Last year Ann Noon, 35, was head of the press office of the French Government Tourist Office; this year she is in Peru volunteering with the Inka Porter Project, campaigning to improve conditions for the men who carry tourists' baggage across the High Andes.

Last year Ann Noon, 35, was head of the press office of the French Government Tourist Office; this year she is in Peru volunteering with the Inka Porter Project ( www.peruweb.org/porters), campaigning to improve conditions for the men who carry tourists' baggage across the High Andes. Meanwhile, Nick Cooke, 31, a business analyst at Allied Irish Bank, negotiated a year's sabbatical and took a series of diving courses in Thailand, Malaysia and Australia to become a qualified divemaster. Last summer, a primary school teacher and a chef set off from Trafalgar Square to walk 10,500 miles to Cape Town. Paula and Gary Constant have just reached Morocco and you can follow their progress in their online diaries at www.constanttrek.com.

What links these people is they all had a dream and, more importantly, they didn't let their jobs or life back home stand in the way of realising it. And, whether you're 26 or 62, that is what a career break is all about.

As you travel to and from work, what is it that you dream about? Do you wish you were in Guatemala learning Spanish, working with street children in Rio de Janeiro, crewing a yacht through the Panama Canal or assisting marine scientists in Madagascar? If you want a change and are thinking along these lines, then you're in good company. The number of people feeling there is more to life than work - that there are places to see and things to do - is increasing, as traditional notions of mono-career lifetime employment disintegrate. Those with the courage to take the plunge, and the confidence to know that they can re-build their lives when they return, are either quitting their jobs or negotiating a career break to do them.

In addition, companies are starting to realise that in order to keep good staff they need to give them the freedom to grow and are offering career breaks as part of flexible employment packages.

Taking a career break isn't half as scary as you think and is easier to organise than you might imagine. It's important to remember that the last thing your job should be doing is holding you back. In the words of career breaker Chris Bugden: "Without a shadow of a doubt, a career break is the best thing you'll ever experience, just do it."

Charlotte Hindle is co-ordinating author of Lonely Planet's new 'Career Break Book' (£12.99) and of Lonely Planet's 'Gap Year Book' (new edition July 2005; £12.99). She will be giving a talk on Career Breaks at 7.45pm on 28 September at Stanfords Bookshop in Covent Garden, London; for a free ticket, e-mail sales@stanfords.co.uk.

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