Debbie Suenson-Taylor has recently started a travel management business, Travel Producer (www.travelproducer.co.uk), inspired by the career break she took with her husband, James.
We have 5 children and all were at an age of getting married, leaving home, getting jobs, going to university or travelling in a gap year themselves. I was at the end of a contract, working as an Interim Director on large corporate service change programmes, and was totally burnt out with it. So becoming empty nesters and a natural gap in work lead to an opportunity that we decided to take.
We managed to let out house out for over two years, so decided that, after travelling the world for 14 months, we would live in Spain. Friends thought we were mad or barmy, and the kids thought we were too old. We were officially an embarrassment.
We funded this time through our savings and covered our home costs through letting out the house. We were in true SKI mode (spending kids inheritance!), taking in experiences that we wanted to really, really, do, even though we hope we are some years off needing a bucket list.
After years of bringing up children, not always successfully, it was scary to think that James and I would be with each other 24/7. Both of us wanted to travel but privately both of us thought that we wouldnt last beyond 6 months. Interestingly neither of us shared this fear before we went! Its only talking about the journey since, and sharing our feelings that we both realise what a huge/brave/crazy step it was. Perhaps all the initial opinions were right!
"We missed the kids too much, and with grandchildren starting to arrive it felt too far away."
Whilst the travelling part of the break was incredible, living in Spain, however, didnt work out as we planned. We chose Spain as it wasnt too far from the children but I really struggled living as an expat. Perhaps if it we had been living in a tiny Spanish village, using my Spanish, it might have been easier. But I was so homesick: we missed the kids too much, and with grandchildren starting to arrive it felt too far away even though its not!
We couldnt believe how much we had done whilst the rest of the world seemingly stood still.
Coming back though was tough, tough, tough. We couldnt believe how much we had done whilst the rest of the world seemingly had stood still. I cried my eyes out as we travelled the final leg over the Straits of Gibraltar back into Spain to meet with the children. Our time together had gone, it would have been so easy to just have turned around at Tarifa, and travel back south through Africa. Another journey!
It was also financially hard as as we had spent our savings, but so worthwhile in many ways. Most notably we realised that all the accumulated assets we had collected over the years just were not important. When you reduce your life to a backpack with a few items of clothing, 2 pairs of shoes, a few books and pens, a wash bag, how quickly you realise you just dont need all the other cobbler. My greatest personal expense whilst away was for a couple of haircuts and colour, some new tops and knickers to replace the well-worn items and a massage/pedicure on a beach in Vietnam!
Even though I had decided I wanted to move back into my earlier career of travel, I still went back to my corporate work. It took me a long time to leave that behind. I sat on the fence for too long scared to say goodbye to contacts and work that I could do standing on my head, but knowing that I would be miserable. My trip made me want to guide, support and work with others to achieve the freedom of travelling with your all your senses renewed.
Straight Talking Advice
"Think how you will fund your outgoings before you leave, it frees the mind and allows for spontaneity in your travels..."
Be imaginative, be true to yourself in terms of likes and dislikes, be brave, have a vision and then take small steps to get there. Because if you try to manage the whole break as one itll probably seem totally overwhelming, unless youre 21!
Think how you will fund your outgoings back at home before you leave. It frees the mind, allows for spontaneity in your travels, and gives you a basis on which to return.
Also consider the amount of electronics you take: it is amazing how quickly laptops, mobiles, chargers etc can add up in weight! Always carry a washing line, plug and toothbrush. Have a card that has some money on it, safe away, and never used unless for emergencies i.e. all your other cards are cloned/fraud. Leave copies and details of all important info like passport numbers, card numbers, insurance doc back home with friends/family so that if everything goes you can make a call and collect all key info youll need for replacements.
Handy Apps and Sites
The FCO (www.fco.gov.uk/) was invaluable we used it all the time for travel updates, entry requirements, official contacts (never needed). We also used TravelPod (http://www.travelpod.com/) where we loaded our photos and blogs; so we could keep in touch with friends and family and they could see what we were up to!
With fourteen months travelling and over a year in Spain, we were away for two and a half years in all. I can say that I found deep seated happiness and contentment. I was carrying a lot of old emotional baggage excuse the pun!- and the journey (overall!) was liberating.