The Very Long Vacation

Jon Santiago, I-Banker
Guatemala City, via Mexico City, San Cristobál, and San Pedro
I started a job with one of the big investment banks in September 2007 doing an exotic type of collateralized lending. Within a few months, it was clear things were deteriorating. I would come to work and do nothing. Half the group got cut in June. By November, it was clear there’d be more cuts.

A few weeks after I got laid off, I realized my three-month severance package would last a lot longer in Latin America than paying for a West Village apartment. I flew to Mexico, where I met an Irish guy who’d lost his job and an Australian guy who quit his. We’ve been traveling together for a while. I’m having a blast: extremely relaxed, reading and writing a lot, and improving my Spanish. Today we went to climb an active volcano, but in general I’m just chilling out, eating tacos that cost ten cents, and existing down here as long as I can. My target budget is $30 a day, and I’m often counting how many days that gets me. I’ll be staying for free at a work farm in Patagonia next.

I tell people here that I had soured on banking but never would have quit my job. Now I’m excited to come back to New York and do it on much less: cutting my rent in half, cooking more, and toning down the going out.

Nicholas VanderBorgh, Real-Estate Broker
Beijing, via an around-the-world ticket
I calculated it: Four months of rent is $6,000, and my cost of living is at least $100 a day. That’s $18,000 to sit in the middle of the winter, freezing cold, everyone getting sick. And work was going to be dead: Nobody is buying now.

So in December, I went on Craigslist and sublet my apartment. I have no health insurance, and I canceled everything other than my phone, which I lowered to the cheapest plan. Then I bought an around-the-world ticket.

I’m trying to hit every country I’m interested in and stick to a hotel average of $25. I’m kind of addicted to it. I flew to London, then south to Portugal. I caught pneumonia there but managed to get to Madrid, where I took an ambulance to the hospital. When I got better, I hit up Paris and Barcelona and, after two and a half weeks, flew to Athens. Then Cyprus, Jordan (skipped Israel because of the war), Dubai, Singapore, Thailand, and Hong Kong.

I’m in China now. I miss my bed, but I think right now is the time to improve ourselves. It makes me proud to post photos on Facebook. Next week I’ll bang out Japan and then celebrate my birthday in Napa. I’ll be back in April—tan and ready to work.

Jeremy Dyme, Attorney
San Francisco, via Michigan; St. Louis; Memphis; Ranger, Texas; and San Diego
Last spring, my law firm laid off a hundred attorneys. I stuck it out till Christmas, but then the firm went under. I tried to be realistic. I could sit and stew in my apartment, making as many unsolicited calls as possible. But my apartment lease was coming up, and so the first week of January, I got a one-way ticket to Michigan.

I bought a 1999 Oldsmobile and took a road trip with a friend to California. We did the arch in St. Louis, ate ribs in Memphis, and then broke down in Ranger, Texas, where the town’s undertaker stopped to help us out. Then we got stuck in a Central Texas ice storm, so we holed up in a little motel for a few days. It was like we walked into No Country for Old Men. The only thing to do was to sit in the truck stop and make friends. Eventually we stumbled into San Diego, where I stayed for a few weeks and then drove solo up Highway 1, like right out of the playbook.

I’ve been in San Francisco for a month, bouncing around between friends. I want to enjoy my time here, but I don’t want to sit on the sidelines forever. I’ve been firing off résumés for all types of jobs. I only packed a small duffel bag of clothes and one suit. I’d come back to New York in a heartbeat.

Photo: Markus Jacobi/Courtesy of Stella Lee

Stella Lee, Architect
I recently co-founded a firm, Bureau V, and like all architects, we were pretty worried about the downturn. But we tried to think of ways to turn this into an opportunity. I was attracted to Berlin and already learning the language, and we thought that if I moved there, we could experiment with work in renewable energy. I could also save money on rent and so help the firm afford our Brooklyn office.

Now I pay 430 euros for a 1,200-square-foot apartment in an old building with nice windows. I don’t have as much time to learn the language as I thought I would, but it doesn’t bother me much. The pace of life is quite slow, and the creative people here aren’t super-driven, which is nice. Most of my friends are having a harder time finding work, but there’s not the same overwhelming crunch that people are feeling in New York.

Working remotely isn’t easy. I’m kind of in a bubble. But we use desktop-sharing software and correspond through Skype. My partners and I are motivated, and I think we’ll come out of this recession intact. And since I know I’m going back to New York anyway, I might as well enjoy myself while I’m here. I do wish it were a bit sunnier.

As told to Emma Rosenblum

The Very Long Vacation