My wife and I have been on 15 working vacations in the last 32 years–from Australia to Zimbabwe, Mauritius to Mongolia, Borneo to Bhutan–and I consider myself a “gold medalist” in the overseas work arena. However, at the start I certainly did not have that kind of global curiosity; heck, I had never even been more than a few hundred miles from home. I was a reluctant traveler frightened by the prospect of living in a strange new place, so when I received an invitation to spend a summer teaching at Imperial College, London I immediately came up with dozens of reasons why this cockamamie idea wouldn’t work. Thank God my wife was far more adventurous and convinced me to give it a try, a decision I have never come to regret.
The most common problem I encounter when talking with friends and colleagues about working vacations is their fear of doing something totally different; the uncertainty that comes from pulling up roots, even for a few months, to become part of a new and different culture. Overcoming those initial fears is the biggest impediment to working travel because once you have done it you appreciate how rewarding, invigorating, and personally exciting it can be. Then the only issue becomes how to do it again. Let me illustrate.
When we returned from that amazing 3+ month stay in England I asked myself why I had waited so long to attempt something like this. My accounting of income and expenses, completed for tax purposes the following April, showed that this English adventure had cost us 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 paychecks (I have a 9-month teaching job, but I spread the income over 12 checks), and rental income from our home in the US. The extra costs came from our many family excursions throughout the region. 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.
Not only was the trip a financial success, it was a professional and cultural success as well. I initiated scholarly activities that helped me achieve tenure a few years later. My wife and I had an opportunity to be part of an international culture and make new friends with whom we are still in contact. My children had the chance to meet and play with British children raised in far different circumstances and, although they are now fully grown, they still fondly remember that first overseas adventure. Finally, given three-plus months, rather than just a week or two, we had plenty of time to discover the hidden gems of this wonderful city and enjoy spur of the moment weekends to Devon, Cornwall, the Lakes District, Scotland, and Paris.
Looking back on my imagined doubts and problems I now realize that they 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 can think of nothing I would have changed except, perhaps, to host fewer house guests. (Not only do I enjoy traveling on the other guy’s dime, so do friends, family, and neighbors!) It was such a transformative experience that after returning home I immediately began planning our next jaunt, which came only two years later and took my wife, two children, and me to Jerusalem. The pattern had been set.
So, please believe me when I say I understand your initial reluctance to give working vacations a try–I felt exactly the same way. However, also believe me when I say that taking a short-term working vacation is a decision you will never regret. It can make an enormous change in your view of the world (and your children’s) and give you a new and refreshing outlook on life. It certainly did with me.
(Read about that summer in England and our subsequent 14 working vacations in my book, On The Other Guy’s Dime: A Professional’s Guide To Traveling Without Paying. It also explains how you and your family can experience the same type of cost-free adventures.)