Thursday, July 12, 2012

Not Necessarily California Dreaming

I've had a lot of work/career things going on this week, none of which I can blog about, but which are combining to consume most of my mental space- which is why I've sort of been AWOL here.  But in amongst all the practical and operational thoughts, I found some thoughts about what I really want out of life sneaking in, and this thought popped into my head: when my girls are older (i.e., old enough to really appreciate travel), I'd like to take a month off every summer and travel with them. It'd be ideal if my husband could come, too, but not absolutely required. Maybe he'd only be able to join us for part of the time.

This obviously raises some interesting questions about how to be able to afford both the time off and the expense of the trips.

So I started thinking about how I could make it happen. Remember, this would be something I'd do starting in about 5-7 years. Here is the list I came up with:
  1. I could downsize the dream to two weeks per year- that'd be no problem
  2. I could negotiate the right to take time off w/o pay and to take such a long vacation with my boss
  3. I could be an independent contractor in my current field, and try to arrange my projects to give me a month off every summer
  4. I could make a career switch into a more flexible career- i.e., something that I could do from hotel rooms in the evenings during my month of travel (assuming my kids aren't staying up super late by then). This would probably require accepting a smaller income, but that should be manageable once the kids are both out of day care.
  5. I could move to a country where a four week holiday is the norm, not a wild dream
  6. I could start my own business and staff it with the goal of everyone being able to take a month off every year. (This would also require a career change- I don't think I'm likely to start a biotech. But then again... I have a friend who did, so never say never!)
What do you think? Have I missed an option? Do you have any sort of wild, almost achievable dreams like this?

31 comments:

  1. the milliner7:37 PM

    That is an awesome achieveable dream. Can't think of any other options other than perhaps becoming a teacher (with summers off) in a subject related to your field.

    I often think about trying to negotiate additional time off instead of a $$ raise. I'm thinking about it a lot lately as I've been feeling a bit underpaid for the work I'm doing. Especially in a time of budget cuts, I often think this actually is more possible than negotiating a $$ raise.

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    1. I've never negotiated a standing agreement for time off without pay, but I have been able to negotiate one offs several times- including the 4 month "sabbatical" that allowed our big trip.

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  2. Count me in. I toyed with doing this this year and could have managed it, but a combination of a young kid (5) and changes underway at work made me decide against it. I'm game for subsequent years, though. I earn 4 weeks of vacation a year, can accrue up to 8, and work in a (university) context where this isn't inherently implausible. There are years when we have summer programming planned or grants due when it wouldn't be feasible, and others when it would be no big deal.

    It's also not uncommon for staff to have 9- or 10-month appointments so that's an option I might look into, in time.

    I have no brilliant suggestions for you, though, other than to observe that also if you are at a point where you are changing positions you might be able to work in a (planned) break between them.

    My real goal is to figure out how to live a year abroad, and whether and how that's feasible in a way that's not disruptive to the little one. I'm mulling a third to fifth grade kind of time, though there are other complications, like aging parents, that may or may not mesh well with that interval.

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    1. My current job has OK time off- about three weeks. But only one week can roll over. They pay out anything in excess each year. So it is unlikely I could come up with 4 weeks off without negotiating the right to take some without pay. Or changing companies!

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  3. Love that it's such a clear goal, and all of your options and possibilities are in such a nice clean list :) Go you, project manager!

    You could negotiate more time off - 4-5 weeks a year, or just negotiate a couple of extra weeks of unpaid leave besides your regular vacation.

    Depending on how flexible your employer is, you could also see if you could sort out some "comp time" where you work a couple of weekends to get extra days off for vacation.

    T and I are taking a girls' road trip to Portland this month. I'm so excited about that! Not sure I'd attempt a monthlong trip without hubby though life probably gets easier as they get older...

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    1. Oh, and my situation is similar to Alexicographer's above. I get 4 weeks per year and can carry over that much as well. So another option might be to "save up" and do a BIG TRIP every other year instead of every year.

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    2. Oh, fun! Have fun on the roadtrip.

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    3. Sounds wonderful! Have a great trip!

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    4. @Anandi - T will love OMSI, it is way cooler for an almost 3-year-old than the Pacific Science Center, IMHO. There are some seriously amazing food carts in Portland. It's a great place to travel with a kid.

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  4. Our big goal is to give the kids a year abroad in 5 years. I know what goals NEED to be hit to make that happen and the ones I'd like to hit beforehand. Traveling for a month straight sounds exhausting, particularly with kids, but I've never been an on the go sort of traveler--more of a "establish a home base" sort of one. Thankfully, there are several countries that offer writers' visas :)

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    1. I envision a "fly in and explore from a base" sort of trip, at least at first. But I've been surprised at how well my kids travel so far- so who knows?

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  5. That sounds like a fabulous plan. My husband doesn't like to travel, so I'm waiting for E to grow up and then I'll have a travelling companion. But I'm not nearly at the stage of trying to figure out logistics!

    One option you haven't considered is getting into academia. Possibly that isn't an option for you at this stage, but some universities around here hire professional folks as lecturers for particular courses - my dad is currently looking into this (he's retiring but doesn't actually want to stop working).

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    1. I did consider switching into academia at one point. I was interested in teaching at a SLAC. The research I did indicated I'd have to adjunct for a few years first, and the pay cut involved in doing that was off putting! But it could be part of a solution for me, I think.

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    2. Ooh, good to know someone else has a hubby who dislikes travel! Travel is not one of my huge dreams, but I would like to go somewhere more occasionally than the "almost never" that he prefers :)

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  6. paola7:06 AM

    Once you work out how to manage the time off, a house swap might be a good way of spending time in one country experiencing the culture etc. not the same as actually travelling but slightly more do-able. I'm sure there are countless families who would behapoy to go and live in SanDiego fro a month and then you get a month in London, Rome or Geelong ( the last one is my idea of a joke).

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    1. Yes, I would hope Geelong was a joke! (Admittedly, I've only driven through Geelong - but felt no need to stop...)

      Seriously though, my cousins did the house swap thing when they went to Europe for three months on long-service leave and it worked really well for them (with two kids aged 6 and 8). They went to Portugal, the Netherlands and Italy with a house swap to place in rural Western Australia.

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    2. Love the house swap idea - I've heard good things!

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  7. Joanna7:55 AM

    I think you have a lot of time to make the kind of change that will require this. I would research industries within your field of knowledge to find work that might be more seasonal - in your case, academia does sound most appropriate. I had been in public accounting for four years, and the long hours during Spring and Fall were offset by the ability to accrue up to 5 weeks of vacation, and the acceptance that one could take all of that time at once. Many of the people that I worked with were from India or China, and they would go back to see family for a month at a time every year.

    There are just two problems that I see with this model, though. One, is that in order to have seasonal work, that means that you have long, hard hours during parts of the year, and that is the reason I left public accounting. I wasn't interested in having months at a time where I never saw my daughter. The other problem is, if you take all of your vacation days, then what happens when your kids get sick? Maybe when you do this, they will be at an age where they can stay home alone if they are sick, but you still never know if you will need additional time off, especially with kids.

    Your idea of being an independent contractor might be very ideal, as long as you guys could swing it financially.

    Also, I have thought of one other option, but it's more far fetched. That is moving to a lower cost of living area. But that involves many factors, and I am not sure if it would work out for you at all. It is my personal goal though - I want more freedom in life in general, but living in LA makes both hubby and I slaves to full-time work, stressful commutes, and expensive housing.

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    1. We're unlikely to move away from our area, because (1) my husband likes his job and (2) if I were to try to contract in my current field, I need to be in a biotech center- and none of them are any cheaper than San Diego (the other big two are Boston and San Francisco).

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    2. Oh, and the type of academic work I'd have to find in order to replace my income would not involve having summers off. So if academic work figures into my eventual plan at all, it would probably only be as an addition to something that pays better.

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    3. Re: sick kids, my company treats sick time separately from vacation. Which used to annoy me when I was healthy, young and single, but now that I have kids, I appreciate having separate time so I'm not using my vacation for sick kid days.

      That said, I ended up using all my sick days and had to go to vacation days last year, thanks to the Plagues of Daycare.

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  8. You may find, as an independent contractor, that it's not particularly easier to take blocks of time off, especially if you have income targets or ambition goals. I've scaled down some for three "maternity leaves" of sort, but I never really stopped working. I take one week vacations freely (I wind up with about 4-5 weeks off a year) but taking it all at once would mean shutting down ongoing projects, managing the pipeline very carefully, etc. You'll find that, inevitably, if you plan a month-long vacation, someone will propose a very high-paid, fascinating project in line with your long term goals right before you leave. Just saying!

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    1. Yeah, I know it would take a lot of planning and focus to make this happen as a contractor. But... I would actually only need to work 1/2 to 2/3 of the time in a year to bring in the same amount of money (or maybe even a little more) as I do now. And I know people who manage this sort of thing. In fact, I know one guy who takes Oct-Dec off every year.

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  9. This was part of my big impetus for starting my own law firm. I have the exact same plan in mind (and am actually aiming for two months per year) and intend to accomplish it with a combo of solutions:

    1) I have set up my firm so that is paperless and really leverages technology so I can access all my work and files from wherever I am. We also have a VOIP telephone system so I can plug in my phone to the internet wherever I am and my clients can reach me on the same number. This works for me now because I work really flexible hours and sometimes from home, sometimes from the office, sometimes at the local coffee shop but long term I don't see why I can't put in three or four hours daily from the french country-side (my dream).

    2) I am training my clients to be comfortable dealing with me by telephone and email and skype so they are not so reliant on face-to-face meetings. A lot of this is just about educating clients.

    3) I am laying the groundwork and expectations for staff that this is what is going to be coming, and recruiting other lawyers with similar goals so that we have local backup in the event that an on-site situation requires some face to face handling. As a small business owner, this is good planning anyways - I'd want someone to be able to step in and take-over if I was hit by a bus on the way to work.

    So, I guess the focus of my plan is not to be able to take the time off, but to be able to do the work wherever I am without interference to my travel plans.

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    1. @Jac - that is awesome, go you! You are so right about educating the clients to use the right technology.

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  10. I work for a company where you can negotiate up to 12 weeks leave per year (with the proportional reduction in income) which covers all of school holidays here in Australia. Our school year runs on 4 terms with two weeks holiday between each term and about 6 weeks over Christmas/summer). I sometimes think about taking that up once my daughter starts school so we can spend quite a bit of summer & winter holidays in New Zealand with my husbands family (much like I spent my childhood school holidays with family in Australia when we lived overseas).

    And then I think about my *next* longservice leave in about 5 to 7 years, when I'd really like to do a trip around Southern Africa again - lots of camping & seeing animals & hiking... then the one after that, maybe Europe? Hmm. I think about holidays *a lot*.

    In terms of lifestyle, Dr DK has been talking about aiming to stay mostly in the public health system here when he *finally* finishes his training - partly because he does have a strong belief in the importance of the public health system and partly because it's easier to organise holidays when you don't have to provide cover for yourself.... Suffice to say, our life goals align re: travel. :-)

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  11. Those are some fantastic, reachable goals, @Cloud! I'd say 5-7 years from now seems to be the right timeline based on the kids' ages. I know my sweet 2.5 year old is still hell to fly with at times - in fact we got our first ever unsolicited, noisy child airplane callout just last month. (Luckily another passenger came to our defense and put the original caller-outer in her place. Good times!) I can't wait until the kids are older and we can go on long flights abroad without feeling the pain!

    For now we're doing the domestic travel thing. We have friends that have taken their 2 kids all over the globe for 2-3 week jaunts since they were 18 months old, and they ended up spending a lot of time at parks and in hotels during naps. Not my idea of super fun international travel, but to each their own. So we're waiting. ;)

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    1. That's funny- I consider the fact that having kids along has led us to spend a lot of time in random local parks a big plus of traveling with kids! You meet locals, and they'll actually talk to you because you're both standing there pushing your kid on a swing. And you can get a feel for how the locals relax.

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    2. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy hitting the parks all over the US with kids. Perhaps my introversion prevents me from enjoying the idea of random talks with people, but I can see how that would be quite enjoyable to others. But if I just flew 16+ hours and paid several grand for the privilege? I'm going to be feeling some major opportunity costs if we're at a playground when we should be strolling La Rambla and enjoying churros y chocolate. A longer trip would alleviate some of the opportunity cost problems, no doubt.

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    3. Oh, I know what you mean! It is just funny how different things sound good to different people, you know?

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  12. Long ago, pre-kids, I took a month vacation with a regular job. My boss was very pro-travel and I made sure my work was done. I have no idea how I saved up so many days because now with kids, I get sick more often and I seem to need more doctor appts. However, I am fortunate that right now my husband is able to do the majority of dr appts and that my current boss allows us to take partial time off for doctor appts or make up time so that it doesn't use up our vacation time. That's the only way I can still manage a proper vacation break!

    My plan is to move to Europe to get my ideal vacation time...we'll see..talk about pipe dreams!

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