11 April 2016

Career breaks are not solely the domain of the young. In theory, you can take one at any age, although those of us bogged down with a mortgage and children may find the practicalities take more work than someone unencumbered.

Travel consultant Debbie Suenson-Taylor of www.travelproducer.co.uk, then 48, explains how she and her husband James, then 53, went about organising their gap year.

Here is her story.

Debbie Suenson-Taylor of www.travelproducer.co.uk

We decided to take our career break then for a number of reasons: James was retired, I was at the end of a contract as Interim Director on large corporate service change programmes, and I was exhausted and burnt out from the work.

However, the starting point came as we had a perfect window with all the children being away from home, the youngest about to start his own gap year and no grandchildren on the scene.

Our top destination, South America, was obvious, as one of our daughters was going to University in Santiago, Chile for a year, and everything seemed to fit. I finished work, turned down some pending contracts and just used all the time to prepare, explore and learn.

It was so enabling freeing ourselves of one life and having the head space to learn new things about ourselves!

We rented out the house, went to Spain for 3 months to learn Spanish, found a loving home for our two dogs and horse, took copies of our passports and left them with the kids together with key contacts, bank details and power of attorney in case anything happened to us.

Friends thought we were mad and the kids thought we were too old. We were officially an embarrassment, but we didn’t care.

We funded our time abroad with 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 really wanted to do, even though we hope we are some years off needing a ‘bucket list’.

Our journey began on the west coast of the USA. We then travelled south to Equador, spent 6 months in South America, went to Antarctica, hopped over to New Zealand via Easter Island and Tahiti, onto Australia then China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Rajasthan, Kenya, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Morocco and finished back in Spain.

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 wouldn’t last beyond 6 months. Interestingly neither of us shared this fear before we went!

We returned with a new language - Spanish - along with a new determination to find a better life balance and a new focus to our relationship, one that was redefined around us rather than the children. And I had a new business interest in setting my own travel consultancy. I had worked in travel for so many years but had become so detached from the customer and the excitement of travel that after our time away I decided to start a travel consultancy that would truly put the 'wish' back into travels plans rather than what others (travel companies) 'want' you to do. 

The career break was a hugely formative part of what I do now. I would do it again tomorrow, but next time I would stay in one area rather than be on the move all the time. I would like to make more of a base to explore. The hardest thing is that my bucket list has just got longer so where the place would be is a tough call. A lot of this is to do with my work: I get such pleasure out of helping other plan their trips, I sometimes feel I know the place as if I had been there myself. 

If you’re considering a career break at an older age I’d say, don't be afraid to out outside your comfort zone as you may find a new pleasure/skill/friendships that will open up new opportunities and give you a new depth to your later years, particularly if you are empty nesters! 

Essential travel must-haves: dollar bills will pay for anything anywhere, disinfectant powder rather than cream, sarong for a mat, towel, pillow, makeshift bag, copy of passport, head-torch, washing line and electrical tape for mending everything.


This post was written by Debbie Suenson-Taylor of www.travelproducer.co.uk.