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How a travel career break can transform your work-life balance

It’s easy to get stuck in a routine that makes you unhappy. Taking a step back provided the perspective I needed to get my life’s priorities in the right order.

Alex and Lisa High Tatras

Perspective in life is everything. When you are on the inside of a negative situation, you can’t always see how bad it has become, whether it’s a toxic relationship, a stressful job or just a bad habit. The problems that you quickly recognise in other people’s lives are much harder to weed out in yours.

Sometimes a step back is the only way to get a true perspective. Taking a travel career break will lift you out of any rut you’re in – whether it’s one you recognise or not – and force you to assess the situation from the outside.

The work-life balance problem

The circumstances of your career have a profound impact on the overall quality of your life. A study by the Mental Health Foundation not only found that over 40% of UK employees neglect other aspects of life because of work, but also that the more hours people spend working, the more time they will spend worrying about it at home.

It’s a problem that exacerbates itself. When you take on too much work, you create expectations that you will keep delivering above and beyond. I have not-so-fond memories of a time when I was working 80 hours a week and couldn’t get out of it because my manager kept piling on more. I was the guy that couldn’t say no. Eventually, I made a major mistake that cost the company money, simply because I was burned out.

A bad work-life balance wasn’t the main reason my partner and I took a year out of our careers to travel together. But it’s the biggest problem that it helped us to solve.

Identifying what is important to you

Before our travel career break, my partner commuted three hours a day and was studying for a master’s degree on top of her demanding full-time job. I worked long hours and often took the job home, grafting away during weekends and evenings. We barely spent any quality time together. Even so, we hardly noticed the discontentment creeping in. It must have been obvious to everyone else. But to us, this was just what people did when they were thirty-something and living in London, right?

I wouldn’t say we were miserable – but we certainly didn’t have our priorities stacked up very well. The problem was, we couldn’t see it.

Our situation was flipped on its head when we set off travelling. Instead of having just a couple of exhausted hours in front of the TV each evening, suddenly we were spending all of our time together. We woke up and went out when we liked; we set our own schedule. It was a liberation.

For the first few weeks of the journey, any life lessons were swallowed by the excitement and euphoria of being on the road. Then, as the pace slowed down, we found more time to reflect on our lives, and to think about what was really important to us. We realised that we had been neglecting ourselves and each other. And that our lives didn’t need to be this way.

The power of perspective

When your routine at home and work doesn’t allow for any downtime, you become blind to the value of it. It becomes natural to just keep on keeping on. Our travel break gave us the space to see what we had been missing out on, and so we began to reassess our life choices.

Our experience is not an atypical one. We met many more people on the journey who were going through similar realisations, and conversations often turned towards how we might do things differently back at home. Exploring these possibilities led to empowerment and action.

We made two big decisions before we returned home. The first was that I would try a new career direction, and the second was that my partner would not commute further than a ten-minute walk. This was followed a few months later by the decision to leave London and relocate close to my partner’s family.

It’s well established that working fewer hours results in higher productivity. With the freedom of self-employment I have reduced my working day to six hours, and I feel that I am now doing the best work I’ve ever done. My partner has progressed higher in her career, but without the burnout to detract from it.

Our lives are not perfect. But we have made positive changes that we would never have made without taking time out to travel. We now spend quality time together every single day, we see our loved ones more often, and we’re able to devote extra energy to other passions in life. This isn’t what we were looking for when we took a travel career break, but I’m glad we found it.

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