If We Can Do It, So Can You with Ruth Stephensen aka Backpacking Diva

This week’s If We Can Do It interview is with Ruth from Backpacking Diva. I love that it proves how much a career break can re-energise you and leave you ready to rejoin the workplace with fresh inspiration: 

1. Why did you decide to take your grown up gap year/trip? Was it a difficult decision to make?

My partner Scott and I had both been working full time and simultaneously studying masters degrees – needless to say we were both feeling a bit burnt out. Having worked the same jobs for seven years we had been toying with the idea of taking a career hiatus for some time. When we found out that Scott would be traveling to the US to complete his masters we knew we should seize that opportunity to take a break and just not come home for a while!

2. What were other people’s reactions when you told them your plans?

Everyone was really supportive – and incredibly jealous! Scott had a few more mixed reactions, some people thought it might damage his career by taking an extended break.

3. How long did your trip take and where did you go?

We decided to take five months off, starting in the US and exploring the Caribbean for a month. We then travelled to Europe for the remaining four months and came home via Dubai. Our leave was a combination of paid annual leave and unpaid leave.

4. How did you finance your grown up gap year?

Our plan was to save enough money to cover the couple of months of unpaid leave that we would be taking and then to live within our normal means. For example, our accommodation budget would be the same as our weekly rent, and so on. We did come back with a bit of credit card debt in the end, but for the most part we stuck to the budget we had set.

5. Did you go alone or with family/friends?

It was just Scott and I for the most part but we were lucky enough to meet up with a few friends along the way.

6. What is your travel style? (Ie. Budget hostels/Mid-range hotels/Luxury travel – less is more, travelling slowly/pack in as much as possible)

Our travel style is a bit of a balancing act, at some places we stayed in dorm rooms or Airbnb but then others we stayed in beautiful boutique hotels.

In some destinations we crammed a whole city into a few days but then in others we liked to slow it down and take in the sights at a more relaxing pace.

We might skimp in one area so we can splurge in another – budget accommodation followed by fine dining for dinner!

7. Do you go for tours or do it alone?

The whole trip itinerary was planned by us – some of it while we were already on the road.

We ended up booking two week-long tours through G Adventures, a sailing tour in Croatia and then one travelling (mostly) overland from there to Greece. We couldn’t have  afforded to charter our own boat so were happy to share that experience with others, but in hindsight we could have happily done the second tour on our own.

8. What is the best thing about taking a grown up gap year?

Getting some fresh perspective and life experience. Even though I was sad that my adventure had come to an end, when I got home I felt refreshed and inspired to return to work.

Living out of a backpack for five months makes you appreciate what you have at home and how to reevaluate what really is important to you. I learned that I am capable of living with a lot less, to appreciate life’s simple pleasures and that I don’t need as much sleep as I thought I did!

9. And were there any downsides?

Because we were had no routine, irregular sleeping patterns and not eating as well as we would be at home, I found I got run down quite quickly – at one stage it felt like I had a cold for an entire month! We did experience a bit of travel burnout, by the time the end of the trip rolled around we were both ready to come home.

10. What advice would you give to anyone thinking of setting off on their own grown up gap year?

The general reaction from my work colleagues was “How did you manage to get five months off?” and my answer? I just asked. Most workplaces seem to be updating their policies on taking a career break now, so you’ll never get to take a sabbatical if you never ask!

Backpacking Diva

If you’d like to find out more about Ruth’s travels, visit her website, say hi on Facebook or follow her on  Twitter.



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