Need Time to Travel? A Career Break Might Help

by Gray Cargill on February 15, 2011

At the TBEX travel blogger’s conference last June, I had the opportunity to meet Jeff Jung, who described a fascinating project he was working on:  Producing video travel guides for people planning career breaks.  (A “career break” is just what it sounds like: a break from employment to pursue travel and other interests).  Well, Jeff’s project has taken flight on his website, Career Break Secrets, and I have to say, I’m really impressed with the quality of what I’ve seen.  Today, I interview Jeff to find out more about career breaks and his video travel guides.  Don’t be surprised if, after reading this, you start dreaming about your own career break!

Jeff in Santiago de Compostela Spain

Jeff in Santiago de Compostela Spain

The Career Break

SF: Could you give us an overview of how you came to take your own career break and what you did with it?

JJ: I had been burned out for a long time by the time I made the decision. I had some pretty demanding corporate jobs prior to leaving and I just needed a break. Travel had long been a passion of mine and I decided that it was time to go and explore.  On my break I traveled through South America, Europe, Turkey and Egypt.  One of my big goals was to learn to speak Spanish fluently and learn to ski. Both were accomplished. And now that I live in Bogota, Colombia, that Spanish really comes in handy.

SF:What’s the most important thing, in your view, that a person can do to prepare for a career break?

JJ: I think you need to really think through if a career break is right for you and what you want to get out of it. You will be disrupting your life for a bit, for a month or longer.  So, make your time count so that at the end of it, you can feel good about your decision. Wrap up all the details of your life at home before you go so that way when you are on the road, you can really enjoy your time.

SF: What was the most surprising thing that came out of your career break?

JJ: Good question. I think it was my self-confidence.  I’ve always been a bit of a Type-A personality, happy to charge into any new situation. But, there’s something about long-term travel that makes you feel like you can truly accomplish anything.  You travel around in countries where you don’t speak the language, you don’t know anyone and you don’t know how things work. Yet, you have to figure out where to sleep, where to eat and how to get around.  It gets you back to the basics of life. And, when you realize that you can manage in that kind of environment, you know that you really have what it takes to deal with what life throws at you.

Hiking in Torres del Paine Park

Hiking in Torres del Paine Park

SF: Given the current and projected state of the US economy, do you think this is a good time or a bad time for people to be considering a career break to travel the world?

JJ: If you only look at the macro-economic environment, you could conclude that now is not the time to go. But there are so many individual factors that influence timing.  If you’ve made it through the past few years, you may be ready for a change. CNN just reported that 84% of employed people are going to be looking for a new job this year. I would argue that a good portion of them would welcome taking a career break now before jumping to a new job.  Other factors to consider are your stage of career development, finances and your personal life.

SF: Other than travel and see the world or maybe return to school, what are some other things people do during a career break?

JJ: There are three types of activities that are most popular with career breakers and long-term travelers.

  • Learn something new. This could be a language, cooking or sailing. In my case, as I mentioned, I wanted to learn to ski and learn to speak Spanish fluently.  I met one guy that wanted to learn paragliding and he traveled the world visiting the world’s best paragliding sites.
  • Give back and volunteer.  Professionals have so many valuable skills to share with people and organizations that need them.  Volunteering is very popular. And, I think it’s evident by how many agencies exist just for voluntourism.
  • Explore the world in cool ways.  For some people this may mean simply backpacking and seeing the world overland. For others it’s doing cool hikes, biking around countries, or finding cool train or ferry rides.

SF: The idea behind a career break is that it’s just a break, not retirement.  What is your best re-entry advice for career breakers?

JJ: It really starts before you leave. Update your resume so it’s ready for you when you get back. You will forget some important details about why you are wonderful and how valuable your experience is.  Let colleagues know that you are going to travel and when you’ll be back. Most people will be jealous and even those that may not “get it” will be intrigued by your journey. That will make you a more interesting candidate when you return.  Then, when you do return, don’t hide from your “resume gap.” Be sure to explain clearly why you did it, what you got out of it and how it makes you a strong candidate. If you volunteered or learned a new skill, be sure to highlight that experience.

Jeff Directing

Career Break Secrets Video Travel Guides

SF: Tell us a bit about your video travel guides at Career Break Secrets. What are they about and why should people buy them?

JJ: I think it’s time to evolve the traditional travel guide. They are a great resource for logistics and telling you what to watch out for. But they don’t deliver on specific travel experiences like the ones I just mentioned.  And they do not incorporate the tips and advice of the people who have done it. Through video, I can combine interviews to gather the tips and advice and go film the action as it happens to show the viewer what that travel experience is really like. For example, in our volunteer episodes, I shadowed them during their typical daily routine, got a look at where they live, where they eat, etc.

Our model is sort of like a TV season and we take people to South Africa, Spain, New Zealand, Patagonia and Colombia over 18 episodes. Here are a few other points to know about our guides.

  1. We go deep on the subject and give you real, usable advice and information. Some of that comes from me, but most of it comes from the travelers and organizations on the ground.  You want to volunteer? Great. Hear from them directly what it’s like. Not sure what questions to ask before you go on a long hike like the Camino de Santiago or Torres del Paine park? Great. Let’s find out what the people in those places packed and what they advise for others.  Compare us to The Travel Channel. They are in the entertainment business and provide travel-related entertainment. But at the end, you aren’t necessarily a smarter traveler. We give you the information to help make you a smarter traveler and plan better by entertaining you. It’s a subtle but important difference. Entertainment is what The Travel Channel provides.  Entertainment is how we deliver information.
  2. We make the planning simple and organized. In one episode of roughly 20-25 minutes, we will tell the story of the travel experience. Then at the end we’ll answer the 5Ws and 1H about the experience and give our “Top Secrets” for the really key things you need.
  3. We will save you time and focus your planning. Yes, there is a lot of good information out there. But much of it is incomplete, biased and even for the good stuff, you still have to sort through it all.  In an episode, we can filter through it all and focus your planning on the key things you need to know to plan for, what questions to ask, etc. The intent is that by the end of each episode, you know exactly what you need to do to get planning and have a better experience as a result.
  4. Stories are told by an independent traveler, Jeff. I’ve traveled around, I’ve been had by the world’s best salesman, and I know what it’s like to travel for a long time. I know that people want to make their trip count. So, I’ve sought out topics for the episodes that I know people are looking for. I solicit the organizations to help me tell the stories I want to tell, not to tell the marketing story of the organizations who have services to sell the traveler.  Finally, I report “on location.” We’re experiencing it ourselves as we film.
  5. This isn’t your average YouTube video. There’s a lot of crappy travel video out there. Most of it is only entertaining to the people who know the person who made it.  We take a lot of care to shoot it professionally, pay attention to audio and most importantly, tell a coherent story that inspires, entertains and, most importantly, helps people plan a better trip.
  6. It’s a digital product. This is a product that won’t add to your weight while you travel. So many people travel with a laptop and/or an iPod these days. You can load the episodes on the devices you’re already taking with you so you can watch and re-watch. We like to say that since it’s digital there’s “No weight. No wait. No waste.”

Final Thoughts

SF:   Any final advice for people considering a career break?

JJ: If you’re thinking about doing it, know that there are thousands of people who do it every year. Get online and you will be instantly connected with people who are out there now. The community is very passionate about career breaks. And, because there are so many different types of people doing it, you will soon find others who are similar to you. We actually have an interview series called “Who’s Out There Now” that highlights the people out there traveling the world. We’ve interviewed singles, couples and families who are on the road.

Thank you, Jeff, for sharing your personal knowledge about career breaks and information about your travel guides with us.

For those of you reading this who are now curious, here’s a taste of what Career Break Secrets videos have to offer:

Jeff Jung is the host of the web travel show, the Career Break Secrets Video Travel Guide Series.  A career break veteran since 2007, Jeff has traveled to 27 countries and speaks 3 languages.  He knows how to get around countries, get the most out of travel, stay on budget and connect with locals.  Jeff is based out of Bogota, Colombia.
Alice February 15, 2011 at 7:54 pm

Couldn’t agree more on this! There’s a lot of ways if you really want to travel.

Tracyantonioli February 15, 2011 at 12:05 pm

wow–did you post this specifically for me??? i just came out of the taking-a-year-off ‘closet’ at work last week, which has made it so much more real to me. starting in june of this year, i will have 14 months off to travel and write. i could not be more excited–but it’s fantastic to know there are other out there just as ‘crazy’ as i am. thanks for this post!

Gray February 15, 2011 at 6:15 pm

Tracy! Congratulations! Where are you going first?

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