17 August 2018


So, you have decided you want a career break.

You may have some idea of what you'd like to do, or you may have no idea.

You may know about how much time you can go away for, and how much you have to spend. Or you may not!

No matter your personal situation, knowing where to start when planning a career break is really, really hard. So we're here to help!

Here's the first step that most people miss

The very first thing you need to do if you want a career break isn't deciding what to do or where to go.

No, the first thing to do is work out why you're planning a career break.

Most people miss this step! They jump straight into seeing what their friends have done and wanting to do the same, or hearing about a volunteer project or a TEFL experience and want to do that. Or they think about the places around the world they want to visit.

Those are all really important steps, but they miss out the first one.

You need to know why you're going, in order to make the most of your career break.

Use this super simple quiz to help you work it out

This is easy. Here's a list of reasons people like you take a career break. Answer yes to each one that matches how you feel - you can keep score on paper or use your fingers like I do. It won't take long!

Personal reasons

  1. I want to see the world
  2. I want to do something different
  3. I want to give back
  4. I want new experiences
  5. I'm bored of my life
  6. I'm unhappy with my relationship status
  7. I'm unhappy with my living situation (eg unwanted houseshare, having to live with parents, etc)
  8. I want to develop my relationship by travelling together
  9. All my friends are doing it
  10. I just need a break

Professional reasons

  1. I am bored of my job
  2. I hate my job
  3. I'm frustrated at work
  4. I want a promotion
  5. I want to earn more money
  6. I want to learn and develop new skills
  7. I want a career change and know what I want to do
  8. I want a career change but don't know what I want to do
  9. I want something else out of work (eg own business, flexible work)
  10. I just need a break

If you are observant, you will have noticed that there are ten things in each list. Look at your list or your fingers. Are there more reasons that apply to you from the "personal" list or the "professional" list? Or are they about the same?

Now you have done this little exercise, you will know if it's personal or professional reasons that are driving you forward the most.

If your reasons are more personal

This is an indication that you should follow your heart. Yes, you still need to remember to budget, plan and all of those things, but what you choose to do on your career break should be governed by your inner passions and desires.

Have another look at your list of reasons. Is there a mix of things in there, or is it mostly just you want to get out and do something different? By the way, that's the number one reason people give for taking a career break, so if that applies to you, you're not alone!

Are your reasons mostly positive or negative? Are you going towards something - joining your friends in similar experiences, making a difference in the world? Or are you heading away from a bad or unfulfilling situation? Most people will tell you that negative reasons are not good reasons for doing something, but that's crap, in our professional opinion. Getting away will not only put distance between you and what is making you unhappy, but it will also give you space, distractions and new stuff to get involved in - whether that's a worthwhile volunteer project or a new relationship, or something else. No, you won't run away from your problems but you will at least get some perspective.

Now you know that your reasons are personal, you can start thinking about career break opportunities that match what you really care about, and look at things you really want to do.

If your reasons are more professional

You don't have to abandon your heart's desire if your reasons for taking a career break are more professional than personal. But you do have to weave your passions into the things that you're going to do to get you ahead in your career.

As with the personal reasons, you might find you have more reasons that drive you towards a change - like wanting a promotion or a career change. Or you may find there are more negative reasons - those that are driving you away from your job, like feeling frustrated or bored. Either way, you will need your career break to be the bridge between where you are and where you want to be.

That means looking at the job you want and working out what you need to get there. If it's more management experience, then a volunteer placement on a career break where you have to manage other people will be the perfect stepping stone. If you want to work internationally, then a career break learning new languages can help. Look at job postings to see what skills and experience they're asking for.

Now you know, you can start looking at career breaks which will give you what you need. But remember not to abandon your passions! There's no point going to, say, Africa, when you've always had a burning desire to visit China. And don't work with children if you don't really want to but think it's the only teaching opportunity available - there are plenty of teaching, coaching and training career breaks where you work with adults.

One other word of advice when it comes to taking a career break for professional reasons - the simple fact of taking a career break will help you get a new, better job. We have lost count of the people who have come back and found that employers are impressed with their experience and willing to offer them a promotion - and more money!

If your reasons are equally professional and personal

This actually makes your life a little bit easier! Start by planning your career break according to the guidance for professional reasons, above, then just add in bits for the personal reasons! For example, if your professional reasons mean doing TEFL really fits with your career path, but you have always wanted to learn to surf, an option would be to do a TEFL course, do your teaching stint and earn enough money for surf school! Time and money are your biggest constraints but most career breakers manage to fit in at least one passion or new thing - most do a lot more!

One final task

Fish out that list again - of all your reasons for taking a career break. Is there one that jumps out at you? Is there one that really rings true for you?

For most people, as mentioned above, it's simply the desire to do something different. If that is the case for you, choosing a career break will be pretty easy because it will definitely be different from your day job!

If it's something else, this should be the most important factor when choosing your career break. For example, if it's needing a career change, a career break where you learn a raft of new skills plus have time and space to think about your next move, will be right for you. If you're desperate for a new relationship, any career break where you're going to meet a ton of new people is good - plus learning a new skill will help you feel confident in yourself, particularly if it's a sport.

OK, that's the first step, what's next?

Next is the exciting bit, looking at all the fab career break options available to you and choosing one (or several) that match your reasons for doing it. You can start by looking at all of our career breaks here.

Need more personalised help? Drop us a line - it's free and anonymous.