Introducing: Ask the Travel Coach!

Featured, Lost in the Mail — By on September 30, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Dear Lost Girl Readers,

We are so excited to announce the launch of our newest  feature, Ask the Travel Coach!  Life Sabbatical Coach Tara Russell has joined the Lost Girls team to act as our resident Travel Coach in Residence to answer questions from readers in our brand-new monthly feature. Similar to past Lost Girls feature Lost in the Mail, readers will submit questions here, and one will be answered in next month’s column. But first, lets get to know a bit about Tara! Here’s her inspiring story, in her own words…


It’s an amazing thing to feel as though you are doing the job you were put on this earth to do.  Everyone has one of those “What I Want To Be When I Grow Up” stories from their childhood; Doctor, Pastry Chef, Astronaut…  And sometimes, depending on where life takes us, we actually grow up to fill those shoes loafers/skid-resistant kitchen clogs/moon boots we once dreamed of.

Well, needless to say, the “Life Sabbatical Coach” job description wasn’t floating around when I was younger (actually, it pretty much didn’t exist at all until I founded Three Month Visa back in 2006,) but looking back on my life I can honestly say that all the signs were there and that my passion for this niche existed even before I knew how to articulate what it would look like.  I was always fascinated by the idea of long-term travel and as far back as junior high and high school I devoured any book I could get my hands on about living or working abroad (A Journey of One’s Own, Taking Time Off) and I thought Rick Steves was a nerdy genius for getting PBS to actually pay for him to galavant around Europe and chat about it on TV.

 Car Mirror ReflectionTara in Cuba

But let’s back up a bit…

Most travelers get (justifiably) misty-eyed recalling their first Big Trip…the one where they first felt the lure of the road and fell in love with the romance and serendipity of life away from home; the one where they came back with a new understanding of themselves, the world and their place in it.  For me, that trip – the one when I first caught the travel bug – was during my sophomore year in high school.  At the time I was performing with the New England Conservatory of Music Youth Chorale and that was the year that we did a concert tour through Italy.  This, for me, was HUGE given that I came from a family whose average vacation consisted of chasing the Amish in our trusty family station wagon (true story) and thus I had never been abroad before.  (Full disclosure: I had never even been on a plane before.)

The concert tour of Italy was a trip that opened up my eyes to a whole new continent where every little detail seemed foreign and exotic and precious.  (The language, the food, the architecture, the art, the coffee, the sherbet-colored lire…  Oh, and did I mention the gelato?)  It was an experience that showed me the fruits of hard work and diligent preparation, giving me the opportunity to perform in gorgeous cathedrals and basilicas throughout the country, sharing the experience with the other members of the chorale after spending months shoulder-to-shoulder in seemingly endless rehearsals.  Perhaps most importantly, the trip gave me a whole new understanding of what I was capable of.  Having worked tirelessly over the summer and after school to put together the money necessary for the trip, I came away with a sense of accomplishment that set the stage for many years to come.

I came home changed – and determined.

Subsequent concert tours of England and France and shorter trips in Europe, Central and South America kept my travel bug satiated throughout high school and college but I remained fascinated by the idea of a Big Journey…the type of leave-your-life-behind trip that would allow the space and time I needed to tear up my calendar and really get out there to see the world.  After college, the time finally came.

After university at Tulane I decided to stay on in New Orleans to buckle down and prepare for the long-dreamed-of Big Trip, working as an Emergency Medical Technician while my boyfriend finished his graduate studies.  For two years I saved and dreamed, prepared and anticipated…  In between EMS calls, I would sit in the back of the ambulance poring over Lonely Planet guidebooks and listening to language learning CDs.  (Bom dia!  Boa tarde!  Boa noite!)  My Paramedic partner – born and raised in Louisiana and incredulous that anyone would want to leave the state never mind the country – thought I was crazy.  I persevered…

Trinidad homestayTara with her host family in Trinidad

And so here comes one of those “if I can save for this, anyone can save for this” moments – during this two year stretch of travel preparation I was an EMT earning $9.00/hour.  (No, that is not a typo.)  Ultimately two years of working hard, taking every overtime shift I could get my hands on and being uber-conscious of my spending habits translated into savings that I was able to stretch across ten months, three continents, and eleven countries.  That’s right…ten months of freedom off of nine dollars an hour.  The take-away?  You can do it, too!

In May of 2004, I boarded a one-way flight to Lima, Peru for a journey that would ultimately change the course of my personal and professional life forever.  My ten-month trip around the world had been a longed-for dream since the first day I set foot on Italian soil almost ten years prior.  The lesson I learned was that no matter how long it takes, no matter how many detours life throws your way, don’t lose sight of your travel dream…eventually you can make it happen.

For me – and for my coaching clients – travel isn’t just a vacation; it’s not a pre-packaged, micro-managed experience.  Travel is a vehicle for personal growth; it’s a chance to take time off and really get away for a significant period.  It’s a chance to embrace serendipity and the unknown; to breathe, renew and see life (and yourself) from new angles and in a new light.  My Big Trip gave me that perspective and when I came home I knew that I wanted to find a way to empower other people to dream of, plan for and realize the life-changing journeys they had always wanted…

And so Three Month Visa was born.

The most beautiful thing I have discovered over the past six years of coaching and running my business is that being an entrepreneur is a lot like being a traveler – It involves a leap into the unknown and isn’t always easy (heck, at times it’s downright hard) but it changes you and forms you and makes you stronger…and in the end it is all worth it because of the amazing people you meet along the way.

Looking back over my journey as a coach since 2006 I am inspired and humbled by all of the wonderful clients I have had the opportunity to work with – by their strength, vision, perseverance and wisdom.  I can’t help but smile when I look around my office and see all of the postcards and tiny gifts that have trickled back to me from former clients, now out wandering the globe – extraordinary people just like YOU who overcame every self-imposed limitation and perceived obstacle in the book in order to realize their own Big Trip.

I’m thrilled to be the Lost Girls’ new Travel Coach in Residence and I can’t wait to connect with all of you to hear your stories, answer your questions and inspire and empower you to get out there and discover the world.

You can do it!  I’m here to help.

Joyous travels,



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.  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 New York Magazine, USA Today Travel, The Huffington Post, Travel & Leisure, The Christian Science Monitor and 

She can be found at

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  • CJ says:

    I am scared to travel alone for the first time. I need the experience for my own personal growth but don’t know how to start planning. I am going to volunteer abroad, but after that I don’t know if I should travel with a tour company or backpack or do a working holiday. I quit my job and now have no idea what to do next. I guess I am wondering whats best for a first time solo traveller.

  • I would suggest starting your trip with a group tour like G Adventures and then moving on to solo travel.

    This is how I started traveling four years ago because I, too, was scared to travel alone.

    Check out this post and shoot me a line if you have any questions 🙂

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