Some Thoughts on “Realistic” Academic Working Vacations

by G. Michael Schneider / Feb 03, 2012 / 0 comments

I recently received an interesting comment from a reader of my blog Other Guy’s Dime ( who is completing his 17th year at an overseas campus of the University of Maryland.  This individual writes  "I came to Germany intending to teach for a year or two, but after 17 years I have yet to take advantage of the return ticket that the U of M provides—and I don’t think I ever will!"  He is living testament to the intellectual benefits, personal growth, and plain old fun of long-term overseas working vacations.

However, let’s be realistic.  Most academics do not want to leave their home, friends, and family for an extended length of time.  While most of us would appreciate exposure to a different culture and enjoy the intellectual excitement of an international posting, we value our personal and community relationships and like the work that we do.  We are not about to give that all up.  Furthermore, there may be knotty issues with a spouse and/or children and their own work, schooling, and friends.  The honest truth is most of us are not in a position to quit our job, sell the house, and set off for exotic locales with no plans to return.  This Eat, Pray, Love travel model is not a realistic scenario for the majority of us in the classroom. 

Fortunately, this is not a problem.  I am happy to assure readers that you can experience virtually all the benefits of long-term travel without having to commit to 17 years overseas.  My wife and I have been on more than a dozen working vacations, none longer than eight months, and on every one my family and I had a fascinating experience.  Some of the shorter stays (6 to 8 weeks) were among the most rewarding–personally, professionally, and culturally.  Best of all, in every case, I returned to my regular job and paycheck when the posting was finished.

So please don't think that a working vacation requires the burning of bridges and a commitment to spending years away from home and family.  Even one or two months in a host country can be sufficient time to make lifelong friends and have a transformative intellectual experience.

I received another comment from a reader chastising my blog for its "monetary orientation" (after all, it is called On The Other Guy’s Dime) and for stressing the "no cost" aspects of working vacations.  They wanted me to mention the benefits of a very different type of temporary academic work–volunteer tourism.  No problem.  I am happy to support this socially responsible form of assistance, and I applaud all the good work done by its adherents.  I am pleased to post links to volunteer tourism Web sites for readers to check out, and I included a long list of volunteer opportunities in the final chapter of my book On The Other Guy’s Dime: A Professional’s Guide To Traveling Without Paying

However, much like leaving home for 17 years, volunteer tourism is a type of temporary work experience that most academics are unable to consider.  Volunteers are unpaid and, to compound the problem, often must shell out thousands of dollars to cover the costs of staff, planning, insurance, and orientation.  The great majority of us can’t afford to take an unpaid leave from work for any significant length of time and then not be paid for our efforts in the host country.  It is not economically feasible.  While a one or two week volunteer posting may be possible, this type of unpaid work does not scale to the two or three month (or longer) duration of your typical working vacation. 

So, while there are different ways to live and work overseas–e.g., volunteer, become an ex-pat–the academic work experiences I argue for in my posts, blog, and book, involve short-term postings (typically 1-12 months, with 2-4 months typical) that pay enough to cover most or all your travel expenses and allow you to return to your regular “day job” when the contract is completed.  This is a thoroughly doable and  “realistic” form of temporary work that is available to virtually all academics with a desire to live and work overseas.   And there is absolutely no shortage of such positions out there for the taking, only a shortage of people eager to take advantage of these opportunities.  Believe me when I say that as I have done this fifteen times in the past 30 years, and I am not done yet!




Michael Schneider is the Academic Travel Editor for Wandering Educators. You can read more of his work at, and learn more about his new book, entitled On the Other Guy's Dime: A Professional's Guide to Traveling without Paying.