How a 6 Month Sabbatical in South America Changed My Life

A woman with her arms in the air standing in front of a gorge

I love hearing from readers of the blog and always hear new ways in which a sabbatical can change someone’s outlook on life.

This article appeared in my inbox about a week ago and I simply couldn’t wait to get it online.

It was written by Cj from Go Travel and Talk and is packed full of inspiring words and stories. She covers her motivations for taking a sabbatical, what she learned from 6 months away and how she quickly took action when she returned to change her life forever.

I really enjoyed reading it, there are some quotes here that really made me think.

Thanks Cj for getting involved!

If you want to be featured too contact me on the ‘Write For Us‘ page.

With the world on pause during this COVID-19 pandemic, we have been forced to slow down and reflect a little.

Instead of rushing around and planning for our future travels, we are staying still and forcefully staying present. 

I, like some, am using this time to replace going out with going within. 

As I sat with my coffee this morning, with the sunlight streaming through my bedroom window, I started to reflect on how much my life has changed in the last 18 months.

Looking back on my ‘old life’ felt like I was peeking in on a stranger. From working over 60 hours a week in a fast-paced job in London, I now take life at a slower pace in the English countryside while running my own business and working as a freelance consultant. 

There were many things that led me to reevaluate my life choices, but without my six-month sabbatical exploring and volunteering across South America, none would have been possible.

Travel Changes You

I believe that travelling for an extended period of time changes you.

It may not be a big dramatic change like it was with me; it could be smaller changes that you probably won’t even notice.

Like a phrase you’ve picked up from a fellow traveller.

A new fact that you’ve learnt that you then turn into a dinner conversation.

It may be that you have a  bigger appreciation for the luxuries you have previously taken for granted.

Perhaps you have become more sustainable in your choices after seeing the mass of plastic pollution out there in the world.

Whatever it is, travelling to foreign lands, opens your eyes to things you may have previously been closed off to. Whether it is the place you visit, the people you meet, the experiences you go through, or the time you have to reflect on what is important to you, it leaves a lasting imprint. 

[Editor’s Note: This is how I reflected on my 3 month sabbatical in Southeast Asia]

My Story

Is this it?

That is the exact question I would ask myself every day, while I did the dreaded commute into the centre of London.

Every morning I would wake up and think just four more days until the weekend, just three more days until the weekend, just two more days until the weekend; hooray I just need to get through today and then it’s the weekend. 

✋ Please virtual high five me if this resonates?! ✋

I didn’t hate my job.

The people were great, the office was super swanky, I got free coffee and food all day long and I could shop on Oxford Street during my lunch hour… I had an amazing group of friends, and I loved my housemates.

By all appearances, I was living the dream.

But weeks would go by and I couldn’t pinpoint a single event that made me go ‘Wow that was really cool’.

I felt like I was sleeping walking through my weeks just to get to my weekends and then I would party so hard on the weekend, the first half of the week would turn into an unbearable struggle.

Maybe some of you are lucky to have those ‘WOW’ moments and love your job and if so, I am truly happy for you (and you should probably stop reading this article), but for me, it wasn’t like that.

So I saved and I saved and I hatched an escape plan – a six month sabbatical to South America.

[Editor’s Note: A Comprehensive Guide To Backpacking in South America]

I dismissed the negative comments from friends and family surrounding ‘career suicide,’ and put an extensive case towards my boss about how a sabbatical could benefit them and my ability to do the job after a well-earned break. 

I had dreamed of travelling solo again ever since I had returned from Southeast Asia a few years earlier, ‘but the timing had never been quite right’. 

It is often said that people will only make a drastic change in their life when the pain of the current situation outweighs the fear of the unknown. 

I had reached that point. 

South America was a real eye-opener for me.

I spent a lot of time in homestays and volunteering, and less time falling out of bars as I had done when I was younger.

I had deep and meaningful conversations in Spanish, a language that I had been desperate to learn for years previously.

I scaled mountains and volcanoes and camped out beneath the stars in the Tatacoa desert.

People on a boat in the sunset on the amazon river
Exploring the Amazon Rainforest

I explored the Amazon rainforest and watched as a tarantula crawled up my arm.

I learnt about the history, culture, and traditions of each and every country I visited, and I realised and understood that I wanted to live my life differently.

I wanted those ‘WOW’ moments to infiltrate my life back home, instead of travelling to foreign lands to find them.

Life After My Travel Sabbatical

When I landed back in London, the first thing I did was go into the office to have a catch up with the team.

I knew it felt wrong, uncomfortable and awkward, but I buried those feelings and returned to work a week later. I sat at my desk, turned on my computer and jumped into my first meeting.

A client ranting about their recruitment woes.

Then it hit me – this time last week I was exploring the Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia, mouth wide open, having one of those WOW moments.

6 people silhouetted against a setting sun standing on salt flats
With friends exploring the Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia

And now I am here, in what felt like a cage. It took me two days to hand in my notice, pack up my flat, say goodbye to everything I knew and move back in with my parents to start up my own business.

It was terrifying, unnerving and the best decision I have ever made. 

I created Go Travel and Talk as a platform to encourage people to travel and to give them all the resources they need to travel with a difference. To explore unknown paths, volunteer and make a positive impact in the places they visit, for themselves and for others. I wanted to provide inspiration for others, so they too could have the confidence to push themselves for those ‘WOW’ moments. I also wanted the platform to encourage local interaction and offer guidance about how we can travel more sustainably with the help of a supportive community. 

That was a year and a half ago and I haven’t looked back since.

My six month sabbatical to South America opened my eyes in more ways than one. It gave me the space to really understand what would make me happy. Through the people I met, it gave me the confidence to pursue my dreams and serve them at the same time and it allowed me to slow down and take better care of myself. 

For these reasons and many more, I am a huge advocate of sabbatical travel.

My grandma always used to say to me that you ‘have one life dear, make sure you live it’ and now, I can say hand on heart I am.

Rather than spending my days in a stuffy office doing a job I don’t love, I now spend my days connecting with like-minded people, while earning an income working remotely from where I choose.

This shift in how I live my life, is all because I plucked up the courage to ask for a sabbatical and give myself some time out to understand what would really make me happy.

How A Travel Sabbatical Could Help You

When we live in routine and familiarity, our senses are dulled. Our day to day activities become habitual and automatic.

When you are brushing your teeth, you rarely think about what you are doing, you are just doing it.

It is the same with driving to work. You don’t think about changing the gears, indicating, or which route to take, you just do it.

This is because effectively, we are sleepwalking, our motor skills have taken over our conscious thinking. 

But travelling to foreign lands changes this. When you travel outside of your comfort zone, routine and familiarity are thrown out of the window. Suddenly, you can’t rely on past experiences and habitual movements to get you from A to B, you have to consciously think about it. 

Alasdair White, the man who coined the term ‘comfort zone’, suggested that the stress induced by leaving the safety of routine can actually help to improve performance. This was supported by other social scientists who believe that personal growth stems from moving outside of your comfort zone, because we tap into a store of previously unknown knowledge. Research also suggests that we don’t know what we are really made of until we put ourselves into unfamiliar situations.

I can attest to all of this. 

From these scientific findings and from my personal experiences, it is clear that sabbatical travel can help people in more ways than one. Not only will it give you the space to think about what is important to you, it will push you to grow.

Whether that is learning new map reading skills, becoming familiar with the local language or cooking with local food; the novelty of it all forces you to think differently. 

My sabbatical travels definitely gave me the time and space to think differently. They pushed me so far out of my comfort zone, I surprised myself at what I was capable of, and they renewed my perspective on life.

So, if a travel sabbatical is something you are thinking about once this lifts, my advice? Do it, and don’t look back. 

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Arif
Arif
5 months ago

amazing

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