The idea of taking a career break to travel is surging in popularity. But for many people who would love to do it, life gets in the way. Whether it’s money, time, career concerns or simply fear of the unknown, there are many perceived barriers that still prevent people from taking time out of work to travel.
In reality, most of these barriers can be easily overcome, or don’t exist at all. What’s more, a travel career gap can be incredibly beneficial in the long term for your job prospects, finances and wellbeing. In this article we highlight and debunk the most common excuses for not travelling.
1. I can’t afford to travel
Of all these excuses, the financial barrier stands out above the rest. The number one reason people choose not to travel is because of the perceived expense of it.
The world is better connected today than ever. It’s possible to travel extensively on the most modest of budgets. Contrary to what you may assume, this doesn’t necessarily mean compromising on the quality of the experience either.
It would be disingenuous of me to say you don’t need at least some money to get started. But once you’re away, there are many ways to travel cheaply or freely, and make money as you go.
For accommodation you can house-sit, Couchsurf, camp, or volunteer in hostels. In some parts of the world, homestays are another option. We were accommodated and fed by local families while we went hiking in northern Vietnam, for example.
There’s always the option to find work as you go, or participate in volunteering projects. For activities and living expenses there are plenty of tricks too. Eat in local markets or make your own food. Go to national parks. Take free walking tours. The list goes on.
What do your current monthly living expenses look like? The chances are that your money would go a lot further in many parts of the world.
In Chiang Mai, Thailand, apartment rentals begin at about $150/month. In Lviv, Ukraine, you can rent a two-bedroom apartment for $200/month. For as little as $300/month you can rent a cabina in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Costa Rica.
Like many people, the task of saving to travel seemed almost insurmountable when we started. It took us five years, but we did it. Read our essential guide to saving money for a travel career break to find out how you can too (and it doesn’t have to take that long!).
2. Travel is a waste of money
It’s not always the expense itself that puts some people off travelling. It’s the idea that it’s not a good use of the money even if you have it.
We’ve been brought up to believe that we should spend money on certain things. Owning a house, furnishing it, having a big wedding, buying a car. It’s understandable, then, that the idea of spending money on travel instead of these things can be jarring.
Contrary to established norms, a wide body of research has shown that people who spend money on experiences rather than material things are happier.
If your happiness isn’t worth investing in, then what is?
Besides, spending money on travel doesn’t mean you can never have those other things. You can save them for later, when you may well have a clearer perspective on what you want from life in the long term.
3. I won’t be able to get a job afterwards
The fear of not finding work after travel is one of the biggest concerns that holds people back from taking the leap in the first place. For many people, the perception of job instability is the main drawback.
A study of over 12,000 people by Opodo showed that 54% of UK respondents felt it would be difficult to return to work after taking a sabbatical.
“Every single one of the people we’ve met who have quit their jobs to travel have been back in work within two months of returning.”
It’s an understandable concern, but not necessarily a well-placed one. First of all, there’s a good chance you may not have to leave your job in the first place. Organisations are paying increasing attention to the evidence that taking time out of work is beneficial to business, and a growing number are offering sabbatical arrangements.
Even if you aren’t able to agree a sabbatical contract with your employer, there are still reasons to be positive about your prospects after long-term travel. Every single one of the people we’ve met who have quit their jobs to travel have been back in work within two months of returning.
In an ever-competitive job market, employers look for the extra factors that make you stand out – and travel, if communicated effectively, fits the mould perfectly.
There are many things you can do before and during travel to ensure you’ll find good work afterwards. Read our guide to finding a job after travelling for some insights.
Besides, no job is 100% secure. Imagine deciding not to travel because of job insecurity, only to find you are made redundant anyway.
4. It will harm my career prospects
It’s not just the immediate job insecurity that prevents people from travelling; many also worry about the long-term impact on their career. It’s a common assumption that taking a break from work means stepping off the ladder, even falling down it a couple of rungs.
The truth is that taking a break from your workplace environment does not mean you are stopping your personal development. By taking time out to travel or pursue other goals, you can develop skills that will be hugely beneficial to your career.
Travel can improve your confidence, communication, networking abilities, critical thinking and many other invaluable attributes that translate back to the workplace. Read our article on seven ways that travel will make you better at your job for more on this.
It also provides an opportunity to learn completely new skills, like speaking another language or managing a volunteering project.
Before I took a travel career break, I worked in communications within an engineering sector. One of the top engineers I met was a woman who had earlier taken a year out to travel across South America with her husband and two children. She has now progressed to be a leader and international award-winner within her field.
It’s no longer the norm for careers to follow a single continuous arc. They are increasingly taking a more fluid form of changing waves. Taking time out at regular intervals is an opportunity to reflect on your career direction and reassess. This can only make you happier with your working life in the long term.
5. Travel is for young people
There was a time when the ‘gap year’ was the sole remit of privileged youth, either before entering university or before stepping onto the career ladder.
Not any more. As we outline in our article on what is a career gap, it has become a lot more common for people to take extended travel breaks at any stage of life.
“Your acquired life experience makes it less of voyage of self-discovery, and more about cultural discovery.”
My first travel adventure was a month of Interailing in Europe in 2001. At the time, almost everyone I encountered travelling along the way was a youth like me.
When I took a travel career break in 2017/18, the demographics had clearly shifted. So many more of the people I met were in their 30s, 40s or even older.
There are many benefits of travelling as a more mature adult. Your acquired life experience makes it less of voyage of self-discovery, and more about cultural discovery. You have a clearer perspective of who you are and what you like doing. This enables you to appreciate the experience in a different, more fulfilling way.
6. But I’ve got children!
Nothing shackles your mobility like having a couple of kids in tow, right? Only if you choose to make it so.
There’s no reason why you can’t travel with children. On the contrary, having children is one of the best possible reasons to travel. There are few better forms of education for our little ones than being exposed to different cultures and lifestyles.
This is why many more families are deciding to take their children on the road for a world-schooling ‘edventure’.
Many of the concerns you may have about travel with children may be just as likely to happen when you’re at home anyway. What if they get sick, or don’t like it? These are situations you can deal with. What if it’s dangerous? See number 7 below for that one.
We met many travelling families during our career break. Some were on short-term trips, but others were on the road permanently. In every case, the children were happy, and the families a strong unit.
For families travelling long-term, there is the option of home-schooling. There is a growing trend of people educating their children independently, and more resources available to do it.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of travelling with children is the simplest one. Parents who take their families on the road enjoy a much greater wealth of time to spend with their children. This is great for the parents as well as the kids.
7. It’s a dangerous world out there
If we were to believe everything we read in the media – or take instances of extreme misfortune and violent crime as likely occurrences – we would never step outside our own front doors.
On the very few occasions when tragedy befalls travellers, it draws international attention. When UK backpacker Grace Millane was horrifically murdered in New Zealand, it prompted some to draw conclusions that travel is therefore unsafe, especially for young solo women. The women’s solo travel community was quick to refute this notion.
“Many of the places you may assume to be dangerous are actually just as safe, or perhaps even safer, than where you live.”
A new international data project has revealed that in fact, the world is a safer place today than it has ever been. There is less war, disease, income inequality and poverty than at any point in history.
Many of the places you may assume to be dangerous are actually just as safe, or perhaps even safer, than where you live. According to the World Economic Forum, Rwanda, Nicaragua, Zimbabwe, Mongolia, Malawi and Jordan are among the many countries that are ranked safer than both the UK and the USA.
Of course it’s important to take precautions and be savvy. Check the current government travel advice before deciding where to go. Seek health information and get any vaccinations you need. Speak to locals and avoid dodgy areas at night. Take a padlock for your stuff and use it.
But whatever you do, don’t assume that travel is unsafe. Any preconceptions you do have will probably disappear quickly once you’re on the road.
8. I’ll miss out on big events at home
FOMO (fear of missing out) is a niggling worry for most people who travel. There’s always going to be something going on at home that you will miss – weddings, big birthdays, your favourite bands playing.
Then there’s the biggest fear of all: what if someone close to you gets ill or passes away? You would hate not to be there for your loved ones.
As hard as it seems, big family and social events shouldn’t be a reason to miss out on doing what you really want to do with your life. Look at it this way: would you want someone you love to sacrifice their dreams, just so they can attend your wedding?
The people close to you will understand. If they don’t, then maybe you should reassess your friendship. And of course, if you ever really need to go home for something, you can.
Travelling abroad for long periods of time won’t damage your relationships at home. Lisa wrote about our experiences of this here.
It’s ok to feel homesick, and you probably will. Just know that the feeling will pass. What’s more, it’s easier than ever to stay in touch with people at home. And think about that awesome reunion you’ll have when you do finally return.
9. I don’t have anyone to travel with
Maybe you have big dreams of travelling and would be more than willing to take time out of work, but don’t feel like you can do it on your own. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Travelling solo can heighten the experience in many ways. You have complete freedom over your destiny. Without a companion to always fall back upon, you are pushed to get out there and immerse yourself in the local culture.
What’s more, nobody who travels is lonely for long. If you stay in hostels, take tours, go to classes, or attend festivals and community events, you will soon meet like-minded people. The key is to embrace it and put yourself in situations where you will make positive connections.
I’ve met people who have found their lifelong partners through travel, and others who have been happy to remain travelling alone. I haven’t met anyone, though, who went travelling on their own and regretted it.
10. What if I get ill?
Right up there with the misconceptions about the danger of travel is the notion that you’re likely to get ill when you visit certain places.
In the space of 12 months, I travelled to Ethiopia, the Nile in Uganda, the Amazon in Peru, Bolivia, Fiji, the Philippines, Laos and Cambodia, among many other countries. I regularly ate food from local markets, back-street restaurants and street food stalls. Not once did I get sick.
Our friends over at These Foreign Roads – travelling chefs from Canada – wrote about why street food is safe, for example: “Of the hundreds of meals we’ve enjoyed from street vendors, the rare times we’ve gotten sick were usually due to our own negligence.”
Perhaps your health concerns are bigger than the threat of food poisoning. What if something more serious happens? First of all, remember that this could happen anywhere. Second, get travel insurance! That way you will be covered wherever you go, and, like I said above, there’s always the option to return home.
Why plan your whole life around the fear that something bad might happen? That’s a surefire way to miss out on amazing things. Like travel.
11. It’s simply too much hassle
If you’re settled in a steady job, you’ve got a nice place to live and have acquired a horde of material belongings, the idea of leaving it all to hop around the world with just a backpack may seem like a lot of hassle.
I won’t lie: there is plenty of admin involved in travelling, especially before you leave. Living arrangements, bills, storage, finances, office workload handover – it all takes time to sort. But this should never be a reason not to travel at all.
There’s very little good that comes in life without effort. Yes, a travel career break takes a lot of organisation, but the rewards in the long term are infinitely worth it.
One positive knock-on effect of my own travel career break was that going through this hassle in the short term meant that I now deal with a lot less of it. I learned to live with fewer things. When you return home, the first thing you’ll probably do (after giving your family a big hug) is to de-clutter.
If the whole process just seems mind-bogglingly daunting, start with our article on six steps to make your career break travel a reality.
12. The timing isn’t right
“I’d love to travel, but I’m on course for a big promotion next year.” “I’ve just started seeing someone.” “It’s my brother’s 30th.”
These are just a handful of the many timing-related excuses I’ve heard for not taking a travel career break.
“It won’t take you long to realise that it’s the best decision you’ve ever made.”
If you’re intent on finding an excuse not to travel, you will be able to find one. There will always be a reason why something else is more important.
I was guilty this myself for a long time. It took me until the age of 34 to set off on my round-the-world adventure after many years of procrastinating and putting other things first.
The thing is, it’s never the right time to take a break. It’s also always the right time.
If you want to be serious about taking a travel career break, then stop putting it off. Instead, put yourself in control. Once you’ve taken that all-important step of deciding that you are going to take the leap, the timing issues pale into insignificance.
It won’t take you long to realise that it’s the best decision you’ve ever made.
Inspiring travel career break stories
Feeling inspired? Check out our interviews with people whose travel career breaks have been transformational experiences:
- The teacher who started her own business after a travel career break
- The NYC firefighter embracing van life after travelling the world
- How travel inspired a pre-school teacher to retrain as a nutrition expert
Need any more motivation to start planning your trip? Take a look at these awesome TED talks about taking time out of work to travel.
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