charitable groups.
The same is true about living and working overseas. It isn’t a black-and-white choice between blindly remaining in your day job or having amazing travel adventures. People mistakenly assume the only possible way to live overseas is to sell the house, kiss friends and family good-bye, and head out with no set return date. This is fueled by books and movies that describe what I call the “Wandering Nomad” mode of travel. Most of us have read stories like Under the Tuscan Sun and A Year in Provence, or have seen movies like Eat, Pray, Love that glorify the ex-pat who leaves the cubicle behind for exotic adventures across the ocean.
I just finished a popular travel book that fits perfectly into this genre–Wondrous Journeys: The World is Waiting for You by Dean Jacobs. Dean was a marketing specialist who, after a decade of success at his chosen occupation, gave it all up to see the world. He bought a travel hat and a world map, spread the map out and said, “I can go anywhere I want. Where do I begin? What have I always wanted to see?” His dreams resulted in a two-year journey to 28 countries. Today he is still traveling and giving talks to audiences around the U.S. Sounds great, right? Yes, but let’s be brutally honest. Many of us enjoy the jobs we have and the financial security they afford. We love the communities we live in, and the friends and family near us. We have important commitments we will not throw under the bus. We can’t simply chuck everything we have, but we would love to add something new and exciting to our daily routine.
There is a solution to this conundrum, and it is based on the original premise of my post: Living and working overseas does NOT have to be an either-or proposition. You don’t have to choose between 40-years and a gold watch vs. pulling a Dean Jacobs, selling everything, and sailing a 36-footer around the world. In short, you don’t have to become a wandering nomad. There is a reasonable middle ground–a middle ground that I call a working vacation–a short-term job (typically 2-6 months) that affords you the cultural and social benefits of a typical overseas posting without having to burn bridges behind you. It allows you to refresh and renew your daily routine and your professional career while allowing you to return to your home, job, and regular paycheck when finished. Working vacations are a realistic option for any skilled professional with the desire to see the world and become a more informed global citizen. I know from what I speak as my wife and I have been on 15 of these amazing adventures in the past 30 years–Mauritius to Mongolia, Turkey to Tibet, Borneo to Bhutan–without ever having to open up my wallet or quit my day job. No matter how much you enjoy your current position a working vacation can be a truly transformative personal experience, and it is something you should seriously consider. Please let me teach you how.
(Read about Michael and Ruth Schneider’s working vacations around the world, and learn how to have these amazing adventures for yourself in his travel “how-to” book: On The Other Guy’s Dime: A Professional’s Guide to Traveling Without Paying.)