Tony Wheeler: 'One friend - a doctor no less - now runs bird-watching tours'

My working life started as an engineer in the British car industry, looking back it was probably like riding into a real-life crash test and neither my job nor the cars survived the impact. You certainly don't see many Hillmans or Sunbeams around these days. So with that career behind me (thoroughly broken, smashed even) I went back to university and then took a Gap Year break (in 1972, before the word had even been invented) that led to my new and totally unplanned career, writing and publishing travel guidebooks.

I'm certainly not the only person for whom a spell of travel has led to a totally new career. I've got two friends whose travels in the carpet weaving areas of the world turned them into textile experts and carpet dealers. Another friend whose shop-a-holic tendencies turned him into a professional shopper with a string of third-world craft shops. There are several friends whose interests in travel and photography led to careers as photographers and a recent acquaintance, a doctor no less, whose interest in bird-watching ended up with setting up a travel company which specialises in bird-watching tours.

My more conventional breaks were more like diversions or side trips than real career breaks. In the mid-Eighties I moved to San Francisco for a year to start an American office for Lonely Planet. Our children were still pre-school age, so there were no school-shifting problems, although our daughter developed a definite taste for the challenges offered by the excellent Californian pre-school she attended. We lived in Berkely, accurately described as "the only city in America with its own foreign policy". The year in the US may have concentrated on a different part of my career - more sales and marketing, less publishing - but at the end of the year I slotted straight back in to the business, although not so much re-energised as totally exhausted.

Conventional break number two came along 12 years later when we moved to Paris for a year. By this time I had much less of a day-to-day role in the business and a lot of what I did could be done just as well separated by a continent as by an office wall. E-mails are instantaneous no matter how far they travel. The second break was a much bigger challenge for the children, who attended an international school in Paris for the year, but my belief is that kids need the occasional shake up just as much as their parents.

And the next break? Today I'm very much a back seat driver in the business so perhaps the next shift is to that other current buzzword, the Portfolio Career. I've discovered that I'm very content with a life made up of a bit-of-this and a taste-of-that and furthermore not all of it has to be involved with making a living. Lots of the things I do could certainly be defined as work, except nobody's paying me to do them. A Year with Swollen Appendices, Brian Eno's terrific diary of what he did in 1995, perfectly describes that interesting blend of working very hard for zero return on some things and not nearly so hard for a big return on others.

Where to go on that next career break? I don't want to just travel, I get plenty of that without even asking, but nor am I sure I want to move somewhere else forever or even for a year. On the other hand lots of places would be extremely interesting for, say, three months. Three months in Venice could be fascinating. Or three months in Kyoto or Hong Kong... although New York just might require a whole year.

Tony Wheeler is the founder of the 'Lonely Planet' guides

Arts and Entertainment
arts + entsWith one of the best comic roles around, it's no wonder she rarely bothers with films
News
people
News
i100
News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
News
i100
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Life and Style
A small bag of the drug Ecstasy
Health
News
i100
Life and Style
Floral-print swim shorts, £26, by Topman, topman.com; sunglasses, £215, by Paul Smith, mpaulsmith.co.uk
FashionBag yourself the perfect pair
Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Primary Teacher

£90 - £150 per day + travel expenses: Randstad Education Newcastle: Upper Key ...

Primary Teacher

£90 - £115 per day + travel expenses: Randstad Education Newcastle: Primary NQ...

Primary Teacher

£90 - £115 per day + travel expenses: Randstad Education Newcastle: Primary NQ...

PE Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: We are currently recruiting...

Day In a Page

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup