If you’re wondering what to do on a career break or sabbatical, you’re in the right place. The modern world of work offers greater opportunity for flexible careers, and it seems more people than ever are taking advantage of the options available to them
Once you’ve set your mind on breaking free for a few months, and you’ve got the basic planning done, you might realise there are a bewildering number of ways you can take a sabbatical.
It’s ok, I’ve got you…
This article contains a huge list of career break ideas covering a number of different topics, with something for everyone. It also acts as a hub, linking out to all the other career break ideas on this site.
So whether it’s one month or one year backpacking or writing a book, there’s a sabbatical idea in here for everyone.
P.S. this article interchanges between the phrase sabbatical and career break. They broadly mean the same thing, so I use them both to capture the language used by different employers.
Overlanding is a unique way to see numerous places in a small amount of time. Getting off the tourist trail and taking the ‘road less travelled’ you join a group of like-minded adventurers on a custom-built rugged truck and get out into the wilderness
It can be a bit of a hurry, and you might not get a lot of time in each place, but if you want a safe way to see some hard-to-reach places then overlanding might be a perfect idea for your career break.
Here are a few ideas:
- AFRICA: Nairobi to Victoria Falls
- AFRICA: Maasai Mara and Gorillas 24-Day Tour
- ASIA: Overlanding the Silk Road
- SOUTH AMERICA: Rio to Quito through Brazil, French Guiana, Suriname, Guyana, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador
Backpacking is probably the most famous of career break travel styles. By travelling light, costs can be kept low, making long-term travel relatively inexpensive.
A lot of first-time backpackers start out on the well-worn routes of Southeast Asia and South America, which give an incredible breadth of experiences at prices that are comparatively low for Westerners.
- 6 Month South America Backpacking Route
- Various European Backpacking Routes
- 2 Weeks to 4 Months Southeast Asia Backpacking Route
- 3 Month Australia, New Zealand and Fiji Backpacking Route
House-sitting might not seem like the most obvious of career break ideas, but if you want to immerse yourself in the culture of a particular place, then it might be just what you’re looking for.
Through established websites, it’s possible to sign up to look after other people’s houses. You don’t get paid, but you do get your accommodation for free, taking out a large chunk of your career break costs. You might have to look after a dog or cat (or even a farm of alpacas!) as part of the bargain, but it’s a small job to take on when you consider the wealth of locations you could experience in return.
Here is a list of the biggest house-sitting websites:
Hiring or buying a car and getting out on the road can be one of the most flexible approaches to travel. You are not restricted to public transport schedules and can change your route whenever you want to visit unexpected places on the way.
A road-trip can be built into a career break, or form the basis of the entire trip. Whilst the vehicle and fuel can be costly, it gives flexibility that other forms of travel don’t offer.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
Whilst not completely different to road-tripping, RVing will give you more space for your belongings, will get you closer to the great outdoors and should keep your nightly accommodation costs down.
On the flip side though, the vehicles are big, which makes them less than ideal if you are planning to visit a lot of cities. You will also need to be in countries that have a good road network, and lots of RV friendly campsites.
Below is a list of the most popular countries for RVing, which for the criteria listed above. I have also included links to some popular hire companies, but please shop around before you book:
- Australian RV Rental: GoSeeAustralia.com
- Canada RV Rental: Canada-RV-Rentals.com
- Europe RV Rental: McRent.eu
- Iceland RV Rental: IndieCampers.com
- USA RV Rental: USARVRentals.com
If you’re a keen horse-rider, then you may have long dreamed of a horseback adventure.
Whilst I’ve never read of someone doing an entire career break on horseback, there’s always a first time for everything. There are a number of companies that offer equine adventures, with everything from safaris to beach riding.
These tend to be more holidays than long-term trips, but you could combine a few together in various parts of the world to create a truly unique trip (if you do please drop me an email, as I’d love to hear about it!).
Here are a few trips that caught my eye:
- Argentina: Riding the Patagonian Andes
- Botswana: Okavango Delta Luxury Safari
- Madagascar: From the Highground to the East Coast
- Mongolia: Gobi Steppe Ride
- Turkey: The Cappadocia Trails
I have been a keen cyclist for many years, so can relate to anyone who wants to take a sabbatical and get out on two wheels.
There are many different options you could take, but I gave myself some time to dream, and this is what I came up with….
RIDE THE TOUR DE FRANCE: This book maps out every Tour De France route up to 2014. Pick one, plan your route and be one of very few amateurs who can say ‘I’ve ridden the Tour De France!’. Most routes are around 3500km, so with some time built in for sightseeing could easily take up a couple of months
CLIMB THE BIGGEST MOUNTAINS IN EUROPE: These are the legendary mountain climbs of Europe, the ones cyclist boast about conquering. What about ticking them all off? Buy a bike box, and a rucksack then map your way around Europe to combine pain with travel!
COMPLETE THE TOUR D’AFRIQUE: Over 11,000km on the classic route from Cairo to Cape Town. 88 days of riding, 4 months, 10 countries. From the Pyramids to Table mountain, this would truly be a cycling adventure to remember for a lifetime!
RIDE THE WORLD!: This really is the ultimate dream. I have a friend who took just over a year off, headed east, and then crossed America before coming back to England. If you’re really brave, this post lists a 4-year route through 60 countries, and covers 46,000 miles!
Learn (or Improve) a Skill
Becoming a journalist is hard.
This article on the Oxford University website, notes that qualifications alone won’t get you there, experience is also important.
A career break or early gap year might be the perfect opportunity to build up some work experience as a journalist, either working for free or by taking advantage of journalism internships such as this one based in New York.
Learning a new language can open up new job opportunities, make travel easier and boost your brain power. Many people have had it on a ‘someday/maybe‘ list for a while, but never actually follow through.
Studies show that if you invest 10 hours a day, basic fluency in easy languages such as French or German can come in 48 days, and for more complex languages such as Japanese or Korean, 72 days.
A career break could be perfect to focus on learning a language, as you can free yourself from the distractions of day-to-day life and double down on the skills required.
There are many programs that offer the chance to learn a language abroad, and give you the linguistic and cultural immersion that is difficult to achieve in a language school in your native country.
Here are a few ideas:
- Learn Spanish in Spain or Latin America with Enforex
- Learn French on the French Riviera with Actilangue
- Study Portuguese in Sao Paulo with Language Vacation
- Learn Mandarin in China with Go Abroad China
- Learn Russian in St Petersburg with Languages Abroad
Learning to dive will give you a ticket to an entirely new world. There are amazing things to see on land, but over 70% of our planet in underwater, and completely inaccessible to most people.
We took a diving course in Vietnam and, despite being a nervous swimmer, I loved the experience. There is no feeling closer to weightlessness, and the variety of sights on offer underwater is mind-boggling!
Here are some great diver centres for a diving-specific sabbatical. For the more experienced among you, most of these offer divemaster training over a period of months, a great idea for a career break:
- Coconut Tree Divers, Honduras
- Buccaneer Diving, Zanzibar | Tanzania
- Tioman Dive Centre, Malaysia
- Tofu Scuba, Mozambique
- Dolphin Dive, Nicaragua
- Wicked Diving, Komodo | Indonesia
- We Dive Dahab, Red Sea | Egypt
- Scuba Iguana, The Galapagos Islands
Whether it was by the Ninja Turtles, Jackie Chan or The 36th Chamber of the Shaolin many people have been inspired to take up a martial art.
An often-told storyline in martial art movies is the central character having an extended period of training with a sage of the art, and turning into a master practitioner. There are also real-life examples, former UFC fighter Dan Hardy trained with Shaolin Monks in China.
If you too are a lover of martial arts, then a career break might be the perfect time to sharpen those skills. Here are a few examples of courses available, but there are schools across the world, so it could be as simple as booking into an Airbnb nearby and turning up for the classes:
- 30 day Muay Thai Course in Thailand
- 2 month to 3 year Shaolin Kung Fu Training in China
- Study Jiu Jitsu in Tokyo
Travel and photography often go hand-in-hand, and if it’s a skill you’ve always been wanting to improve on a career break could be a perfect time.
Whilst lengthy photography courses can be expensive ($25,000 trip with National Geographic anyone?) with some creative planning you could make your own version, combining a photography course with the trip of a lifetime.
As an example, you could take a 14 day photography course around Cambodia (£2,500) accompanied by two professional photographers, and then spend another couple of months travelling Southeast Asia to put into practice what you’ve learned.
Music or Dance
A career break could be perfect to rediscover that long-lost passion for music. It might be brushing off that guitar you bought twenty years ago, or finally learning to dance.
In fact, the man who inspired me to consider taking a sabbatical, Tim Ferriss, did exactly that. Read his post ‘How to Live Like a Rock Star (or Tango Star) in Buenos Aires‘.
There are numerous places you can take internet courses, so this career break could easily be done from the comfort of your own home, but if you’re looking for something a little different, here are a few ideas to get you going:
- 1-on-1 Intensive Piano Course in Italy
- Three Month Flamenco Course in Spain (they also teach you Spanish!)
- Classical Guitar Course in Paraguay
If you have a passion for the piste are looking to turn your career break into a potential future career, then investing some time and money into ski instructor qualifications could be the route for you.
Courses can be as short as seven weeks, but you will need to be a competent skier already to pass on an intensive course.
Ever heard of a sea-batical!?
It’s a thing!
Hire a boat for a year and make off around the world. No airfares, no cramped buses, just the open ocean and the freedom to go to any coast in the world.
If you already have the skill then buying a boat could be an option for you, though it’s an expensive business. Check out ‘An Idiot’s Guide to Choosing a Sailing Boat‘ for more information.
If sailing’s something you’ve always dreamt of but never had the time to pursue, then Sunsail offer courses from ‘No Experience’ to ‘Advanced’ in incredible locations across the world.
Taking a professional cooking course will help develop a very useful skill that can be put into practice either personally or professionally. Whether it’s having the confidence to host dinner parties at home, or building up the experience and skillset necessary to move into a professional kitchen, taking your cooking skills up a few levels during a career break might be perfect for you.
Three-month courses are going to cost upwards of £5,000 but you can take much shorter lessons on everything from knife skills to baking if you want to mix and match.
Here are a few examples:
- Three month basic classical cooking certificate in Edinburgh
- Learn everything about Italian cookery at the Florence Culinary School
- Seven day intensive Thai cooking class in Bangkok, Thailand
- Immerse yourself in Indian cooking in Kerala, India
Achieve a Life Goal
Write a Book
They say everyone has one great book in them, but if you’ve never found the time to put pen to paper, a career break could present the perfect opportunity.
If you put 500 words on paper, 5 days a week for twenty weeks you’d have yourself a 50,000-word novel. 500 words is about the number that fit on an A4 sheet of paper, so it’s really not too big a goal.
Here are some useful books and resources I’ve found that have helped with writing:
- How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method
- Bird by Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life (Anne Lamott)
- On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (Stephen King)
- How to Write a Book in 3 Months
- How to Write a Bestselling Book This Year: The Definitive Resource List and How-To Guide
Spend Time With Family
Thankfully in the UK we have lots of Government funded benefits to spend time with family at key times, such as maternity leave, carer’s allowance, adoption leave and shared parental leave.
But these don’t cover every eventuality and are limited to certain situations and timescales.
A well-timed career break could be used at a key time or times in your life to spend that crucial time with family. You could extend maternity leave and spend more time watching little ones grow up, take time off as a parent retires to go on an adventure with them, or sell up everything and take your children travelling for a year.
Discover Your Roots
My mum has always had an interest in genealogy, and through her dedication, we’ve discovered family as far afield as Australia and a bloodline that goes to Spain. She would spend hours on Ancestry, in local record offices and following family trees back through the generations.
Imagine knocking on a door in a foreign village and being greeted by someone with the same eyes and your grandad’s laugh. You already have a strong bond, even if you don’t speak the same language.
Prompted by programs such as Who Do You Think You Are? there has been a rise in people looking to discover their roots, and a career break could give you the time you need to do so.
Restore Something Big
If you’re the practical type, then a career break could be the perfect opportunity to put those skills to good use.
Whether it’s restoring a classic car, an old boat or renovating a house these projects take huge chunks of time that can be hard to find with a full-time job. Dedicating yourself to a practical challenge might be a welcome distraction from a stressful workplace, and could rejuvenate you and your career.
A Physical Challenge
Whether it’s walking Hadrian’s wall or climbing Kili, a physical challenge could be an enormously satisfying career break idea.
This is something that will take inner determination, great planning and the kind of time that only an extended break can give.
If this seems like your kind of fun, then you probably have an idea in mind based on your chosen sport. If not here are a few ideas for you:
- WALKING: Take on a section of the Great Himalaya Trail
- WALKING: Walk the length of the UK – Lands End to John O’Groats
- WALKING: Discover the wilderness of the Great Divide Trail in Canada
- CYCLING: Cycle Across America
- RUNNING: Train for and run the 90km Comrades Marathon in South Africa
- Or design your own challenge like this lady’s amazing Alpine Coast To Coast
Follow a Sports Team or Event
As a sports fan, there are moments in the calendar that you have to be there for. Finals, play-offs and relegation battles are all stadium fillers.
But in the time allowed by a career break, you could do something bigger, and follow your team on a tour or through a tournament. This will not only give sporting memories of a lifetime but also allow a chance to travel and experience a country too.
If sport is your passion, you won’t need much encouragement, but here are a few examples to get the juices flowing:
- Follow the British and Irish Lions on one of their four-yearly tours around South Africa, New Zealand or Australia.
- Become one of the Barmy Army and follow England on an Ashes tour of Australia.
- Follow your nation through a football World Cup.
- Follow the Tour De France as it winds through the countryside.
Volunteer & Work Experience
Community & Building Projects
There are always communities around the world that require willing volunteers to come and help them construct schools, repair roads and put up housing.
Not only will you have a big impact on a local community, but you will also pick up skills such as bricklaying, plastering or plumbing from local experts.
OriginalVolunteers.co.uk have a list of projects which cost as low as £12.50 and up to £150. All cover accommodation, but some require you to provide your own meals.
This is an unusual and fairly niche volunteering opportunity, but as big dig sites are discovered, volunteers are required to help experienced archaeologists with the work.
Currently, there are two projects available on this site, one in Romania and one in Peru, but this will change as new sites need help.
It would be quite a story to come back from a career break having dug up a piece of history!
There are hundreds of conservation projects around the world which struggle with funding, so use volunteers to support their projects. Many of these are in beautiful locations, so could be a great idea for your career break, combining a love of nature with travel.
You could be a game ranger in South Africa, work with wolves in Portugal help sea turtles in Costa Rica or volunteer with elephants in Laos.
Check out OysterWorldwide.com for an up-to-date list of projects.
Farming may not seem like the obvious choice for volunteers, but farms need large amounts of seasonal work to keep them running.
Workaway is one of the leading online communities for volunteering opportunities around the world and has lots of farming opportunities. For something a bit different check out the Kibbutz Movement which looks for support in Israel.
There are hundreds of volunteer teaching opportunities available around the world. Some specify having a ‘TEFL‘ (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), but most are happy to have hard-working, energetic people to support in their classrooms.
Projects-Abroad.co.uk has a huge selection of assignments to choose from in over twenty different countries.
There is no language more universal than sport, so if you have a passion for a particular discipline it might be a perfect idea for your career break.
GapYear.com are one of a number of companies that offer volunteering experiences that involve sports coaching, a perfect way to combine your passion with travel and getting involved in a local community.
Natural Disaster Recovery
Whenever a natural disaster occurs around the world, it takes a huge number of people to help the communities recover.
AllHandsAndHearts.org are specialists in this area and offer a variety of volunteering projects, helping local people to rebuild after earthquakes, hurricanes and floods.
Volunteering as an aid worker is not something that should be taken lightly or one that can be pursued without proper training.
The process for becoming an aid volunteer is not a lot different to taking on a new job. There is a list of current vacancies on the European Commission website all of which require you to have specific skills, apply, interview and then go through training before the role starts. Most of these are 12-month placements, so it is more like moving to a new role than it is taking a career break.
However, if you wanted to use your career break in a way that would leave a lasting benefit to a community and give you new skills to add to your CV, this is an option that you might want to give serious consideration to.
The Sabbatical Guide contains affiliate links and is a member of the Amazon Service LLC Associates Program. If you make a purchase using one of these links, I may earn a commission, at no additional cost to you. For more information, see our disclosure policy.