Journeys // Sabbatical

TAKING A SABBATICAL

If someone tells you that they are considering taking a sabbatical, you would probably think one of two things. Either – wow, good for you, go for it or wow, that’s crazy and likely career suicide. In most of the discussions I had when I announced mine, people admitted it was something they had thought about for themselves, but very rarely agreed it was a step that they would be willing to take. Whatever your view, career break discussions are starting to come up more frequently and companies without formal sabbatical policies are starting to evaluate how to leverage these programs to attract talent and retain their employees.

By definition, a sabbatical is a period of leave granted to an employee for purpose of study or travel (or any other thing that they want to with their free time). The reasons why people choose to take them is just as varied as the ways in which their time is spent. You only have to read a couple articles about taking a sabbatical to see that a lot of individuals site feeling burned out at work as the reason they are looking for a break. When I read articles about people who get pressure to not take their leave or countries where it is frowned upon to take a break longer than a week, it’s no wonder why some are feeling the need to disconnect.

The attitude towards a work life balance and taking holidays is much better throughout Europe than other parts of the world. If you plan smartly around public holidays, it is very easy to get a two-and-a-half-week period off (and have it approved). In fact, this is how I plan most of my adventures. That said, whether you are looking to go after an MBA, write that book you have always wanted to write, explore new directions in your life or like me, simply just travel the world – two weeks just doesn’t cut it.

A series of delays in our home buying process, led my partner and I into a unique situation whereby we were unattached to most of the ties that tend to hold adults with careers down. Having already moved out of our previous home with no place to go, we found ourselves spending the summer hopping between Airbnbs as we waited for the final paperwork to be signed. With the exception of a suitcase each, all of our belongings were stashed away in a storage unit and we were living a “nomadic” lifestyle in our own city.

It was the first time in our adult lives that, aside from our current jobs, there were no other ties holding us down. We joked about renting out our house when the purchase finally went through and travelling the world. That idea quickly snowballed and next thing you know, we were making it happen. I’m of the mindset that you should not allow yourself to fall into the what-if trap. Never give yourself the opportunity to look back on a decision you have made in your life and wonder – what if? This was one of those moments. What if we would have taken the opportunity to travel the world – was not a statement I ever wanted to play back later in life.

So flash forward to now, while it wasn’t all smooth sailing, taking a sabbatical was the best decision I ever made for myself. I get asked a lot of questions about the experience by friends and family, people I meet on the road and by DomOnTheGo readers – so I decided to write this post about it.

Here’s a look at the top 5 questions I get asked about taking a sabbatical.

//HOW DID YOU DID IT?

Making it happen wasn’t just a decision to forego a year of work post-graduation. Gap years are great, but there are not the same risks associated with taking one. I was in my career. To make it happen, I created a business plan that presented what I hoped to accomplish on my break. I made it less about me and focused on showcasing to my company what it meant for them. I even did my due diligence to include plans of how it would work and how responsibilities could be covered. I gave as much advanced notice as possible to allow for a few months of planning and the inevitable discussions that follow such a request. The key for me was to create a collaborative environment for discussion which helped to secure my role upon my return and provide solutions for how the company could make it make sense for them.

My company were supportive and ended up approving my extended leave. I spent the remaining time ensuring that every “i” was dotted and “t“ was crossed to make it as easy as possible for the organisation to keep things business as usual. This also gave me time to get personal arrangements in order and begin planning my adventures around the world.

Coming Soon: How To Take A Sabbatical Without Risking Your Career

//HOW DID YOU SPEND YOUR TIME?

My sabbatical was spent travelling around the world and decimating a lengthy bucket list. My partner and I have both travelled extensively, so we independently created a long list of places we wanted to see as to not overly influence the itinerary. There was a fair bit of overlap in the lists which was fantastic. We selected our top destinations based on experiences we wanted and mapped out our trip around the world.

We ventured through fifteen very unique countries and had some mind-blowingly awesome experiences. Sailing in the Galapagos Islands. Ice Climbing in Patagonia. Hiking in the Himalayas. Jungle Trekking in Borneo. The list of equally awesome experiences literally goes on. In fact, I even took the opportunity to start DomOnTheGo.  As a reader, you probably already know that I offer detailed and original first-hand accounts of these adventures (and those of the past and future). I highlight the lessons learned from journeys taken, showcase fantastic adventure destinations and introduce readers to the connections I have been lucky enough to make on the road.

DomOnTheGo’s useful destination guides, videos and photography help fuel thousands of reader’s wanderlust and inspires them to break out of their comfort zone with their own adventures. It’s a project I have always wanted to do and taking a sabbatical gave me the opportunity to finally do it.

Be sure to check out Journeys // Itinerary to see how we tackled our route around the world.

//HOW WERE YOU ABLE TO SUPPORT YOURSELF?

One of the pros to taking a sabbatical when you are well into your career, is that you tend to have a bit of money stashed away for a rainy day. This trip was the penultimate rainy day and it was time to cash in. I wouldn’t classify myself as a budget traveller and will, nine times out of ten, opt-in to doing something over depriving myself of an opportunity. Remember my what-if motto?

My partner and I let out our London flat, which assisted covering most of our financial obligations back home while we were away. From there it was all about being smart about the ways in which we travelled. This was the key to maximising our trip without having to go sacrifice our travel style. Some of the methods included using loyalty bank cards for everyday payments which allowed us to accumulate and redeem airline miles for flights. In fact, most of long haul and internal flights were covered by airline loyalty programs – that alone was a massive saving. When it came to accommodation, we would book through online travel sites that offered rewards and did so via cashback sites that gave us 3-12% back on our purchases. The list of how to travel smart without being on budget goes on.

The combination of personal savings, rental property income and making smart (not budget) decisions in our planning meant we could maximise the trip and support us along the adventure.

Be sure to check out DomOnTheGo’s Travel Resources for a comprehensive list of the smart travel tools and companies we use when planning our adventures.

//WHAT DID YOU LEARN?

I feel like I could talk for hours about the things I learned while taking a sabbatical and being on the road. These would be humbling stories of cultural immersion, developing patience, living in a world of spontaneity and understanding one’s own limits – all of which I share with readers on DomOnTheGo.

An observation I have noticed is that sometimes taking a step away from a situation you have been close to for many years allows you to not only come back with clarity, but also enables you to better understand and advocate for the bigger picture. This of course isn’t just isolated to work, but in every aspect of life. I feel like I have a better sense of identifying what is important and where I should apply my efforts to impact change. The opportunity to completely disconnect – and do so for almost a year – made that understanding possible.

A bit cheesy, but I also learned that you can teach an old dog new tricks. Prior to my journey, I wouldn’t have categorized myself as a very creative person. Through the launch of DomOnTheGo, I was able to find ways to test and pull that part out of me. The website continues to evolve and the methods of story-telling these adventures through tales, videos and photos continues to engage more and more people. (Thanks by the way).

Coming Soon: Journeys // Top 5 Lessons Learned On Sabbatical

//WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO THOSE PLANNING ON TAKING A SABBATICAL?

My return to a “normal life” at home certainly wasn’t smooth sailing. The re-adjustment required – including in the working world – hit me like a speed train. While everyone’s experience will likely be different, I spent three to four months actively getting elements of my life back on track. This includes finding a rhythm at work (You will find that it moves on whether you are there or not – be prepared to adjust.), moving into and renovating a new home (I wouldn’t recommend adding this stress into the mix, but apparently I am a glutton for punishment.), connecting and spending time with family (You have been away a while – while you are getting your life on track, don’t forget to create opportunities to see your loved ones.) and rekindling relationships with friends (You will find very quickly during and after your break – particularly if you are travelling the world – that no one is/was as excited about the experience as you are/were and a couple minutes into talking about it, eyes will glaze over.). Accept that these things may happen and take your sabbatical by the horns. You will not regret it.

Coming Soon: Journeys // Post-Sabbatical Re-Entry Tips

I feel very blessed and am thankful that I could have this experience and I would do it again in a heartbeat. It took time to create a plan to get approval to get away, the actual time away certainly had its ups and downs and the return was significantly more difficult than I had anticipated. Nothing can take that experience away.

The places I saw, experiences experienced, feelings felt, lessons learned, comfort-levels tested, all tied together with an overall appreciation of life – culminate into an experience that is very powerful.

For the latest adventures be sure to visit DomOnTheGo’s Blog.

19 comments

  • I wish I could take a paid sabbatical! I think that’s one of the main drivers for me to go into a University job; I would love take a year off every couple years! Until then, I just take time off and not get paid. I’m an EFL teacher in New York and just take 6 months off at a time to go. It’s expensive, but it works! Good luck to you and your continuing exploration!

  • You are really lucky your company gave you a sabbatical, there are not many companies that do it! I am not sure if its where we from but you hardly ever hear of this! Instead in October this year we have both decided to resign, sell what we have and hit the road with a 5% intention of coming back to settle down. I honestly don’t know how you would be able to settle down after returning from all those adventures to sitting behind a desk. Great article!

  • Very nice guidelines. My partner and I are lucky to be employed in companies where the owners are also travelers and outdoorspeople. Thus, they are perfectly okay on sabbaticals. In fact, they actually recommend their employees to take their vacation leaves.

  • To be or not to be. That is usually the kind of question that haunts people who are thinking in terms of a sabbatical. You have answered some of the key questions by demonstrating with your own example how these can be tackled. I agree that there is absolutely no place for regrets. Once you have decided on something, one needs to keep moving without looking back and falling prey to the, ‘What If”, syndrome.

  • This is a great post, with solid advice and inspiration. I’m not working in corporate employment anymore, freelancing instead. But when I did, I always found it hard to take off long periods of time (unless you’re a teacher). I do wonder if I’d taken a sabbatical rather than quitting outright, where I’d be right now. I’m not sure my company would have been so keen on the idea, though: I’d only been working there for years.

  • I’ve always thought sabbaticals were for those in the academics and they were meant to write a book on the break. Lol. Good to read how you managed your sabbatical effectively without any negative side effects. I’ve not gotten to a stage of sabbatical yet at work but I look forward to every break I can get to travel. Good to read your post, it’ll be helpful to many people out there.

  • Straight from the heart! Thanks for being so honest and candid about the bitter sweet phase:) It is important to take a break and you did so well, with all those impromptu decisions and giant learnings! 🙂 Looking forward to the rest of the series! 🙂

  • Three years ago i decided to take a sabbatical, to try to figure out what i really want for my career, for my life in general. Fast forward to today, i haven’t stopped traveling. The sabbatical became long term. I’ve come to realize that settling down is not happening anytime soon.

  • Very inspiring! I had never really thought of taking a sabbatical, as it would be difficult with my current employer. But your article has got me rethinking and the whole thing doesn’t seem that crazy. Who knows? maybe I can make it work!

  • It’s amazing that you took a well thought out sabbatical. I have been thinking of taking a year off and travel for quite some time. I have not yet done it. I look forward to rest of your blogs to know on how you went about doing it. Cheers!

  • Thanks for your advice. Taking a sabbatical is not an easy choice, it’s useful to read stories like yours! 🙂

  • You have some solid advice. I absolutely love the idea of taking a sabbatical but since I’ve never been in a position to scrimp, budget and save; I’m not sure how exactly I would go about it.

  • Quite informative post. You are right that taking holidays is easy in Europe as compared to other parts of the world. I liked your tips on saving money bu purchasing from cash-back sites and to rent out our home. After reading this, one can feel that sabbatical is actually achievable.

    • Thanks for the kind words Varsha. Whether on a sabbatical or not, those tips are key to planning any trip in a smarter way. Happy travels.

  • Fantastic post and loved reading on how you did it. I am thinking about this in a few years time, not just yet as my daughter is not even two years old yet but something I am seriously considering.

  • You certainly used your time well! So inspiring. I love it when pitfalls and disappointments in life lead to grander more magical things happening. Imagine if you ended up buying the house… how different life would be.

    • We did buy the house – but the process took longer than expected. That freedom of not being tied anywhere is what helped give us the kick we needed. We lived in the house four weeks before we rented it out and went on our merry way. If we moved in the day we thought we would be able to, there would be no stories to tell. It would have indeed been different.

  • This post is quite inspirations. Taking a decision of Sabbatical is never easy but you have managed well.. Following your passion is the best thing to do. Good luck always.

    • Following your passions is key to feeling like you have done something with yourself. Hopefully more people will start to do the same for themselves. Many thanks for the kind words.

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