Meet Joe Antkowiak, Traveler, Diver, Dreamer, Doer…

Posted on: Wednesday, October 8th, 2014
Posted in: Sabbatical Shuffle, Blog | One comment

IMG_6427Every now and then (as this blog testifies), dreamers, schemers and BreakAway artists of all kinds come together and have gatherings (large and small) to celebrate and inspire this mission and cause called career breaks. Ask me, “What’s the best part about this movement?” and the answer is easy: The people. The same response you have when you finish a big trip, right?

One of those local gems (with worldwide cred) is my new friend, Joe Antkowiak. We’ve chatted at a few meet-ups, and then carved out time for a solo conversation. I was so moved by his stories that I asked him to share them here. He said yes, of course! (Thanks, Joe!)

So please take in his adventures and advice (like “Surround yourself with people that inspire your dreams…”) And next time the BreakAway gang gathers, why not join us? Wherever you want to go, Joe will help point you in the right direction.


  • So you’ve been traveling your whole life, right? Give us some of your early history.

Actually, my parents were the first to introduce my sisters and I to traveling. My parents love the outdoors and hiking, so they usually planned a family trip every year to one of the national parks. We had a small pop-up trailer and a station wagon which they used to transport the five of us and our distractions to places like Glacier National Park, Cheyenne, The Great Lakes, Colorado, etc. My two sisters and I would sit in the back of the station wagon playing silly games like Mad-libs or the license plate game. It was great for about a week and a half until the childhood emotions and frustrations got the better of us and we decided to head home. I have very fond memories of those trips. As I grew older and graduated college, I didn’t really travel. It actually took one of my ex-girlfriends to re-introduce me to the travel bug. Now it’s a full-on addiction.

  • Yet you have a real career. What do you do, and how do you escape it and find good work when you return from long-term travel?

I’m a software developer. I’m lucky because in my industry volatility is the norm, so it’s easy for me to jump from one opportunity to the next. I’ve found some success as a contractor. But unfortunately, my wanderlust and inability to stay at any one place for a long period of time can make it difficult for me to find a full-time position that’s willing to take me seriously. In any other industry, I might struggle more….or maybe I’d flourish more. I’ve survived some of the toughest times in IT, like when the bubble burst in 2000 – 2002, and the 2008 downturn. I have a bit of a safety net, so I don’t worry about getting through those times too much. However, it was a bit difficult to find work when I returned from 4 months in South America. I had lost a lot of knowledge and bombed many of my interviews before I got my sh*t together and finally found something. You definitely have to plan for the difficult times.

  • Like me, you love the Caribbean. Unlike me, you’ve mastered SCUBA. How did you do that, and what islands do you love (and love less)?

Initially, I thought stuff like SCUBA was out of my reach. I was never a great swimmer, but I was down in Costa Rica for a week in the winter, and on a whim I purchased an exploratory dive package in Tamarindo. A couple hours training in the pool and then two dives the next day, and I was hooked. A year later, I scheduled a vacation in St. Maarten for a week and looked up a dive center and signed up for the PADI Open Water Certification. I was incredibly lucky to get Michel Wouterse as my dive instructor. He’s one of 300 course directors in the world and has taught everyone from adults to children to people with disabilities. I almost didn’t pass due to some difficulties I had with the swimming test. He didn’t want me to give up, so he actually did the swimming test with me (along with another instructor). They coached me through the entire thing. I feel indebted to him for that. He runs the Caribbean Dive College down in St. Maarten now. I would recommend him to anyone that wants to learn SCUBA. The URL for his school is As for favorite islands to dive, it’s difficult to top The Galapagos Islands.


  • You’ve traveled alone. Tell us about some of those adventures, and what might be some of the benefits of heading out solo?

Traveling alone is not for everyone, but if you can handle it, it’s almost the only way to go. As a solo traveler, you’re more approachable by the locals or any other traveler for that matter. Maybe it’s your vulnerability and the need to make friends that a person traveling solo will project, but people are more willing to approach you and get to know you when you’re alone. Also, you don’t have to deal with group-imposed travel restrictions and drama that happens when sometimes traveling with other people. As a solo traveler, you can mix it up to your liking. As long as you have a good personality and check any attitude that you might have at the airport people in other countries will generally treat you nicely and with respect. Everyone loves getting to know a solo traveler. There are so many adventures that I’ve had alone or after meeting people during my trips.

    • Skiing Whistler-Blackcomb mountain in British Columbia and getting an all-day snowboarding lesson from one of the coolest snowboarding girls I’ve ever met.
    • Swimming with schools of Hammerhead and Galapagos Sharks off Gordon Rocks in the Galapagos.
    • Staying at a Vineyard which was also a Bed and Breakfast in the Languedoc region of southern France. This included me renting a motorcycle and riding it down some of the most picturesque roads in that region.
    • Partying it up on the rooftop of my hostel in Lima, Peru and getting lessons on how to make a proper Pisco Sour by one of the hostel managers.
    • Walking the beaches of Pabo Colonio for hours on end in Uruguay. I encountered a capsized sailboat on the beach at sunset and captured some of the most amazing photographs of my trip.
    • Riding a scooter around the island of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and visiting all the face sculpturesIMG_7404
  • You’re a home-owner—another obstacle for many would-be sojourners. How do you manage that responsibility and yet get away?

That was probably most difficult part of the equation. In 2009, I was sitting on an Adirondack chair in Southern France reading Vagabonding, and the author addresses that issue by suggesting you can rent out your house. I’ve never thought of myself as a landlord, but I knew I’d have to concentrate on that solution if I had any chance of being able to travel for an extended period of time. I spent the next 4 years finishing off the basement, making repairs, and generally getting the house ready to rent. During that time, I started to downgrade my life and realized that my very modest house was actually too big for me and I would have no desire to return. I would have sold it if I was in a better position on my mortgage, but since I was horribly underwater on it, I’ve rented it out. I also hired a property manager to take care while I was away. The city wouldn’t give me a rental license without someone in place, but now that I’ve returned and I see how stress-free my life is with him managing things, I’ve decided to keep him on indefinitely. It’s easier than you would think as long as you get the right things in place.

  • Are you still planning a big BreakAway for later this year? What’s the latest on your itinerary, and how is the planning going?

For now, I’m concentrating on saving money so that I can go on another big trip; potentially the middle of next year. Meantime, a friend and I are talking about a snowboard trip to Park City, Utah during the Sundance film festival in January. And / or, I may try and rent a motorcycle in California and ride through the wine country sometime spring or summer of next year. Small trips for the interim. Then again, if winter becomes unbearable, I might have to head down south for some fun in the sun.


  • That’s ambitious—and impressive. So are there any other locations you long to linger in? Or…what might be your ultimate “dream trip?”

“Dream Trip”? – There are so many possibilities. Although, I’ve been toying with heading back to South America and visiting the countries I missed (Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia) and then continuing to Southeast Asia for some diving, and possibly onward. I think I’d like to leave for a year or more. I’ve got my sights on Europe too – Greece, Spain (I want to do the El Camino de Santiago de Compostela), Ireland, Turkey, etc. I think that on my dream trip, I would hope to open up more and throw some caution to the wind. I’m pretty adventurous, but also somewhat conservative. I’d like to get involved in some volunteer work or teaching potentially. It’s great seeing all the sites, but after awhile, I think there’s a need to experience something more meaningful. I’d like to push myself outside of my comfort zone and see if I can contribute something to the rest of the world somehow.

  • You speak French, right? Are there any other skills or talents that help you do what so many only fantasize about?

I’ve been speaking French for the last five years. Or, I should say that I’ve been attempting to speak French for the last five years. Learning a new language is tough and the only way to get better is to immerse yourself in it. Unfortunately, Minneapolis isn’t really someplace that you can immerse yourself in French language and culture. With that, I do the best I can by splitting my time between duolingo and conversation groups. I have a hope to someday spend a couple months in France with a host family. However, that’s still a ways off. I’m not sure about other talents. I’d say that if someone wants to travel for long periods of time, that they’ll need to learn how to manage their money well. They’ll also have to learn to live without. What I mean by that is to be comfortable without the good things in life all the time. Long term travel will teach you to be adaptive as almost nothing goes exactly according to plan. Learning the language definitely helps.


  • And finally, any other tips or words of inspiration for the rest of us?

Surround yourself with the people that inspire and support your dreams. You’ll never get where you want to go with all the negative static that can permeate your life from being in the wrong environment or listening to the wrong people. Learn to be assertive about the things you want – there’s nothing more frustrating than settling for an experience or thing that you didn’t really want. Be prepared for bad things to happen. It feels like everyone has something stolen from them while traveling at least once in their lives. Use it as an opportunity to learn that your possessions are things that can be replaced. Easier said than done, I know. I knew a guy that once he arrived in Peru, had his entire bag stolen. Instead of going home, he re-acquired what he needed and moved forward with his plans.


We’ve heard it all before – You have one life to live. How many of us really take that statement seriously? I would posture that most of us make excuses for the things that we do not do. I still do that quite often, but I fight those negative thoughts all the time. Conformity is a powerful force, and one that is detrimental and soul-sucking to us all. I think Jack Kerouac said it best with “Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.“

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One Response to “Meet Joe Antkowiak, Traveler, Diver, Dreamer, Doer…”

  1. Domini Hedderman Says:

    Great post! I love the last few paragraphs, especially: “Climb that goddamn mountain.”

    After our first 6-month sabbatical to Belize a couple of years ago and then our two months out West, we are heading off on another adventure for three months this winter, this time to Costa Rica. It’s a weird life for a family but we’re doing it our own way.

    I always enjoy your blog. Thanks for the continued inspiration to live a great life!

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