Krista Canfield McNish left a job she loved to travel the world. After a one-year journey with her husband across ten countries, she founded Canfield McNish Consulting, her own successful PR and communications consultancy, and FoodWaterShoes, a fashion, food and travel website.
Before taking a travel career break, Krista had worked as a television journalist for NBC’s KDLT-TV and as a corporate communications professional at LinkedIn, Gogobot and Horn Group. In her new venture, she uses her creativity to help scrappy Silicon Valley tech companies and global travel brands tell their stories to the right audiences.
In this interview, Krista talks about her travel experiences, her career transformation, and how taking extended time off work also enabled her to spend cherished time with family.
All photos courtesy of Krista Canfield McNish.
What job were you doing before you took a career break?
Before I took a full year off to travel, I was the vice president of communications at a travel technology startup called Gogobot (which has since been acquired by Skyscanner).
Why did you decide to leave the job to travel?
On July 1, 2016, both my husband and I quit our corporate jobs in order to travel. It was hands down one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
During our time off, my husband and I travelled to ten countries, I spent time with family members when they were sick/unwell, we got to truly enjoy our wedding and honeymoon (we got married in September 2016 abroad in Lyon, France) and now I’ve had the opportunity to own my own corporate communications consultancy which has been incredible career experience as well.
How did you plan and save for your travel career break?
I absolutely adored my job, so I wanted to make sure that I gave my boss and my team an ample amount of time to prepare for my departure.
I pulled our CEO aside two months before my last day, and told him about our plans for a year of adventure so that I could help the team find a wonderful replacement. As it turns out, a good friend and former co-worker of mine from a previous job was able to step in and take over my role, so I knew the company would be in terrific hands.
My husband and I used miles that we had saved up over the years for a number of our flights and hotel stays, but we also used our adventure as an opportunity to stay with friends. I have great memories of sitting in my friend’s apartment having her do henna on my hands before we left Mumbai, and of going wine tasting with our friends in Australia.
What did you aim to get out of the experience?
Initially we aimed to knock a bunch of long-haul travel experiences off of our bucket list in one fell swoop. We knew if we didn’t take a significant amount of time off it would have taken us years to tackle trips to places like Australia and India that really require weeks, not days, to explore.
It was also important for us to be able to truly unplug, so we could spend the days before and during our wedding with our friends and family.
Where did you go, and what were the standout experiences of your travels?
We got to get a taste of Australia, Cuba, Denmark, Finland, France, India, New Zealand, Norway, Spain and Switzerland during our dedicated time off.
Seeing wild tigers in their natural environment in India was amazing, as was eating our first custard apple with one of my best friends at a market in Mumbai. Swimming with the giant whale sharks in Exmouth, Australia is just incredible and I get a bit speechless even just thinking about how tiny you feel beside a creature that’s so massive.
We also enjoyed oodles of great family dinners in places like Cuba and France. There are a lot of funny memories too. I’ll never forget the time our classic car broke down by the side of the freeway while my husband, his mom and my dad were driving from Havana to Viñales, Cuba.
What did you learn from your travel career break that you would never have learned otherwise?
One thing our travel break taught me that I wasn’t expecting was to spend time with the people you love and care about now.
Too often we wait until someone is sick or unwell to be with them. Some of the best memories I have from our time off involve us being with my uncle before he passed away. I’m not sure we would have dedicated as much time to visiting him and my aunt in Southern California while he was still in good health had we not taken our career break.
“I’ll forever be thankful that I got to have those moments with him before he became gravely ill.”
My last memory of him is showing him pictures of our wedding alongside my hubby and my aunt while he was still energetic, upbeat and cracking us all up with his great sense of humour. I’ll forever be thankful that I got to have those moments with him before he became gravely ill.
How did you find re-adjusting to working life after you returned from the journey?
When we first took our break I thought for sure I’d go back to working full time in a company once we wrapped up our travelling.
Starting my own business was a pipe dream. I never imagined that I’d own my own consultancy. I was fortunate in that I have worked with some incredible people who started sending work my way.
My business has completely grown via word of mouth referrals, which is incredible. I’ll usually get a note from someone I’ve worked with in the past saying, “I really enjoyed working with you and I know someone who could use your help, might you be interested in working with them?”
What has been the biggest challenge of starting your own consultancy?
The hardest part has been turning down business or walking away from client relationships that aren’t a great fit. Learning how to say no in order to make space to work on projects that are fulfilling, is a skill that I may not have picked up if I hadn’t started my own firm.
Is life different now to before you took a travel career break? If so, how?
There’s a lot more snoring in the office (from our rescue dog) that’s for sure. I’d like to think that my relationships with the people I care about in my life are a lot stronger than they were before my travel break.
Speaking foreign languages imperfectly and learning about different cultural norms has definitely given me more of a reason to pause and be empathetic towards others.
“The world is a lot less black and white to me now. I see a lot more colour, nuances and spice.”
Now I try to spend more time understanding where other people are coming from and do my best to understand the experiences that they’ve had, rather than just wrestling with how I feel about a situation. The world is a lot less black and white to me now. I see a lot more colour, nuances and spice.
How do you balance working life now with your passion for travel?
Luckily the work I specialise in can be done remotely. I’m just as happy pulling together a news story for a client from my desk in the Bay Area as I am in a coffee shop in Cascais, Portugal. In many ways, my travel experiences have helped me connect with clients that I might not have otherwise stumbled upon.
Constantly interacting with different people, tasting different foods, seeing unique art and being out of my comfort zone also gets my creative juices going which is important in my line of work.
What advice would you give to other people who considering taking a travel career break?
If you yearn to travel, ask yourself what’s holding you back. Assess your own personal situation. Being abroad for a week on vacation is totally different then staying in a foreign country for more than two weeks.
After the two-week mark you slowly stop being a tourist and begin having to learn how to do normal life stuff like cooking, doing laundry and getting grocery shopping done.
Spend time weighing the obstacles in your life and thinking critically about the ones that are likely to get better or worse over the coming years. When we thought about taking our time off, our immediate family members and friends were in good health. We were physically fit. The job market was strong. We didn’t have kids or dependents we needed to take into consideration.
“A travel career break can take a number of different forms and is whatever you want it to be.”
We also knew that any of those things could change, and that we might be less likely to take a career travel break if those changes occurred, which is why we pounced on our adventure opportunity when we did.
I’d also encourage you to talk to other people who’ve taken a break. Get their thoughts on the pros and the cons. There are definite pluses like getting to see and experience a place that you’re curious about the way you want to see it (rather than waiting until your health fails or political tensions make it tough to visit a place).
There are downsides too. Being sick abroad is no fun, not everything goes according to plan and it won’t be an Instagram photo montage all the time. I’d also say that it helps to be honest with yourself. Being on the road and on the go isn’t a great match for everyone and that’s okay.
A travel career break can take a number of different forms and is whatever you want it to be. It could be asking your current job for a short sabbatical, putting down roots in a foreign city for a year or taking six weeks off for a staycation at home before you start a new job.
If planning is the part that feels daunting to you, there are a lot of interesting companies out there like Hacker Paradise, Remote Year, The Intern Group, Unsettled and others that can help you with the logistical side of things.
The most important thing is that your break is fulfilling for you. It’s less about checking off boxes, impressing other people or seeing a certain number of countries. Focus on making your break more about helping you be a happier you, and you’ll already be taking a step on the right path.
More career break interviews
Inspired by Krista’s story? You can start planning your own travel career break today.
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