Something I’ve not given much thought to: I’m going for a year travelling, but what happens when I come back?
In the back of my mind throughout the whole of the planning for this trip is that I do get the impression that the majority of people who take these lengthy trips are young and/or have no real ties back home. I’m not talking emotional ties, but more material/personal ones. I don’t know what age the average backpacker is, but I’m guessing (from the people who write about it, and the people I’ve met while I’ve been travelling already) that it’s likely to be in the early 20s, either just after a University course, or very early on in their working career. When people are still young enough to enjoy it fully and not have it interrupt a career path – indeed it might even enhance their career in the future.
I’m not in this demographic. Whilst I still feel and act young, I’m very definitely not. To all intents and purposes, I’ve been working for the same firm for nearly 17 years, and in that time I’ve managed to find a series of roles I’ve enjoyed and which suited my skillset. To go travelling at this point in a career feels a bit weird, somehow; it sometimes feels like I’m kind of ‘sacrificing’ my future for some short-term gain.
My workplace (a large multinational enterprise in the utilities industry) have allowed me to take a ‘career break’; a year of unpaid leave which, in effect, ‘doesn’t exist’ as far as things like pension accrual, time of service, etc are concerned. I will still have a job when I return, and everything will go back to how it was as if I had never been away.
Except that it won’t. For career breaks less than about 6 months, the policy is to guarantee to keep my role open so that when I’d return, I’d have exactly the same job. However, for 12 month breaks, all they need do is guarantee me a role, at my grading. It could be anywhere we have an office, in any part of the business. In practical terms, they wouldn’t put me in charge of a customer services department or something, since they’d at least match some kind of skillset, but even so it’s still a lot more vague than simply returning to the same desk.
Mostly, this is a good thing; I like to move around, and I get bored doing the same things for any length of time (I’ve been doing this current role for what will have been exactly 5 years once I leave), so the opportunity to find another niche within the business will be fun. But the truth is that I haven’t actually thought about it much at all yet; I haven’t really considered what I’m going to be coming back to. Doing a year break at the age of 23 is much easier in a way, since whatever you go back to will be the start of a career, but for me it feels almost like I’d be starting again, whereas if I stayed, I’d be developing a career I’m already in.
But conversely, does it really matter? One of the reasons I’m taking the trip at all is because I can – in the sense that I’m still young-thinking, healthy, curious, and I still have many years ahead of me (hopefully!) to do more if I feel it’s the right thing to do. And I believe that what I’ll experience while I’m away is going to be much more beneficial, from a personal point of view, than spending yet another year in front of a spreadsheet, even if the latter will bring other rewards of its own, in terms of career and future benefits.
My only concern with all this travelling then is:
There is more to life than money now, but will I regret it when I retire and find I can’t do what I want, because I squandered the future benefits on furthering myself at the age of 38?
And by the time I find out if I’ve made the right choice or not, it’ll be nearly 30 years too late.