Budgeting Career break advice

Six steps to make your career break travel a reality

“You can achieve anything”. “You can be whatever you want to be”. This is what we tell children and young adults, but somewhere along the line we stop believing it to be true for ourselves.

The prospect of taking a career break to travel is daunting. But it is also achievable with the right approach. I am a firm believer that it is possible for anyone, no matter what your circumstances. If a career break travel adventure is something you dream about, these six steps show how you can make it a reality.

Step 1: let go of your preconceptions

Taking a year out of your career (or even a few months) is not just for young people, nor is it just for rich people. What’s more, contrary to what many people believe, it will not necessarily hinder your career progression.

As soon as you start thinking more positively about a travel career break, you will start to make small decisions that will help you make it a reality. Treat it as an opportunity rather than a roadblock.

You can do it at any stage of your life. As with any plans, there will be risks and problems, whether that’s time, money, knowledge, access, resources or anything else. But there will always be a way to solve it.

I really believe that whatever your circumstances, if you’re committed and you approach it in a focused, logical way, you can achieve any goal you want.

I’ve emphasised ‘you’ because no one else will do it for you. Even with the encouragement I had from Alex, my husband and travel partner, I had to be the one to take the decision to save money and take that leap.

When I was about 27 (still young, yes I realise that now) I had a steady life. I had a good job, good friends, I enjoyed where I lived and I’d just met Alex. This scenario is a goal for most people and I was happy, but I’ve always had bigger dreams to travel and explore.

I just figured that at this point in my life I’d missed too many opportunities (gap year). I told myself I didn’t have enough money or time. I would not save money because I wanted to ‘live like there was no tomorrow’ and I believed that the key to being ‘awesome’ was to say yes to everything. Wow, how wrong I was.

I loved my job before we went travelling, but you can always get back on the career ladder later
I loved my job before we went travelling, but you can always get back on the career ladder later

With help from Alex, I realised that travel could become a reality. He had always wanted to see the world. Together, with careful planning, we saw that it could be achievable.

We worked out how we could make savings that would be comfortable for us – which included having enough money for me to be a bit spontaneous – and then figured out how long it would take us to save enough for our grand plan. Sure, it took us nearly five years, but we saved, we planned and we did it. And we did it well.

As soon as you ditch the preconceptions about career breaks – that it’s only for people of certain ages or in particular circumstances – then you are ready to make it happen.

Step 2: start saving – just do it, no excuses

Before you start even thinking about making a travel plan, just start saving. Save anything. Work out what you can save and just start doing it. Don’t worry about a big target or deadlines (we’ll come to that later). Just put some coins in a piggy bank.

Having never saved a penny in my life (I’m terrible with money, my mum will vouch for that one) I found the initial few months of saving really difficult. I had to start small and build up.

I kept a piggy bank and literally just put my change in it. Over time it amassed £200 that I put into my bank account. When I felt comfortable doing that I set up a small direct debit into an online savings account. Over time I gradually increased the amount I put in and slowly made changes to my life that allowed me to do so.

I appreciate that you may feel that you barely have enough money to cover living costs right now. Believe me, living in London I knew that feeling all too well. Most of my money went on bills and rent. Or so I thought.

When I started looking more closely into what I was spending, I found there were ways to make little changes to save small amounts of money that built up over time.

I reduced my phone bill, I cut back on drinking (but not going out), I created meal plans and stuck to them. I also allowed myself a little pocket money to fill that void of being able to spend what I wanted, when I wanted.

Step 3: think about your basic travel route

It is important to remember that this is your first attempt at travel planning. At this stage you just need a general overview of where and when you want to go, and how long you want your break to be.

It might be simply “in two years’ time I want to take a six-month career break to travel in Australia and South-East Asia”.

Then start doing some research into how much things will cost in the places you want to visit. We found that Budget Your Trip is a great resource for this. You can then use this information to create a rough estimate of how much you will need to save.

In Sapa, Vietnam, a week before the end of our career break travel adventure
In Sapa, Vietnam, a week before the end of our career break travel adventure

For our trip, we set an initial ballpark figure of £35,000 for the two of us. This was for a one-year career break with a really jam-packed travel itinerary. To hit this target, we would need to save around £300 each on average per month.

Your goal might not be anywhere near this, or it may be bigger. It’s possible to travel on much less money than we did. Spend some time looking into destinations to suit your budget – take a look at Alex’s breakdown of our travel spending for some insights.

If this still sounds intimidating, don’t worry; the next step will help you hit that savings target.

Step 4: Create a savings plan with achievable goals

Once you’re saving regularly and you’re starting to build up a pot of money, you can review how much you are saving and how quickly. I wasn’t great at saving to begin with, and I got scared by large targets, or even small targets. However, once I’d put a few pounds away I felt more comfortable setting goals.

At this point you should have set yourself a ballpark figure for how much you want to save. Based on what you have been saving already, work out what you can comfortably increase that to next.

This should give you a timescale for how long it will take to reach your goal. It probably won’t match up with when you want to travel. Don’t worry, we’ll come to that.

While we were saving we found ways to spend quality time together, like visiting family and going to the beach
While we were saving we found ways to spend quality time together, like visiting family and going to the beach

There are three aspects of planning you can control: timescale, money, and activity. You will need to create a balance between these three things for this to work. Here are some questions to help you do just that:

  • If it will take too long to save what you need, is there something you can do to tighten your belt and save a bit more?
  • If saving is tricky, could you allow longer to reach your target? (Don’t worry, the world isn’t going anywhere and there is no such thing as a perfect age to travel. Even if it takes you 10 years to save it will be worth it.)

If it’s going to take you too long and you’re not happy to wait, think about the possible changes you could make to your travel plan:

  • Can you shorten the amount of time you spend travelling?
  • Can you visit cheaper countries?
  • Can you modify your travel style to suit a tighter budget?

It’s important not to just say you’ll travel on the tightest budget possible, simply because you want to get out and do it as soon as you can. Although it might seem like a solution, you have to be realistic about whether or not you will actually enjoy it.

Step 5: firm up your career break travel plan

This is the exciting bit! (Or at least it was for me…)

When you’re well into your savings plan and you feel confident that you will make your target, you can start really delving into what you are going to do when you travel.

We spent countless hours doing internet research into all the places we wanted to visit. We built a monster spreadsheet that included – day-by-day – where we would go, how we would get there, the activities we wanted to do and how much it would cost.

Of course, you don’t have to be that intense. If you’re happy just going with the flow then that’s fine too, but it’s still good to have a plan of where you want to go and what you want to see, even if you do throw it out of the window as soon as you leave.

We booked our flights a year before our trip through TravelNation, who also helped us plan our itinerary.

From here, you just need to keep going with your saving goal and be happy that you are in the last stretch before you take your travel career break.

Step 6: approach work about taking leave

Approaching work about taking a career break might not be easy, but it is a perfectly reasonable thing for you to do.

I’ve known people who haven’t wanted to leave a place of work because they “didn’t want to let them down”. The truth is, no matter what employers or colleagues say about how they “won’t be able to cope without you”, if you disappeared tomorrow they would find a replacement in a couple of weeks.

Too often employers and colleagues can lay on the guilt without thinking about how that makes someone feel about making the decision to take a career break. Always remember that work is work, and there will always be more when you get home!

In the last few weeks of my job before we took our career break. I was sad to leave this amazing team
In the last few weeks of my job before we took our career break. I was sad to leave this amazing team

I decided that I would be honest when I started my job back in 2013, and I told them I would be leaving to travel in four years. This gave me space to ask for a sabbatical contract so that I wouldn’t have to give up a job I loved. Alex decided to wait to hand in his official notice.

There is no right way of doing this. You need to use your judgment about your line of work and decide what will be best for you. 

Lots of employers will be willing to discuss the idea of a sabbatical contract. If this is something you’re hoping for, it would be better to speak to your employer sooner rather than later.

If you decide you are going to leave your job and find another when you get back, check out my article on finding a job when you return from travelling.

It might seem like there are oceans of time and hardships separating you from your dream trip. I won’t lie, it is extremely difficult at times. But the reward at the end is worth every minute.

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The prospect of taking a career break to travel is daunting, but it is also achievable with the right approach. If a career break travel adventure is something you dream about, these six steps show how you can make it a reality.The prospect of taking a career break to travel is daunting, but it is also achievable with the right approach. If a career break travel adventure is something you dream about, these six steps show how you can make it a reality.

71 comments

  1. Great advice. Advice from an old fogey.. just do it. All the planning in the world wont prepare you for whats ahead. Grab life by the balls and get out there

  2. Me and my boyfriend want to travel the world and work from everywhere. I hope this will happen in the near future, we just have to save a bit more. Thank you for giving the needed motivation to continue doing what I love! 💗

  3. I love your story and how you were so firm on getting the career break (sabbatical leave). I love to travel and explore and I hope when the time come, I will be able to be like you to chase my dream.

  4. Great post! Sometimes you just have to go for it and DO IT! Save up that money, don’t think about it and just go! You’re giving people some great tips with this post 🙂

    1. Really glad you think so. It’s all stuff that seems so obvious when you’ve done it, but before we went travelling I was super nervous. Having a plan like this really helped me be brave enough and get on with it. Thanks for reading, and for sharing your comment. Loved your latest post on NZ by the way – such an amazing place.

  5. This was such a great read, I’m wanting to just back up and travel and reading this has really made me want to focus on saving so I can also do what I love! Glad you guys managed to travel where you wanted 🙂

    1. Yay! Do it! It was a fab career break – definitely not the last. I’m actually starting to plan all over again. Glad you enjoyed the blog and thanks for sharing your comment 🙂

  6. Great simple steps. Sometimes you just have to see it in writing to believe that it’s possible.

    1. I know, right? I’ve had this conversation many times with friends but it helped me to just write it down and get it out there. I’m actually on step one again myself. Thanks for reading 🙂

  7. great article Lisa , i mean it is truly a genuine article . I love to travel , have few goals of other countries but what i mot interested is in my own country India which has so much to offer but then job and family really are two biggest hurdles presently

    1. Absolutely, and it’s all about working out how you can achieve what you want to by encompassing those hurdles. I’m glad you liked it and I really hope you get out there and see India.

  8. So inspiring and I am looking do this myself next year. I think the saving bit is the hardest for me. It can be intimidating but I like setting smaller acheivable goals rather than some huge number.

    1. Saving was definitely the hardest part for me too. I hadn’t saved a single penny before this, and there were times (because it took a while to save enough) where I struggled but you’ve just got to keep making those small steps. Looking forward to hearing your travel stories next year 🙂

  9. Awesome points, all very true. I think the biggest issue for many is to approach their current employers. Some have a boss that’s okay with this, most (at least here in the States) do not. Trying to get 3 weeks off in the states is basically signing your resignation, unfortunately… Very important to work with the right type of place that will work with you on these kinds of things!

    1. Definitely, we met loads of people from the States who had huge issues with holiday and career breaks. You’re right in that it’s about about being selective of where you choose to work. After all, you spend about 70% of your life working – might as well do it in a way that suits you. But, if that doesn’t happen, it’s also important to know that, as scary as it might seem, you can always find another job when you get back. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

  10. Always a great read! And as I already commented on an other article this is what I will let my friend read to motivate them to the same choices you made.
    Me as a full time traveler I found your blog awesome.

    1. I’m really glad you enjoy it! And do share it to everyone to help them take that leap and decide to take a career break. Hope you’re enjoying the full-time travelling and maybe our paths with cross soon 🙂

  11. Travel is something that is so worthy to spend all your savings. Lol. Our goal is to be able to visit all the states of US. 🙂

    1. That sounds like a fantastic travel goal. We’re hoping to drive from Canada to Columbia – but we’re still in stage one of saving again after returning from our career break 🙂

      1. Canada is such a beautiful country. It’s about 6 hours drive from us. My birthday this year was so special since we stopped by at Ontario and visited Niagara Falls after a visit in Philadelphia. Would love to go back again!

  12. Great post! People are all too often put off travelling because they have work commitments and can’t imagine life without their full time job! It’s sad, because there’s so much out there. Saving is hard but it’s so doable! Thanks for sharing!!!

    1. Exactly, to be honest before we left I worried about leaving my job. Now I’m planning to do it again as soon as possible! Glad you liked the article and thanks for your comment 🙂

  13. This was a great read. We’re looking at doing some extended travelling next year. We need to find out if we’re able to take a career break at our current workplaces or whether we would have to quit our jobs. It’s a scary time but also exciting!

    1. You’re right, it is scary but also exciting! My last post was about finding a job when you get back so if it does come to it I’ve shared my experience on there. Keep planning and you’ll be travelling again before you know it! Thanks for reading 🙂

  14. I really like how you said, just start saving. I think a lot of times I try to plan to save, or think I will save after my student loans are paid, or our car is paid off. But traveling will never happen if we keep waiting!

    1. Oh yeah, for years there was always something else I had to do before I could start saving. And it always seems like such a long time, or such a big amount to save. Before you know it you have your flights booked and you’re already planning your next career break! Thanks for reading and thanks for sharing your thoughts 🙂

  15. Such a great article! I really wish we had this when we first quit our jobs to travel back in 2007! I think it will help a lot of people out that want to take the leap.

  16. Good advice! It’s not about throwing everything away but really having a plan and working hard on it! That and lots of courage and support from the closest person. 🙂

    1. Absolutely. Creating a plan that works for you. It’s as simple as that! Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. Hopefully hear from you again soon 🙂

  17. I absolutely love this post. I have never taken a career break but this is also relevant for the way I travel.

  18. Yes there is a lot of planning for this and I love how you mapped it out in 6 steps. Good for for taking off time and living life. I hope to do this someday even if it’s just for 3-4 months. It is an adventure that you will never forget

    1. Definitely, it’s so worth it. And when you create your plan it might seem like a long time to get to where you want to be, but actually it goes super quickly.

  19. Great tips! Honestly reading posts like this makes me so happy that I was so “young & dumb” when I started travelling that I didn’t stress too much about it! I graduated uni, quit both of the jobs that I worked to put me through school and took the 6000 bucks I had saved on a one way ticket to Rome… that ended up being a year long backpacking trip 😂! Obviously the older you get and the more responsibilities you have, the more you have to plan for travel, but it’s SO WORTH IT!

    1. Yeah I think that’s true. I would have loved to have gone after uni but I just wasn’t in the position to, and I kept making excuses. But once we’d created our plan I figured we’d better stick to it. Thanks for reading 🙂

  20. This was a really great read, full of solid advice. We quite our jobs and moved to Korea nearly 2 years ago, and even though we were coming here to work, we still had to go through much of what you described. Really though it was the best decision we ever could have made!

    1. Good to know that you found it similar. Sometimes you’re writing these posts and you have no idea if it’s how everyone else thinks about travelling. Would love to visit Korea some day! Thanks for reading 🙂

  21. This is a great blog for people like me who are always contemplating about quitting the usual life and traveling forever. It is true that planning helps a lot. I wish I can do this some day.

    1. And you can! I think once you make the decision to travel, it’s important to not get to hung up on reasons why you can’t. Like I said, start with small steps, start a piggy bank, start searching for some places you’d love to visit. Once you start doing those small things, they will lead to bigger things and eventually you’ll be travelling the world before you know it! Thanks for reading 🙂

  22. I think what I like most about this is you didn’t get super drastic about your savings and lifestyle changes. You make this sound so doable, though! Our goal is to eventually be able to work from the road, so this gives me a good foundation to start from, as far as planning goes. Thanks so much for this!

    1. Thanks for reading! Really glad you found it useful. I think it’s important to think about your goals as something you can reach in small steps, rather than scary things that seem to far away. Took me a while to learn that though. Good luck with your plan to make money on the road – let me know if you have any tips for that one!

  23. Heh! Amost done! Saved money, approached my work only one thing missing… I want to get a passport of Finland before I go.

    1. Good luck! Hope you get that sorted so you can return whenever you like. Absolutely love your blog, I think you’ve got such a great skill in photography. Thanks for reading 🙂

  24. I took a career break to travel years ago, and it was the best thing I ever did. These are great and very valuable tips to anyone wanting to do the same!

  25. Very good advice for anyone wanting to take a year out travelling. Save, save, save and then travel, travel, travel.

  26. Great advice. Totally agree with your points. I am also currently on my career break after finishing my Ph.D. Still traveling to places I have never been before and that too totally as you said sometimes were planned trips and other times just going with the flow.

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