Your MBA Gap Travels
By: Natsuko Tohyama
I envy you, my clients. True, ou've slogged their way through university and performed incredible feats in your careers to prepare themselves for a top notch MBA program. But I just can't help turning a little green at the weeks, even months of gap time you have between your job resignations and the start of your MBA programs. Being a practical individual, however, I'm prepared to live vicariously.
So, what do you want to do? What is one dream you have that you have to power to make true with all that free time? My consistent personal answer to an offer of free time and the focus of this article is this: travel.
Fancy scuba diving with whale sharks near the Philippines? What about learning to make corn tortillas while homestaying with a Mexican family? Do you want to hike up to Everest Base Camp or tackle Mount Kilimanjaro? How would you like to shop for the most technologically advanced cell phone in Tokyo, then indulge in stinky tofu in Taiwan?
Depending on how long your career gap is, you may be able to do all this and more.
Here's a basic how-to guide for backpacking:
Find a travel buddy (or two or three).
Traveling with friends or family members can bring you closer together. It may be an exceptional growing experience and cut costs if you're sharing rooms, jeep hire, etc. Plus, if you're not accustomed to trotting around the globe alone, facing the challenge of travel with those you trust can take the edge off the initial jitters. However, be warned: traveling together is INTENSE. You'll learn more about yourself and the other person or people than you ever thought possible. Also, traveling with three or more people (and their divergent opinions) sometimes proves difficult - that is, unless you're an extremely well coordinated and mature group.
You could, of course, commit to flying solo. You'll have free reign over your travel itinerary and can always meet friends on the road, especially if you stay in hostels. However, you won't be able to split costs, and you might even find yourself feeling lonely after a while.
There are pros and cons to both choices. Ultimately, it's your decision!
Figure out where you want to go.
This is always the toughest part for me because our world offers such an abundance of intriguing destinations. It helps me to look at an atlas of the globe and pick out cultures and countries I'm just dying to explore. Lonely Planet (http://lonelyplanet.com/) offers unbeatable resources when it comes to discovering destinations.
Some of my favorite travel experiences include:
- Interning for a couple of months in Valparaiso (a colorful UNESCO world heritage city), Chile. I capped off this trip with a five-day expedition to Polynesian Easter Island (think: the giant stone faces of the moai), the most remote location occupied by humans on Earth.
- Traveling down the Egyptian Nile River with my mother, visiting out-of-this-world sites such as the Giza Pyramids and the Valley of the Queens.
- Living off of beans, avocados, and tortillas in Guatemala with an indigenous family.
- Witnessing the extremes of prosperity and social degeneration at Angkor Wat's ancient temples and Phnom Penh. Walking in the footprints left by the Khmer Rouge at the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum froze the blood in my veins.
- Studying Spanish language and art in La Coruna, a beautiful bayside city in the north. It was especially interesting to note increasing Arabic influences as I traveled south for ten days after establishing some fluency.
- Obtaining my Open Water diving license in Belize, famous for the Blue Hole, a submarine sinkhole stuffed with sharks of various species.
- Getting fabulous massages in Bali, Indonesia; Sri Lanka and India; Thailand; Japan; and China. My Ayurvedic and shiatsu massages were unique cultural experiences, but personally, I'd give the Best Massage Award to Bali; I completely conked out under my masseuse's expert, gentle strokes.
As you set your itinerary, be realistic about time frames. It's simply not possible to see all of Africa within two months, but if you're an energetic and rapid traveler like one of my acquaintances, you could zoom around the Thailand-Vietnam-Laos-Cambodia area in a month.
Get finances in order.
Yes, travel requires moolah - but not too much of it.
Although you can't show up in Amsterdam with a hundred Euros in your pocket and expect to survive past day five, destinations such as Southeast Asia, Nepal, and Central America offer serious cultural bang for your buck. I wove my way through Rajasthan, India and Sri Lanka on 40 USD per day. If you're as cheap as yours truly, you could do Laos and Cambodia on less than 25 USD a day. Also, book flights as many months in advance as possible, as you'll get the best prices this way. Budget airlines such as Ryan Air and Air Asia have some unbelievable deals.
You could even pick up some casual labor If you plan to be in a certain area for a few weeks. Pick grapes in Australia, teach English in Korea, or bartend in Panama! Be sure to check up on work permits such as the Youth Mobility program in more developed countries, which tend to be more strict in enforcing regulations.
Carry sufficient currency that can be easily exchanged, such as USD (or SGD in Southeast Asia). Of course, it wouldn't be the smartest move to carry thousands of dollars with you! Arrange for overseas ATM card and credit card access, or obtain traveler's cheques.
Settle your passport and visas.
Get a passport. Duh! However, remember to take a photocopy of the name and picture pages and put it elsewhere in your luggage just in case you lose the main document. I even keep a scanned copy in my email, just in case! Figure out what countries you'll be visiting require tourist visas. In many cases, you'll save yourself a whole lot of hassle and money if you apply for them well in advance from your own country.
Keep yourself healthy and safe.
Obtain the vaccinations required and recommended in the nations you intend to visit. It takes some vaccines weeks to have full effect, so you'll want to get on this ASAP. Carry with you any medications you think you'll need such as anti-malarial pills, antibiotics, potions for motion sickness, birth control, etc. in their original bottles with labels.
Take safety precautions. Purchase a passport and money holder that you can wear invisibly inside your clothes. If you're staying at hostels, bring a lock for lockers. Avoid dangerous areas. Don't travel at night. Dress conservatively... You know the deal!
Minimize your packing.
Believe me, you don't want to haul around 30 kg of luggage for three months. Not at all pleasant! The lighter and smarter you pack, the more mobile you'll be. Leave at home anything that you wouldn't want stolen or broken. You can buy most items on the road if something goes astray, and you can do laundry at Laundromats or perhaps in your temporary housing.
For extended holidays, I normally fill my comfortable backpacker's pack with:
- 4-5 days of clothing
- 1 jacket
- 1 poncho or cheap umbrella
- 1 pair of ear plugs
- 1 quick dry towel
- 1 small torch
- 1 pair of beat up sneakers (I wear my beat up sandals on the flight)
- Basic toiletries
- Mosquito repellant
- Alarm (there's one on my basic Nokia cell phone)
- Extra plastic bag (for laundry)
- Passport, flight itineraries, ATM card, cash, etc.
- A good book
- Travel guidebook
If you're planning to camp or go on overnight treks, then a compact sleeping bag may be in order.
Keep in touch.
Although some of my clients head off into the world to escape their families, I'm going to be a stickler here and argue that keeping in touch with the people who care for you most will make you a happier adult. Sharing your experiences via emails, Instagram, Facebook, or even old-fashioned postcards will help your friends and family feel valued. It will significantly smooth the transition when you return from your sojourn.
Whatever adventures you choose, I am sure your career gap travel experience will inspire great growth and leave you with vivid memories. Bon voyage!