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What The Heck Is A Working Vacation?

The following is a guest post by Professor G. Michael Schneider.

The author's wife Ruth on the Freedom Highway in Tibet

The author's wife Ruth on the Freedom Highway in Tibet.

I am a fervent evangelist for the benefits of a working vacation, but before I attempt to convert you I first need to explain exactly what this is.

Over the past 30 years I have worked overseas more than a dozen times, for periods from 5 weeks to 7 months, from Australia to Zimbabwe, Mauritius to Mongolia, never once giving up my day job and always earning enough to cover my travel expenses.

As I gained experience working overseas, friends and colleagues began asking questions about how I pulled off these exotic adventures so I would explain how they could plan their own trips to their own dream destinations,  That is how my blog and travel book, On The Other Guy’s Dime: A Professional’s Guide To Traveling Without Paying was born.

Many people are unaware that skilled professionals such as doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers, business specialists, scientists, artists, and government officials are in great demand overseas, and international institutions will happily pay you to join them.

However, while the concept of working overseas might sound attractive, many professionals enjoy what they do and like the city or town where they do it.  While not averse to a temporary assignment they do not want to leave home for years at a time.

Well the nice thing is that you don’t have to.  My wife and I are living proof that you can have the same professional and cultural benefits in a far shorter time, as little as one to six months, and best of all, when this temporary posting ends you return to your regular home, job, and paycheck.  No bridge burning required.

When I began writing about working vacations, I mistakenly assumed I would be speaking strictly to an academic audience–after all, we are the ones who get that wonderful three-month hiatus every summer.   However, while teachers are an important part of my readership, the potential audience for this travel advice is far wider than that:

Retired Professionals   

Your twenty-five, thirty-five, or even forty-five years of work will have generated a thick resume and an impressive skill set, exactly the person that overseas institutions are seeking.

In addition, retirement affords you the scheduling flexibility that those still working do not always have.   As long as you are healthy enough for travel and overseas work, retired professionals are superb candidates for working vacations.

The Self-Employed

The self-employed are the boss and HR director all rolled into one–if you want a break just pick up and go, no questions asked.

I understand that when you are self-employed and take a leave, your proceeds grind to a screeching halt, but remember: 1) On a working vacation you receive a salary from the overseas institution, so you will not be bereft of all income, and 2) the restorative properties of a working vacation might be more important to you than a slight decrease in personal wealth.

If work and life are becoming stale and repetitive then a short-term change of scenery may trump net income.

Those Currently “Between” Jobs   

In this lousy economy no one is safe from the dreaded pink slip, including skilled professionals.  For those who find themselves in this unenviable position, you might wish to consider a temporary overseas posting, enjoying the freedom and flexibility of your unplanned “vacation” before sending out the next batch of resumes.

Anyone Who Can Request and Take A Short-Term Leave

Many professionals in the public and private sector can apply for and take short-term, unpaid leaves as long as they make all necessary arrangements with customers, clients, or patients. While freeing up a one-, two- or three-month block of time will not be as easy for a lawyer or concert violinist as it is for a teacher, it is often not an unrealistic possibility.

A souvenir salesman who appeared out of nowhere in the middle of the Gobi Desert.

A souvenir salesman who appeared out of nowhere in the middle of the Gobi Desert.

Right about now many of you may be asking why in the world you would schlep your family halfway around the globe for months at a time to live and work in a strange new environment?  That, good friends, is the $64 question, so let me provide the $65 answer.

The first reason comes directly from the name of my blog and book:  On The Other Guy's Dime.  Vacations are not cheap, and vacations that include a spouse and children can be particularly pricey.

It seemed to me that books about families enjoying life overseas were always written by people who had sold their businesses for millions, were living off the largesse of parents or ex'es, or were knowingly denuding their life savings–think Eat, Pray, Love; Under the Tuscan Sun; or A Year in Provence.

For most of us these options are unacceptable.  The goal of a working vacation is not to dive into your own wallet to support a travel habit, but to have the other guy dive into his.

However, it isn’t only money that might motivate you to consider a short-term overseas stay.   

I don't care how much you love your work–and many of us do–when you do the same things day in/day out, year after year, a sense of repetitiveness sets in, and there is a “staleness” to your daily routine.

A working vacation, in which you use your professional skills in a new and different way and in a new and different place, can refresh the soul and bring a renewed sense of pleasure to your workplace.

When you work at a local institution you have time to interact with neighbors and coworkers, to meet locals, and participate in social, cultural, and religious activities.  You learn about a culture not by observing it from your hotel or bus window but by becoming an integral part of it.

In summary, then, a working vacation is a wonderful way for the entire family to combine the relaxation of a holiday with the intellectual, cultural, and professional growth that comes from working with and learning from others.   And all this on the other guy’s dime!


About the Author:  Currently a Visiting Professor at Columbia University, Professor G. Michael Schneider has lived and worked overseas more than a dozen times, including receiving four Fulbright Scholarships to teach in Mauritius, Malaysia, Nepal and Mongolia.  In addition, Prof. Schneider and his wife have lived and worked in countries from Australia to Zimbabwe, Turkey and even Tibet.

Prof. Schneider has written for several national travel magazines and has been a contributor to the Sunday Travel sections of the Miami Herald and the StarTribune.  You can read more about Prof. Schneiders adventures on his blog at

Prof. Schneider received his M.Sc and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Wisconsin. He taught computer science for 8 years at the University of Minnesota and 25 years at Macalester College in St. Paul prior to his retirement in 2007. 

Photos courtesy of G. Michael Schneider.

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Henry Williams

Monday 8th of August 2011

Its always good i think to have a working vacation

Dharmendra Kumar

Saturday 6th of August 2011

A Travel Blog filled with travel stories & a huge collection of travel photos and good ccontent taken from around the world.

Dharmendra Kumar

Saturday 6th of August 2011

A Travel Blog filled with travel stories & a huge collection of travel photos and good ccontent taken from around the world.

Matthew Karsten

Wednesday 27th of July 2011

There are sorts of possibilities for long-term travel. It takes some sacrifice, but it's not as impossible as many make it out to be.

I'll definitely be checking out this book sometime. :)


Wednesday 27th of July 2011

Nice post. I myself do a lot of working 'vacations', as I travel for work internationally and am have the flexibility with my job to work remotely. There are a lot of benefits to this, as I get to my flight tickets and living expenses paid for by my company (which makes the 'vacation' part affordable), but I never officially unplug, as it is in these exotic destinations where I need to do my job. I agree with your points though that it's much more accessible for people than one may realize- even in my situation, I take one, maybe two days off here and there and combine with a weekend to have a 4 day adventure wherever I may be!

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