Dave and Becca Jackson had bought a house and settled down in the UK in their early 20s, working in steady 9–5 finance jobs. But an unexpected conversation with their gym manager steered the young couple on a journey to more than 60 countries.
Now in their 30s, Dave and Becca are on their third epic travel career gap, journeying across Latin America. In the years between their adventures, they have got married, bought and renovated a new house, found ways to travel even more, and always been able to find new jobs.
In this interview, Becca talks about the career gap mindset, their approach to finding work in between, navigating natural disasters and political unrest, making time for family, and all of the adventures along the way.
You can follow Dave and Becca’s adventures on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and on their travel blog Bring Us That Horizon, where they hope to inspire others to travel, step out of their comfort zone and embrace their inner adventurer.
What were your career situations before taking your first travel career break?
I was aged 22 at the time, and was working in a branch of Lloyds TSB (as it was then) in my first ‘proper, grown-up’ job and really not enjoying it that much!
Dave was 23 and was working for a debt solutions company, advising those in sticky situations on how to get their finances back in order. You can imagine the exciting conversations we had over dinner each evening!
Why did you decide to leave your jobs and take a travel break?
We’d launched into ‘grown-up’ life young, buying a house three years previous and both working classic 9–5 full-time jobs. I guess we thought this was what life was all about, and while we were not fully contented with it, we didn’t really know anything else was possible.
The turning point, ironically, came after joining our local gym. When you joined, they enrolled you onto an induction programme that included the expected exercise plan, a chat about healthy eating and – strangely – a chat about your life goals and aspirations!?
So, a week later, I sat in front of Phil the gym manager and pondered his question: “What do you want out of life?” What a question! I stammered under his patient stare. “Erm… well, I guess I’d like to see the world”.
Phew, I’d given him an answer! “So what are you doing about fulfilling that dream?” That had me stumped! “Nothing” I admitted, rambling about how I had responsibilities, a job, a house… He wasn’t deterred, and reminded me that these things shouldn’t stop me.
Later that evening I recounted my conversation with Phil to Dave, and the seed was planted. From there we started planning and saving for our ‘once in a lifetime’, year-long career gap adventure.
What were the biggest logistical challenges when preparing for your first travel career break?
Money! Haha! We started planning and saving about 18 months before our departure date, and with big aspirations for a year-long travel, money – or rather a lack of it – was our biggest challenge.
We cut back on spending wherever we could, and I decided to try and supplement my more modest wage by becoming an Avon rep in the evenings. Strangely, walking the streets in the dark, snowy winter evenings wasn’t something I enjoyed alone so, cue “Dave the Avon lady” – “Avon calling!”
Another logistical challenge was obviously what to do with our house. We set about gaining permission from the mortgage company to rent the property, finding tenants and a company to manage the let while we were overseas.
Where did you go on the adventure, and what are the most special memories from it?
We started in Eastern Europe, backpacking overland from Poland, through seven countries, down to Bosnia. The biggest highlight was Budapest, Hungary, which we just loved. Initially we booked for three nights but ending up staying for a week. Along with a last-minute, Croatian island-hopping, week-long boat trip that we managed to secure really cheap as it was the last week of the season and it had places going spare.
We then flew to Beijing, China, and again worked overland through Southeast Asia along the classic ‘banana pancake’ backpacker trail to Singapore (also nipping over to Bali to spend a week on the Gili islands for some R&R after all that hard work!).
Our favourite country was without a doubt Malaysia. We loved the cultural mix, the food influenced by this, and of course the stunning beauty of the Perhentian Islands.
From Asia we flew to Australia for a couple of months and completed the backpacker initiation programme that is the east coast, before ending in New Zealand where we spent six weeks in the world’s tiniest campervan, exploring both the north and south islands.
If we could convince our families to move to Australia, we’d be there in a shot and to this day, having travelled to many more countries, I still think New Zealand may have the most awe-inspiring scenery we’ve ever seen!
“While we were very excited to see our family and friends after 11 months, there was a distinct feeling of unfinished business!”
Was it difficult to readjust to life back at home after you returned from the first trip?
Returning home was both exciting and disappointing. We had planned on continuing our travels to South America. However, a volcano in Chile had other ideas and decided to spew ash all over the Pacific, preventing all but the most ridiculously expensive alternative flight routes from New Zealand.
So, while we were very excited to see our family and friends after 11 months, there was a distinct feeling of unfinished business!
‘Normal life’ resumed as we moved back into our little house, and both managed to secure decent jobs once again.
What led to your second big adventure?
It was that feeling of unfinished business. We finally got married, a big expense we had put on the back-burner to allow our first trip, but without really vocalising our plans we continued to scrimp and save, slowly adding to our travel pot.
Preparing was a little easier as we knew more what to expect from the first time. However, there was an element of “are we crazy?”, and “can we really get away with two career gaps on our CVs – what will potential employers think?”.
But we chose not to dwell on that too much and decided we’d worry about it when we got back.
“Our second ‘once in a lifetime trip’ started in India.”
Where did your second travel career break take you, and what lessons did you learn from it?
Our second ‘once in a lifetime trip’ started in India, spending three hectic but amazing weeks there. Indian food is our absolute fave! Next on the itinerary was Nepal, but sadly the awful 2015 earthquake in Kathmandu occurred a few days before our scheduled flight in. A quick change of plans allowed us to revisit Malaysia for a few weeks before heading on to South Korea.
The majority of our time on our second trip was spent in Australia making use of our working visa. We worked and lived in both Perth and Melbourne for three-month stints, broken up with an epic adventure in a dreadfully unreliable (but utterly lovable) 1982 campervan we bought to travel the length of the west and south coasts. It was three months of BBQs, incredible wine, pristine beaches and exotic wildlife. What’s not to love?
A quick pit stop in New Zealand to visit a friend, and then we were then finally on our way to South America! Two months spent exploring Argentina, Chile and into Bolivia.
We emerged from a three-day, off-grid adventure across the Salar de Uyuni from San Pedro de Atacama in Chile to messages from home that no traveller wants to receive: “Call home as soon as you can”. My step-dad had become very unwell, and was in intensive care. The next 72 hours were a bit of a blur, but we arrived back in the UK to be with family.
I think the main thing we took away from our second trip was the realisation that we love campervanning, the world seems to get bigger the more places you visit, and there is no right or wrong way to travel. If you love what you are doing, and you are not causing harm to anyone else, then you are doing it right! (Maybe there is a right way!)
How have you kept your passion for travel satisfied in the years at home between your big adventures?
Our next stint at home lasted nearly six years, which was a little longer than expected due to a global pandemic! During this time, we bought and fully renovated a new home, which we both now love.
This, however, didn’t keep the travel bug at bay. We class any year at work that we haven’t exceeded our holiday allowance as a wasted year, and we would never book a day’s holiday for just sitting at home!
We’ve had some wonderful holidays travelling across Italy, visiting Cuba and Belize, lounging on the beach in the Dominican and Cape Verde, and spending the most amazing three weeks in South Africa and Kenya for our honeymoon.
However, our most incredible adventure in between our career gaps has to be climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. We took on the challenge with my brother and his fiancée to raise money for the Motor Neuron Disease Association. Sadly, my step-dad passed away from the condition, and this was our way of giving something back to the charity that had helped our family through a very difficult time.
The pandemic forced us to look closer to home for our adventures, which embarrassingly we hadn’t done much of before. We bought a VW campervan during lockdown and had so much fun driving the NC500 in Scotland, weekends in the Lake District and holidaying in beautiful Cornwall.
As restrictions eased up, we were able to take our van, affectionately called ‘Moose’, a little further afield, spending two weeks in France’s Loire Valley in the summer and a week exploring the Christmas markets in France and Belgium.
“Gone are the days when people worked for the same company for 20 years.”
Did you find it easier to get back into work and resume your careers after the second trip? Any tips on this?
As we mentioned earlier, this was something we had been worried about before the second trip, but having come back under difficult, unexpected circumstances we didn’t have time to think much about it and just got on with finding a job.
We were both able to secure jobs in finance within a couple of weeks, with no problems at all.
I do think the world is changing, even more so post-pandemic. Gone are the days when people worked for the same company for 20 years. Our view is that a manager who cannot recognise the invaluable life skills that travelling gives a person or isn’t willing to take you as you are, flight risk included, is not worth working for.
Having both been managers responsible for recruitment of our teams we find someone’s personality and drive is far more important than skill-set and experience. An open, willing person can be taught the necessary skills, but it is very difficult to change someone’s attitude to work.
Dave has worked in sales most of his life and knows a salesperson without a goal is an unsuccessful one, and being able to afford to travel is as good a goal as any. Be honest about who you are, and give any job your all, no matter how long you are in it for.
You are now on your third travel career break. What inspired this one, and where have you decided to go this time?
I think this career break has been on the cards since our unexpected return from the second. South and Central America remained largely as unfinished business. For those who are a fan of the film, “Gone in 60 seconds”, you could say the Americas were our Eleanor!
So, you can probably guess where we headed! Well, first, a slight curve ball. Wanting to make the most of our VW camper, we decided to spend three months in Europe from June to September 2022. We travelled through 14 countries in total (including a few little-uns – Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Andorra and San Marino!).
Then we flew to Brazil, travelling across the Pantanal into Bolivia, Peru and Argentina, right down into the depths of Patagonia. What an incredible ride!
The plan was to fly back to Peru after Christmas, as we had only nipped in during dry season to do the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu prior. However, civil unrest in the country caused a slight hiccup to this plan. Plan B, instead of working north Mexico, we decided to fly to Cancun and work our way south.
As we conduct this interview we are sat on the patio of our hostel in Copan Ruinas, Honduras, looking out at the surrounding jungle and keeping an eye open for the distinctive flash of the red feathers of the scarlet macaws that live here.
What have the people in your life made of your career-gapping travel lifestyle – have friends and family been supportive of it?
Our friends and family know us well and have been really supportive of our lifestyle. My younger brother, Stephen, came out to join us for three weeks when we were in Australia, and while he hasn’t embarked on any long trips yet I’m pretty sure we gave him a good taste of the travel bug too!
Dave’s 16-year-old niece, Ashley, follows our travels keenly and is counting down the days (ahem years!) until she can go on her own adventures.
Our mums are very supportive. Dave’s had a statue of Buddha on her mantlepiece that she talks to daily to ‘ensure our safety’, and my mum agreed to move into our lovely home and rent her own flat out to strangers to help facilitate our travels.
What do you hope the future has in store for you when you return home for a third time?
A better work–life balance. Although we absolutely have had the most epic adventures on our career gaps, our hopes for the future would be to be able to travel more frequently, for less time.
We’ve found that the older we get, the more we miss our family, and so if we could return to jobs we love, in our home we love in the UK, and still travel for two to three months each year, that would be the dream.
We have started our own travel blog during our current adventure for a number of reasons. Firstly, having relied heavily on other blogs over the years, we’d like to give something back to help other travellers.
Secondly, most of our friends and family come to us for advice on travel which made us realise that maybe, after travelling to 60 countries together, we do know something about travel and we can share our experiences and top tips with budding travellers too.
And finally, if there’s a chance we may just make a penny or two to help fund future trips, that would be the icing on the cake!
Inspired by Dave and Becca’s story? See our guide to taking a travel career break or sabbatical to plan your own adventure, or read more stories in our career gap series.