After deciding that the demanding nine-to-five lifestyle of a preschool teacher was not for her, Michaela Kascak uprooted to the other side of the world with nothing other than a backpack on her back. Now she is in the works of starting her own business, offering health and wellness coaching through her website Barefood and Barefoot. In this interview, she speaks candidly about her personal journey and how it has opened new doors.
Why did you decide to leave your job as a preschool teacher to travel?
I realised that working at the preschool was taking a huge toll on my mental health and in turn, my physical health as well. A lot of people think that being a preschool teacher is like babysitting, but that is not case – at least not where I was teaching.
We followed a curriculum and had to create and implement lesson plans just like any other teacher. But I also had a lot of kids that needed one-on-one teaching for various reasons.
By the time I was 22, I had been on more conference calls and in more meetings with parents, psychologists and more, than anyone should in their whole life. It got to the point where most of my time working wasn’t even spent in my classroom.
I didn’t go away to college for four years like the people around me, so I was missing out on a lot of the experiences many people have in their 20s. Wake up, go to my nine-to-five, eat dinner, sleep, wake up, and repeat.
I spent a lot of my weekends working on lesson plans or just too tired to spend time with my friends. At first I loved having all of this responsibility, but it started to take a toll.
When I realised this, my plan wasn’t to go off travelling. I actually planned to get a nannying job while I finished my bachelor’s degree in early childhood education, and then find a job as a kindergarten teacher. But the day I landed a nanny job, the rest of my life turned upside down.
My boyfriend broke up with me. There’s no elaborate story here, but this was not in my plan and I was someone who needed a plan. I felt lost. I went into work the next day to tell my boss I was taking this position as a nanny… and then I blurted out “or I’m going to Australia.”
My boss’ response was “You need to go to Australia. You’ll feel stuck watching someone else’s child at their house all day. You are a free spirit. You need to go.”
Two days later I bought my plane ticket.
What did you hope to get out of the experience?
Since high school I had hopped from one relationship to the next. I didn’t know how to be alone. I couldn’t even stay home alone without getting anxious.
I have a big family too. I was always in the company of someone. I needed to take some time to learn how to be alone with myself.
You initially went to Australia without a travel plan. Why Australia?
I honestly don’t know why. I really didn’t know anything about Australia except that it was on the other side of the world and I had seen some pictures of beautiful beaches there on instagram.
I think ultimately, I was running away, as far as I could, from the mess my life had become. At least at the time I thought it was a mess. Now I know it was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.
How did you raise money for your travels?
I took what I had. I had some money in savings, and I worked another month before leaving and saved all that I could from that. I also left right before Christmas so I did get some money from family and friends as a gift.
I planned to work for accommodation so I could cut out one of the most expensive costs of travelling.
When you set off, where did you see your career going?
I had dreams. But that’s all they were at the time. Three months before I left, I started down my path of health and wellness. I began eating a vegan plant-based diet, and was doing yoga regularly. It quickly became my passion.
My friend Jacob (@xteam_tofu) is a web developer and helped me create my website. I originally just wanted it as a place to keep all of my recipes and travel pictures.
I started looking at other people who had similar blogs. I came across the Academy of Culinary Nutrition, which offered the Culinary Nutrition Expert Program. I looked into it and decided “maybe one day I’ll do it,” not actually believing that I would. It was out of my price range.
When I left I just planned to be gone for three months and then finish up my bachelor’s degree. I guess I was pretty lost. My passion and dreams did not line up with the path I was on at the time. It all seemed so far out of reach.
What inspired you to take a culinary nutrition expert certification on your travels?
When I was in Sydney, I met this guy who would tell me stories of all the places he had been. They were so inspiring… I decided then that I wanted to continue to travel.
I started to think of ways I could make travelling what I do, not just what I do when I have time off of work and school.
I started by going home and waitressing and saving all I could. That paid for my next few trips around the East Coast and Florida, and then backpacking around Europe, but I ran out of money sooner than I planned.
I needed to find a way to have a good source of income while traveling without paying for work visas or having to come home every couple of months.
I started thinking about the CNE Program, which was online, so I decided I could do it while travelling. There were endless possibilities of what I could do with my certification afterwards.
What did you have to do to obtain the certification?
It’s a 14-week program. Since it was online, it consisted of video modules and a lot of reading. I had to follow and cook recipes and write evaluations on them, as well as develop my own recipes to share with my partner (someone else doing the program, somewhere else in the world). They would then have to make them and do an evaluation on them.
I had to pick a condition to work with throughout the entirety of the program. I chose depression. I had to research and create healing recipes and meal plans for it, and in the end put all of this information together to teach a workshop.
There is a second part of the program where you learn the ins and outs of starting your own business. I start this in a few weeks.
What skills have you developed on your travels that you can apply to your career?
Honestly, I don’t know where to start. When I left for Australia I was very shy. I did not like talking to people I didn’t know.
You can bet that had to change right away, and to my surprise it did. Now I’m like a social butterfly haha. So, people skills. Communication skills. They’re needed to be able run your own business, and to teach workshops especially.
What have you learned from travelling that you would never have been able to learn otherwise?
Confidence. I’m not sure if everyone would consider that something you learn, but I definitely did. Confidence can get you far.
Not just confidence in being able to talk to people, but also that I can do what I set my mind to. That no matter how challenging a situation might be, I can always turn it around and make it into something positive.
It was never easy for me to do. Sometimes it’s still hard, but I’ve come a long way.
I also learned A LOT about myself. I learned what kind of music I was into and how I could use it to help me heal, I learned that I loved writing and that I’m good at it.
I wrote a whole poetry book while in Australia. And my new-found confidence made me copyright it and put it on my website to sell. I never would have done this before. I would have kept it to myself, worried that people would think it wasn’t good.
I learned that I am more than ok on my own. I flourish on my own. I also learned that sometimes you have to let go of things and people, even when you’re not ready, and that everyone you meet, you meet for a purpose. And everything you go through, you go through for a reason. I write about this a lot in my poetry.
What did you learn from your travel career break that you would never have learned otherwise?
I definitely learned I am more independent than I ever thought I would be. When I first moved out of my parents’ house I was always calling my mom about cooking, and even where to find stuff in grocery stores. Now I’m creating my own recipes and teaching my mom about different foods.
I learned that to me independence also means freedom, and I would have never felt independent or free had I decided to continue on the path I was going down. My boss was right when she said I was a free spirit.
What are your plans for the future?
I have so many. I started a dream journal to keep track of them. Some of them are small, some big.
I am currently home, waitressing and just finished up my program. I leave for Thailand in February, and I’m going back and forth between what I will do after.
I have a few bigger plans for the future though. First is to offer health and wellness coaching through my website. The second is to buy a van, recreate it on my own and be able to live in it full-time and travel around the states by 2022.
And lastly, I want to open a vegan café. Somewhere in the world. I have not decided where yet.
What advice would you give to other people considering taking a travel career break?
Just do it. Go for it. Stop putting it off. If you don’t do it now, something will always get in the way. And if you don’t take the leap, you’ll never know what it’s like to fly.
Sure you might fall on your face. We all do once or twice. But you have to in order to appreciate it when you get it right.
Stop doubting yourself, let go of the fear and just leap. You never really know how much time you have left. Another job will come along, but you can’t ever get your time back.
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Do you have a story to tell about a transformational travel career break? We’d love to hear from you. You can get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org.