Guest Post: How to Take a Career Break to Travel

Intro from Jenny: One thing that has always been important to me is sharing a variety of career perspectives on this blog beyond my own personal choices. Not everyone wants to work nights and weekends on a side hustle or quit their job to become self-employed — nor should they feel the pressure to!

That’s what I love about Alexis Grant, today’s guest poster. Alexis advocates taking a career break to travel, which can sometimes feel as nerve-wracking to ask for as giving your two-weeks notice (perhaps moreso because you have more at stake if you don’t plan on leaving).

Alexis interviewed me for two US News & World Report articles when my book came out (Treat Your Career Like a Smart Phone and Can I afford to take a sabbatical?) and we’ve kept in close touch since. I’m thrilled to share her work here at LAC today for any of you contemplating how to take a travel break without completely uprooting your career.

How to Take a Career Break to Travel (by Alexis Grant)

Alexis Grant in Madagascar

When I left my job to backpack through Africa, friends and colleagues often said to me, “I wish I could take a trip like that.”

Yet they didn’t follow that phrase with when they planned to go or where they would visit. Instead, they almost always followed it with a sentence that started with “But.”

  • BUT I can’t leave my job.
  • BUT I don’t have the money.
  • BUT I have a mortgage.

The truth is, we all have our own BUT. It wouldn’t be a BIG, HAIRY, SCARY GOAL, as Jenny calls it, if it didn’t include at least one. Without the BUT, it simply wouldn’t be a dream.

My BUT was my job. I was working as a reporter at one of the country’s largest newspapers, the Houston Chronicle. I got to write stories about flesh-eating bacteria and rodeo cowboys and Death Row. It was the job I’d wanted all through graduate school, and I knew other journalists my age who were stuck covering board meetings for the town weekly would take my place in a second. How could I leave that behind?

I made the jump because I feared my desire to travel might not last forever, that riding in a crowded bush taxi would lose its appeal as I got older. I worried that if I didn’t follow my travel whims in my twenties, I might never do it.

So after three years in the workforce, I headed to Africa, where I traveled through seven countries in six months – and then got a new job when I got back. I socked the hell out of my BUT. And yet, I totally get it when a wannabe traveler feels trapped by seemingly unbeatable obstacles.

That’s why I wrote How to Take a Career Break to Travel. Because no matter how many BUTs you have, it’s possible to overcome all of those obstacles if you really want to make travel a priority.

In fact, this applies to more than taking a career break. It applies to any dream: landing a new job, publishing a book, taking any part of your life to the next level.

So when you find that three-letter word stopping you in your tracks, ask yourself: How can you work around that BUT? Or how can you face that challenge head-on?

In my new guide, I break down several major BUTs that keep wannabe travelers from seeing the world.

Chances are, even if your dream isn’t backpacking through Africa or museum-hopping in Europe or buying an around-the-world plane ticket, these BUTs have still forced their way into the picture. In some way, they’re probably infringing upon your Big Dream.

BUT: Career
Common obstacle: But if I leave my job, I won’t be able to find one when I get back!
How to work around it: Use your trip to enhance your resume. Rather than bumming through Latin America, give yourself an objective, like learning Spanish or volunteering with a non-profit or growing an awesome travel blog. If you gain skills during your travels, you’ll be a more marketable, more desirable worker when you return home, one employers would be foolish not to hire.

BUT: Money
Common obstacle: A career break is so expensive!
How to work around it: If you travel frugally, it will probably cost less to live on the road than it does at home. But since you won’t have a full-time paycheck coming in, you’ll have to save money to make this work. This is probably more doable than you think. Rather than minimizing your expenses to squeeze out savings, focus on maximizing income through your Side Hustle.

BUT: Housing
Common obstacle: But I have a mortgage!
How to work around it: Rather than thinking of this as a dream-stopper, approach it as a challenge, and think outside the box. Could you sell your house without taking a big loss? Don’t get sucked into the old-school rule that you have to own a home if you’re an adult. Plenty of us rent housing instead to give ourselves the flexibility we crave. If you can’t sell, could you rent out the property during your career break? Becoming a landlord can be a hassle, but it can also bring in some nice cash.

These BUTs aren’t actually as powerful as they look. They may feel intimidating, but once you check them out up close, you’ll see they’re not nearly scary and hairy as they appear from afar. Here’s my trick for wading through the scary and hairy: divide and conquer. Break those BUTs down into manageable bits, and tackle them one by one.

This tactic can work even if your BUT is something entirely different than a career break. If what you want seems totally undoable, how can you chip away at that goal, little by little? How can you get it within your reach?

My favorite tool for getting goals within my reach is one you might use already: the to-do list. 

You probably have to-do lists for your apartment (do laundry, fix the television, throw out the expired milk). And maybe for your job search, if you’re looking for a new job, or for your wedding, if you’re preparing to get hitched. We create to-do lists (and litter our desks with Post-Its) because they help us get that big thing accomplished.

So why not have a to-do list for your Big, Hairy, Scary Goal?

Get it all down on paper (or Evernote or Google Docs or whatever note-taking tool you prefer):

  • What tasks stand between you and this goal?
  • Can you break down those tasks even further, creating a to-do list of totally doable mini-tasks? (Hint: the Google spreadsheets Jenny’s mastered work super well for this.)

Rather than writing off those BUTs as impossible to overcome, break them down – divide and conquer – and be creative about answering the “how.” Before you know it, your Big, Hairy, Scary Goal will be more achievable than you thought.

What BUT gets in the way of your Big Dream – and how can you conquer it?


Alexis Grant HeadshotAlexis Grant is a journalist, social media strategist and author of the eguide, How to Take a Career Break to Travel. She is writing a travel memoir about backpacking solo through Africa and serves as managing editor of BrazenCareeristIf you liked this post, sign-up for her newsletter, which will help you take that Big Leap you’ve been waiting on. Follow Alexis on Twitter @AlexisGrant.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Michelle October 20, 2011 at 4:12 pm

Hi! I stumbled across your blog a while ago and I’m now a follower :) 

I definitely feel the same way you felt a few years ago! I’m scared that my NEED to travel will die down after graduating college–that’s also my big BUT, by the way–along with the student loans etc. Oh dear haha. 


Alexis Grant October 21, 2011 at 1:03 am

It’s so easy to let the BUTs take over! Don’t let them win. Finishing college — that’s a solid goal. But you can start scheming NOW for what you’ll do when you achieve it.


Ryan MacDowell October 21, 2011 at 2:50 pm

This really clicks for me Alexis, thanks for the post! It’s so important for us to test our assumptions before resigning to the ‘fact’ that something just isn’t possible. I love how you say to divide and conquer the BHSG’s through mini-tasks – that’s definitely been the best way for me to build momentum in tackling ‘impossible’ projects.


Alexis Grant October 23, 2011 at 7:00 pm

You sum it up super well, Ryan!


Dennis October 22, 2011 at 6:45 pm

This was a fantastic article.  I recently graduated and work for a big tech company, but it seems so unfulfilling.  I really want to save up for a year or two and do a world tour.  Did you plan everything out on your trip to Africa or was most of it impromptu?  Did you have anything you set out to learn from the beginning?


Alexis Grant October 23, 2011 at 7:03 pm

Hey Dennis — Yes! This is what I write about extensively in my new guide. A lot of it was impromptu, but I did plan a flexible itinerary from the beginning and bought most of my plane tickets ahead of time. Beyond that, I figured out a lot of the details as I went.

In terms of what I wanted to learn, I had two goals: 1. Improve my French (that’s why I chose all French-speaking countries) and freelance for newspapers and magazines along the way. That helped me add some unique work experience to my resume.

If you’re thinking about making this move, I say GO FOR IT! You won’t regret it, Dennis. Keep me posted! And feel free to email me if you have any other questions: Good luck!


Denene October 22, 2011 at 7:17 pm

 One of the big goals that I’m thinking about for 2012 is to test out new cities in the US that I’ve been curious about living in. Thanks for the inspiring post!


Alexis Grant October 23, 2011 at 7:03 pm

 Oooh, I like this goal! Double the reason to do it :)


Self Storage Investing October 24, 2011 at 8:45 pm

I love the idea of taking time off work to travel. I think traveling helps you overall in life.


Will Flannigan October 25, 2011 at 2:27 am

Hey Alexis,

What you’re doing here is great.  Keep up the good work!  Generation Y happens to be a passion of mine, I’m glad to see somebody else shares my enthusiasm for our generation.

Will Flannigan
Special Features Editor
Buzzbin Magazine


Terri October 29, 2011 at 2:15 am

Kudos for figuring out a way to travel despite all the obstacles (and excuses!) we have in our path. I always feel you can make time (and apply resources) to anything you want to…you just have to do it!


Anonymous October 29, 2011 at 12:32 pm



Emily Miethner November 6, 2011 at 3:08 am

This is one of my biggest goals…to travel around Europe for at least 3 months — 6 would be better! My but is that I’ve started a really great group called NY Creative Interns that I don’t want to leave. So I hope that in a couple of years when it’s running solidly, I could take a leave. Not sure how that’d work…but this article gives me a bit more hope. Thanks for writing!


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