The Escape 101 Audiobook is Here!

August 6, 2008

The greatest challenge with a book about recapturing your time is that in order to read it you need to make…well, time. The result of this vicious little circle is that the people who need Escape 101 the most are often the ones who have the most trouble making the time to read it.

The solution? Enter Escape 101, the audiobook. We’ve been eagerly anticipating the arrival of the audio version for a few months. Now you can drive, jog, cycle, walk or otherwise listen your way to planning your sabbatical or career break. For the crazy busy, the audio lovers, or for those who just aren’t big readers, this is a great way to experience the book.

The audiobook is published by Gildan Media, who brought such greats as The Attractor Factor, Blue Ocean Strategy and The Go-Giver to audio, and it’s read by the wonderfully talented Erik Synnestvedt, the voice behind such classics as Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich, and Timothy Butler’s Getting Unstuck. We’re thrilled to be in such good company.

You can download the audiobook directly via Audible or iTunes. Enjoy!

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How Long Should Your Sabbatical Be?

July 25, 2008

Reader S. asks:

“How long should my sabbatical last? Is a month long enough? A year? Does it matter?”

We’ve been asked this question more than once, and it surprised me a bit the first time. The truth is, though, it does matter. Whether you’re considering a permanent escape, a full-on sabbatical, or a mini-retirement, here’s why duration is important, and how you might decide how long your escape should last.

Up To 1 Month

At the risk of getting into semantics, breaks of just a few weeks are really just long vacations. But given that many people have never taken more than a single week off in their entire working lives, these short breaks can be an important starting point.

For business owners, it’s a great way to test-drive being away from things. For workaholics and the chronically under-vacationed, it’s a taste of what life might look like when it’s not fueled by adrenalin 24-7. For many, a month off is the perfect catalyst to start thinking about a longer escape.

These short breaks are a great introductory step. Your cat can probably survive a few weeks with a huge bowl of food, a cat door, and an open toilet bowl. Train him well and he might even water the plants. Your boss will forgive you, and you won’t need to auction off the contents of your home.

The bottom line: A month is a stepping stone to something larger. If six months feels too overwhelming for you, and stops you from taking action, then start small and commit to using your short escape as a springboard to something longer.

1-3 Months

For most people, this is getting outside the range of standard vacation, and so for the first time you’ll have to make more serious workplace and business plans. It also requires a little more financial planning.

The cat and the plants are going to need more permanent arrangements, but you don’t need to sell your car, rent your home or quit your job in order to wrangle a couple of months off. For the first time, though, you’re going to get a real taste of what it’s like to shed some of the mental life load you’ve been carrying.

Be prepared for: some eye-opening insights into your life, and the appearance of a strange voice inside your head that asks a lot of tough questions about what you’re returning to at the end of this short sabbatical. And be forewarned – that little voice doesn’t like evasive answers.

3-6 Months

For me, this has always marked the entry into “true” sabbatical territory, although everyone has their own definition.

When traveling, I’ve always found that by the three month mark a place begins to feel more like home. You’ve had an opportunity to make relationships and become involved in a community. If you’re planning to do volunteer work, three to six months is also an opportunity to make a more significant difference. Also, most short term volunteer programs require you to pay to jump on board, but when you get into longer time periods, a lot of new doors can open up.

If you’re relocating to another country, you’ll also discover that your language skills are really going to kick into gear after 3 months. You’ll find your ear warming up to foreign sounds, and you’ll develop solid confidence in your ability to speak.

Watch out: Once you crack the three month mark, that little voice inside your head is going to start making sense. You might never look at home the same way again.

6 Months and Beyond

Once you begin to crest the six month mark, some important changes start to happen. For lengthy escapes like this, you’re dealing with a whole different kind of preparation. Most people can’t just cobble together a year’s worth of time using a few sick days, unused vacation and some good grace from their employer – this is serious time off.

In Escape 101 we used the idea of “big rocks” as symbol of the difficult to shift, inertia-heavy things in your life that might hold up a sabbatical – things like your house, cars and job. The first thing you’ll notice when you plan a longer sabbatical is that you start to look at some of those big rocks differently.

People planning long absences are more likely to sell their cars, rent or sell their homes, and go on indefinite leave or quit their jobs altogether. Business owners make sustainable changes in the people and processes of their companies, as opposed to patching together more temporary solutions.

The result of course, is that the different type of preparation that goes into a long career break tends to create a different type of experience while you’re away. You’ll have fewer ties to your “normal” life, and less mental baggage as a result. The cat, the car, the boss, the house, the banking – in order to escape for up to a year or more, you’ve had to move beyond band-aid solutions for those things.

When you leave briefly, all those things still exist. When you take six months or more off, you need to solve those things,and the result is an extraordinary peace of mind that’s difficult to find any other way.

In the End, A Regular Vacation Won’t Cut It

Sabbaticals are about time. Doing something “crazier than usual “with your standard two-week vacation isn’t the same. It’s great, don’t get me wrong, but you’re not going to get into the good stuff until you’ve really escaped for longer.

The message here is this:

The longer your sabbatical, the greater and more enduring the benefits.

If you’ve never taken a decent vacation, then do it. Book the time now. You need it, or you wouldn’t be reading this. A short sabbatical beats no sabbatical at all. But don’t fool yourself into thinking that a good vacation and six months off are the same thing.

The great thing is that you can start small. Try to double the longest vacation you’ve ever had, and you’ll notice some significant benefits. Double that a couple of more times, and you’re into sabbatical territory and a whole new way of looking at your life.

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Inside the Mind of A Sabbatical Family

June 26, 2008

Dani, Craig, Caroline & Conor are preparing to take a year long trip around the world departing in late July 2008. They’ve been running a very thoughtful and insightful blog, The Wide Wide World.

Craig’s got a great FAQ at the blog that answers a lot of common questions, regarding work, money, school and safety, so for our interview, Craig and I delved into the mental game of sabbaticals and family travel. If you’re planning your own escape, this is required reading…

Q: It’s pretty close to departure time. What’s been the hardest thing so far?

I think both Dani (my wife) and I had a hard time telling our parents. Taking a year off to travel the world is just so alien to their experience; they have no way to process the information. Even worse, we’re taking the grandchildren.

We’ve really tried to demonstrate to them that we’ll be able to stay in touch. That was part of the reason for getting the blog up and running so early. And we’ve been practicing with them using Skype.

On the work front, there have been challenges too. I’m an an independent consultant, so in telling my clients, I was quitting my job. I’ve been fortunate to have had several long-term clients. In more than one case, I was telling a friend that I wouldn’t be working with them for at least a year.

I suppose the common thread is that disengaging from daily relationships – family and co-workers – has been the most difficult thing for me.

Q: Is everyone on board? Did it start out that way, or was this your vision at first?

Everyone is on board. I think my daughter Caroline (age 13) summed it up very well when I told her I had bought our airline tickets. Her response: “Dad, that makes me feel excited – and queasy.”

But getting to where we are today has been a process.

This trip grew out of an on-going conversation that Dani and I had been having. We knew that in June 2008 both of our kids would be changing schools. Caroline was going to be entering high school; Conor (age 11) would be heading off to middle school. We knew that if we were ever going to do something out of the ordinary, this was the year to do it.

In February 2007 Dani and I began a running conversation, brainstorming ideas about what we might do. I wasn’t thinking explicitly in terms of a sabbatical, but as it turns out, that’s what I was moving towards.

The first idea I suggested was to live a year in Australia. I have friends there, and I found that we could enroll our kids in Australian public school for a modest amount of money. Dani didn’t say no, but she wasn’t excited about the idea. She thought living in Australia would be too similar to living in the U.S. So we tried to expand our thinking.

One day, we found a Canadian family, the Carlsons, who took a round the world trip in 2001. We read their web site, then emailed them. Five years after the Carlsons returned home, they were all doing well and considered their trip around the world to be a life-changing experience.

Then I started looking for other families who had taken round the world trips and was surprised by the how many I found. (We list of about two dozen on our web site).

One day Dani came running in my office (I work at home) and told me to turn on Oprah. Dani rarely watches daytime TV, but happened to have it on that day. When I tuned in I saw why Dani was so excited. Oprah was doing a satellite interview with the Andrus Family of Atlanta, Georgia, from the top of Table Mountain in Capetown, South Africa. They were about two-thirds of the way through a round the world trip.

I immediately went to their blog, Six in the World, and read every word. I think that’s the moment I knew our family could do a round the world trip too.

As a family, we spent the next several months discussing the pros and cons of taking such a trip. At first my daughter was skeptical. My wife was probably just humoring me. Conor, bless his heart, was ready to leave right away.

We spent a lot of time talking about where we would go, what we would do, what life on the road would be like. We had a very open discussion about our expectations – and our concerns. The more we talked about it, the more we wanted to do it, and the more we believed we could do it. We knew it would a challenge, that there would be good days and not-so-good days. Still, we all knew it was the chance of a lifetime.

One night, Caroline said to me: “Dad, I want you to know that I’m scared to go on this trip. But I also want you to know that I’ll be really disappointed if we don’t go.”

By Christmas 2007 we were all on board.

Q: Have you encountered much in the way of skepticism, or negative response from friends or other family? If so, how have you dealt with “disapproval”?

Just yesterday a “friend” told me he’d been reading our blog recently and it was obvious to him that I was a “very tortured person.” Uh huh.

One of the things that has surprised me most – something I never predicted and didn’t expect – is the wide range of reactions we’ve gotten to news of our trip.

We have casual friends who have adopted our trip as their “cause,” sending us information about every stop on our itinerary. And we have good friends who do everything they can to avoid even acknowledging that we are going to be away for a year.

One family in our neighborhood has studiously avoided mentioning our trip to either Dani or me. But they’ve pumped our kids for information at every turn. Where are you going? Is your father going to work? How’s he paying for this? I find their reaction to be rather odd, and I have no explanation for it.

I’ve also had a lot of colleagues tell me they wish they could do something like this, but they can’t because of X, Y, or Z. I’ve had others tell me all the reasons they would never want to do something like this, and then tell me a vacation to a five-star resort is the only way to travel.

It reminds me of something John W. Gardner once said: “At a certain point in your life you learn that people are neither for you or against you – they’re thinking about themselves.”

On the other hand, I’ve also been surprised by the number of people who have reached out to me, offering encouragement and advice. Several other travelers found me on the web and sent notes of encouragement. You sent me an email and a copy of Escape 101 at a time when I really needed the wisdom you had to offer.

There really does seem to be a different spirit among travelers. It’s refreshing to talk to people who share information rather than hoard it.

Q: What advice would you offer to someone who would love to do what you’re doing, but is convinced that it’s impossible to leave work for that long?

I recently read a great quote from Joseph Campbell, the author and mythology professor. He said “A mid-life crisis is when you reach the top of the ladder, only to find it’s been place against the wrong wall.”

Over the years, I’ve worked with a lot of top performers and hard chargers. Almost every one of them has talked about how important their family is to them – but very few have walked the walk. In a showdown between work and family, work seems to win more often than not. So I am immediately skeptical when someone tells me they want to take time off. They probably need to… but want to? I’m not always so sure that’s the case.

If a person said to me, “I wish I could do what you are doing,” I’d say, “What’s stopping you? What’s really stopping you?”

Certainly there are circumstances that can prevent a person from taking a sabbatical. But often the the obstacles in our way are of our own making: The need to feed the beast. To climb the ladder. To maintain your place in your tribe.

If a person or family really wants to take time off to travel the world, they can figure our a way to do it. It may take some creativity. It may take some compromise. But it can be done. But the first step is really wanting to do it.

In my search for other families traveling the world, I discovered a Kiwi family of eight (eight!) who are about to take off on an multi-year travel adventure. They’ve been saving for this trip, pinching pennies, for years. But family travel was their dream – and they worked together to achieve it. You have to respect and admire that. I know I’m going to be following their adventure, and I hope to meet them one day.

Q: Even though you haven’t left, have the decisions and planning so far changed you at all? If you had to cancel your sabbatical before it even started, what would you take away from the experience to date?

Every day I am acutely aware of how fragile it all is.

I know there are things that could derail us before we leave or once we are on the road. But there are two thoughts I keep coming back to.

First, I have a new appreciation for what’s possible, for what a family can do together. I have nothing but admiration and respect for the many families who are out there living their lives on their own terms. That’s what I aspire to.

Second, I am deeply grateful for my wife and my children, for their spirit of adventure, for their willingness to take a leap of faith into the world. I hope they never lose their sense of wonder, their willingness to break from the pack, and their ability to confront their fears, take a risk and move forward.

This is already the best thing we’ve ever done. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

I’d like to thank Craig for his time and his thoughtfulness. Visit The Wide Wide World and subscribe to follow their trip. If you’re planning a sabbatical of your own, you won’t be disappointed by their updates.

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How One Family Makes a 30-Month Sabbatical a Reality

June 3, 2008

In June, the Vogel family will leave Prudhoe Bay, Alaska on bicycle. Some 30 months later, they’ll arrive in Ushuaia, Argentina. Along they way, kids Davy and Daryl will be awarded the title of “Youngest Person to Cycle the Pan-American Highway” by Guinness World Records.

This isn’t the first time they’ve done this. I asked Nancy Sathre-Vogel if she’d share some insights into what’s required – mentally and logistically – to pull off an escape of this magnitude.

Q: How are you dealing with jobs/careers/work?

Jobs? Are you implying that a responsible, logical parent would consider their job in all this? Yes, I suppose that would be the wise thing to do, but I’m not sure we fit in that category.

The short answer is that we feel life is too short to not take advantage of it. Our boys will never be ten years old again. We are (relatively) healthy right now, but we all know how quickly that can change. In other words – bag the job and live life.

OK, I happen to have a career where I know I can always find a job (I’m a Special Education teacher). That makes the decision a whole lot easier!

Q: What’s your budget for the trip, and how are you funding it?

The financial aspect of an extended journey will always be the most difficult one. That being said, traveling by bike is a relatively cheap method of travel – especially with gas prices the way they are today! In 2006-07 we spent twelve months cycling around the USA and Mexico, and found that our monthly expenses on the road were $1000-1500. We expect food prices to be slightly higher due to gas prices, but should be approximately in the same range.

We have also sought out insurance for expats and will be able to pick up an insurance plan for much less than we paid on our last trip. This policy will have a high deductible, therefore will only cover major incidents. We’ll plan on paying the small stuff out of our pocket.

So – all total, we are planning for a monthly budget of around $2000 or approximately $60,000 – 70,000 for the entire 2 ½ years.

To pay for it, we will take money out of our retirement account if need be. Yes, we will have less money when we’re old and decrepit, but we’ll have memories like nobody else! That said, we are hoping we won’t have to take much out.

  • We own our house outright, and will rent it out while we’re on the road. Anything over the expenses of maintaining the house (taxes, insurance, and maintenance) will be used to pay our daily expenses.
  • We are also hoping to have our website be a valuable educational resource for teachers and homeschooling families. We will be writing up a series of photo essays about the various places we pass through and are hoping educators will use them to help kids learn. We have a map posted where we will link to the various essays. I know the map is pretty empty and forlorn right now, but we’re hoping to start getting info in there as soon as we start pedaling! We’re hoping to get a small amount of money from ads and donations from that.
  • Another possibility for raising a bit of money is with John’s website design. We will have a computer with us on the journey, and he will (hopefully) find a few clients who are impressed enough with our website to want him to design one for them.
  • I will also try to write a few articles for magazines and get a small amount of income that way.

Basically – the game plan is to get a lot of ‘little bits’ and hope they add up to enough. Or at least close to enough.

Q: You have a great deal of travel experience. What would be your top advice for a family that’s dreaming of getting away for the first time?

Just do it. There are a million reasons not to go, and that’s what most people tend to focus on. There will never be ‘enough’ money and there will always be job demands. The time and money for a family adventure will never just fall in your lap out of the clear blue sky. You simply have to make the decision to go, and DO IT!

I’ve got blog entry that could relate to this topic perfectly called “One More Pedal Stroke“. Although I’ve likened my experience of climbing a hill to life in general, I think it also pertains to setting off on an extended journey. If you look at the preparations of the journey as a whole, it seems insurmountable. But once you’ve made the decision to tackle it, just take it one step at a time until you reach the eve of departure. That’s really all there is to it.

Q: How are you dealing with school for the kids?

Basically, we will allow Mother Nature and our journey itself to be the boys’ teacher. Our daily lives will be filled with learning – although that learning will be far from predictable. As we pedal alongside the Alaska pipeline, we will learn about oil production and the permafrost. When we see wildlife on the side of the road, we will learn about bears and moose. Our boys will see Aztec and Incan cultural relics and gain an understanding of how people in those cultures lived. They’ll experience various political and economic environments. All those sights, sounds, smells, and tastes will be their teacher.

I’ve written a blog entry about our approach to “roadschooling” – you can read it here.

Q: What about playmates, besides each other?

Our boys have an uncanny ability to seek out other kids to play with. At campgrounds, they stay at the playground until darkness drives them away and they somehow manage to find all kinds of kids everywhere we go.

It is true that they will not have the chance to develop long-term friendships, but we feel the advantages of a journey like this far outweigh the disadvantages.

Q: For many families, safety is one of the first things that comes to mind when they consider traveling with kids. Any words for those who would like to try a family adventure, but are scared off by the thought of international travel?

I think we live with an illusion of security in our own home. My home is Boise, so I feel Boise is ‘safe’. Carlos lives in Bogota, so he feels it’s ‘safe’. Galya lives in Israel, so Jeruselem seems safe to her, and Cairo feels safe to Wallah. Why would Gitanjeli’s home in India be any less safe for me than it is for her? I’ve written a blog entry to address this issue.

Thanks to Nancy for sharing the details of their sabbatical. You can support this educational trip via their website at http://familyonbikes.org/, and by subscribing to their blog at http://familyonbikes.org/blog. We’ll be checking in with Nancy and the family later in their escape. Good luck!

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Go Big or Stay Home: Taking the Sabbatical Plunge

May 9, 2008

Over at The Wide Wide World, Craig has just bought four round the world airline tickets. He posted their full itinerary that will eventually take the family of four to six continents, but what’s even better is his description of taking the plunge, credit card in hand.

It’s hard to describe the combination of excitement and sheer terror I feel right now.

One thing for sure. We’re not staying home.

I know exactly what he means. The great part, though, is that the sheer terror steadily gives way to rising excitement. It’s that first “point of no return” step that really makes your stomach flip. Those big steps, though, are the ones that lock you in, and ensure that you really do escape.

Beyond a great glimpse into the psychology of family sabbatical planning, The Wide Wide World has a great list of round-the-world family bloggers. The site is well worth following.

Go Big or Stay Home

PS: We’ll be checking in with Craig before and during their escape. To make sure you don’t miss the interview, subscribe to Escape 101 by email or RSS!

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Commit To Your Sabbatical With StickK

March 31, 2008

StickK LogoSabbaticals can be challenging. Like saving for retirement, quitting smoking, losing weight and a host of other goals that never seem to come to fruition, taking a career break requires a commitment. The challenges is that it’s tough to get committed to your…err…commitment.

What’s really going on here? Why is it so hard to accomplish the things we want so much? The challenge is that desirable outcomes in the long-term (like good health or wealth) tend to require not-so-desirable actions (like exercising or saving money) in the here and now. The result? We avoid the less-desirable options, and put off for yet another day what we should do right now.

Enter StickK. It tries to leverage your psychological wiring by penalizing your lack of action. At StickK, you create a “Commitment Contract” for your desired goal – quitting smoking, or running a marathon, for example. Fail to butt out or stick to your training, and you’re subject to your chosen penalty, ranging from public shaming on the StickK site, to actual financial costs, which are donated to the charity you choose. To ramp up your motivation further, you can even have your money donated to a charity you hate if you fail to perform.

Using StickK to Lock In Your Sabbatical Plans

You can use StickK to get some leverage on yourself and accomplish a few of the steps that can help make your sabbatical a reality.

Some goals you might choose:

  • Pitching your boss, announcing your plans or otherwise going public at work with your sabbatical goals
  • Opening a savings account and setting up an automatic paycheck deduction
  • Buying plane tickets, or other financial commitments

A word of caution: make sure you set your penalty high enough that it represents enough pain for you to be sure you’ll follow through.

StickK

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Six Months Off: A Book Review

March 20, 2008

When we started doing research for Escape 101, the book I kept stumbling across over and over again was Six Months Off. It eventually found its way into our book as recommended reading, and it deserves the good reviews it’s received.

Billed as “The Sabbatical Book”, Six Months Off is indeed a comprehensive guide to getting away. The book attempts to cover the whole range of sabbatical planning and experience, from overcoming doubts to choosing a destination and negotiating with your employer, and does a pretty good job of it. The authors also interviewed a number of people who have successfully escaped on sabbaticals of their own.

What’s Great:
The case studies are inspiring and broad, and do the job they should: make you believe you really can get away from it all. The section on “Big Buts”, is terrific, and tackles the toughest of the “I could never do that because” scenarios with ease. If you only bought the book for this section, it’d be worth it.

The chapter on negotiating with your employer is also excellent. For most people, this is a significant hurdle, large enough to stop most people from even considering a sabbatical. The book even includes scripted responses to the big questions that an employer will throw at a would-be sabbatical-taker. It’s a thorough, and best of all, it’s not focused on “quitting and walking away” – there’s a pervasive attitude of get-paid-while-you-do-it that’s quite refreshing.

What’s Not as Great:

The book’s a bit older. Published in 1996, it’s extensive resource sections have no website listings. Don’t let that stop you, though. The book’s just as helpful and inspiring today, and in this day and age, printed resource materials go out of date quickly anyway – most of the resources can be found online quite easily.

Six Months Off: How To Plan, Negotiate, & Take The Break You Need Without Burning Bridges Or Going Broke

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