BreakAway was among the first to proclaim that the sky is falling (but nobody is noticing) when phones began to take over the world, the driver’s seat, and even travel and leisure. Want a break from phone-y living? Here’s a tour group for you. Off the Grid founder Zach Beattie says, “The entire focus of the trip is mindful travel.”
In a WashPost article, columnist Elizabeth Bruenig makes a compelling case that Americans need to let go of our obsession with work. She questions the new DC wave of “work requirements” for governmental aid. She reminds us that in other democracies nearly everyone “enjoys the kind of leisure time only our highest paid workers can afford.” And she asserts that we overstate the “dignity” of work and overlook the “dignity of rest.”
Meanwhile, here in MN, local writer Kevyn Burger reminds us that the family meal may be on the Endangered List, but is more vital than ever: “Children from families that routinely sit down to a meal together suffer less depression, obesity and substance abuse.”
Hey, it’s good for parents, too. I’ll eat to that!
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
Bad things happen. Terrible things too. Even in Nice, France.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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!
11 TBEX takeaways
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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…
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!
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
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!
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.
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!
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
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
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
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.
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…
Memorial 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!
The 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.