I met Katelyn Michaud, at the Women in Travel Summit in Boston in March 2015, and was intrigued by her awesome blog, Diaries of a Wandering Lobster. To continue on with my series of interviews on balancing a career and travel, I thought Katelyn would be the perfect candidate to chat with.
Originally based in Portland, Maine, Katelyn recently took the plunge on quitting her full-time career in healthcare, and pursue her dreams to move to Australia and hopefully land a career in international public health. Katelyn chatted with me about her work/life balance, and why she feels it’s important for employers to recognize the importance of allowing employees to pursue what they are passionate about.
Tell me a bit about what you do for a living.
I recently just quit my job to travel full-time and grow my freelance writing and virtual assistant business, but I was most recently working full-time as a healthcare analyst for a small health information technology company. My educational and professional background is in biomedical research and public health. I spent over five years working in a genetics lab prior to working in health information technology. The more I travel the more I realized that I haven’t found a career that I’m passionate about so I decided to quit my job and head to Australia on a working holiday Visa. I’ve always dreamed about a career in international public health so I’m looking forward to volunteering and networking while living as an expat for the first time in my life.
Do you have a certain amount of vacation days a year at your job?
For the past 6 years in my full-time working career I’ve always had two weeks of vacation a year, which tends to be the average in the United States. While I hate having only two weeks of paid vacation time a year, I’m also very lucky because a lot of people don’t even get that. When I worked for a biotech company I received my two weeks at the beginning of the year, but at my most recent job I had to accrue the time over the year. If and when I head back to the 9-5 life, I refuse to work for anything less than three weeks of vacation a year. Two weeks is just not enough!
How often do you try and travel within a year?
Last year was a huge travel year for me. In 2013 I didn’t take any vacation time to travel. The few days I took off were to compete at Ironman Lake Placid in July. In September 2013 I started a new job at my former company and only took a week off in May 2014 for vacation to Belize and Guatemala with a friend. Since I had to accrue my vacation hours over time, I was hoarding those days so I could take a longer trip in 2015. Last year I spent almost three weeks in Europe, four days in Mexico City, a few long holiday weekend getaways, and five days in Iceland. Now I’m embarking on my great escape.
Do you ever feel limited to how often you can travel because of your job?
I hated having only two weeks of vacation time a year. I think the American culture of all work and no play is ridiculous. Travel brings out the best in me and has changed who I am over the years. It brings out my creative side and allows me to grow and mature as a human being. I strongly believe that if I was given more vacation time to explore my passions then I would come back as a more mature, creative, and focused person. I believe there needs to be a better work/life balance in the American workplace.
Do you find it hard to unplug from work when traveling?
Yes and no. Thankfully in my previous jobs I was able to leave my work at work. You can’t exactly bring a lab experiment with you to Central America! However, I do run my own freelance writing business so I do tend to bring work with me on longer journeys so I can keep up with client work and my blog. This past May I did a week long sail around the Greek islands and I spent several morning typing away on my laptop while my yacht mates were sipping beer and working on their tans. You just need to find a balance while you’re on the road.
Why is it important to you to have a career but also incorporate travel into your life?
I love having a career. I spent quite a bit of money to obtain an undergraduate degree in biochemistry and a graduate degree in public health. I want to put that knowledge to good use. While I haven’t quite found a career that I’m passionate about, I’m looking forward to using my upcoming travel to explore my passions and interests in this world and network. I’ve always wanted to work in international public health, but it’s a very though industry to wiggle your way into. You often need to know someone to get your foot in the door. I’m looking forward to networking and volunteering on projects that interest me. Two causes that are near and dear to my heart are girls education and access to clean water and sanitation.
Travel not only gives me the experience and skills to navigate countries that I don’t speak the language and communicate with people that are culturally different, but it opens my eyes to the unique needs of communities around the globe. Travel allows me to grow and mature as a woman and gives me the confidence to follow my dreams whether its a typical 9-5 or self-made career.
What inspired you to start a travel blog?
I’ve always loved writing. Growing up as a little girl I always wanted to be a horse trainer and a writer. I have a box full of books I wrote as a child at my dad’s house. Whenever I start to doubt myself I pull one or two of them out and read them. I started a travel blog to mostly record my journeys and experiences around the world. I love the community of bloggers and find valuable information in travel blogs. I actually plan most of my travels based on other people’s travel blogs. I hope that my blog helps fellow travelers in their journeys and shows them that travel is accessible if you believe in it.
If you had a piece of advice for someone that is trying to maintain a career, and also see the world, what would it be?
Make sure that your employer knows that travel is important to you. Unfortunately many employers in North America are all about working long hours and not enough time off to follow your passions and recharge. My former employer was one of these. While I enjoyed my time there, it wasn’t a good fit for me. I need a career that utilizes my skill set yet allows me the flexibility to follow my travel passions.