Career Break Interview Series
As part of the Career Break Interview Series, I will be interviewing individuals who have taken a career break or sabbatical. When I was considering taking a career break, reading about other peoples experiences inspired me to hand in my notice and book my plane ticket to India. I hope reading other peoples stories will not only inspire you but also provide first-hand advice and helpful travel tips.
I had the chance to catch up with Emma and Louise who both worked for an animal charity and took the leap to quit their jobs, move out of their home, buy a camper van and go off exploring. Emma and Louise run Van Life Diary where they blog about day to day life in the van and the places they are seeing along the way.
So onto the interview:
What were you doing before your career break?
We were both working for an animal rescue charity. This involved rehoming unwanted or abandoned pets, assisting the public and working in a large team. The focus was always on animal welfare.
What made you decide to take a career break?
We had both wanted to travel for a long time but sadly we lost several members of family and friends in a very short space of time. This really pushed us to take a leap now rather than wait and make our dreams a reality. We spoke to a lot of people who said they also had the same dreams and regretted not doing it when they had their health and youth. Things happened in their lives which have now stopped them being able to fulfil their ambitions. The reality really struck a cord and we decided if we didn’t do it now, the likelihood was that we wouldn’t ever do it.
Did you have any concerns before you quit your job?
Our home was tied to the job so if we left work, we knew we would be losing a house too. There were also concerns about pensions, savings, being available at short notice for family and friends depending on where we were in the world. What we could learn, experience and share outweighed the risks for us. We acknowledge the risks and try to ensure that our fears don't stop us whilst having a mental back up plan in case of an emergency.
Did you approach your employer to ask to take a sabbatical or did you want to quit your job?
I asked my employer before Christmas for different reasons as I thought I would need to move to care for my grandmother - however, she sadly passed in January. Our employers didn’t have a ‘sabbatical’ policy and therefore would not hold my job open for the year. Although my HR department were understanding about my situation they didn’t feel they could make an exception for me without causing a ripple effect in the organisation. Since we both resigned we have been told they may revisit this policy in the near future.
How long are you planning to take off for your career break?
As long as we can to be honest. We don’t have an end date in mind. We hope to be able to find short term work along the way in order to fund further travel. Living in a confined space can be testing - so as long as we can stand each other too I suppose.
Were your work colleagues, friends and family supportive?
On the whole, yes. It’s understandable for family to have concerns - after all, they wanted to make sure that we had every possible scenario covered so that we were able to enjoy ourselves and not end up crashing in their spare room! I have downloaded an app called Life360 so that my parents can check in and see my GPS location (this cuts down on daily calls asking if we are still alive!).
How did you manage your finances so you could take the time off?
In a bittersweet turn of events, losing both grandparents in 12 weeks left a small sum of money which we chose to use for the trip. We had saved some money and bought the vehicle prior to their passing but this has helped us to bring the date forward. My grandparents loved to travel and when clearing their house we found my grandmother's diary of a European coach trip. It is so detailed that she even wrote what they had for dinner in each restaurant. It is my hope that we can retrace their steps in homage to them.
You have purchased a camper van, what attracted you to van life?
This is the hardest but easiest question yet. Vanlife chose us. Working in an emotional environment and living on site meant that we were never switching off. Our first van was a VW T5 and this was great for weekends and festivals. Sadly this wasn’t big enough for full time living for us as it wasn't a high top. Being able to get up and be straight outdoors stops you from being lazy, you reconnect, heal and recharge without knowing it. The peace, the tranquillity and the fresh air. We love visiting new locations and learning about each one.
What are your plans with your new set of wheels?
We have had this one (Patchouli, an Iveco Daily) since January and so far she has spent about 50% of the time with mechanics whilst we sort out a few teething problems. This week I would just be happy if she lets us in the side door rather than us having to climb over the headrests to get in!!! In all seriousness, she’s 16 and hasn’t been kept in the best condition. She is a cantankerous so and so and makes us “laugh” (cough cough) at her individual traits and tantrums.
If she decided to play ball I would like to redesign the storage space to better suit our needs as opposed to being a weekend holiday van.
You have taken part in a foraging course, is this a new skill you are learning? How is it going?
This was an amazing experience. We were on a half day course and it was non stop although we only went 500 yards from our starting point! Our teacher was very knowledgeable and we were amazed at what we could - and importantly couldn't - eat. She had samples of things like ketchup, syrups and garnish leaves for us to try and has sent us through some recipes to recreate what we sampled. Although we are not necessarily going to become full-time foragers, it is helpful just to have an understanding and be able to identify the flora and fauna that we come into contact with.
It’s important to be open to trying new things and for us we would like a more holistic living so the benefits of being able to forage for food rich in certain nutrients could help keep us healthy and treat minor ailments! You can read what we got up to on the course here.
Do you have a ‘go to’ meal to cook in the van?
We have two… Frankfurter ‘broken’ omelette with onion, tomato and mushroom served with pitta bread or avocado salad topped with a poached egg. (Salad is finely chopped white onion, tomato and cucumber with freshly squeezed lemon and lashings of cracked black pepper!!!!). This can also be served on ciabatta as an open sandwich. We are thinking about doing an e-book on 'van life, cooking healthy on a budget'.
Have you travelled much before? What is your favourite country?
Louise has lived in several countries before including Hawaii and America but her heart lies deeply rooted in Canada. Through the provinces of Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia, Louise lived in Canada just shy of 4 years and is desperate to take me there. The people are so friendly, warm and family orientated. It has the longest coastline in the world measuring 151,019 miles! It has more lakes than the rest of the worlds lakes combined and the seasons are a drastic change from one to the other where she has experienced an 80 degree shift with +40c in summer and -40c in the winter (fun fact - you can get sunburn in both!)
Emma - I have visited America, Spain, Austria, Belgium. I have to say though that I have never felt so at home than when I am in the Welsh Mountains. I am a bit of a home bird and this country has so much to offer. Some people can be so focused on how many miles away they can be from home when travelling and completely overlook what is on their doorstep.
Do you feel different after quitting your job? Do you have any highlights so far?
Yes instantly felt that it was the right move to make - then realised how much stuff we had in the house that we had to re-home/recycle and remove. What a rush! We didn’t think we had that much stuff but it just kept breeding! We tackled a bit every day and thanks to Louises' brother, a lot of our stuff is in his garage. Sorry Steve!
Highlights - we have been on the road for nearly a month now and seen all four seasons. In fact, we stayed in Ross on Wye a few weeks ago and woke up to snow on the hills! Our skin is breathing in the fresh air, we wake and get up fully awake and have lost that sluggish feeling. Tal-y-bont on Usk reservoir was stunning and we stayed for 2 days and did a 5-hour hike.
What is the plan when your career break is over? Are you planning on returning to the same job?
We haven't really planned that far to be honest. We are quite spontaneous and if we get an offer to live on an island counting puffins we would probably say yes, or helping out other community or environmental projects. We are not really office material anymore so would likely be looking for outdoor work. Possibly still in the charity sector.
Do you have any money saving tips or travel hacks when travelling long term?
Check the website :) Yes tips including where to find cheap parking and fuel.
If you had to give one piece of advice to somebody considering taking a career break or sabbatical, what would it be?
Tell us about Van Life Diary?
Originally we started Van Life Diary to just blog about our adventures but it now includes more specific information about locations and van life tips, how to guides etc. I would also like to start posting about environmental projects to highlight the work others are doing to restore our lands to how they should be and write a recipe book in the future.
Thank you, Emma and Louise, for talking to Career Break Kate about your experience of taking a career break and I look forward to reading about your adventures on your blog.
You should definitely check out the Van Life Diary for van life inspiration! I travelled around New Zealand and Australia in a camper van and those two months were among the most memorable of my trip. As Emma says you instantly feel awake and ready to explore when seeing the world in a camper van.
If you have taken a career break or sabbatical and have a story to tell, drop me an email at email@example.com to be a part of the interview series.