After leaving college, Stephanie Katsaros spent 14 years working in radio and events, a career she enjoyed and thrived in. But after taking an 18-month-long break to travel the world, her life and career took an exciting new direction.
For the last decade, Stephanie has dedicated herself to activating environmental stewardship and social responsibility as the founder and president of Bright Beat. As a respected expert in sustainability, she has built a legacy of award-winning programs across cities, stadiums and special events.
In this interview, Stephanie recalls the greatest memories of her travels, the lessons she learned from the trip, and how it helped lead to her new life venture. At the end, she also shares some recommendations from her experiences over the years.
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Did you enjoy your career working in radio and events?
I had such fun working in radio. There was a lot of pressure in advertising/sponsorship sales, but that was balanced with the great people and fun stuff — music, concerts, other live events. I kinda fell into the journalism side of it, covering music festivals I loyally attended, promoting shows I was excited to see, interviewing artists and turning new audiences onto them. So many unforgettable experiences!
What inspired you to take a break from this career to travel?
To go back a few years… I spent a month with my family in Greece after graduating high school, which inspired me to study abroad. My semester in Spain and summer ‘Interrailing’ through Europe planted the seed – or really the need – to travel around the world for a year. I don’t think there is ever a ‘wrong time’ (well, except during a global pandemic!), but it took me a while to feel ready to leave everything and everyone.
To be honest, after a close elder family member passed away (two had already passed, but it didn’t hit me then), the recognition that now is the time to plan my trip was like a vision, clear as day.
What did you hope to get out of the trip?
Simply put, I wanted to see the world, learn from other people, experience other cultures, do what feels right… whatever that may be. My only self-defined rule was “I’m not allowed to think about what I’ll do when I get home until I get home”.
While travelling, I came to the realisation that I wanted to work on things and with people I believe in, love, and enjoy. Not much of a business plan!
How did you decide where to go and what to do on the trip?
I picked up The Travel Book by Lonely Planet and some graph paper, and made an alphabetical list: of countries I wanted to visit, best months to go, what to do and see.
Based on my “can’t miss” picks, I narrowed down regions, countries, then mapped seasonally preferable travel routes.
What were the big standout experiences of the adventure?
Scuba diving with manta rays as big as semi-trucks in Tofo, Mozambique. Working with talented and inspired musicians, and watching the DJ hit play to release their new single, at a radio station in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Watching the sun rise over the Himalayas during my daily yoga practice and meditating on the banks of the Ganges for a month in Rishikesh, India.
Totally connecting and communicating, including laughing so hard it brought tears to our eyes, with a deaf, mute restaurant owner in Hue, Vietnam. Human language is universal.
What were the biggest life lessons you learned from the journey?
To always be grateful for what I have – as an American borne into privilege and opportunity, and for the abundance that nature provides. In other countries, people rely on fertile soil and fresh, clean water for survival. I don’t know how many Americans are faced with the reality of these diminishing resources.
To find adventure in the mundane, and beauty in everyday things. It seems to happen naturally in foreign places, but this may be even more handy in familiar surroundings and relationships.
Did you find it difficult to readjust after you returned home from the trip?
I felt out of sorts after being away for over a year. Food portions were too big, cars drove too fast, people talked so loud, most social plans seemed to involve alcohol consumption… but I got used to it again, maybe quicker than I’d hoped.
What inspired you to launch your own business after your travel career break?
I came back feeling compelled to do something more, wanting to promote the good work of others and make a positive impact at home on the environment and/with the music community I loved.
More specific inspiration came at a Dead show, just days after I returned from Machu Picchu. Six months later, I was building a recycling program for that venue, and working on other projects that inspired me.
How have your travel experiences influenced how you have approached your work and career since?
That’s a tough question! Hard to pinpoint. I value my diverse experiences, and learning from people with different backgrounds. That appreciation has carried through to people and organisations I’ve hired and partnered with over the years.
What advice would you give to other people considering taking a travel career break?
Instead of attempting to give 2020 travel advice, I would ask: What’s driving your desire to travel and/or take a break from your career? Consider getting creative about how/where to travel, or what might presently quench your thirst for a break/change.
What about, for example, finding adventure closer to home, teaching English or learning another language from another person (not an app), volunteering/working with an organisation celebrating another culture or serving the needs of immigrants or refugees, starting a community group, taking an online class, launching “that” big idea?
Hone in on your motivation, set the course for your exploration, and hopefully it can happen sooner than later.
Some recommendations from Stephanie
After sharing her story with us, Stephanie generously followed up with some travel and experience recommendations based on her adventures:
- Anand Prakash Yoga Ashram, a retreat centre in Rishikesh
- Angela’s Rooms, Stephanie’s home away from home in Mýkonos City, Greece
- Art in Tanzania, unique non-profit volunteer opportunities in Tanzania and Zanzibar
- Sean’s Spring Guesthouse in Tiger Leaping Gorge, China
- The World at 10 MPH by Ward Budweg and Jacky Budweg, a great book for travellers or anybody considering ‘the big trip’
If you’re inspired by Stephanie’s story, you can read more of our interviews with career break travellers. You may also be interested to read Susan’s article on how travel helps with valuing differences in the workplace.
You can start planning your travel career break with our ultimate guide, and buy our ebook How to Take a Year Off Work.
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