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Laid Off? Take a Trip if You Can Afford It

Shawn Kumar of Denver is a former Peace Corps volunteer with an irrepressible travel bug.

So the software project manager reverted to an old habit when he was laid off at the end of February. He hit the road.

Kumar snapped up a United Airlines special $490 fare and spent two weeks strolling through Moscow's Red Square and in St. Petersburg.

"When you get laid off, it can get depressing and stressful. Traveling helps me to get to another realm — another place, another culture to help forget about problems back home," he says.

With nearly one of 10 U.S. workers unable to land a job in the current economic conditions, some unemployed cubicle warriors with sudden free time are succumbing to wanderlust.

They travel to fight the unemployment blues or to reconnect with the familiar. Networking opportunities, language classes, scratching items off their "bucket lists" and using frequent-flier miles also beckon.

To be sure, unemployed travelers are a small minority. In a survey of laid-off workers by Careerbuilder.com, only 3 percent of respondents said travel was the first item on their to-do list.

Still, those who can afford to spend with no paycheck are finding a depressed economy can work to their advantage. Airfares are at lows, and hotels are deeply discounting. Smartphones and Wi-Fi also make staying in touch while job searching possible.

"People go through the grieving process (when laid off)," says Bradley Richardson, partner at executive recruitment firm Kaye Bassman and author of Career Comeback. "If you can afford it, traveling is a great idea to clear your mind."

Those who travel during unemployment tend to have limited financial and family obligations. Nancy Ilk, a health care software specialist in Tucson, sensed her firm's vulnerability last year and started to save. When she was laid off in April, she had her "finances in order," she says, and has traveled to Australia, Washington, D.C., and Minneapolis. Having 240,000 frequent flier miles helped. "I have no pets, no kids, no debt, no commitments. I didn't want my RIF (reduction in force) to be my RIP."

Kumar, also single, felt vulnerable about his job because he lacked seniority. "I was saving my cash," he says. "And I usually hoard my miles."

Travel deals are helping. Ilk paid only $800 for her Tucson-Sydney flight.

Rocky Agrawal of San Francisco, a senior product manager for Microsoft, paid less than $300 to fly to Maui after being laid off in May. Via Priceline, he paid $100 a night at the Marriott Wailea.

Of course, traveling without a paycheck does come with doubts. "I had some second thoughts," Agrawal says. But "a day or so into my trip, I got a call from a colleague who was also laid off. He was talking about the job-search process. I said 'it's nice chatting with you, but I've got to go to the beach.'"

Kumar's trip to Russia also helped him recharge. "You're sitting in a cubicle for so long. Travel wakes up your mind," he says. Still, having "structure and agenda" makes trips more productive in landing a new job, says recruiter Richardson. When in Berlin, Agrawal stayed in touch with job leads on his laptop and cell phone. He tweets and updates his whereabouts on his Facebook page. In Boston, he gathered friends for dinner via social networking, which led to "a couple of job leads."

Kumar used the Skype and Vonage Web phone services to follow up on a job lead that led to a contract work.

Reconnecting with friends also is therapeutic, travelers say. Agrawal went to Minneapolis to hang out with his buddies. "It's nice have that extra morale support. We made sure we had our regular poker game."

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