Do You Need a Long-Term Travel Coach? An interview with Tara Russell

If there’s anything I’ve learned from working in the travel industry it’s that many people who dream of extensive traveling, don’t, for whatever reason. A few weeks ago at an informal social event for travel startup Meet Plan Go! I met a woman by the name of Tara Russell. Tara is a “Sabbatical and Long-term Travel Coach” and makes it her profession to help people stuck in the above category realize their dream of extended world travel.

After our conversation I realized how important her job is, not only to potential AirTreks clients but also for anyone having trouble pulling to trigger on what could otherwise be a life-changing endeavor.

I asked Tara if she’d be interested in answering a few questions about her job and her life for the readers of the AirTreks Travel Blog. She happily agreed. I highly recommend giving Tara a call. It could be the best one you ever make.

You say you’re a “Life Sabbatical and Long-term Travel Coach”. What does that mean exactly?

I’m a Certified Life and Career Coach with a passion for working with people who dream of taking time off to travel, live, work, study or volunteer abroad.  As the Founder of Three Month Visa Coaching and Consulting, I work with individuals, couples and families who are ready to take their travel dreams down off the shelf, dust them off and make them happen.

Whether clients come to me longing for a career break, a spiritual sojourn, an extended global vagabonding experience or just a self-designed “gap year”, my mission is to get them off the couch and on the plane!

It’s not terribly difficult to book tickets, why do people typically come to you to help them travel?

When people come to me, it’s about more than just booking tickets or taking a pre-packaged vacation.  The scope of a sabbatical or long-term travel experience is much larger than a typical 10 day – 2 week vacation that most Americans are accustomed to and that can be both exciting and also daunting for clients.

To empower my clients to get through the preparations for a life sabbatical, there are really three over-arching stages that we go through together and I call them “Stamp Your Passport”, “Pack Your Bags” and “Hit The Road”.

“Stamp Your Passport” is all about giving yourself permission to take this type of extended travel sabbatical; it’s about building the dream – taking the kernel of your vision for the trip and blowing it up so it begins to feel real.  It’s about what I call “The Big Why?”.  (Often times when we think about a typical vacation in the States, we just answer two questions – “Where [am I going]?” and “How [am I going to get there]?”.  However the very first question I help my clients look at (and truly the most important thing you need to figure out about your trip in my opinion,) is the “Why [am I taking this trip]?”   What values and priorities in your life are you honoring by taking this time for yourself?  What does this time off mean for you and how do you want to grow and evolve as a result of your travels?  It is about approaching travel as a vehicle for personal growth and change.  Getting a handle on the ‘why’ of your trip is essential to a truly fulfilling journey and is a key element of travel preparation that clients get out of coaching.

“Pack Your Bags” is where we handle the logistical preparations that often prove daunting for clients.  Truth be told, there is a considerable “to do list” leading up to departure and often people allow themselves to become overwhelmed and/or even eventually allow their dream to become derailed by fear.  I encourage my clients to approach this part of their journey not as a tedious build up to their actual trip but as an exciting integral part of the adventure.  Pack Your Bags is where we take the lay of the land and establish a game plan (which is different for everyone given their unique life circumstances).   We also deal with all the various emotions that come up and work through the perceived obstacles, self-imposed limitations and inevitable “freak out moments” so that you can stay on track and ultimately get out there and have the trip of a lifetime.  During this time, clients take advantage of the structure that coaching provides and the vast wealth of travel-related resources that I bring to the table given my years of experience in this niche.

And then “Hit The Road” is the pay off – it is when clients get to GO and have the trip of a lifetime that they have dreamed of and worked so hard for.  It is about making sure that your journey is everything that you have always wanted it to be.

How long have you been at this?

I founded Three Month Visa Coaching and Consulting in early 2006 so am thrilled to say that I’m now in my sixth year as a professional coach working in this niche.

Can you explain exactly what a sabbatical is, and why do you encourage people to take one?

One of the things that I adore about my niche is that a sabbatical is different for everyone because each person is unique and figuring out what you need from your time off is a very personal process.  (This is also one of the reasons why I feel Coaching is such an ideal vehicle for planning this type of travel.)

That said, my personal definition of a sabbatical is any extended period of time off that is a break from your normal routine; it is time that is either unstructured (or structured differently from your everyday life) which allows you to truly unplug and get perspective.

Because of the larger scope of a sabbatical, there is the real opportunity there for deeper growth and advancement in your life…it is more of a journey if you want it to be.  I tell my clients that when it comes to making travel truly meaningful in this way, you get to choose.  Vacations take you away for two weeks but journeys move you for a lifetime.

A related question I often get is “How long should my sabbatical be?”, and again this is a very personal decision based on factors including personal preference, goals for your trip, finances, etc. but as a general rule of thumb I tell clients that what sets a “sabbatical” apart from a typical “vacation” is that if you’re not away long enough to forget what day of the week it is on a regular basis, you haven’t been gone long enough!

Do you have trouble convincing people to dismiss their stable job and travel? How do you do it?

Well, my job as a coach is never to “convince” people to do anything but rather to empower them to realize dreams they already have.  Rather than trying to sway people, what I do is about revealing the very real possibility of it all by A. helping them get in touch with what they really want from their time off, B. putting them in connection with the resources and inspiration they need to make it through the planning process and C. helping them stay on track throughout that critical planning phase (which is when some people can get thrown off or discouraged.)

That said, I do often have to help debunk some of the more popular myths about long-term travel that are prevalent here in the US that prevent people from going out of fear or misunderstanding.  Three of the biggest ones are what I call the “Holy Trinity of Travel Objections”.  It’s what you typically hear after “Oh, I could never do something like that because…” and they are Career, Money and/or Kids.  The good news is that a life sabbatical is still a very real option even if you have career, financial or family considerations to take into account and I love helping my clients realize this.

Do you have other services?

Absolutely – In addition to the coaching work I do with individuals, couples and families I also do quite a bit of professional speaking on the topics of career breaks, life sabbaticals and long-term travel as well as workshop facilitation both around travel preparation and also coaching and empowerment workshops.  Some of my past speaking engagements and workshop presentations include appearances at Apple, McKesson, Coldwell Banker, Borders, Books Inc., and the Korea Leadership Center in Seoul, South Korea.

Also, I realize as a Coach that it is important for me to walk the talk when I’m telling clients about living their passion and creating the life they dream of living so I also pursue music and photography in my spare time.  Completely aside from Three Month Visa I also have a great passion for film and digital photography (including travel photography, of course) and my work can be seen at

More personally, what stamps are currently in your passport?

My much-loved older passport had stamps from all over Europe, Central and South America and Asia but sadly it recently expired and had to be retired to ‘souvenir status’.  However, I am thrilled to say that I was able to break in my shiny new passport last month during a trip to Cuba which has been a dream trip of mine for many years so having that be my first new stamp was pretty cool.  I’m looking forward to inking up the rest of the pages for many years to come!

How about the places you still really want to see. If you could go anywhere right now, where would it be?

Up until a few weeks ago, I would have said Cuba and even though I’ve now been, I would love to go back.  Other places that are on my immediate wish list are Morocco and Tibet.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

My takeaway message for anyone who is sitting out there in a cubicle somewhere dreaming of hitting the road is really this:

Extended travel isn’t a pipe dream…it can be a reality.  All of the things that you think are in your way are surmountable…you can do it.

Travel is one of the top answers people give when they are asked what they would have changed looking back on their lives – spend more time with family and travel.  Don’t let not having taken the trip of a lifetime become a regret later…get serious about it now.

So if you’re sitting in your beige cubicle all day wishing you were somewhere else like the summit of Kilimanjaro or the beaches of Fiji, get moving.  Start dreaming, start planning and if you’re ready to get serious about your own life sabbatical, give me a call!


Tara Russell, CPCC, CDC is a “Life Sabbatical & Long-term Travel Coach” – a Certified Life and Career Coach with a passion for working with clients who dream of taking time off to travel, live, work, study or volunteer abroad. As the Founder and President of Three Month Visa Coaching and Consulting, her mission is to empower her clients to change their lives (and ultimately the world at large), through meaningful international travel experiences. In addition to her work with one-on-one coaching clients, Tara is a popular speaker and workshop presenter in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond and has brought her unique perspective and expertise to audiences at venues including Apple, Borders, McKesson, Coldwell Banker, the Bay Area Travel and Adventure Show and the Korea Leadership Center in Seoul, South Korea. She is also the Founder of the highly successful San Francisco Travel Book Club and Lectures Series.

An avid traveler and believer in the rejuvenating effects of “taking time off”, Tara’s journeys have taken her from the ancient ruins of Peru and rainforests of the Brazilian Amazon to the temples of Japan and the Himalayan Mountain ranges of Nepal. She is widely considered to be a national thought leader on the topics of career breaks and travel sabbaticals and has been featured in myriad online and print media outlets including USA Today Travel, The Huffington Post, Travel & Leisure, The Christian Science Monitor and

Build your Trip

Get instant pricing and complimentary advice
Get Started »
Build your Trip