Gemma Armit took a 15-month break from her teaching career to travel the world with her partner, Craig. In this wide-ranging interview, she discusses choosing travel over flash cars and big weddings, approaching her career break with her employer, getting married on the road, returning to work after the trip, and building her own successful blogging business Two Scots Abroad.
Why did you decide to take a career break to travel?
Regret! I’d always regretted not taking a gap year between university and work. The conveyor belt of life kicked in after I’d graduated, and I just wanted to make money so long-term travel plans took a backseat. I’d also fallen into the Glasgow party scene pretty heavily which was fun at the time but not conducive with saving.
I then went into high school teaching which not only meant six weeks off in summer for travel but also the opportunity to apply for a career break after three years of service with my local authority.
I met Craig in 2012, was clear from the start that I had planned to take a career break and he was up for it too. We tested our relationship with a five-week trip around Southeast Asia in 2013 then started planning our 18-month adventure for 2015.
What do you feel was the biggest obstacle to making the decision?
I honestly don’t think there were any obstacles. I’m lucky to have been part of a very supportive department and as a politics and current affairs teacher it was easy to justify the trip.
“Some students made fun of our old Honda in jest to another teacher and they pointed out how many holidays we take instead of having a new car!”
On my return, I used my experience of travelling around the USA as part of our International Studies unit and the knowledge gained from spending time in South and Central America for our Inequalities course.
Naturally, others might fear the aspect of money, but we’ve always been good savers. We’re not lavish. I’m not a slave to brands, opting to shop in charity shops for environmental reasons.
All of our savings go into travel. We don’t have a flash car either. Actually, some students made fun of our old Honda in jest to another teacher and they pointed out how many holidays we take instead of having a new car!
How did you manage to still have a life while you were saving for your travel career break?
We’re very social so cutting back on drinking alcohol was a natural change we made to our lifestyle to help us save.
We had lots of weddings (five!) to attend the year before we left so that took up much of our social time. I actually did a lot of car boot sales with my ever-supportive friend, Shelley, a fun job when you do it with a pal.
How did you approach your career break with your employer?
I sounded out my options with my line manager initially then broached the subject with my head teacher.
I asked for one year starting March 2015, but the head teacher suggested 18 months was better for school timetabling. Both were onside which made life easy! Next came the application, which included a justification section. This went to HR who signed it off.
What did you learn from your travel career break that you would never have learnt otherwise?
How to blog! I started Two Scots Abroad for the career break. It began as a storytelling site, keeping followers up to date with our travels through the Americas and Europe, then progressed into a detailed travel guides when I learnt more about SEO.
“There was no way we were having the traditional £25K wedding back home, travel is our priority.”
Would I have learnt this without a career break? I wouldn’t have had the focus of travel or the free time if I was teaching.
We also went to Spanish school in Cusco, Peru and stayed with a local during the week to bring on our survival Spanish!
Not sure if this is anything to do with learning but it’s pretty important; Craig and I eloped to Austin, Texas after the music festival South by Southwest! He proposed to Vancouver on Hallowe’en under the fake stars of the MacMillan Space Center. There was no way we were having the traditional £25K wedding back home, travel is our priority.
How did you maintain relationships with friends and family back home while you were travelling?
WhatsApp and a willingness of friends and family to come to visit us! My parents came to see us in Vancouver and again in Hungary. Craig’s brother also visited us in Vancouver as well my friend Jen.
I left Craig in Vancouver for a trip to Toronto where I met my newly pregnant friend Helen. Another friend, Laura, met us in Hungary (popular destination!), twice.
Craig’s family paid for us to stay in a villa in Spain for them for a week. We had a pool and lived close to the local town centre so it felt like a real holiday within the 18-month trip. Anyone who backpacks knows long-term travel is rarely a relaxing holiday!
Jen met us again, this time in Spain with our friend Shelley. We’re lucky to have friends who don’t need an excuse to jump on a plane.
You initially went back into a full-time job after you finished your career break. Was it difficult to go back into work?
I went back to full time teaching then part-time before quitting altogether for a career in professional blogging in 2018.
I enjoyed the routine again and the money didn’t hurt. It was tough to juggle teaching and blogging though, luckily, I had nailed an SEO strategy, so the traffic looked after itself in the months I didn’t publish any posts.
Did you view your career differently after returning from your travels? If so, how?
Not at all. I have a lot of respect for the education system in Scotland and the people who work in it. They don’t get enough credit for the commitment they show every day to the hundreds of young people they teach.
I like working, it felt good to be back and being challenged by the new year. I did have less patience for the amount of admin that comes with teaching though.
You are now a professional travel blogger and business owner. When did you decide this was the route you wanted to take?
I had always suggested to Craig that the blog could go from hobby to business in the future, but he never had any confidence that it would. Last month Two Scots Abroad took us on a dream trip for Craig, to space camp in Huntsville, Alabama. He now believes it’s a business!
“I had trialled part-time teaching/blogging the year before so knew I could sustain a monthly salary.”
When my traffic started to consistently increase, and I watched other bloggers make money from their sites through ads and affiliates, I knew this was something I could do too.
I wouldn’t say we took a risk with me going full time because I had trialled part-time teaching/blogging the year before so knew I could sustain a monthly salary. I’m too sensible to take reckless risks! Craig is self-employed so watching how he runs his gas engineering business helped in relation admin and organisation.
How do you think your life would be different now if you hadn’t taken a career break to travel?
We definitely travel more. We average one to two trips per month, some at home in Scotland, others abroad. Out of the 16 trips we’ve taken this year, six were press trips, three of which were paid.
From 2019, it’s highly unlikely I will be taking part in unpaid press trips. Anything that takes me away from the desktop is the equivalent of me not making money so if a client wants us to market their product, we need a wage for it.
This shift in thinking has actually stemmed from going back to full-time teaching and valuing my time more. I think it was one of the best decisions I made because it stretched my time, made me prioritise and thus realise our worth.
All bloggers need to realise this or the industry will never respect us and continue to see us as free labour. You can learn more about how I make money from blogging here.
Gemma Armit, the Scotland travel blogger, is the fingers and lens behind the incredibly useful travel site Two Scots Abroad and part owner of the SEO support site and consultancy team, Make Traffic Happen.
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