Review: How to Take a Career Break to Travel by Alexis Grant

Hello Everyone!

I’m back and blogging at a horribly early hour, because I wanted to tell you about a rather good book I was asked to review that launches TODAY and can be purchased at a 25% discount this week only!

The book (if the blog title wasn’t obvious enough!) is called “How to Take a  Career Break” and it’s written by the lovely Alexis Grant. As I’ve mentioned before, I hardly ever review books, mostly because it takes a lot of time and sometimes because the books actually turn out to be complete crap. I’m happy to report that isn’t the case with Ms. Grant’s guide, and while I didn’t agree with everything she wrote (more on that later), I will say that I wholeheartedly wish a guide like this had existed before I went on my trip. It’s not groundbreaking or choc-a-bloc full of unknown travel secrets, BUT it is written from the realistic perspective of someone who’s been there and done that.

Alexis in Madagascar

I should be honest and say that as I was perusing the table of contents and looking for something to critique (I know, I’m a mean person before I’ve had my coffee), I zeroed in on the section entitled “Blogging While Traveling” and almost winced at how easy it would be to tear the chapter apart. Why? Because every travel book in world (it seems), has a vague and completely incorrect section which praises the benefits of travel blogging and how it will rain down riches upon those who are so intelligent as to think of it as an income idea.

Surprisingly, and to Alexis’ credit – her book is different. I swear to you, I almost dropped my cereal spoon when I saw that she espoused the benefit of travel blogging as platform for oneself and as a way to meet peers. True, she did mention that a few, select, lucky, and ueber talented individuals can make money on blogging but this admission is reasonable, and her perspective was so accurate, I found myself flipping through the rest of the book – reading bits and pieces and nodding quite often in agreeance.

For most of the book, she is spot on: she claims that traveling can help you build skills and test out a new career, and I’m a testament to that. Because of my travel blog, I was hired as a speechwriter for a politician last spring, and now I’ve successfully launched a conservation research career in Africa thanks to my connections and newly international CV.

She articulates the cost, planning, and choices required for traveling well; she articulates the difference between scheming and planning, and the address label ides she has is genius. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, stop dilly dallying and just buy the book already!

My biggest critique (if you can call it that)? In the book she  claims to be a backpack-user, while making concessions for those travelers who need actual luggage pieces. As I experienced horrid flashbacks to my 30-day trip around Europe using a rolling suitcase, I realized that I completely and totally disagree. No one person needs real luggage! The moral of the story is: DO NOT USE SUITCASES TO TRAVEL!

Moving on and stepping off my soapbox: this is a great book. From someone who has done the gap year/travel break/career switch/expat life, I can tell you that Alexis’ book will help you feel empowered when you probably need it the most: while you’re scheming your fantastic adventure abroad.

For more information  on Alexis Grant, click here! If you’re sold on the book, you can purchase it online here!

First-time Backpacker: A refreshing how-to guide for the world’s travel junkies.

Alright guys, I’m here with a book review and I’m going to start out with a BIG disclaimer: I did not get paid to write this evaluation. I’m not even friends with the author, but he seemed like a cool dude and as he harks from England, I couldn’t leave a co-UK citizen hanging…so there you have it!

Basically, Shaun Rafferty’s back story is your stereotypical lost soul, young dude, adventure seeking plotline, and this book is basically a culmination of his vast backpacking experience packaged into a how-to guide (of sorts) on how you too can become a world traveler.

Right off the bat, I’ll give First-time Backpacker 3 ½ out of 5 stars. Admittedly, I didn’t read the whole thing, BUT I did read sections of the book I felt would set it apart from others. In my defense, I see it as a reference guide, to be consulted in times of trouble or at specific times during the travel planning process. But, of course, if you want to read the whole thing, be my guest!

I know, you’re probably thinking, “geez, do we really need another how-to travel guide out there? Don’t we all know how to pull out our credit cards and book the trip of a lifetime?”

The answer, unequivocally, is yes, we DO need another travel guide. We DO need a book that focuses specifically on those of us who make a lifestyle choice to put adventure first; those of us who value an experiential existence over one that values materialism, for instance.

Yes, those of us, who really DO want to live with only a few bags of belongings and yearn to jump overseas, have long been left to troll internet websites looking for like-minded souls. Well, look no further; I can assert that this book will speak to you and tell you not only everything you already know, but everything you need to know.

Granted, a lot of the book has been said elsewhere, BUT given that it targets first-time rookies, I think there is no harm in hashing out the age-old debate of suitcase vs. backpack, even if it’s been discussed to no end online.

The REAL goldmine? The candor, the spirit, the practicality that high-nose, so-called “backpacking guides” mostly ignore (such as unpleasant bowel complications or a frank discussion on whether or not to bring condoms on your worldwide adventure).

Yep, this book is not made for those of you who can afford a $5000 private tour through Italy…but that’s OK, because people with that sort of dispensable income are already satisfied with their Frommer’s guides.

Until now, the best books I’ve ever found for backpacking have either been too targeted, geographically, or not well written. In addition, they always seem to pander to more expensive types of travel, and they lack Shaun’s personal touch. Like it or not, the guy has some serious travel experience under his belt, and he’s written it out in 272 pages for you to read.

Rafferty, while often not the most loquacious of authors,  has created a product that rivals other books on the market and is without a doubt, a must-read for all aspiring backpackers. In truth, (and I say this honestly) I wish the book had come out before I embarked on my massive trip – I could have learned a thing or two. Such as how to pack a first aid kit, or the type of backpack to buy, or even the small and extremely significant fact that certain hygiene-related items are impossible to buy overseas.

In fact, aside from the weird British spelling (long abandoned by yours truly), all that’s left is for Rafferty to expand his geographic descriptions to include Africa. In fact, if Mr. Rafferty’s agent (if you are reading this), requires a warm body to fly over to Africa and get some on-the-ground facts, I’d be more than happy to sacrifice myself for the greater good of the backpacking community.

And so, I close this review with a whopping conclusion: buy this book. What it lacks in good writing it makes up for in fantastic tips for backpacking and traveling around the world. And really, what more could you ask for?

First-time Backpacker by Shaun Rafferty can be purchased on Amazon (Publisher: Authorhouse). More information can be found at: http://www.amazon.com/First-Time-Backpacker-Shaun-Rafferty/dp/1452065721/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1307674474&sr=8-1

And you think traveling is easy?

This are just some of the books that I read (pretty much cover to cover) in the six months leading up to my trip. There is no such thing as “too much knowledge”, as long as you recognize that traveling (“the real thin”) will always be a richer, more exciting, and more dynamic experience than any text could convey.

 

Personally, the more I know about a location, the safer and more prepared I feel. There are many people who would disagree with me; they get more enjoyment from learning as they go. Of course maintaining a fine balance between preparation and on-the-spot cultural education is probably the best way to truly have a succesful traveling experience. Fine art, culture, and history is often better appreciated through reading, research, or a good tour guide. Of-the-cuff experiences such as eating in a local restaurant, being invited into someone’s home, or attending a community function are likely to be unresearched, spur-of-the-moment and split decision experiences.

The hardest part about reading so many different books, was to pick which one would accompany me into the field. Eventually I settled on Africa (lonely planet), because it is an all-encompassing book which covers the first 8 months of my travels.

A close runner-up was First-Time Around the World, although I have to be honest: I didn’t completely mesh with the book. At one point, it suggests eating food off other people’s plates (in a pizza restaurant) or sleeping on park benches to avoid paying accomodation fees. I honestly feel that if a backpacker regularly follows this advice, you are verging on the edge of being  a homeless burden on the society that you are visiting. If you don’t have enough money to at least cover your food and accomodation expenses, you are hurting local restaurant business or crowding beautiful parks…all because you want a “cultural” experience. Not to mention, you are probably exacerbating negative impressions of Western culture (or wherever it is that you hail from).

Ok, stepping off the soap box :-)

Anyway, the point is: For me, research is the key to my travel happiness. I had to invest a lot of time and energy to at least feel like I had an elementary understanding of the history, culture, and environment of the countries on my itinerary. Properly planning pre-trip self-education is vital to getting the most out of your trip! :-)

STA.com: Why hast thou forsaken me?

Although it took them two months to get me my student discount card, I really wanted to buy my flight through the STA site. Their customer service is impeccable, they have great reviews, with an easy to use layout, and customizable flights/trips. PLUS (my favorite): their website has a lot of information geared specifically towards people wanting to do an around-the-world trip.

That was all fine and dandy…until I got my airfare quote yesterday evening: $2821.00

What’s more, this didn’t even include my final flight home (which my agent guessed would be in the $800 range), thereby bringing my STA quote to: $3621.00

Honestly, it’s not the price that is shocking; I’ve done plenty of research and expected a cost somewhere in this vicinity. What’s really bugging me is that in twenty minutes (using AirBerlin and Expedia), I was able to find a price quote (for the exact same flight days and airports) that was $468.4 cheaper than the STA.com quote.

$468.4 is a lot of money to people like me (backpackers). That’s 1.5 netbooks, or a snazzy website design, or heck…several awesome massages (and I sure need one of those!).

Some of you might be thinking: Not so fast! What about the STA.com “price beat guarantee“?

Unfortunately, two of the three legs in my trip do not qualify because my cheaper price was found using different airlines carriers (the terms and conditions on the “price beat guarantee” stipulate that the flight carriers must be identical). I am unable to determine whether the third part of my flight itinerary is eligible for a discount, because I was not sent a price itemization for the individual parts of my RTW flight.

Anyway, in the spirit of trying to support a good travel company, I am going to call my STA agent on Monday and try to get a cheaper deal on my tickets. I felt I had to post this because I want to be able to write about my good and my bad experiences with travel companies. I want other travelers in my boat to make sure that they aren’t getting the raw end of a deal.

It makes me wonder whether using a travel agent is really saving me money, or even that much time.

OK, enough of this! My backpack arrived in the mail today and I can’t wait to play with it! :-)