27 August 2013

This is Sally.

Sally in front of the Tori Gate, Mijima Island, Japan

Sally Robinson on her career break


Sally quit her job because she wanted to see New Zealand - and ended up having an epic trip involving volunteering, TEFL and travelling through 24 countries! Here is her story.

Before my career break

I was working for the National Apprenticeship Service as an Employer Services Manager. I worked with large employers, helping them implement apprenticeship training within their business.

I really enjoyed my job! I loved working with the different industry employers and getting out and about to visit them.

Sally with tiny creature and its house in Indonesia

Making friends with creatures great and small

Why I left

I have travelled quite a bit (and I lived abroad for 5 years when I was younger) but there were so many places I wanted to see. Especially New Zealand. I knew I would get there one day and that it wouldn’t just be for a two-week holiday. When I decided to go travelling it was initially to visit NZ then I realised I may as well visit other places on the way… I never imagined I would end up visiting 24 counties! 

I decided to quit my job after being offered some voluntary redundancy. It took 10 months for them to agree to let me leave but this just meant longer time to save money.

I know some people thought it strange that someone my age was going travelling alone. None of my friends or previous boyfriends had wanted to travel like I did. A lot of my friends have children so aren’t in a position to travel long term or take a career break.

Sally on her career break, getting snorkelled up for a swim on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Getting ready for a snorkel over the Great Barrier Reef. It was stinger season, hence the sexy outfit.

My plans

I left with a one way ticket to India in January 2012, knowing that I was going there and Nepal (on a G Adventures Tour) with a friend and that I had to be in Cambodia by March.

Other than that, I wanted to go to New Zealand and the rest I would figure it out along the way… 

Taking in a tiger temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand, on my career break

A tiger temple in Thailand. How cute are these cubs?!

The big trip

In the end I went to… here comes the list…

India, North India and Nepal with Gadventures and then South India on a Dragoman Tour. I didn’t fancy travelling India solo but I wanted to tackle this country first. I felt that if I could travel India and enjoy it then I could travel anywhere.

Malaysia – Had my first taste of solo travel!

Cambodia – I volunteered teaching English to children for nearly 2 months. An amazing experience. I think I got more out of it than they did though.

Thailand – I ended up travelling to Thailand 3 times over my trip. I enjoyed so many things there. I went to a meditation retreat in Chaing Mai and a yoga and meditation retreat in Pai, I got a tattoo, stayed on an elephant camp for a few days and I even got a foot massage in a prison!

Burma / Myanmar – Loved it here. This is what it must have been like to travel the rest of South-East Asia 20 years ago. Really cultural and met a lot of local people. Low point though – I got bitten by a dog! 

Meeting girls in Burma / Myanmar on my career break

Some Burmese girls I met


Laos – I loved the chilled pace in Laos and made the most amazing traveller friends here. I saw some of the best sunsets in South-East Asia and the illusive Irrawaddy river dolphins!

Vietnam  I did sooo much in Vietnam. I travelled all the way from Sapa, to Halong Bay, then Hanoi, and across the Ho Chi Minh trail on the back of a bike driven by an ‘Easy Rider’ for 4 days! I saw strawberry fields, sand dunes and theme parks on islands, met wonderful people and ate the most tasty and cheapest food! Loved it.

Bali – stayed in Ubud with a friend who I met in Laos. Great food.

Gili Islands, Lombok – Went there to chill but ended up on someone’s stag do! Beautiful island –  but it took me 2 hours to get a room when I arrived. That was the only time I thought I might have to sleep on the beach!

Singapore – Went to a great free festival, and drank cocktails in Marina Bay Sands. 

Hong Kong – also went to Macau for a day – loved it as I wanted to see Pandas!

Panda in China - getting up close and personal with the locals on my career break!

And see pandas I did


South Korea – Met the friendliest locals in all my solo travels.

China – Saw the key sights but found it quite difficult here with language.

Japan – The most unusual, quirky, beautiful place. Stayed in a monastery, went geisha hunting and had a crazy time in Tokyo including a visit to a maid café!

Philippines – Island-hopped and went on a expedition. Living like Robinson Crusoe, catching fish to cook, sleeping on the beach, swimming with turtles and drinking lots of rum!

Philippines - I took this boat on my travels

This is what the Philippines looks like - nice, eh?!


Australia – So many places and so many experiences – stayed with a lot of people I’d met on my travels in Asia which was a great cost-effective way of staying longer! Did the south, Tasmania (never expected to meet Prince Charles there!) and east coast. Low point – I broke 2 ribs as I still thought I could roller boot and reached high speeds then crashed into a wall!

New Zealand – Stayed with relatives who happened to live in a retirement village – what an experience! I stayed for 3 and a half months! Travelled all over the North and South islands. I even tried to get a job but it was too hard for someone over 30 who doesn’t have a skill or occupation on the skills gap list.

Sally Robinson and her auntie in New Zealand on Sally's career break

This is me with my auntie who I stayed with. We'd just come back from a wine tour. Mmmm... wine...


Fiji – I'd made a friend in New Zealand whose family had emigrated to Fiji. Went to stay with them and what an experience. Her family were so funny. Island hopped and chilled out!

Argentina – Learnt to Tango and ate far too much steak!

Uruguay – Stayed on a gaucho ranch, went to a football match (loudest ever) saw amazing street art and ate too much steak…again.

Brazil – Iguazzu Falls, made my own Havianna flip flops, visited a big local market in Rio and survived!

Sweden – Randomly, on my way home I went to visit a handsome Swedish guy I met in New Zealand (we'd only spent 6 hours together!). I took a chance and we had a wonderful week together.

Then back to the UK!

Sally kissing a terracotta warrior in China

Kissing a terracotta warrior in China - slightly less romantic than the handsome Swede!

How I organised it

I used a few organisations on my travels. I booked 2 tours before I left the UK, one with Gadventures and one with Dragoman. Both are brilliant for adventure travellers of any age. I booked my volunteering placement with Globalteer and I found them to be honest and very well organised. I did a lot of research before booking with them as there are some companies who seem to charge a lot of money and the money does not go to the community in which you work.

The best things about my career break

Learning was one of the best things. I did a TEFL course before going to volunteer and whilst I was away I took opportunities to learn new skills.

I took cooking classes in India, Thailand and Laos.

I took 2 meditation courses, went on a yoga retreat, and attended several talks about Buddhism.

I stayed in an elephant camp for a few days to learn about them.

Sally on an elephant in a sanctuary in Thailand

Yes, that's me on an elephant!


Meeting people was one of the best things too. I met so many local people and learnt a lot about their history, culture and food from them and experienced such kindness and hospitality. And of course other travellers who will be friends for life. I believe had I not taken the chance to travel and go on my own, I never would have had these types of experiences.

I believe more than ever now that everything happens for a reason and I know that I went at the exact right time for me.

Back to reality

I started looking for a job last month and it is hard. Harder than I thought it would be if I’m honest but I do have an interview on Friday! I'm also exploring the opportunity to start my own business which is exciting.

I have had some negative comments from one recruitment consultant about my career break. He said ‘I cannot forward your CV to this employer as they will look at your career break as unfavourable!!’ I think the employer would have been interested in my skills but the recruitment consultant would not even send it to them. I could not believe the ignorance and feel very strongly that more people need to be educated in the benefits of a career break. Not just recruitment consultants but employers too. 

Sally outside the Royal Palace, South Korea

At the Royal Palace in South Korea.

How I've changed

I know that I’m very grateful for the simple things in life. A hot shower, a comfy bed, food when I want it. Also, after injuring myself, I’m very grateful for the NHS we have here.

I think I’m still discovering ways in which my 17 months of travel has changed me. For example, I’ve just moved back into my house (It’s been rented out) and I'm unpacking all the stuff I left behind when I left with just one bag. I have so many pairs of shoes it is ridiculous. I keep wearing the same pair and can no longer walk in high heels! 

My top career break tips

Don’t let other people’s fears put you off! And don’t be scared to travel on your own – it will be the best thing you do for yourself. Even if its only for a few days – do it. I know I will never have any regrets about taking my career break and all the risks that go with it – it was all worth it.

Also - write it all down. I’m still writing my travel blog now and would like to continue telling my stories.

Outside St Michael's in Macau

Outside St Michael's in Macau


This is an edited interview with Sally Robinson. You can read Sally's blog at http://robinsonrambleson.co.uk/. She's also on Facebook and Twitter if you want to keep up with her.