Test drive your fantasy job
Ever dreamed of running your own B&B? Perhaps brewing your own stout? Before you quit your day job, have a fun try-out.
By Anne Fisher, FORTUNE senior writer

NEW YORK (FORTUNE) - At some point most of us have daydreamed about quitting the climb up the corporate ladder. Who hasn't wondered what it would be like to earn a living as a wine maker, brewmaster, wilderness guide, or horse trainer?

Thanks to a company called Vocation Vacations, you can actually test drive your dream job.

Based in Portland, Ore., the two-year-old outfit arranges what might be called internships for grown-ups. For a fee of anywhere from $200 to over $1,000 (plus airfare and lodging), VV matches up people who want to learn a new trade with successful practitioners in their chosen field for a close look at the day-to-day nitty-gritty.

So what careers are hottest now? We asked Vocation Vacations founder and president Brian Kurth for the lowdown.

Food and drink

People are trying to learn what it means to be a cheese maker, pastry chef, wine maker, brewmaster, chocolatier -- just about any other food-related job imaginable.

"Over the past couple of decades, we've become a nation of foodies," says Kurth. "It's partly because of media exposure to high-end chefs, and partly because, as disposable income rises, people get pickier about what they eat and drink. It becomes a passion."

Animals, especially dogs

One opportunity Vocation Vacation offers is a day of "one-on-one mentorship as an animal therapist and educator" in West Palm Beach, Fla. (for $349 plus travel expenses). Or you could spend time learning how to breed or train horses, or how to run an animal shelter.

But the runaway best seller in this category is doggie daycare centers.

"People are very serious about this. They come to us with business plans already in hand," says Kurth. "It kind of surprises me because, let's face it, doggie daycare involves picking up an awful lot of poop."

Sports and entertainment

This category includes sports team manager, talent agent, TV producer, radio announcer, set designer and choreographer.

"Obviously, in our society, lots of people fantasize about being in show business," Kurth notes. "But sometimes it does turn into a real career."

A Boston marketing executive laid off in a bank merger last year, he says, did a Vocation Vacations stint as a TV production assistant and has now produced a pilot for her own TV show. She's also doing stand-up comedy.


The chance to work with a real live fashion designer, photographer, stylist or makeup artist appeals to plenty of people, not just Project Runway fans. But, cautions Kurth, "Part of what we do is to show people the whole experience, including the not-so-fun parts. I mean, how glamorous is it when you're setting up for a runway shoot at 4 a.m.?"


People romanticize the idea of running a hotel, being a tour guide, or owning a bed-and-breakfast.

"It takes a very special kind of person to make a B&B successful. People often go into it thinking it's going to be easy, but it's a 24/7 job," Kurth says. "You're opening up your home to people you don't know. They may come home drunk at 2 a.m. and wake up the whole house."

He adds: "Some people absolutely love it, the mini-Conrad Hiltons of the world. Others tell us, 'Thank God I tried it before I quit my job and invested my savings, because I absolutely could not stand to do this for a living.'"

If Kurth sounds like a bit of wet blanket, it's because he wants to see people embark on a second career, if in fact they decide to, with their eyes wide open. "Part of what we do is take the romance and mystery out of a dream job, and give you a chance to see if you'd really like it -- without taking on any big financial risk, and without telling your boss," he says. "Sure, working as a wedding planner sounds like fun, for instance, and for many people it really is. But you also have to be part psychologist, to deal with the occasional bridezilla."

The company offers professional career counseling, both before and after clients have tried out their dream jobs. Kurth says about 80 percent of customers take them up on it.

Then, too, lots of people stay in touch with their Vocation Vacation mentors and continue to ask them for advice. Mark Spoto, 43, of Woodbury, Minnesota, made cheesecakes as a hobby while working as a software engineer for Dow Jones Market Watch.

Then, last September, he spent a day at Wisconsin Cheesecakery, in Madison, Wis., learning the ins and outs of professional baking. He now plans to open a coffee shop, specializing in deluxe cheesecakes, in his hometown.

"It was absolutely great to get a firsthand look at how the business runs -- everything from health-code regulations to what kind of shelving and equipment they used. And it's great to be able to continue to call on them as a resource," he says. "The biggest surprise for me was that a lot of what they do is the same as I had been doing at home."

His favorite cheesecake recipe? "Chocolate Bailey's Irish Cream." Yum. Top of page

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