Tag Archives: working vacations

How To Rent Out Your House

Finding responsible (and paying) tenants to live in your home while on a working vacation is neither difficult nor expensive, and it should never be an excuse for turning down a short-term overseas posting. Here’s how:

If your city is home to a medium- or large-sized college or university, like the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, it will almost certainly have a housing office providing information for medical residents, new faculty, overseas researchers, sabbatical visitors, and other assorted academics coming to town for a short-term stay.  Best of all, the cost of posting your home on these college databases is usually quite nominal. Large universities have hundreds of scholars flowing in and out of campus each year, so it is a great way to connect with a large number of high-quality, short-term renters. Be sure to list your house three or four months in advance of departure to give yourself enough time to reach these individuals.

There are other online sites posting information about temporary housing. The largest and most well-known is craigslist, which includes a specific category entitled “sublets/temporary housing” for hundreds of cities in the United States and Canada and, best of all, the posting is free. (However, be prepared for an onslaught of e-mails from scammers eager to send in a deposit as soon as you provide a bank account and Social Security number.  Don’t do it!) Another popular site is sabbaticalhomes.com, which focuses on the housing needs of academics and skilled professionals coming to a city for a one-semester or one-year visit. It includes information not only on home rentals, but home exchanges and house-sitting services as well.  We found our most recent renter, a pediatric surgeon moving his practice to Minneapolis, via this Web site.

Another possibility is to identify cultural institutions and corporate headquarters in your hometown who bring in professionals for short-term visits. For example, Minneapolis is home to the Minnesota Symphony Orchestra, the Guthrie Theater, and the Walker Art Center as well as the world headquarters for  3M, Honeywell, Medtronic, and Northwest Airlines (now part of Delta), and we have listed our home with the Human Resources office of all these institutions. One summer we rented to a guest conductor in town for our local summer music festival; another time we rented to a visiting software engineer from Australia temporarily assigned to the Honeywell Research Center.

So, although it may take a bit of telephone calling and Web sleuthing, it should not be overly difficult to locate a high quality renter to live in and care for your home while you are overseas.   And remember, carefully file away all those contact names, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and Web sites for future reference.  You really don’t want to repeat the entire process from scratch when planning your second (and third and . . .) overseas working vacation.

There are lots more helpful hints about renting out your home (as well as finding temporary housing at your destination) in my book.  Check it out.

Failure Is Not An Option

OK, neither plan A nor plan B worked, and I was batting 0 for 3 in my attempt to live and work on a tropical island paradise. However, it is not yet time to throw in the towel as there is also a plan C.

If all of the original contacts have turned you down, broaden your horizons to include institutions in countries that might provide you and your family with a similar, although not identical, professional, social, and cultural experience. All too often we focus so intently on that one perfect working vacation in that one perfect place that we overlook other regions of the world that could provide an equally enjoyable, not to mention rewarding and no-cost, career break.

For example, if your dream is to work in Singapore, but that carefully crafted e-mail to the National University of Singapore is a bust, consider contacting schools in Malaysia, its next-door neighbor with a closely related culture and history. If you are dying to live and work in France but that did not work out, what about nearby Francophone Belgium as an interesting alternative? Are those letters to schools in Mainland China going nowhere? Consider applying to colleges and universities in Taiwan. What about a working vacation in Iceland or Finland when the Scandinavian nations of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, have all said no?   India a non-starter for you–how about Sri Lanka?   When exploring potential sites for a working vacation it is important to be creative, flexible, and inclusive. The smaller the candidate pool the less likely your chance of success.  When it comes to working vacations, treat the entire world as your sample space.

The Beach at Flic en Flac, Mauritius, One of the Most Beautiful Places in the World

In my case, I decided to consider not just locations in the South Pacific but the Indian Ocean as well. Americans don’t usually think of the Indian Ocean in terms of glorious tropical getaways, but island nations such as the Seychelles and the Maldives could easily hold their own in any tropical beauty contest with their better-known Pacific cousins Tahiti, Fiji, and Hawaii.  I searched the Web for schools in countries rimming the Indian Ocean, and a few years later, after much time and effort, as well as further rejection, success arrived.  Ruth and I spent six glorious months living and working on the island of Mauritius, a spectacularly beautiful coral-rimmed paradise 500 miles east of Madagascar.  I had fulfilled my goal to live in the tropics, and I had done it, as this blog advertises, on the other guy’s dime!

Our Lovely Apartment in Mauritius Overlooking the Ocean. It Was Provided To Us at No Cost.

The moral of this story is that for me, and I hope for you, when it comes to locating a working vacation, delays and rejections may be unavoidable, and success may not come quickly, but total failure should never be an acceptable option

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.

I’m Back…

Hello again, dear readers.  I just returned from four glorious weeks in Malaysia and Japan ready to renew blogging and eager to again share with you my techniques for finding no-cost, short-term travel adventures.

The Faculty of Information Technology at MMU Where I Spent One Week As External Examiner

I was in Malaysia as the external examiner for the Faculty of Information Technology at Multimedia University (MMU) in Cyberjaya, a new, high-technology city about 25 miles from Kuala Lumpur.  (Note: An external examiner is an artifact of the British system of higher education.  The examiner goes to the school, reviews the program, and makes recommendations for improvement.  It is like an accreditation visit.)  I previously had worked at MMU for eight months in 2001 as a Visiting Professor under the auspices of the U.S. State Department Fulbright Scholar program and, because of their familiarity with my work,  was invited back as an external examiner.  My airline ticket, all living and travel expenses, and an honorarium were included, and it was sufficient to allow me to add a three-week stopover in Japan on the return trip at little cost to myself and my wife who met me in Tokyo.

The Luxury Resort Where I Stayed in Malaysia. Trust Me, I Don't Usually Travel LIke This!

This experience highlights one of the best ways of locating a working vacation–keep in close contact with institutions where you have previously worked.  Assuming you did a good job the first time, and assuming that money is available, there is a high likelihood they will invite you back for a second visit–working vacation redux!   It worked for me, and it can certainly work for you.

The (Almost) Kenyan Branch of My Family

It is not only President Barack Obama who has Kenyan relatives perched in his family tree;  I almost had some as well.

About a month before our departure from Africa we had our first and only overseas visitor, my sister Karen who came for a two-week stay. Ruth and I drove to the airport to meet her, accompanied by the Computer Science department chair, Dr. Tony Rogrigues, who insisted on joining us to ensure we got there safely. I tried to convince him that if I could navigate forty miles over the Ngong Hills to a remote archeological dig (see It Ain’t Just The Animals, People), and if I could drive  one hundred and twenty miles down to the Tanzanian border (see The Most Beautiful Place on Earth), I could certainly handle the short thirteen mile trip to the airport.  However, Tony remained unconvinced and plopped down in the back seat, not to be moved.

Zanzibar Island Resort Where Tony and My Sister Karen (But Not Us!) Spent Ten Lovely Days

The flight arrived on schedule, customs delays were minimal, and Karen exited the front door of the international arrivals terminal right on time.  On the drive back to our apartment my wife and I could already sense the “sparks” flying between them, both single and about the same age.   Tony joined us for some shopping and sightseeing on Karen’s first full day in town, and their growing closeness became even more noticeable–Ruth and I were already starting to feel like unwelcome third wheels.  Two days later Tony informed us that he and my sister would be flying to the Indian Ocean island of Zanzibar for a beach holiday and would return ten days later, only one day before her scheduled return to the United States. So much for the family visit. We never even got a postcard.

Karen returned to Africa the following summer and spent a month in Nairobi, where Tony proposed marriage. However, he was quite adamant that he would not leave his home and teaching job at the university, so if she accepted the offer she would need to sell her condominium in the oceanfront community of Del Mar, California and move to Nairobi—a relocation of staggering proportions.  After agonizing deliberations, including many long and expensive phone calls to us, she decided she could not bring herself to leave her lovely home in California and relocate to Kenya.  At the end of the month she declined his proposal of marriage and returned to the U.S. Too bad; I was looking forward to some rather unique family get-togethers on the plains of the Serengeti.

In the forty or so posts on this blog I have repeatedly asserted that a short-term working vacation can be a life-changing experience for you, your spouse, and children.  In this case, though,  it was almost (but, sadly, not quite) a life-changing experience for my sibling.  I guess that, in the end, you never really know who will benefit from this type of transformative travel experience!

Talk To Me, People. Talk to Me!

For the past few months I have been running off at the mouth about my working vacations, about my travel experiences.   Well, let’s change that.  Instead, I now would like to know your feelings about leaving home for a temporary position overseas,  your thoughts about living in a completely new culture, your “dream destination.”

Here is the scenario:  Your department chair, director, manager, or supervisor has just informed you that your request for a temporary six-month leave of absence to work overseas has been approved and, best of all, your job will be waiting for you when you return.  You are free to rent out your house and search for a temporary position abroad, comfortable in the knowledge that you are not burning any bridges behind you–your home, friends, family (and paycheck) will be there when you get back.

So, my questions to you are:  1) Where in the world would you most like to go or, if you have already lived out this scenario, where did you go, and 2)  what kind of work would you like to do (or did you do) overseas?

Finally, to spice things up a bit, I am adding a “Jeopardy!” style travel contest to the mix.  See if you can guess, from the following clue, the location of our family’s next working vacation, a trip I will begin to describe in the next post.  Include in your comments  the city identified in the clue, and the winner will receive a $25 gift certificate from Amazon.com to purchase a travel memoir or guide book for that next dream trip.  If we have multiple correct answers I will draw one name at random from among all the correct responses.  Please send in your comments and guesses prior to my next blog entry which will be posted early on the morning of June 17th.  (Sorry, no friend or family winners allowed since you were probably there at the airport to see us off!)  And, while you are here, I invite you to subscribe to my blog and get automatic notification of future posts and contests.  Just click the “Sign Me Up!” button in the right-hand column.

Clue: I am the capital of a country whose name means “God’s resting place” in the local language.  My two largest agricultural exports are tea and coffee but my biggest money earner by far is tourism, with about 2 million visitors arriving last year.