Jason Kester

I run a little company called Expat Software. Right now, the most interesting things we're doing are related to Web Meetings, Travel Blogs and Online Spanish Lessons with a Live Tutor. I'll leave it to you to figure out how those things tie together.


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Laid off? The one thing you absolutely need to do on the first day

You're in IT, right? So chances are you've been laid off at least once from some crappy company and it's going to happen again. Here is my one piece of advice to you. The single most important thing to do as soon as you make it back to your house with that box full of stuff:

Book a flight

Seriously. Do it now, before the initial shock wears off and that logical side of your brain starts coming up with lame excuses. You will never have a better chance to get out and see the world than right now. You have a pile of saving and a severance package. You've got 6 months to a year before your skills start getting rusty. There is absolutely no reason to start looking for work immediately, and every reason to take that round-the-world trip you've always dreamed about. Right. Now.

Trust me, your career will be just fine.

Where to go

This is the easiest question to answer: Bangkok. Seriously, the mere fact that you had to ask the question indicates that you're probably not a seasoned traveler and therefore should be going to Thailand first. I know you always wanted to do Europe, but it's crazy expensive and frankly, it's just not relaxed enough for you right now. You're going to need some serious chilling to recover from a layoff. Southeast Asia has that in Spades.

Make your way to Khao San Road, find a room, grab a Beer Chang and talk to a few other travelers. Your trip will plan itself from there.

Where to go if it's May

Ok, one modification to the above. Thailand is thoroughly uninhabitable for a few months between May and July. In that case, you're going to Africa. Book a flight to Cape Town instead. Follow this itinerary up through Zambia, Malawi and Tanzania. Everybody there speaks English and you can get a room for $0.75. You'll do fine.

How long to go for

You're going to want to stay gone for 6-9 months. Less than that and it you'll be kicking yourself for not leaving enough time, and you'll be rushing through entire countries just to keep up with your itinerary. I know that this seems silly now, but somewhere along the way somebody will ask how long you've been in Vietnam for and you'll answer "Only one month." Timescales work differently on the road.

In my experience (did I mention that I take about 9 months vacation a year and spend most of that traveling in the developing world?), I tend to start missing work after about 6 months away. By 9 months, I'm pretty much ready to commit to a real job in a real office just so that I can start using my brain again. Talking to other software guys on the road, it seems that this is pretty common. You're going to want to come back eventually, so be sure to keep a few good contacts back home.

Regardless of how long you plan to be gone, try to book your flight one-way. It will give you unlimited flexibility with your travel plans and let you pick your return date later when you know what you actually want to do. As a last resort, pick the return date furthest in the future, since it's a lot easier to move it forward than to push it back.

How much will it cost?

I budget about $1,000 a month when I'm traveling in Southeast Asia, Central America, Africa or the Middle East. I seldom go through that much if I'm sticking to ground transport, but over the course of a year if you consider flights into the calculations, $1,000 a month is about right. Stay away from the developed world at all costs though, or you'll quickly triple that figure!

How do I get another job when I get back?

The nice thing about a 6 month timeframe is that it gives all of your ex-coworkers time to entrench themselves in other hopeless software companies. Email them and notice how everything around them seems to be on fire. They need you to start tomorrow. Line up a good offer based on one of their recommendations and book a flight home.

Three Lame Excuses and why they're not valid:

But I don't have any money saved...

You can't possibly be serious. Are you saying that you've been working in IT for all these years and haven't put away a lousy ten grand??? Shame on you. Get a book on life skills and open a bank account fer cryin' out loud.

But nobody will hire me after six months away...

Not true. Nobody will hire you if you're bad at what you do and have terrible interviewing skills. Those things won't change over the course of six months, but you might possibly wind up more relaxed (and with some good stories to tell) and that's actually a benefit when it comes to interviewing.

Regardless of what you may have heard, skilled developers are very hard to find. If you fit that category, there's very little that you can do to poison your resume. Certainly, heading off on your once-in-a-lifetime trip won't leave you unemployable.

But I'm married with a family and a house...

Ok, you win. You're screwed, but that's the life you chose for yourself so you're going to have to live it. It's worth noting, however, that most Europeans wouldn't consider that a reason not to travel. Right this second, there is a German couple pushing a stroller down a remote beach in Thailand, and they're not going home for another month. What's your excuse again?

Why you're not actually going to do it

When you get right down to it, you'll probably find a way to talk yourself out of taking that dream trip. You'll come up with some pretty believable excuses, but really it will come down to the fact that you're scared.

That's cool. Travel is pretty scary when you look at it from the outside. But here's the thing. It stops being scary the moment your feet hit the pavement on Khao San Road in Bangkok. You're going to get blasted by 100 degree heat, power-wafted by smells of the most amazing street food one minute and an open sewer the next, assaulted with music from a thousand bars, and crammed into a tiny room overlooking it all with a fan that doesn't work. And you won't be able to wipe the silly grin off your face.

Book the flight today, because every day you delay it is one more day wasted on the couch, and one more day to come up with lame excuses for why you shouldn't go.

It is all good here. Get your ass on a plane.


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