Brianne Miers decided to leave her high-stress PR career in Boston, Massachusetts, to embark on an exciting new path as a self-employed communications consultant. But rather than jump straight in, she took some time out to prepare for the transition – and to enjoy a six-month travel break.
In this interview, she talks about her career break preparations, her travel experiences, the challenges of returning home, and her new life as a non-profit communications consultant.
While running her consulting practice, Brianne also runs A Traveling Life, encouraging other working professionals to see the world, with a focus on sustainable travel. You can follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
What was your career and life situation before you decided to take a long break to travel?
When I first heard of ‘career breaks’, I was working at a public relations firm in Boston. The job wasn’t a good fit for me, but I also wasn’t sure what else to do. I did know I wanted to travel more – I had had some amazing travel experiences in the few years leading up to that time, including sailing Croatia and Greece with the Yacht Week, and visiting Uruguay and Argentina with friends. I also started thinking about how rewarding it would be to work for myself.
So I decided to leave the firm, and take a year to prepare for both my career break and my transition to self employment. I took two temporary positions with non-profits and spent a lot of time networking.
Personally, I was feeling very stuck and uninspired, and I knew I needed a change. However, I knew I wasn’t interested in a permanent move, because I had purchased a condo in Boston and felt very settled here, and I wasn’t interested in full-time travel because I had a dog who was my priority. So a break seemed like the perfect solution.
What inspired your decision to take a travel career break?
One day while I was still at the PR firm, I got coffee with a woman I know through my university’s alumni club. She told me about some blogs she was following that inspired her to quit her job to travel and pursue a different career path. Although I had tried to travel as much as possible while pursuing my education and career, it hadn’t dawned on me before to take a longer break.
She also told me about an upcoming meet-up of Meet, Plan, Go!*, an organisation founded by photographer and blogger Sherry Ott that encourages career breaks and sabbaticals, so I signed up.
I was so nervous to actually attend the event – I thought I’d be the oldest person there (in my 30s). But the room was packed with travellers of all ages – college students to retirees, and even families with kids – some who were in the planning stages like me, and others who had already returned.
There were breakout sessions on all the different considerations like health insurance and what to do with your house. My wheels really got spinning that night, and from then on, taking a career break was all I could think about!
*Meet, Plan, Go! no longer has active chapters, but there are still resources on the website.
How did the people in your life react to your decision?
Even though most people in my life know me as an adventurous solo traveller, leaving your home, career and dog behind to travel is still seen as quite outside the norm, especially here in the US. At the time, most of my friends had small children, so their lives were very, very different from mine.
I think the most common reactions from friends and colleagues were a mix of surprise and confusion. In addition to being asked “Why would you want to do that?”, I also heard, “Wow you’re so lucky,” which frustrated me because it dismissed all of the careful planning I had done and the risk I was assuming professionally.
Some assumed the trip would cost a fortune, thinking it was more of a vacation – not knowing I’d be staying in hostels and taking public buses – while others expressed concern over my safety (which I’m used to by now).
My parents have long been used to my wanderlust, so they were supportive, and they helped me tremendously by watching my dog.
How did you approach the situation with your workplace, and what arrangements did you need to make before leaving?
I planned the break as a transition between the full-time workforce and self employment, so I didn’t really have a job to return to. Although I did try to keep in contact with colleagues through LinkedIn while travelling.
How did you save and plan for the trip?
I created two Google spreadsheets. One was my monstrous to-do list, which had the status and deadlines of all of my tasks, and the other was a rough budget. I also set up a separate, free checking account through Charles Schwab, and I set aside my savings for the trip there over the course of a few months. (Charles Schwab also reimburses you for ATM fees worldwide, which makes it easy to access cash while travelling and stick to your budget.)
Because my trip was on the shorter side – about six months – and I intentionally chose parts of the world where it’s relatively inexpensive to eat and sleep, I had a fairly modest budget. Also, I saved enough airline miles so that the initial flight to Bangkok was free.
On the home front, I rented out my condo to my friend’s parents, who wanted to be closer to them after the birth of their baby. I basically broke even on the mortgage and utilities, and it was a relief knowing that someone would be able to keep an eye on my place.
“I met like-minded people from all over the world, and we shared some unique experiences together.”
Where did you go on the journey, and were there any big standout moments?
The first part of my trip took me to Southeast Asia – Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Malaysia. I kicked off those few months with a two-week Cambodia adventure tour with Intrepid. I hadn’t taken a group tour since college, but I was feeling a little exhausted after all of the saving and planning, so I wanted someone else to be in charge.
My time in Cambodia was a highlight for sure. I met like-minded people from all over the world, and we shared some unique experiences together like spending a night in the jungle and eating dinner in a local family’s home. In Malaysia, I met up with my good friends from Colorado, Tom and Natalie (who were living in China at the time) to explore the island of Penang, and later explored Sabah with other Colorado friends, Andrea and Steve, who were on vacation.
Toward the end of my time in Southeast Asia, I applied for a job with an adventure travel company in India. So after Malaysia, I flew to their base in Chennai for the second part of my trip. I worked as the social media manager for their Rickshaw Challenge and India’s Cup adventure races, which took me all over southern India to places most travellers have never seen.
In between the two races, I squeezed in a week relaxing on the beautiful beaches of Sri Lanka, which I desperately needed.
How did you adapt to long-term travel – were there any big challenges, and how did you overcome them?
Before I left I kept telling myself, “You’re going to have bad days travelling, just like you do at home”. I know that might sound negative, but I wanted to prepare myself that my trip wasn’t going to be all sunshine and roses 24/7. Having that mindset helped me weather the minor frustrations I encountered along the way (like not being able to find a vegetarian-friendly place to eat lunch during a 100-degree day in Hue, Vietnam, after I had run out of water).
One challenge was that I didn’t meet as many other travellers as I would’ve liked. It seemed like I mostly encountered established ‘gap year’ backpackers, groups who were travelling together, or couples (for example, I was the ‘fifth wheel’ of two honeymooning couples on my Halong Bay sightseeing cruise). However, meeting up with my friends helped break up the solo time.
I also remember reaching a point of sheer exhaustion in Hanoi, Vietnam, so I barely left my hotel room for 24 hours (I had been upgraded to a honeymoon suite by the front desk worker who was worried about me travelling solo, so it wasn’t a bad place to relax!). That was an important reminder to schedule in some down time – just like at home, you can’t go, go, go, or it will catch up with you.
“I returned to face Boston’s snowiest winter on record, I was unemployed, and I was in a relationship that had reached its end.”
Did you learn any big life lessons along your journey that you wouldn’t have at home?
I think all of my travels have reminded me how resourceful I am – that if I can get myself from point A to point B with zero plans and not knowing the language, that I’ll generally be ok in life.
What were the biggest challenges in returning home after your travel career break?
Coming back home was REALLY rough – really, really tough. I returned to face Boston’s snowiest winter on record (108.6 inches!), I was unemployed, and I was in a relationship that had reached its end. It was scary and stressful, to say the least.
However, everything worked out, as it usually does. I soon found a satisfying freelance project along with a really fun job teaching English as a second language to international professionals. I also went to my first travel conference – the Women in Travel Summit (WITS) – in Boston, where I got inspired to start my blog. I’ve since been to WITS every year, and I met women at that first conference who’ve become some of my best friends.
(Also, the snow finally melted – the last bit in July! – and while that relationship didn’t work out, we’re still close friends.)
What inspired you to take a new career direction after your travel break?
I had been planning on making the switch to self employment for a while. I knew I didn’t want to be counting vacation days the rest of my life, and I wanted my personal life and professional life to be more in alignment.
Initially I thought about becoming a freelance travel writer, but quickly learned that’s a hard way to make a living, so I continued my work with nonprofits. On the side I started my blog, took some content assignments for travel companies and wrote articles for sustainable travel publications.
I’ve continued this balancing act for about six years now, and while it’s not always easy, it’s been very rewarding.
“For the past few years, I’ve been working and travelling non-stop. My home was just a place to do laundry before leaving again.”
Do you have plans for the future – where do you see your career going, and do you hope to travel more?
Well, not surprisingly, Covid-19 has forced me to reevaluate and change plans. I’ve accepted it, though. For the past few years, I’ve been working and travelling non-stop. My home was just a place to do laundry before leaving again.
While it’s been a really difficult year – I also lost my grandmother and my dog – I’ve enjoyed getting reacquainted with my other hobbies: reading, gardening, cooking, and volunteering with dog rescue organisations. I’ve also taken a lot of day trips to explore some surrounding towns and gone on some new hikes.
As for work, I plan to keep up my consulting practice. I’ve also been taking on more copywriting work. Eventually, I’d like to move abroad – I’m currently thinking Mexico, Spain or Portugal – and I think copywriting will be something I can do easily from anywhere. My blog, like all other travel blogs, took a big hit with no one travelling, but I do plan to keep that up long term as well.
What advice would you give to other people considering taking a travel career break?
Don’t worry what anyone thinks. As we all learned this year, life is too short to not live it on your own terms. And don’t worry how a career break will look on your resume. After hiding it for a while, I now proudly talk about my travels on LinkedIn and my resume, and potential employers and clients always are excited to ask me about where I’ve been and what I’ve done.
Inspired by Brianne’s story? You can read about more career break travel experiences in our interview series. Our guide to taking a travel career break or sabbatical will help you start planning your own time out.