I took a career break some years ago, travelling around the world.
I feel like quite a different person (and traveller) now, and I thought I'd share with you some of the things that my career break changed.
I'm loads less anxious
When I first set off for my round-the-world trip, I was your typical anxious traveller. I worried about getting pickpocketed, mugged, deported - pretty much everything in fact! But as I wrote about in this blog post, the worst thing that happened on my career break only lasted a few hours and I recovered completely.
Because of that, I'm a much more chilled traveller now, and I can relax much more and enjoy my trips. I know that the horrible things you read about in the papers are incredibly rare (that's why they're in the papers) and there are thousands of people like me who travel about every year and come back in one piece.
If you're an anxious traveller planning a big trip, I really hope it has the same effect on you as it did on me.
I grew up within sneezing distance of London, and as you know, big city folk aren't really ones for small talk. Try to strike up a conversation on the Tube and people will look at you like you are a mental.
Not so when you are travelling. You'll wander into cultures that are generally more open and friendly than us Brits, and because you're foreign, you're a novelty so people will want to talk to you.
It's not just foreigners either. I travelled alone so frequently hooked up with other solo travellers. They were almost always Western, but not always British, so I got to meet a huge range of people. It became perfectly normal to invite myself to sit at someone else's table, or even to end up travelling together and sharing a room for a while. And this led to another change...
I'm more open (and less judgemental)
Talking to lots of different people really opened my eyes. I would start off thinking one thing about a person and they'd turn out to be quite different - and often have qualities I wished I had myself.
There was the tour guide who I thought was a bit weird and immature, whom I discovered earnestly trying to learn new words we'd taught him, that he'd written down earlier in the day. This boy I'd thought was a bit flakey was actually trying really hard to better himself.
There was a hawker who, as soon as I complimented her on her hair, stopped trying to sell me stuff and fetched me a flower to put in my own hair. I'd thought she just wanted my money but she wanted to share her styling tips!
I could go on - there were countless people who went out of their way to be kind to me, share a joke or simply hang out. It was lovely - and also quite humbling.
I'm more confident
Everyone says this after their career break. It's because travelling, or volunteering, or doing a ski instructor course, or whatever it might be, takes guts.
Then when you're out there, you have new challenges thrown in your way. It might be chasing vermin out of your backpack (check), learning to dive when you're crap at sports (check) or trying to get past a corrupt immigration official without parting from your cash (check).
It's not that I don't get scared of doing stuff any more, it's that I tend to man up and get on with it regardless.
And some ways I haven't changed
I'm still rubbish at packing. I don't know why I can't crack this. I try to cover every eventuality so I'll pack extra trousers, shoes I'll never wear and a jumper for the tropics, and I'm so caught up with that, I end up forgetting something important, like my toothbrush.
I also still do things wrong. There's a post on this blog about so-called travel 'experts' and how nobody gets it right all the time. My last fail was not sufficiently researching my hotel in San Francisco and ending up in what might politely be described as an 'eclectic' area (ie it was a bit dodgy).
Finally, apart from diving, I'm still crap at sports.
Have you taken a career break or a long trip? How has it changed you - or hasn't it?! Let us know in the comments.