If you’re a young professional, chances are you want to travel. But how can you drop everything to see the world when you’ve just started building your career?
There’s nothing wrong with putting off your travel dream for a few years to gain some work experience – so long as you don’t let that dream disappear. It took me three years of working as a reporter before I felt comfortable taking off to backpack solo through Africa, largely because I wanted to have enough experience on my resume to land a new job when I got back.
Even if you don’t know when you’ll take your big trip, putting the gears in motion will help you keep your goal in sight and make it easier to take the leap when you’re ready.
Here’s what you can do now to prepare yourself for a career break down the road:
Tell your friends about it
Saying your dream aloud helps make it real. Even if you haven’t slapped a date on your departure, sharing it with others adds a level of commitment. And if you’ve surrounded yourself with the right people, they’ll help you follow through because they want you to be happy. Which brings me to…
Surround yourself with people who support your dreams
This is easier said than done, because even the nicest people in your life might look at you like you have four heads when you tell them you want to take more than a week off work to travel. Some people won’t understand these choices, because it never occurred to them that these options were choices at all. (They could take a career break, too, of course; they just don’t realize it.)
But all you need is a few people who understand your pursuits, a few people who encourage you without that twinge of resentment in their voice, a few friends who are figuring out how to live their lives in their own out-of-the-box ways. These friends will sustain you, and you’ll become closer for it.
Study a language
Knowing how to speak another language will make you want to travel even more, because you’ll want to use that skill. And having it will enrich your travels, helping you connect more with locals and learn about the culture. Enroll in a continuing-education course at a nearby university – if you’re lucky, your employer might even cover the costs – or, if you studied a language in college, freshen up those skills by joining a Meetup group.
I love Ask a Manager’s post about what she learned from quitting her job during the recession because she says having savings helps us act from strength, not desperation. It’s not just the money we need, it’s the feeling of security. Feeling secure financially helps us take leaps.
Start getting rid of stuff
It’s far easier to wrap your head around leaving a place if you don’t have to take a huge moving van of stuff with you. And it’s easier to make freeing choices when your physical life doesn’t feel cluttered. Give away things you don’t use or need, rather than piling them higher and higher in the attic.
Brainstorm a mission
What will be the purpose of your trip? Think beyond traveling and seeing the world; what do you want to learn or accomplish? It could be a new skill, a volunteer experience or exploring a certain topic. Having a mission will give your career break meaning and turn it into a resume-builder that will help you land a job when you get back. (For example, my mission was to improve my French and work as a reporter overseas.)
Remind yourself that it may never be the “right time”
I’m all about laying the groundwork and making your own luck, but the truth is that it’s never the perfect time to take a leap. It’s so easy to say afterward, “I was ready for a move and all the pieces fell into place.” But while you’re making the decisions to take that less-traveled road, the pieces feel more disjointed. And when we’re scared, it’s easy to use one challenge or obstacle as an excuse, as the piece that won’t fall into place. Figure out how to make that piece fit or put the puzzle together without it.
Let yourself dream. Because once you’ve started laying the groundwork, it’s no longer just a dream. You’re turning this into reality. Pat yourself on the back, and let that dream grow.