Career gapper interviews

22 countries in 6 months: a project manager’s travel career break

This interview series tells the inspirational stories of people who have taken travel career breaks.

Anders is a project manager from Denmark residing in Singapore, who decided to take a six-month travel career break with his life partner Ženja in 2018. While his background is in mechanical engineering, he also loves travelling, unicycling, dogs, coffee and Pho. In this interview, Anders talks about his career break preparations, learning to be patient, embracing minimalism, and re-adjusting to working life after returning.

Anders and Ženja started the travel blog Bearly Here when they first embarked on their round-the-world adventure. You can follow Bearly Here on Instagram and Facebook.

Why did you decide to take a travel career break?

It was a long-term dream of mine to travel around the world, and when I met Ženja, I knew she was the right person to do it with. When we were living in Denmark, I got an offer to work in Singapore and took the opportunity. We moved in 2015 and have lived there ever since.

Being an expat changes you a lot. It gives you new perspectives, and enriches you with new acquaintances and experiences. But one thing that we absolutely love about living in Singapore is the opportunity to travel in the region.

We often took a weekend off to explore places like Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia and more. In 2017 we spent some time in Japan. We travelled with our backpacks, took trains and stayed in hostels. We met new people and felt so in love with all the new places we visited that we wanted to see more. And then we knew that we didn’t want to put off our career break any longer.

How did you manage to agree the time off work with your employer?

After we discussed our travel career break and decided that it was now a plan, not just a dream, I went directly to my manager and invited him out for a beer after work.

I explained the situation and told him that I had started to prepare for taking extended time off. I laid down my proposal about how I would finish my projects or make them easy to hand over, and he agreed.

At first it didn’t seem like he gave it a lot of thought, but later on, after a couple of reminders, he realised that I was serious, and he kept his word.

Anders on the train station platform in St Petersburg
Anders on the train station platform in St Petersburg

Before you left, what preparations did you make at work for your six-month absence?

As I wanted to return to the same company after our round-the-world trip, I certainly had to make preparations before I left. I planned all my projects and aligned them for an easy handover, and I prepared my team for the time I wasn’t there.

I informed my clients that I wouldn’t be around for specific parts of their projects, and I tried to ensure that my projects were adequately resourced, and potential risks were mitigated.

What did you do about your living arrangements when you left?

As we didn’t own property in Singapore, it was easy for us to finish the contract with our landlord and leave the rental apartment. We put all our belongings into storage, except for the contents of our 40-litre backpacks.

When we came back, we had to look for a new apartment, so for the first few weeks we stayed in a hostel. Fun fact: after our trip we found an apartment in the same building where we lived before!

Where did you go on your round-the-world adventure, and why did you choose those places?

Our initial plan was to take eight months off, before I realised that I could lose my Employment Pass if I was away from work in Singapore for more than six months.

While we enjoy staying longer in the same location, we also wanted to do as much as possible, identify places we’d like to return to in the future, and visit different continents. That’s why we had quite a busy itinerary!

Originally, we planned to visit New Zealand, parts of South America, North America, Cuba, Balkan countries and take a train through Russia to Mongolia and then to China. But due to having to cut two months off, we skipped the whole continent of North America (except Cuba). We also skipped China due to some visa issues.

Even though we knew approximately where we wanted to go, we didn’t plan the whole itinerary in advance. We adjusted our route to fit certain events, like when we were in Buenos Aires and realised we could make it to Chile for Lollapalooza festival.

We pre-booked our tickets between continents but decided to be spontaneous within them. You can always learn about new locations and cool spots from locals and fellow travellers, so it’s great to have some degree of flexibility.

In total during these six months, we visited five continents and 22 countries, and we enjoyed every minute of it.

Anders and Ženja enjoying the view in Copacabana, Bolivia
Anders and Ženja enjoying the view in Copacabana, Bolivia

What did you learn from your travel career break that you would never have learned otherwise?

I met some very interesting people who have given me a lot of inspiration for future business ventures. We also enjoyed the company of like-minded people and made new friends. Personally, I believe that I have learned to be more patient and obtain knowledge better.

“I had been striving to become minimalist for a while, but travel has definitely helped me to understand that I don’t need to obtain so many new things.”

Sometimes people speak of how travelling around the world completely changed who they are and what their lives look like. I must admit that I thought this trip would give me more clarity on my goals, but it didn’t. It did, however, bring me plenty of new ideas that I am still processing.

There was one other interesting thing I learned. Traveling around with a 40-litre backpack gives you an insight on how many things you actually need in life versus how much you own. And this, I believe, made a big difference for me.

I had been striving to become minimalist for a while, but travel has definitely helped me to understand that I don’t need to obtain so many new things.

How did you find readjusting to life at home after the trip?

When we came back to Singapore, I dived right back into work. It felt like I was entering a new stage of life. Life was the same, but we were somehow different.

We had to find a place to live and settle all our arrangements, but the transition was fairly smooth. Just five days after we came back I went on a work trip to Indonesia for a few weeks, so Ženja handled most of our move.

Afterwards, unpacking was on me, since she left to spend a month in Estonia with her family. Travelling never stops, does it?

Anders with a new friend on the streets of Havana, Cuba
Anders with a new friend on the streets of Havana, Cuba

What was it like returning to work, and is professional life any different now as a result of your career break?

After we landed back in Singapore and I got back to work, everything seemed to be flowing in a similar way to before, except for people asking about our trip.

I won’t lie and say nothing changed – I did take a step back in my career due to the lost time. But I wouldn’t do it any differently. I will catch up, but the experiences I had during my career break are priceless.

Has your travel experience changed how you think about your career in the long term?

Yes, it definitely has. I have started to look into opportunities to run my own company, and I don’t take being an employee as the one and only solution anymore.

What are your plans for the future? Do you intend to travel more?

Yes, over time. I’m currently planning another career break (hopefully in a van!) in a couple of years. And of course, we still take our weekend getaways, vacations and home trips.

I also travel quite a lot for work, which is very different to when you travel for fun. Sometimes you get so tired after a few weeks of work travel that you don’t even want to go away somewhere for a weekend. But then you take a breath and do it all over again.

What advice would you give to someone who is considering a travel break or moving abroad?

Just do it. If it’s something you really want to do, not because it’s popular or because other people do it – go for it! You can keep waiting for the “right time”, but it will never come.

You will never have “enough experience” to move abroad. No one is irreplaceable and your old company will survive and find someone else. But the experience of taking a career travel break is invaluable, and I highly recommend it to people who are passionate about travelling.

What is the worst that could happen? It’s not as bad as you think, and you might actually gain a whole lot more than you dreamed of!

Ženja and Anders on the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu, Peru
Ženja and Anders on the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu, Peru

More career break interviews

If you enjoyed Anders’ story, you might like some of our other interviews with people who have taken life-changing travel career breaks:

Start planning your own travel career break

Feeling inspired? Start planning your own adventure with our six-step guide to making your travel career break a reality.

Our career break resources have the whole process covered, including the essential guide to saving money for a travel career break, how to ask for a sabbatical from work, and finding a job when you return.

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Anders is a mechanical engineering project manager from Denmark living in Singapore. In this career break inspiration interview, he talks about taking a sabbatical to travel the world. #sabbatical #careerbreak #careertips #careeradvice #careerbreakinspiration

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