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

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: Are you a recent graduate loo...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE £35K: SThree: At SThree, we like to be differe...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: At SThree, we like to be differe...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K YR1: SThree: At SThree, we like to be dif...

SPONSORED FEATURES

Day In a Page

Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

Solved after 200 years

The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

Sunken sub

Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

Age of the selfie

Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

Not so square

How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

Still carrying the torch

The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

...but history suggests otherwise
The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

The bald truth

How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

Tour de France 2015

Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

A new beginning for supersonic flight?

Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash
I would never quit Labour, says Liz Kendall

I would never quit party, says Liz Kendall

Latest on the Labour leadership contest
Froome seals second Tour de France victory

Never mind Pinot, it’s bubbly for Froome

Second Tour de France victory all but sealed
Oh really? How the 'lowest form of wit' makes people brighter and more creative

The uses of sarcasm

'Lowest form of wit' actually makes people brighter and more creative
A magazine editor with no vanity, and lots of flair

No vanity, but lots of flair

A tribute to the magazine editor Ingrid Sischy
Foraging: How the British rediscovered their taste for chasing after wild food

In praise of foraging

How the British rediscovered their taste for wild food