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Career Break: Life lessons from a couple traveling around the world


Helen and Hedd Seeing the World!

Have you ever wanted to just stop what you are doing and take off on an adventure around the world? Leaving all of your cares behind and just enjoying other cultures, people and places that you’ve always wanted to experience? While recently on vacation backpacking in New Zealand’s south island Fiordland we met a couple who had done just that. We were tramping (aka backpacking lingo for New Zealand) the Routeburn Track which is 24 miles of spectacular scenery. Along the track they have huts where you can reserve a bed (along with 39 other backpackers!) that is usually a bunk bed or even mattresses in a row, very cozy! The huts have a kitchen house equipped with gas stoves, sinks with running water and tables and chairs. They also have flush toilets and sinks – a luxury while backpacking for sure! It is a great way to see beautiful areas of a country that you cannot access by car. We would hike all day then come to our hut and settle in for the afternoon. It was a routine that I grew to love each day. We would go into the bunk house and find a bed to secure for the night and begin unpacking our sleeping bags and necessary equipment and food to cook our dinner.

Along the Routeburn Track

On the first day of our hike we got settled then went into the kitchen hut to make some tea and get ready for dinner. While we were preparing our dehydrated meals we couldn’t help but notice a young couple across the room. They brought their meal in and staged it on the table. What we saw made us drool with envy…they had pasta – real pasta tortellini and pasta sauce – in a glass jar no less! There was a moment of trekking judgment taking place; why would they carry the extra weight of glass jar? While we assembled our dry meal with boiling water and ate with a serious lack of enthusiasm for our cuisine, we no longer wondered why they trekked in the glass jar! We could smell their food and knew if they broke out garlic bread to go with it we would seriously have to consider a hostile takeover. I knew then that they were interesting and smart and I must get to know them.

Along the Milford Track

The next evening we asked them to join us for dinner, I’m sure partially because we wanted to be closer to their delicious smelling food! We decided that on our next trek, which followed Routeburn, we would make a stop to the grocery store and pick up a few luxuries regardless of the extra weight! We were so delighted to meet Helen and Hedd who were from the UK. We discovered that they were on an around the world trip that would last 6 months – WOW how cool is that? Very cool, I thought. They started in South America and then made their way to New Zealand, next they were going to Australia then on to Africa. Helen is a writer and blogs about their trip which you can read at ‘a curious optimist’. So we ventured into our interrogation of this intriguing, inspiring and adventurous couple. How long have you been gone? Where have you been? What’s been your favorite place so far? I have to say they weathered it quite well – we were endless with our interests in their whereabouts. I asked how it was that they could leave for 6 months. Helen answered that she was at the end of a contract, she had met Hedd and he said he was going on this trip. They talked about doing this together although Hedd would be going with or without Helen. She decided it was a great time to go on an extended trip so why not? When I asked Hedd how it was that he could leave for 6 months, he simply said, ‘I decided to take a career break.’ He wanted to leave his demanding profession for a while and see some sights in the world. Work could wait while he went on this adventure.

Milford Sound - the view at the end of the trail on the Milford Track New Zealand - Spectacular!

I was completely intrigued by this young couple who both had very interesting and successful careers in motion. It takes a lot of courage and confidence to step out of your life at that moment to do something that most people would consider impossible for many layers of reasons. I thought about how taking a 2 or 3 week vacation has felt during my career. It always felt so good to separate from the workplace and relax and rejuvenate. I always felt better when I returned, ready to face the challenges at hand. Taking a 6 month leave and traveling around the world would be a whole new level of relax and rejuvenate. I truly admired the tenacity of these two; they were forging through foreign countries, languages and environments. This journey would be a life changing experience for them in their future work and life.

River Surfing the Kawarau River New Zealand

The last day in New Zealand before heading home we went river surfing. As we were floating on the river I talked to one of our guides about where he was from. He and his wife were teachers from Colorado in the US. They decided to take a one year leave of absence to travel around the world. They stayed in New Zealand a little longer and work for a while. They were having an amazing adventure seeing various parts of the world and truly experiencing the cultures. I imagined that as teachers this experience would richly add to their classroom in so many ways.

Kim & Craig along the Routeburn Track New Zealand

Taking a break whether it’s for a week, month or longer is very healthy to gain perspective. It is also important to learn how to incorporate breathing room along the course of your day or week. Taking a walk at lunch or hiking on the weekend. Even smaller activities like these can help to keep your life in perspective and give you clarity amongst the busy lives that we all seem to have. It was such a pleasure to meet Helen and Hedd and to hear about their adventures along their self-imposed sabbatical. They are a true inspiration!

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