Picture this: you have the opportunity to take six months off work, and you can do whatever you like with the time. Sounds amazing, right? It might not be as far-fetched as you think. The idea of taking a travel sabbatical is becoming a reality for a growing number of people, and with a good plan there’s no reason you can’t do it too. But how would you use the time? We’ve compiled some of our favourite career break ideas to help you get started.
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Career break ideas: making dreams happen
Before we get stuck into our travel ideas for your career break (scroll below if you want to get straight to them) – you may be wondering how any of this could be possible. Surely taking a long break from work to travel is a dream that only a lucky few people can achieve?
The truth is that travel career breaks are becoming more common, and with the right approach, anybody can do it. There will be sacrifices along the way, and there will always be risks involved – but these are far outweighed by the long-term benefits to your health, happiness and career.
Lisa and I saved for nearly five years for our first travel career break, because we wanted to have enough funds to do everything on our bucket list – but it doesn’t need to take that long. Whether it’s house-sitting, Couchsurfing, remote working or volunteering, there are countless options for travelling on a small budget. And in our ever-connected world, travel is getting easier and cheaper all the time.
Our ultimate guide to taking a travel career break explains everything you need to know from start to finish. It will answer all of your concerns, and walk through every step of the process. That’s everything from making the initial decision, right through to returning home and getting ready for life’s next big adventure.
So, without further ado, here are our top recommended travel experiences to try on your career break…
1. Hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
One of the new seven wonders of the world, and a slice of history among incredible nature – it’s easy to see why Peru’s Inca Trail to Machu Picchu tops many people’s bucket lists. Lisa and I built our career break itinerary around the Inca Trail. Now, looking back, we fondly remember it among the greatest experiences we’ve ever had.
Although it’s a fairly challenging hike, with some basic training it’s one that can be done with little trekking experience. We did it in a group with people of varying ages and abilities, and everyone supported each other through it – that’s what’s so great about small group adventures!
We did the Inca Trail with G Adventures, and we highly recommend them to anyone considering it. Although they’re not the cheapest option, they have a great record of ethical treatment of local staff, and provide an unforgettable experience – we felt looked after every step of the way.
Peru is a captivating place to travel more widely, with a diverse geography encompassing Amazon jungle, Andes mountains and sweeping deserts. Check out our recommended Peru itineraries for more ideas on what to do during your visit.
2. Go trekking in Patagonia
The most common question I am asked about travel is, “what is your favourite place you’ve ever been”? Despite having visited many different parts of the world, it’s always an easy one for me to answer: Patagonia.
This huge region straddles Chile and Argentina across the Southernmost tip of South America. It is the setting for some of the world’s most extreme and magnificent natural landscapes, featuring giant glaciers, pristine lakes, orange-tinted granite towers and snow-doused mountains. You will also find an abundant diversity of wildlife, such as pumas, guanacos and giant Magellanic woodpeckers.
Patagonia is home to many of the world’s greatest hiking trails, most notably the W Trek in Chile’s stunning Torres Del Paine National Park. Our Patagonia itinerary and travel guide details different options for exploring the region’s highlights.
For a truly once-in-a-lifetime adventure, you could combine a Patagonia trip with a cruise beyond the end of the world to Antarctica. Ships set sail from Ushuaia, the world’s southernmost city, in Argentina – take a look at G Adventures’ Antarctica cruise packages.
3. Road-trip the USA West Coast in a van
Since returning from our travel career break, Lisa and I have spent a lot of time dreaming up ideas for what our next big adventure might be. Right at the top of our list is one of the world’s ultimate road trips: Canada to Mexico along the US West Coast.
Van travel has surged in popularity in recent years as people continue to seek out new and adventurous ways to travel. What could be more liberating than converting an old van and then living in it while you explore the world?
A road trip from Vancouver to La Paz (on the Mexican Baja California peninsula) could trace the Pacific coast and incorporate highlights along the legendary Highway 1. A typical itinerary includes stops at Seattle, Napa Valley, the Sierra Nevada, Los Angeles, Tijuana and Guerrero Negro.
If you’re up for the challenge and think you have what it takes to maintain a vehicle over long-term travel, it’s easier now than it has ever been. As the trend grows, so does the availability of resources to support you in such a journey. Try starting with the #vanlife hashtag on Instagram for a treasure trove of insights and inspiration. Alternatively, simply do the road trip in a car – see Rentalcars.com to find the best prices.
4. Learn to scuba dive in Southeast Asia
Under the water, a whole new world is waiting to be discovered. Scuba diving is a brilliant way to challenge yourself, learn something new and witness some mind-blowing aspects of nature while on a travel career break.
If you’re a complete beginner (we were), you can try a ‘Discover Scuba Diving’ session to get a taster for it. These are available in most diving hotspots around the world. We did ours in Cairns at the Great Barrier Reef, which inspired us to take diving more seriously. We then took our Open Water qualifications in Bali, dived some more in the Philippines, and finally completed our advanced qualifications in Thailand.
These are some of the most affordable places in the world to learn scuba diving, and are rife with incredible marine life. You can swim with turtles, whale sharks, manta rays, banded sea snakes and so much more! After learning to scuba dive in Southeast Asia, Lisa and I have brought home a new passion that will be with us for the rest of our lives.
Learning to scuba dive while travelling could be the beginning of a lifelong passion hobby. It could even lead to a new career path; many of the people we have met working at dive centres around the world began their journey while on travel sabbaticals.
5. Try a Liveaboard diving experience
If you want to try a completely immersive diving experience on your travel career break, you could opt for a Liveaboard. This involves living on board a purpose-built diving boat for a week or longer. It’s possible for people of all abilities from beginner to expert, and you can even take qualifications while on board.
Liveaboards are often the only way to reach the world’s most remote and beautiful diving spots. Scuba day trips have limited reach, but on a Liveaboard trip you can access some of the most impressive and untouched sea life locations possible.
6. Explore the cities, cultures and cuisines of Europe
My love for travel began with a backpacking trip across Europe when I was 18. My home continent is packed with so many vibrant cities, each with something different and compelling to offer. I’ve continued to explore it over the years and my heart has been captured by Krakow, Tallinn, Barcelona, Venice, Prague, Berlin, and many more wonderful places.
Europe remains an incredibly popular region for backpacking, and makes a great option for a travel career break. You could easily spend a year travelling from country to country and city to city, finding something new to experience every day.
The food of Europe is a joy to discover. From the heartwarming, wholesome staples of Central and Eastern Europe to the Mediterranean delights of Spain and Italy, there is a culinary adventure every way you turn. Even though Europe has dozens of countries packed into a relatively small area, each place has its own traditions. For example, we found the cuisine of Slovakia to be very different to the neighbouring Czech Republic, and Lithuanian food a world apart from the other Baltic nations.
7. Wander the wilderness in New Zealand
New Zealand has only been inhabited by humans for a few centuries. The country is today one of the world’s least-populated. Its stunning islands are still dominated by nature, scattered with volcanoes, geysers, lakes, glaciers and dark sky sanctuaries. It’s long been a sought-after destination for adventurous travellers, but has exploded in popularity in recent times after lending its scenery to the set of Lord of the Rings.
Despite its remarkable wilderness, New Zealand’s two main islands are pretty well connected by road. It’s the perfect place for a long and slow scenic road trip, interspersed with outdoor adventures. The North Island has quirks such as the Tongariro Crossing, Rotorua thermal springs, and the beaches and forests of Coromandel. On the South Island – our favourite – you can cruise Milford Sound, step on Franz Josef Glacier and hike great trails like the Routeburn Track.
We took a two-week road trip on the South Island, which wasn’t nearly enough time! I’ve met people who have spent an entire year-long travel sabbatical exploring New Zealand, and not regretted a moment. It makes a strong candidate for anybody’s travel career break shortlist.
You can view and book G Adventures New Zealand tour packages here.
8. Travel overland across the Pan-African Highway
One night at an Ethiopian jazz bar in Addis Ababa, I met a woman who was part-way through an extraordinary solo trip. She had set off from Cape Town a few months earlier, and was on her way overland to Cairo. The route is known as the Pan-African Highway, and it struck me as one of the world’s ultimate travel adventures.
Relatively few people choose Africa as a career break option, but the continent has so much to offer. The most amazing wildlife, a great diversity of cultures, mighty rivers and waterfalls, and unrivalled vistas. The route from Cape Town to Cairo encapsulates all of this on a journey of over 10,000 kilometres.
Check out the onestep4ward blog about Johnny’s journey from Cape Town to Cairo for inspiration. He took seven months to complete the journey, passing through 19 countries on the way. During the adventure he cage-dived with great white sharks, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, bungee-jumped at Victoria Falls, trekked with mountain gorillas, went on safari on the Serengeti, saw Egypt’s pyramids, and much, much more. The trip cost $10,000 and involved only one flight.
9. Get off the beaten path in rural Laos and Vietnam
Southeast Asia is a highly popular region for backpacking, with Thailand in particular drawing millions of tourists every year. It has obvious appeal as a career break destination: tropical islands, frenetic cities, authentic street food, extensive cultural and religious heritage – and very affordable prices.
Stepping off the ‘Banana Pancake Trail’ (as the typical backpacker route is known), there is also an abundance of untouched beauty to be discovered in the lesser-trodden regions of northern Laos and Vietnam. Pivoting from the cities of Luang Prabang and Hanoi, you are within reach of a different world altogether. To the north you will find jungle-strewn mountains, caves, huge sleepy rivers, lush green plains, rural villages and endless agricultural terraces.
One of the last things we did on our travel career break was a trekking journey in Sapa, Vietnam. We were guided by a local villager through the fields and terraces, stopping overnight in homestays with local families. It’s one of the few times I’ve ever felt completely removed from the world I know, unconnected and free of stress. A liberating and eye-opening experience.
This article by World Nomads explores ways to experience Northern Laos on trekking and cycling adventures.
10. Have a wildlife and jungle experience in Borneo
If you’re seeking a challenge on your career break and to push the limits of your comfort zone, the jungles of Borneo make for an enticing option. The world’s third’ largest island is home to one of the world’s oldest rainforests, and the towering 4,095-meter peak of Mount Kinabalu. It also hosts a vast diversity of species, and protected wildlife such as orang-utans, sun bears and turtles.
G Adventures offers a classic Borneo adventure package that combines the highlights of Sabah, the Malaysian state that occupies the northern part of the island. This includes scaling Mount Kinabalu, visiting national parks and conservation centres, and a mud volcano trek on the island of Pulau Tiga.
This tour provides a physical challenge and will put you into unfamiliar environments. But at the same time, it includes tourist-class accommodation so you will be able to rest and recover in comfort.
11. Visit China’s natural landmarks and historic cities
Before Lisa and I went on our travel career break, I was lucky enough to spend time travelling in China while on a business trip. I witnessed the stark contrasts of historic Beijing and modern, bustling Shanghai. I met Pandas at the Chengdu breeding centre and took in the scenery of the colossal Jinsha River.
China is a vast land that has a greater diversity of cultures and languages than all of Europe combined within its territory. And although travel in China hasn’t always been easy, the country is increasingly opening up to foreign visitors. This makes it a compelling option for a travel career break.
Many people choose to take a teaching placement in China. The average teacher’s salary in the country is $1,400–$2,200, which goes a long way in terms of living expenses. To do this you will generally need a TEFL qualification and at least a couple of years’ teaching experience.
If you want a shorter trip to incorporate into your career break itinerary, G Adventures offers a three-week essential China package, This features the Great Wall, Terracotta Warriors, Emei Shan monasteries and the Three Gorges Dam, among other highlights.
12. Go on a world wine voyage
Travel career breaks can lead to new hobbies and passions that you might not expect. Could you see yourself as a wine enthusiast? Or, at the very least… would you enjoy drinking lots of it and exploring beautiful vineyards all over the world?
A friend of ours who took a travel career break ended up working in a winery, and then taking a series of sommelier courses. She is now on her way to a lifelong career in the wine industry. You never know where the journey will take you. It might be no more than a series of wine vacations before returning home refreshed, recharged and with a new love for the red stuff. But that’s great too.
Lisa and I first visited a winery together in Cafayate, Argentina, and then again a few weeks later in Mendoza. We enjoyed it so much that we went vineyard-hopping again in New Zealand. Then, after returning home, we took a week-long trip to discover Italian wine in Umbria.
You could build a career break travel itinerary entirely around wine destinations, and in doing so see some of the most beautiful parts of the world. The Andean trails of Chile and Argentina, the valleys and foothills of California, the coastal waterways of Marlborough in New Zealand. Australia’s Yarra Valley, the rolling hills of central Italy, the Rioja Alavesa route in Spain.. the list goes on.
What will you do on your travel career break? Let us know your ideas in the comments below.
More career break ideas
You can find more career break ideas in our series of interviews with inspiring people who have taken travel sabbaticals.
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