Why taking a career break to travel will help you get ahead at work

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Fancy a career break to go traveling? Taking time out from your job is no longer the domain of the feckless. Instead, it’s a powerful strategy for getting ahead (writes Anna Brech).

With a growing body of research pointing to the relationship between wellbeing and productivity, we know that happier people perform better at work.  Here’s why taking a break could be the savviest career move you pull:

A career break can help you to pivot

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By the time you hit your thirties or forties, you may have been in your current role for a number of years. Maybe you like the company and the working culture, but the job itself is becoming stale. You crave new projects, different responsibilities, a fresh outlook.

Taking a career break to travel can be a great way of cleverly forcing through this change of scene. Just by putting in a request for time out, you’re giving your boss an amber warning light that all is not as it should be. Those shake-ups that they’ve been promising for years – they need to happen. And if your company value you at all, they’ll take heed (if not, that’s a prompt to think about leaving).

HR executive Kelley McVay, who worked for a respected medical college in New York City, found herself in exactly this situation.

“I was starting to get frustrated at work because, while I was still fulfilled in my role, it was obvious that there weren’t any further growth opportunities for me,” she explains. “I raised this with my leadership team, and we discussed other opportunities but nothing panned out. In late 2015 I came up with the idea to plan a Round the World trip for my 45th birthday.”

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The getaway, which spanned from Athens to Cairo and Beijing, started McVay along a path which would ultimately lead to her leaving her job.

Taking a break not only lends perspective and preps the ground for a role change, it’s also a great way to transition if you’ve already got a move on the horizon. You can use it as a bridge to a new job, or a move into the world of freelance work and self-employment.

“If you’re ready for a career pivot – a real change in your work – it’s a great opportunity for a sabbatical,” says Philip Storey, founder of digital marketing consultancy Enchant, which employs mostly digital nomads. “This is a good time to step back. As much as you can try and do this whilst still in your current job role, it’s more effective if you can create space between the two, with some time out.

“If you can afford to, take a good chunk of time out, Airbnb your house and go on sabbatical. Try and get away from your usual surroundings and broaden your mind. Travel is the perfect way to do this.”

You stop being the person who does everything

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Are you the kind of person who frequently takes on far more than you can handle? Maybe you stay late to cover other people’s mistakes, or forever feel frustrated by others not pulling their weight.

If this sounds familiar, a shift is critical. By taking a career break to travel, you allow yourself room to shrug the weight off. And more importantly, once you’re physically out of the office, things *have* to operate without you. Your colleagues can cope, and they will.

Yes, this means you’re dispensable – and that’s a good thing. When you return, you’ll have the space to carve out the role that you want, without taking on extra baggage. You and others will learn that you can take time out without the world falling apart, and that’s a huge burden to be released from.

It’s also a very effective way of pushing through a new way of working, without continually sounding off to HR.

A career break can help ease brain fog

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Brain fog – lack of clarity, difficulty in focus – is a growing problem in our frenetic modern lives. Left untended, it can easily lead to more serious conditions, such as burnout and depression.

If overloading is a problem for you, taking a career break can help to ease the strain. The fact that you’re not working (or working less) helps, but the routine of traveling also eliminates a vast decision process and shows just how simple life can be.

“I believe a lot of our own energy goes into thinking too much,” says jewellery designer Arabel Lebrusan (pictured below), who decided to run her business part-time last year, in order to fulfill her dream of traveling the world.

“Traveling is like going back right to basics: where am I going to sleep tonight? where can I find food? And do we still have clean clothes?”

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“In my day-to-day life running a business, creativity is almost shadowed by office work, emails and meeting customers,” Lebrusan adds. “At the beginning of our trip, I wasn’t that creative but then after a few months, I had this incredible burst of creativity. I couldn’t stop myself from weaving palm trees leaves, making sand sculptures or drawing everywhere I went.

“By the end of the trip I had designed so much new jewelry for my brand, that I now have to stop myself from making it all in one go.”

Storey agrees that traveling is a brilliant conduit for head space and ideas.

“I suggest trying to have a year away from the norm,” he says. “You’ll likely find that in just a few weeks, ideas will come along. They will form projects and you’ll start to imagine a different future. Just make sure you’re not going to be counting down the days until you have to go back to work – create the space you need.”

You develop the confidence to forge your own path

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Taking a career break to travel is not the easiest thing in the world to do. By successfully engineering the move, you prove to yourself and others that you have control of your own destiny.

For many people, a career break is a milestone. It may well represent the first time in your life that you go against the grain and do something unexpected – a decision that’s just about you. Think of it as your Eat, Pray, Love moment.

Your team might not like it. Your boss could get difficult. Some people will paint it as a means of shirking responsibilities and escaping “real life”. But, all of that is really background noise. This is about you stepping up to take control of your life’s script. Instead of letting your job wander into unfulfillment, you’re being an agent of your own happiness.

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Just by putting the concept of a career break into play, you develop confidence to put yourself first and break the mould. And this is an invaluable skill, no matter where you’re at in your career.

But remember: however empowering a career break may be, if you’re planning on returning to your job (rather than moving from one to another, or going self-employed) you need to nail down the detail of it before disappearing off into the sunset.

“Make sure you get your agreement to return in writing, and get a lawyer to check it,” says Storey. “This will only cost you £100 or so to have it checked, but it’s really important and will give you the peace of mind to get the most from your career break.”

Why more men should take a career break

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“A man of ordinary talent will always be ordinary, whether he travels or not; but a man of superior talent will go to pieces if he remains forever in the same place” – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

The eminent ivory tickler wasn’t wrong (writes Joe Ellison). Around 6.5 million UK workers – roughly 30 per cent – are unhappy at work, and men may be most at risk of all . Nearly two-thirds of leisure travelers today are women, according to recent research from the George Washington University School of Business. The same study found that professional women take a holiday every 10 months on average, whereas men typically wait a year between breaks.

In another study into British masculinity by University College London, the majority of men questioned said they valued four main attributes: dependability, reliability, honesty and loyalty. Tellingly, “romance” and “adventure” scored lower on the list. Admirable notions, yes. But fun? No.

Have we become that boring? Do we need to be a little selfish and listen to ourselves? The answer is clearly yes. If you yourself have been feeling a bit lost lately, or simply more stressed than you should be, don’t be another statistic. Be more, be yourself, live a little, branch out from your comfort zone and – yes – take a career break.

A career break is a chance to push your boundaries

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One man who knows this first-hand is Emanuele Barrasso [above], a 32-year-old from Naples who had been working in food and drink PR in London for just under a decade, until last year when he took what he called a “life-changing” career break, journeying to Singapore, New Zealand, Australia and Japan in a two-month break from work.

“My bosses took it better than I had expected,” he says. “I wanted to go away for a little longer but then we settled on two months so that I could have my job back when I returned. The first few weeks were paid, because I left in January, and I used only some of my annual leave but not all of it, so I could have some more time off towards summer and the end of the year.

“I love travel but had never thought of actually going for a proper long sabbatical on my own, for some reason the thought had never seemed possible. I’d reached a point in my life where I wanted to do something different, to get out of my comfort zone and push my boundaries.”

You'll get to know yourself better

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A lengthy break from the office aside, Emanuele claims the fact he was also newly single also played a big part in plucking the courage to travel solo: “I had the freedom to go to the places I wanted to see and meet new people. On my final day in Sydney before flying to Japan, I met a special someone. A week after, I was thinking ‘I must see her again before I fly home!’, and I did. I changed my itinerary and visited her again before I left. Since then she’s flown to visit me in the UK and I’ve been back to Australia.”

Who knows, as well as giving you a chance to clear your mind and ruminate about your next steps in life, a career might help you get to know yourself a bit better, too.

Grasp the opportunities to explore the world and you won’t regret it: when 500 people were interviewed for a 2011 book entitled Reboot Your Life, not one regretted their decision to take a substantial career break, which lasted anywhere from one month to two years. “Everyone reported that their careers were enhanced, as they were enhanced in their attitudes and work ethic,” says co-author Jaye Smith.

You can see the world from a fresh perspective

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Needless to say, Emanuele wouldn’t swap his own experiences in a hurry.

“I’ll never regret taking the break. I went skydiving, jet-boating – twice – whitewater rafting and scuba diving; activities that I had thought I’d never ever have the guts to do,” he says. “All of this made me realise that I am a thrill-seeker at heart. The entire experience made me grow as a person, as a man, as a traveler, and built my confidence. It made me see the world from a different perspective, and if I can say it, it made me live the world.”

Now that really would have been music to Mozart’s ears.

Images: Shutterstock, Unsplash, Emanuele Barrasso

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