Sabbatical Shuffle

Travel During Terrorism?

Posted on: Monday, July 25th, 2016
Posted in: Sabbatical Shuffle | 2 comments

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My son finished his first year at Princeton and promptly set out for his walkabout—5.5 weeks of backpacking and hammocking his way through Denmark and the French/Spanish/Italian Mediterranean. Nice (France) was already in the news for terror threats that affected Euro Cup soccer games. Then they made headlines when a Wacko mowed down hundreds celebrating Bastille Day, killing 84.

My boy arrived right after the first drama. He’d moved on before the Bastille Day tragedy. But it leaves a dad to wonder: Should I worry?

Of course. That’s what dads do.

Yet this stuff isn’t exactly new. And even when terrorism isn’t flaring, fears and threats persist. Some are relatively benign, but memorable: The time some Italian went ballistic at me on a train—no violence, but close—and I have no idea what set him off; strikes in Paris and Rome that look (and sound) edgy and can cancel critical travel plans; fights and gangs in front of your face (in US cities, of course).

As travelers, we move on. Literally and metaphorically. But as travelers, we also strive to be wise—embrace reality rather than feign Pollyanna.

Years ago, I created the Five Five-Word Mantras for seminars, speeches, and workshops. My thinking was more on preparation for complications and interruptions than global violence. Yet the advice applies, even to these extreme times:

Mantra #3: When all else fails, punt.

Before or during your Getaway, the Bad Thing could happen. A “What-if?” could become a “What Now?” If so, drop everything and tackle that problem. Put your Sabbatical on the back bench, or just plain punt. You can take another run at it later in this game we call Life.”

  • Five Takeaways from that Five-Word Mantra
  1. Bad things happen. Terrible things too. Even in Nice, France.
  1. Shit can hit the fan before or during your BreakAway. Risk never stops, and long-term travel exposes you to more than you can logically list.
  1. Practice, with self-talk and chat with friends, working through what you would do and get courageous, savvy strategies ready for the scenarios you fear most and variations of what-might-be.
  1. If the Bad Thing hits, drop everything. Say to yourself (as suggested in another Mantra), “I knew this might happen.” Put your (new) plan to work. As Winston Churchill said, “Keep calm and carry on.” And, “When you’re going through hell, keep going.”
  1. If need be, “Put your Sabbatical on the back bench, or just plain punt. You can take another run at it later in this game we call life.”

Recent random violence is eating away at our souls and taking large tolls on everything—including travel. But is this new? No. It’s just more terrible, unpredictable, and (for lack of a better word) televised.

My son is home safely, in New Jersey. But who knows what evils lurks there? That guy on the train didn’t assault me. But might not a stranger with a gun tomorrow?

Life is short. Change never rests. Maybe there’s no such thing as a Comfort Zone.

All the more reason to travel. Happy sails.

11 Long-Living Lessons from #TBEXinMN

Posted on: Wednesday, June 8th, 2016
Posted in: Sabbatical Shuffle | One comment

TBEX, aka The Travel Blog Exchange, held its annual USA conference last week right here in the Twin Cities. The days were packed with speakers, sessions, networking, partying, and of course, all things blogging/SM/podcasting/etc. Some serious sponsors lined up to show themselves off—and show the travelers a good time.

My wrist hurt from taking notes. And my head hurt from trying to absorb all the info. As the only career-break evangelist in attendance, I both owned my turf and found myself defending the validity of BreakAways for work-addicted Americans.

But I gained good ideas to put to use—and happily share these fave 11 takeaways.

You meet the most interesting characters at a TBEX conference!

You meet the most interesting characters at a TBEX conference!

  • 11 TBEX takeaways 
  1. Avoid headlines like “11 Things I Learned.” So says Tom Bartel of the Travel Past 50 blog and past publisher of this metro’s City Pages. He’s right! (That’s why I rarely do it.) Tom’s session on writing with emotion included high-ed-level musings on literature and composition. Refreshing reminders in this age of txtng!
  1. Minnesota is cool—not just cold. This biased local saw our surroundings in a new and bright light and was blown away by the hospitality, generosity, and richness of our towns. Standing O to the many tourism and visitor orgs that made it happen, and made it easy. But don’t even think about hosting such an event in January!
  1. The Mall of America is here to stay. Before this Church of Spendology opened, some friends and I placed bets on how many years MOA it would succeed. We were all wrong. The place appears is clearly thriving and expanding. High 5s to comrade Leif Pettersen—travel writer, blogger, juggler, and happily employed MOA Tourism Communications Manager who worked his butt off and shook 555 hands.
Travel author (and pal) Doug Mack gets his mind blown by Leif Pettersen’s MOA-goggles.

Travel author (and pal) Doug Mack gets his mind blown by Leif Pettersen’s MOA-goggles.

  1. Closing keynote speaker Andrew Zimmern is The Real Deal. This I already knew, as I used to play poker (get it?) with him (thanks to a mutual friend). But the menu of things he’s shuffling these days? Other-worldly. Transformative. Inspiring. Well done, Zim!
Celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern—The Real Deal.

Celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern—The Real Deal.

  1. E-books offer a viable way for us writers to get the word out quickly and affordably. And they keep getting more popular and do-able, according to Linda Aksomitis. There’s already a free one on my site (355 Days, about a one-year sabbatical in the Virgin Islands and Europe). But I’ve got two more drafts to polish up for publishing…if I can just find the time and, uh, stick-to-it-iveness.
  1. Canadians are mighty fun, friendly people—and many were there. Thanks to Jillian Recksiedler and the Travel Manitoba folks for some rollicking opening-night hospitality. And bless forward-thinking Canada for building the profound Canadian Museum of Human Rights. Nice to have such nice neighbors to the north!
  1. Bloggers who obsess about analytics may have it all wrong, assert the good people behind Travel Green Media and Green Global Travel. Better to have an engaged community than countless short-sighted eyeballs.
  1. Video is the new photo; FB and IG are the new photo album; and digital advertising will soon bury TV—according to Sara Meaney of bvk, a super-savvy ad agency based in Milwaukee. Her presentation on curating content your audience craves was packed with powerful info, even it made one worry about the future of the written word.
  1. It’s a good thing Lou Mongello left law. “We are storytellers,” he shouted from all  over the stage as he told some great stories and shared smart tips. Who knew you could ditch the law firm and make a mint as a Disney expert and entrepreneur? Lou! That’s who!
Entertaining entrepreneur Lou Mongello asks the hard questions.

Entertaining entrepreneur Lou Mongello asks the hard questions.

  1. Digital nomads are everywhere all the time. Some of them are even getting paid to wander. Just ask Mike, whose road trip just keeps going and going…
  2. TBEX rocks. My expectations were modest. And one hears mixed reports about such gatherings from our oh-so-worldly tribe. Yet this event was first-class—one of the best (and cheapest) investments around. Their tagline, “The Future of Travel Media” is both ballsy and spot-on.

Stay tuned. And please support your local travel blogger.

But please remember to unplug from your screens and explore the real world too!

WORKFORCE: America’s Fear of Time Off Increases

Posted on: Friday, May 27th, 2016
Posted in: Sabbatical Shuffle | Leave a comment

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If you’re lucky, you have fond memories of getting away on Memorial Day and other holidays—and maybe heading off for a family vacation every now and again. If you’re really lucky, you’re still creating fresh memories. But many people aren’t. The latest numbers on our time-off habits give new meaning to the phrase workforce.

  • As technology advances, free time retreats

A recent Boston Globe story on Americans’ fear of vacation profiles hard-working folks, interviews psychology pros, and basically leaves the reader exhausted enough to beg for a vacation. “I’m the kind of person who sleeps with an iPhone under my ear,” proclaims one entrepreneur. “People are worried about work piling up while they’re away,” explains a leader of Project: Time Off.

  • May you live in interesting times

Unsurprisingly, vacation numbers stayed pretty static until about 2000—when tech tools became workaday-common and people turning into “work martyrs” became equally prevalent. Employee and general dissatisfaction has skyrocketed (just ask Trump and Sanders), while travel pros will tell you vacationers are often more concerned with excellent wifi than comfortable beds.

If you’re still with us (and not tending work emails), choke on these digits, courtesy of Expedia and a host of credible researchers…

500,000: Number of unused vacation days annually in the U.S.A.

$52,400,000: Value of those unused vacation days

47: Average work-week hours per person

6: Number of days it takes to significantly reduce stress levels

61%: Work while on vacation

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  • Sabbatical programs also suffering

One of this entrepreneur’s fantastic ideas is sabbatical consulting. Help a company launch a program? I have, but they quit when their numbers go south or a recession hits. Coach travel-craving professionals how to run away for 55 days? Done that. Yet most 5%-ers won’t step off the treadmill (while my vagabond mentors find a way regardless of bucks and buts). Apparently, our DNA has gotten rewired. For work.

Employers still shun the sabbatical, too. According to a recent overview, the number of companies offering long-term breaks has stayed stagnant for years. About 13% offer unpaid extended breaks; about 5% have a paid program. If you check out the various “Best Companies to Work For” lists, the number grows to about 20%.

“Fatigue sets in, rigidity applies, and all creativity and innovation are lost.”

But my formal and informal research finds that, for the most part, it’s a perk that’s rarely employed, yet remains on the list for recruiting and retention purposes. As one friend at a major-league firm with a sabbatical program told me, “I wouldn’t even think of asking HR about it.”

She also suggested I not contact them to help make BreakAways work for everyone. Including the corporation. And their bottom line. “There are stories about people who left for three months and came back to a demotion and a crappy office,” she lamented.

“Fatigue sets in, rigidity applies, and all creativity and innovation are lost.” So states Lotte Bailin, an MIT researcher and author of the book, Breaking the Mold: Redesigning Lives for Productive and Satisfying Lives.

Fatigue? Rigidity? Lost creativity and innovation? That sounds like a burned-out, bummed-out workforce. Vacation won’t kill you. But your job might.

Summer is here, and here’s proof: Happy Memorial Day!

Go make some memories.

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RIP Prince—A Reminder To Live Your Dreams

Posted on: Monday, May 2nd, 2016
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The passing of Prince was sad in so many ways. But one sentiment I’ve heard over and over that hits hardest: Regret. One friend shared, “After seeing Purple Rain in 1984, I was so inspired I moved to the Twin Cities to escape my dreary small town life—and see Prince whenever possible. But I never made it to a show.”

That hurts. Because between 1984 and his death, Prince performed hundreds of times in the Twin Cities. There were always excuses to pass on the opportunity—too expensive, too far, “I’m too busy.” But he was available. And in my experience, the investment paid off with a priceless experience and a timeless memory.

Much like BreakAways. And people put them off for the same reasons. But compared to three-month journey, a Prince show provides an example of an attainable and affordable, yet potentially life-changing, event. The lesson remains: Don’t postpone your dreams—or concert desires. Or at some point, it’s too late.

I was lucky; I saw Prince several times—and followed his creativity and career for reasons including inspiration, awe, and curiosity. The loss shocked and digs deep. So I’m still more melancholy than ready to “celebrate” and dance in the streets.

But I’m so grateful that I grabbed the opportunities when they arose. Because there will be no more. May that reminder motivate more yesses to what may be fleeting chances.

  • My Prince Tribute

11 days ago, the sky cried purple rain. I’m still feeling those tears.

I so feared this. Yet here we are. Prince has been a nonstop player on my life’s soundtrack since I first heard his music, thanks to a saucy waitress, while working in a restaurant during college. I was hooked. And have been blessed to have him in the cities, so seeing him early and often was easy. So many memories now flow.

Sitting on a speaker on the stage while he shredded the ceiling with an 11-piece band at Glam Slam. Getting a gentle high 5 from him when took a break right by me just off the stage at Rupert’s; he seemed so tiny, so tired—until he took that stage again. Singing along (on a birthday night out!) while he played several ballads with solo grand piano. Dancing way past midnight with the house lights on and the security agog at Target Center…and then he invited all remaining fans to Paisley Park—where he played until 6 am and ended the evening on the dance floor. Driving through a blizzard to make the Purple Rain show in St. Paul and passing his purple limo while en route. Watching him have a full-on snit at Met Center because the cops had broken up his PP party the night before, “I’ve got a bad attitude tonight, y’all!” Seeing a rarely-shown video of him jamming the blues with a power trio in the upstairs studio of his short-lived Uptown store; I’ve never heard anybody play the blues better.

Nothing compares to Prince.

He embodied life’s mysteries—and was obsessed with God, sex, love, fashion, art, privacy, controversy, control, and, of course, music. He played every instrument. Wrote 1,000s of songs. Mixed and recorded his own material. He cared little about what other people thought. But cared deeply about his fans and his legacy—which is beyond measure. Having him around was one of the best reasons to stay in Minnesota. We never knew what he was going to do next—but couldn’t wait to find out—and he took delight in surprising us. Heck, he shopped LPs at the Electric Fetus and appeared at a PP dance party just a few days before his death…

By fearlessly chasing his visions and passions, he became the most talented rock star that ever lived. Yet he felt more like a friend.

May his courage and creativity live on by inspiring us fans to aim for the same.

I’ll miss him very much.

Digital Nomads See the World & Get Paid

Posted on: Monday, January 18th, 2016
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Join the digital nomads and me as we conquer the world! Join the digital nomads and me as we conquer the world!

Who needs a self-funded career break or paid sabbatical? We all do! But who goes global and gets paid? Digital nomads—who need only a laptop, a tech-savvy skill, and some seed money to get off the ground and land…most anywhere!

Local journalist Kevyn Burger penned yet another fascinating story for the Star Tribune. If you’re stuck, but your dreams aren’t, read it and reap. Meantime, my highlights…

  • Life may cost less “over there”

Alicia and John Gregoire have been working all over and report that the dollar may stretch much further abroad than at home. I can echo that—with rich memories that include buying wine in Italy for $40 that was fetching $255 here and dwelling in a posh beach house in New Zealand for $80 a day.

  • You may already have (FB) friends all over

The article quotes Lisa Walden of local generation-dynamics consultancy, Bridgeworks: “Today’s worker is more likely to have grown up with friends from different cultures.” She mentions SM, studying abroad, and evermore everyday networking opportunities as tools for the takeoff.

In my experience—some of which was before SM uber-connectivity—people were not only eager to host and help, but also willing to refer travelers to their own friends and family. Thanks to such “travel angels” I have stayed on a sailboat near Oslo, in a marble-clad villa in Tuscany, and in a mansion in Munich.

That fiscal fitness link offers my 2c on funding a BreakAway. But for digital nomads, financial complexities may include how to structure your business, currency complications, and The Taxman (here, there, and everywhere). Need help? Travelpreneur Cliff Highman runs Digital Nomad Accounting. Nice niche!

  • Backpacking and hostel territory optional

Let’s be real: Some of us have graduated from carrying life on your back, stealing food from buffets, and bunking up in crowded dorms. No sweat, say nomads Jeff and Amanda Sauer, whose “hobby” is seeking discounts, affordable destinations, and the miles-and-points game. Forget Paris! I once enjoyed a week at the Ritz Carlton suite in Malaysia for $55/night—with world-class food omnipresent and dirt cheap.

  • Yes, you can bring the family

My vagabonding now goes back decades and has been alone, with a partner, with a wife and kid, and with a wife and two kids. It’s all good—even pulling them out of school. (Is there a better education than seeing the world?) But the best part is watching my kids grow up world-wise, craving adventure, and creating their own travelog.

In my research, the #1, #2, and #3 reasons that people don’t do long term travel are money, money, money. Yes, it makes the world go around. But now, you can become a digital nomad and go around the world—on the earn-as-you-go plan.

The world is ready. Maybe you are too? Bon voyage!

Travel Now—Before It’s Too Late

Posted on: Monday, December 28th, 2015
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St. John, one of the three US Virgin Islands, hosts a year-round population of about 4,300, comfortably tucked into an island of about 20 square miles. By contrast, Manhattan is only slightly larger—23 square miles—and boasts more than 1.6 million full-time residents.

In New York, change happens in, err, a New York minute. On St. John, things change slowly; they call it “island time.” Still, if you want to see this gem—or any other dreamy destination on your bucket list—you better hurry. I’ve been visiting this island for 25 years—including one BreakAway that lasted five months—and the evolutions are often alarming.

  • Souls come and go

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25 years ago, what struck me most deeply? The culture, starring a bold, boisterous, colorful native West Indian population. They ran things, and as a guest, you followed their protocols and learned their ways—which had little in common with how things operate in, say, New York or Sioux City. Their society featured its own diversity, of course, from devoutly conservative Christians to fearless Rastas; from devoted businesspeople to the drunk, addicted, and downtrodden.

But on the whole, they ran things, and were omnipresent. Now? They can be hard to find. Shacks and shanties sit abandoned. Few kids run in the streets or shoot hoops in the public court—where the cement buckles and the broken rims rust. Their waterside hangouts and watering holes are shuttered. Their rambunctious roosters and raging reggae may have made sleep difficult, but louder still is the sound of this relatively bland silence.

Same holds true for the Salty Dogs—idiosyncratic characters who came here to escape something or somebody, drain Daddy’s trust fund, or chase some dream. Pirate Willy finally passed; his crusty blue Jeep no longer announcing his presence. Gift-shop-owner Marlene has disappeared, while a faded “For Rent” sign remains on her door. Health issues made the charismatic couple who hosted day sails and raised a family on their gaff-rigged ketch head stateside for good. And three delightful waterside restaurants rot in the sea air—their one-time proud owners (and immense investments) long gone.

  • Development never stops

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Back in the day, a smattering of houses sprinkled the lush, green hillsides that overlook enormous Coral Bay. A few intrepid bars, eateries, and shops carried on—when they could get the goods or the power worked or they felt like opening up. Now, needless to say, Coral Bay features dozens of establishments (and also dozens that have died). And hundreds of homes, most of them mansion-esque, perch on the hillside and rent for thousands per week.

Next? Nobody knows. But for starters, two competing, massive marina proposals (one featuring federal funding) are snaking their way through the bureaucracies. Hey, progress happens. At some point, somebody will pave this paradise and put up a mega-yacht dock, a fancy clubhouse, and, of course, a parking lot.

  • Nature is under attack

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When that marina shows up, mangroves, water quality, and creatures and critters of all kinds will pay a price. But you don’t need to wait to see the sad decay caused by development, climate change, and over-loving of the island.

Snorkeling? Some say the coral and sea life are 70% reduced from only 30 years ago—and my experience dubs that an under-estimate. Beaches? Rising waters and increasingly violent storms have reduced sand and ravaged plants; there used to be countless coconut palms—now they are rare. Seafood? One might think these remote islands would promise bounteous and cheap feasts. But no: The edible seafood is virtually non-existent, or often protected as endangered species. The restaurants usually ship their tuna, salmon, and mahi-mahi from New York.

  • Travel still transforms and beauty still abounds…but don’t delay

Yes, the seafood comes from Manhattan. An island about this size, but somehow accommodating about 430 times more humans. And a massive seafood market.

Go figure. In fact, go. Just GO! Go to the Caribbean, to Vietnam, to Spain, to Manhattan to the Grand Canyon, to Grandpas, cabin, and to whatever happy place remains your favorite or has been calling your name like some distant parrot (that may be at risk).

The longer you wait, the more it may not look like that picture in your mind or on your screen-saver.

But the sooner you go, the more likely you’ll find what you’re looking for.

BreakAways in the News

Posted on: Wednesday, November 18th, 2015
Posted in: Sabbatical Shuffle, Blog | Leave a comment

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It’s becoming evermore impossible to keep up with the wealth of sabbatical, career break, and related stories floating around the internets and beyond. So let’s leap right in!

  • My favorite oxymoron: Play date.

(BTW, another fave: Play systems.) I remember a dad friend’s young daughter asking him after he got home from work, “Daddy, what’s my job?” He paused, and then nailed it: “Your job is to play!” She ran off, satisfied. Today, play can become uber-prearranged, mega-managed, and expensive (play date organizers charge $400 in NYC).

Childhood is how you learn the essentiality of freedom of time, space, and mind; it’s the original sabbatical that, gradually, Reality schedules out of us. We Boomers should rejoice about the free-range (and digitalia-free) childhoods we enjoyed. This article digs into this ever-vital topic.

  • “Career Break,” the other kind

Rebekah offers career advice for Harper’s Bazaar—very nice—but reminds us that “career break” has another definition that may confuse our ditch-the-boss message. “Career break,” of course, can also mean that big moment that you get the big connection, job offer, or promotion to Assistant Manager of Sambo’s. It’s all good, but we hope the mixed messages don’t hurt our campaign.

  • Super-singers need respites, too

There’s more to music than Spotify and your little Jambox. Real people make those sounds (sometimes), and then tour for big bucks (since few folks actually buy music anymore). From afar, their lives of sexiness, drugs, and limo lounging looks lovely. But if you’re TayTay, Sammie, or a Stylish lad from Any Direction, this grueling marathon probably gets tiring and tedious fast. We wish them well on their career breaks—and hope they truly have the guts to turn away from the limelight for a while.

Okay. Ed is everywhere-all-the-time. So this story is suspect. Still, it’s been reported in major media, twittered to death, and been the biggest news for thrift stores since Macklemore. We wish Ed and the store well—and hope the throngs respect the merch.

  • Leaving work early: An “act of courage”

A recent Hyundai ad (that you’re surely seen) states,

When did leaving work on time become an act of courage? It’s time to take back our lives.”

Alleluia! What follows is Dude driving off into the streets of New York (where there are no other cars!?!), a boss looking longingly out the window as the Hyundai zips off, and then the questions we are left with. Is this post-apocalyptic vision what might happen if someone left work early? Or is literally everyone else still toiling away indoors? Has that poor boss been working 24/7 for 55 years? Can a SUV really get you off work early? And to quote Peggy Lee: Is that all there is?

Stay tuned. We hope to hear more about these stories, including whether Hyundai Dude made it back to work on time the next day. I bet he did—if only to make that car payment that may keep him from really escaping someday…

GBA* and our 6 remaining holidays

Posted on: Monday, May 25th, 2015
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DSC_0021Memorial Day, 2015. The holiday has changed since my youth—when everyone went somewhere, usually to simple cabins and camping to catch real fish before overfishing happened. Nowadays, stores stay open and the city keeps humming. But many still head for the woods, and there’s a decidedly relaxed pace in the streets.

Vacations continue to lose the time battle to work pressures, kids’ activities, and screen living. Those who take time to vacation often go for shorter, closer, more water-parky variations. Most adults remain plugged in and communicate with colleagues (and beyond) throughout the day. The kids are more likely to snapchat their swimsuit selfie than catch and clean a walleye.

Still, thank God for the six holidays that most people still agree on. Sure, they may have associations with religions and military—and not everyone agrees with those. But the country suddenly, and gladly, slows way down and gathers as families and friends. The sigh of R&R (rest & relief) is as palpapable as the BBQ smoke in the air. We really ought to do this more often.

Meantime, we have New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, the fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas to be thankful for. Nobody’s messing with those. And we’re all the better for it. So go get on the water. Go root, root, root for the home team. Sing the national anthem. And be grateful not only for our great country, but for a few days off. *God Bless America!

Experiential Science, 2nd Shifts & A New Book!

Posted on: Wednesday, April 8th, 2015
Posted in: Sabbatical Shuffle, Blog | Leave a comment

DSC_0739The sabbatical inbox fills up so swiftly I sometimes long for the days of snail mail. Yet clearly people keep finding their way to the take-your-time movement. Fast Company has been particularly prolific with reports. Yet the drum beat also comes from the local paper, a new friend in Switzerland, and beyond.

  • Is that a “thing?” Then the thrill is gone…

In this case, “thing” is just that—an object (purchase), not a trend, though the two often intersect. Recent research from Cornell confirms that experiences trump stuff over time, every time. “New things are exciting to us for a while, but then we adapt to them,” reports Professor Thomas Gilovich. Conversely, “Our experiences are a higher part of ourselves than our material goods.” Advice: Sell the big car; take a big break.

  • New moms getting re-entry programs

Women are increasingly winning over the working world, the college world, and the ambition surveys. Yet they are also more likely to need career breaks—usually to have children and tend to family matters. Kudos to companies offering “Act 2,” “OnRamp,” and “Returnship” programs with clever names and win-win motives. A handful of books and thought leaders are also leading the charge—and not always just for family care. As Brigid Shulte, author of Overwhelmed, reflects, “The bottom line is that more and more people don’t want to work all the time.”

  • MN study shows big support for sick and family leave

A recent MN Department of Health study is providing a push for legislation mandating employee PTO for family matters. It’s no fun to go to work while ill due to fear of losing your job. But the state Health Commissioner is quick to point out the public-health risks—and has data to prove that illnesses spread quickly when sick staffers infect the workplace. Letting people stay home may ultimately improve attendance rates!

  • Take 6 months off?  Yes you can.

And finally, high 5s to Tomer Lanis, who hit my email box with a nice note and news of his new book, You Can Take Six Months Off. In an eerily similar scenario to my own family’s, he escaped his mortgage, schools, and pets and took wife and two kids sailing through the Caribbean. That picture of the Grenadines? I was right there, and took the exact same shot. And then we loaded onto a small “taxi” (fishing boat) for one of the strangest travel days ever that eventually landed us on our next island, even though various customs officers weren’t so sure about the idea.

Tomer’s family took six months; we took four; he wins. (We both win!) Tom HQs in Switzerland, and warns us on his website, “Caution: Living your dreams is addictive and contagious.” Now THAT is the kind of contagion (and family leave!) we can live with! My copy of the book is on its way, so I’ll report more soon.

Best of luck to Tomer Lanis and his book—and to all of us when we need sick leave, family leave, or (better yet), six months off.

Meet Joe Antkowiak, Traveler, Diver, Dreamer, Doer…

Posted on: Wednesday, October 8th, 2014
Posted in: Sabbatical Shuffle, Blog | One comment

IMG_6427Every now and then (as this blog testifies), dreamers, schemers and BreakAway artists of all kinds come together and have gatherings (large and small) to celebrate and inspire this mission and cause called career breaks. Ask me, “What’s the best part about this movement?” and the answer is easy: The people. The same response you have when you finish a big trip, right?

One of those local gems (with worldwide cred) is my new friend, Joe Antkowiak. We’ve chatted at a few meet-ups, and then carved out time for a solo conversation. I was so moved by his stories that I asked him to share them here. He said yes, of course! (Thanks, Joe!)

So please take in his adventures and advice (like “Surround yourself with people that inspire your dreams…”) And next time the BreakAway gang gathers, why not join us? Wherever you want to go, Joe will help point you in the right direction.

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  • So you’ve been traveling your whole life, right? Give us some of your early history.

Actually, my parents were the first to introduce my sisters and I to traveling. My parents love the outdoors and hiking, so they usually planned a family trip every year to one of the national parks. We had a small pop-up trailer and a station wagon which they used to transport the five of us and our distractions to places like Glacier National Park, Cheyenne, The Great Lakes, Colorado, etc. My two sisters and I would sit in the back of the station wagon playing silly games like Mad-libs or the license plate game. It was great for about a week and a half until the childhood emotions and frustrations got the better of us and we decided to head home. I have very fond memories of those trips. As I grew older and graduated college, I didn’t really travel. It actually took one of my ex-girlfriends to re-introduce me to the travel bug. Now it’s a full-on addiction.

  • Yet you have a real career. What do you do, and how do you escape it and find good work when you return from long-term travel?

I’m a software developer. I’m lucky because in my industry volatility is the norm, so it’s easy for me to jump from one opportunity to the next. I’ve found some success as a contractor. But unfortunately, my wanderlust and inability to stay at any one place for a long period of time can make it difficult for me to find a full-time position that’s willing to take me seriously. In any other industry, I might struggle more….or maybe I’d flourish more. I’ve survived some of the toughest times in IT, like when the bubble burst in 2000 – 2002, and the 2008 downturn. I have a bit of a safety net, so I don’t worry about getting through those times too much. However, it was a bit difficult to find work when I returned from 4 months in South America. I had lost a lot of knowledge and bombed many of my interviews before I got my sh*t together and finally found something. You definitely have to plan for the difficult times.

  • Like me, you love the Caribbean. Unlike me, you’ve mastered SCUBA. How did you do that, and what islands do you love (and love less)?

Initially, I thought stuff like SCUBA was out of my reach. I was never a great swimmer, but I was down in Costa Rica for a week in the winter, and on a whim I purchased an exploratory dive package in Tamarindo. A couple hours training in the pool and then two dives the next day, and I was hooked. A year later, I scheduled a vacation in St. Maarten for a week and looked up a dive center and signed up for the PADI Open Water Certification. I was incredibly lucky to get Michel Wouterse as my dive instructor. He’s one of 300 course directors in the world and has taught everyone from adults to children to people with disabilities. I almost didn’t pass due to some difficulties I had with the swimming test. He didn’t want me to give up, so he actually did the swimming test with me (along with another instructor). They coached me through the entire thing. I feel indebted to him for that. He runs the Caribbean Dive College down in St. Maarten now. I would recommend him to anyone that wants to learn SCUBA. The URL for his school ishttp://www.caribbeandivecollege.com/ As for favorite islands to dive, it’s difficult to top The Galapagos Islands.

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  • You’ve traveled alone. Tell us about some of those adventures, and what might be some of the benefits of heading out solo?

Traveling alone is not for everyone, but if you can handle it, it’s almost the only way to go. As a solo traveler, you’re more approachable by the locals or any other traveler for that matter. Maybe it’s your vulnerability and the need to make friends that a person traveling solo will project, but people are more willing to approach you and get to know you when you’re alone. Also, you don’t have to deal with group-imposed travel restrictions and drama that happens when sometimes traveling with other people. As a solo traveler, you can mix it up to your liking. As long as you have a good personality and check any attitude that you might have at the airport people in other countries will generally treat you nicely and with respect. Everyone loves getting to know a solo traveler. There are so many adventures that I’ve had alone or after meeting people during my trips.

    • Skiing Whistler-Blackcomb mountain in British Columbia and getting an all-day snowboarding lesson from one of the coolest snowboarding girls I’ve ever met.
    • Swimming with schools of Hammerhead and Galapagos Sharks off Gordon Rocks in the Galapagos.
    • Staying at a Vineyard which was also a Bed and Breakfast in the Languedoc region of southern France. This included me renting a motorcycle and riding it down some of the most picturesque roads in that region.
    • Partying it up on the rooftop of my hostel in Lima, Peru and getting lessons on how to make a proper Pisco Sour by one of the hostel managers.
    • Walking the beaches of Pabo Colonio for hours on end in Uruguay. I encountered a capsized sailboat on the beach at sunset and captured some of the most amazing photographs of my trip.
    • Riding a scooter around the island of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and visiting all the face sculpturesIMG_7404
  • You’re a home-owner—another obstacle for many would-be sojourners. How do you manage that responsibility and yet get away?

That was probably most difficult part of the equation. In 2009, I was sitting on an Adirondack chair in Southern France reading Vagabonding, and the author addresses that issue by suggesting you can rent out your house. I’ve never thought of myself as a landlord, but I knew I’d have to concentrate on that solution if I had any chance of being able to travel for an extended period of time. I spent the next 4 years finishing off the basement, making repairs, and generally getting the house ready to rent. During that time, I started to downgrade my life and realized that my very modest house was actually too big for me and I would have no desire to return. I would have sold it if I was in a better position on my mortgage, but since I was horribly underwater on it, I’ve rented it out. I also hired a property manager to take care while I was away. The city wouldn’t give me a rental license without someone in place, but now that I’ve returned and I see how stress-free my life is with him managing things, I’ve decided to keep him on indefinitely. It’s easier than you would think as long as you get the right things in place.

  • Are you still planning a big BreakAway for later this year? What’s the latest on your itinerary, and how is the planning going?

For now, I’m concentrating on saving money so that I can go on another big trip; potentially the middle of next year. Meantime, a friend and I are talking about a snowboard trip to Park City, Utah during the Sundance film festival in January. And / or, I may try and rent a motorcycle in California and ride through the wine country sometime spring or summer of next year. Small trips for the interim. Then again, if winter becomes unbearable, I might have to head down south for some fun in the sun.

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  • That’s ambitious—and impressive. So are there any other locations you long to linger in? Or…what might be your ultimate “dream trip?”

“Dream Trip”? – There are so many possibilities. Although, I’ve been toying with heading back to South America and visiting the countries I missed (Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia) and then continuing to Southeast Asia for some diving, and possibly onward. I think I’d like to leave for a year or more. I’ve got my sights on Europe too – Greece, Spain (I want to do the El Camino de Santiago de Compostela), Ireland, Turkey, etc. I think that on my dream trip, I would hope to open up more and throw some caution to the wind. I’m pretty adventurous, but also somewhat conservative. I’d like to get involved in some volunteer work or teaching potentially. It’s great seeing all the sites, but after awhile, I think there’s a need to experience something more meaningful. I’d like to push myself outside of my comfort zone and see if I can contribute something to the rest of the world somehow.

  • You speak French, right? Are there any other skills or talents that help you do what so many only fantasize about?

I’ve been speaking French for the last five years. Or, I should say that I’ve been attempting to speak French for the last five years. Learning a new language is tough and the only way to get better is to immerse yourself in it. Unfortunately, Minneapolis isn’t really someplace that you can immerse yourself in French language and culture. With that, I do the best I can by splitting my time between duolingo and conversation groups. I have a hope to someday spend a couple months in France with a host family. However, that’s still a ways off. I’m not sure about other talents. I’d say that if someone wants to travel for long periods of time, that they’ll need to learn how to manage their money well. They’ll also have to learn to live without. What I mean by that is to be comfortable without the good things in life all the time. Long term travel will teach you to be adaptive as almost nothing goes exactly according to plan. Learning the language definitely helps.

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  • And finally, any other tips or words of inspiration for the rest of us?

Surround yourself with the people that inspire and support your dreams. You’ll never get where you want to go with all the negative static that can permeate your life from being in the wrong environment or listening to the wrong people. Learn to be assertive about the things you want – there’s nothing more frustrating than settling for an experience or thing that you didn’t really want. Be prepared for bad things to happen. It feels like everyone has something stolen from them while traveling at least once in their lives. Use it as an opportunity to learn that your possessions are things that can be replaced. Easier said than done, I know. I knew a guy that once he arrived in Peru, had his entire bag stolen. Instead of going home, he re-acquired what he needed and moved forward with his plans.

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We’ve heard it all before – You have one life to live. How many of us really take that statement seriously? I would posture that most of us make excuses for the things that we do not do. I still do that quite often, but I fight those negative thoughts all the time. Conformity is a powerful force, and one that is detrimental and soul-sucking to us all. I think Jack Kerouac said it best with “Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.“