If We Can Do It, So Can You with Tash from Jouljet

This week’s If We Can Do It interview is with Tash from Jouljet. Tash loves sport and music and has travelled the world seeing a lot of both! What’s great about her trip is that she also changed her career and worked along the way, which just goes to show that you don’t have to totally give up that aspect of your life just because you decide to take a sabbatical.

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

I had been working in the same job for five years and was feeling it wear me down. I was on a corporate path, where people are worried about making money and the share price of the company – often at the cost of the client I was working with. I was working as a psychologist and was meant to be helping people! I felt the people around me had lost sight of what we all signed up for in the first place, which was working within the health sector. Working long hours, and working hard, I was feeling pretty disillusioned by it all and was not getting any intrinsic rewards from the work, which I think is so very important. I had set myself an exit strategy a few years beforehand when these feelings started to surface, by signing up to do a Masters and firm up my qualifications to enable a shift away from the industry I was getting so very little joy from and when the time came to do my placement as part of the course, I decided it would be a good point to end this job that was not making me happy and to try to start living in the free way I had always dreamed of.

So deciding to escape “burn out” before I got there was an easy decision. Leaving a job that was not making me happy was also an easy decision. I had set things in place with my studies and a savings plan when I was on such a good wage, to be ready for the leap!

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

Most people asked “Why?!” They were bewildered that I would sell up all my things, give up my rental property and sell my car and quit my job at my age and point in my working life, to take off overseas for a lengthy period. I guess I am meant to be buying a house, and settling down, whatever that means.

My traveller friends, of course, were very impressed. I think those that could not really imagine walking away from everything as I did were a little envious and scared of the idea – I guess it’s hard for some to leave that sense of security.

I remember clearly one of my sisters telling me that it was ok to walk away from such grand plans, when I had talked to her about being frustrated at being stuck with an aspect of the planning at one point. But that just spurred me on – I have always thought that obstacles in the way just means you need to work harder to make something you really want work.

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

In April last year I quit my “real job” in preparation to do the 70 day practical placement for my Masters. But rather than take a placement that was local and easy, which was certainly on offer, I wanted something different and something that would help feed my travel bug for awhile. Plus, I wanted something to challenge me professionally. If I needed to work for free for 3.5 months, it had to be AMAZING!

First though, recognising that I was pretty burnt out from my demanding and draining corporate job, I had a “holiday” – I travelled over to the Caribbean for some fun in the sun drinking rum! I joined up with a group of my mates for the island hop as part of the Australian cricket tour. We went to Barbados, Trinidad and Dominica to watch the Aussie team play cricket, and had a ball! I met lots of great people, and managed to actually wind down.

My placement was in Toronto, Canada, on the other side of the world from Melbourne, Australia. Not terribly different from Melbourne, but it certainly met my criteria for something very different to what I would have done at home and it allowed me to add some travel destinations to my list while I was there. A glorious working summer in Toronto was peppered with trips to Quebec City and Montreal, to Banff and Calgary and then Washington DC, Memphis and New York City for the US Open. The work was also ‘out of the box’ and I learnt so much by pushing myself out of my comfort zone and working with the clinical group I had not come across before.

After this placement I returned home to Melbourne to finish my final subjects of the Masters (in Social Work) and picked up some locum casual work in Social Work to save for some more travel.

As a present to myself for finishing this Masters that has changed my career path somewhat, I then treated myself to some travel! I donned my pack and went to Cambodia, Thailand, Burma, Nepal and then spent five weeks in India, which I had always wanted to do.

So that was a year, although given that I am now back in my home town of Melbourne, housesitting and working in a short term locum role again, maybe I haven’t quite finished the “grown up gap year” and I am not sure that I want to!

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

As I was aware of the need to do a 70 day placement for my Masters right from the start, I began saving a little for this time every payday for maybe a year or so beforehand. A direct transfer on payday straight out into another high interest account is always my method – and then work on resisting the urge to touch it when something I want to do at home came up!

Then, as my Toronto placement was confirmed, I sold my car which I had acquired through a leasing opportunity through work and had always referred to as my “cash cow” for this grand plan. I sold up my other bits and pieces of regular living, like furniture, fridge, washing machine and TV.

Because Toronto was part of my studies, I applied and received a small grant from my University for being a Global Mobility student and I also investigated the option of some student government financial support over the actual working-for-free weeks, which I was granted.

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

Travel to Toronto was on my own, although a couple of my youngest sister’s friends had coincidently moved over there on a Working Holiday style visa at the beginning of the year, so I had a couple of people to meet up with at the pub! I also searched for bloggers who were doing the Master of Social Work in Toronto on a whim one day and made a connection with Natalie – who ended up doing her placement at the same place and same time as me. I met up with her in my first days in Canada and we had an instant bond.

The travel on either side of this portion of my Grown Up Gap Year was started on my own, with solid plans to meet up with people at different times and intervals along the way – I joined the group Waving The Flag in the Caribbean, and also in India, for the cricket related travel. I also had plans to meet people for bits of travel in Cambodia, Washington DC and one of my sisters joined me for NYC.

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)

I usually search on last minute sites for a good accommodation deal, but for this year of travel I used AirBnB extensively, including using it to find a room in a shared house in Toronto for the 3.5 months. It was perfect and in a really great location to walk to my placement.

When on the backpack trail I will occasionally book ahead, but in places like Thailand and Burma I mostly just walked from guesthouse to guesthouse until I found somewhere suitable and within the amount I was willing to spend.

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

I usually travel alone, because I think that if I waited around for someone to want to go when and where I want to go, maybe I would never get the chance. I have never actually flown a long haul flight with a companion!

I have joined the Waving The Flag tours for cricket in a foreign land for seven tours now, in different parts of the world. It’s more like a Flag family now, with a growing group of mates to meet up with on tour, and at matches back home. And it’s easy, no planning and thinking required for that portion of travel!

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

The feeling of total freedom, with the comfort of knowing that you have earned the time off and that you can return home and jump back into work. I think it also lets you refresh your goals and realise what you want out of life back home, or at work, and what you will and won’t compromise on to reach that. The anticipation in the build up to the year and quitting my job got me through a tough and hectic last couple of months too.

9. And were there any downsides?

I do at times wonder if quitting my old job and cutting off the potential career path along the corporate lines was some sort of career suicide. And I wonder if making that decision and the subsequent pay decrease was the right one. Will it look bad on my resume down the track (although my placement and subsequent locum work actually fills that)? Has it stunted my ability to now return to a role with a good income?

I also think that taking off and making time for me, and the positive decisions for travel and my own well-being I made, has now made those type of decisions a main priority for me from now on. It’s made me realise it’s possible to take care of your own well-being first and do the things you want to do and will love. So now, the idea of taking a long term or permanent job does not appeal to me unless it’s something AMAZING and has things like work/life balance, the flexibility to travel and is contributing in a way that I feel like it’s really making a difference to people. The search continues!

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

Just do it! Make a plan, set a date, and go! If there is something you are aching to do, seize the chance – it may not come around again. Or you might get stuck doing what you are doing forever, if you don’t go now!

If you want to find out more about Tash’s adventures, visit her blog, say hi on Twitter or catch up with her on Facebook.