In 2018 my wife and I took a personal sabbatical.

We left our jobs behind and headed to Southeast Asia for 3 months of learning about other cultures, picking up new skills and most importantly, spending some precious time together.

We are both retailers, a job that involves both long and unsociable hours. Christmas’ are a one day affair, weekends are for working and dinners are had late at night. That’s not to say we don’t both enjoy it – the buzz is incredible and we get to work with amazing people – but having done it for 15 years, we felt it was time to have some time together. It was time re adjust that work life balance meter a few points in the other direction

So we saved up for a few years, plucked up the courage to speak to our bosses and then jumped on our first ever one-way plane ride to Thailand.

Needless to say it was an unforgettable experience. We learned to dive in Vietnam, met my dad for his 60th birthday at Angkor, took a road-trip through Laos but most importantly spent more time together than at any other point in the 10 years since we’d met.

It probably won’t surprise you that we’ve both become huge advocates for the value of a personal sabbatical

When we look back in 50 years time it will be played on the highlight reel of our lives.

If you are also interested in a personal sabbatical, then this post will be a great starting point for you.

Once you’re done head over to Sabbatical Central where you’ll find hundreds over other useful posts that will help turn your sabbatical dreams in to reality.

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What is a Personal Sabbatical?

A personal sabbatical is where you take an extended break from work, agreed with your employer. It is usually between 4 and 12 weeks and in most circumstances is unpaid. They are also called career breaks or lifestyle breaks at some firms. They are generally unpaid but some firms allow you to take a paid sabbatical as a reward for long sevice.

Whilst you are off work your position is protected and you are able to return to the same role. Think of it like an extended holiday or vacation without the pay. Your benefits such as long service, holiday and sick accrual are usually frozen during this time but the good news is that in most instances they don’t reset.

If you are interested in how to take a personal sabbatical, then it’s best to check on your company intranet page or with a HR professional to find out if they are available where you work. There are often set criteria such as length of service, so it’s good to get the information before you start to book anything.


What Types of Personal Sabbatical are There?

People take personal sabbatical for all kinds of reason but in my experience they fall into four categories…

  1. To Experience
  2. To Achieve
  3. To Spend Time With a Loved One
  4. To Recharge

…and the likelihood is that your personal sabbatical will probably be a blend of two or more of these..

Let us briefly explore those four categories:

To Experience Something

The most common personal sabbatical in this category is travel but there are many different ways to do it. It might be house sitting for six weeks to experience a specific country or city or volunteering at a school in a remote part of the world that allows you to immerse yourself in a different culture. Some people take a sabbatical to experience a favourite sporting event such as following the Tour De France for a summer, or going to every match of a rugby tour. 

Most though just buy a decent backpack, book a one-way ticket and see where they end up. There is something very special about starting out on a road with no idea where you’ll finish.

To Achieve 

Many people take a sabbatical with a specific purpose in mind. For example, Alex Harford took a sabbatical to focus on writing a book. Others take a sabbatical to build on a specific skill such as learning to cook. Whether it’s renovating a boat or cycling the highest mountains in Europe, achievement is a key theme when it comes to personal sabbaticals.

To Spend Time With a Loved One

This was one of the primary drivers for my last sabbatical. I wanted to spend three months with my wife, travelling together and not being distracted by our normally hectic lifestyle and busy careers. I’ve known others taking a sabbatical to travel with their kids or to look after a member of the family who’e not well.

To Recharge

Quality of life has undoubtedly improved over the past through generations. It’s pretty unlikely we’re going to be drafted and sent to war and surgery is mostly completed with anesthtic these days! There’s certainly alot in our modern world to be very grateful for. However burnout on the rise, with a 2018 survey showing that 23% of employees felt burned out at work very often. In our always-on linked-in society it can be very difficult to escape. A personal sabbatical is often used as a chance to switch off, disconnect and recharge. 


Taking a Sabbatical for Professional Development

Whilst this undoubtedly falls into the ‘achieve section’ above taking a sabbatical for development is a career-enhancing way to use the time.

Whilst most people take sabbaticals to fulfil their travel dreams, some do take time away from work to grow their own skill set. In the academic field it is incredibly common with paid sabbaticals often available to help academics improve their knowledge or skills.

You might use a sabbatical to develop new skills for you current role, learn new skills that will help you bridge across into a different field of work or grow as an individual which will help you in any job.

For example one, this could involve taking a shorter sabbatical to work on a specific element of your job that would help accelerate your career. An example might be doing a digital  marketing specialist completing an intensive coding course. This will allow them to better advise their customers and potentially complete some of the work themselves for additional money.

For example two, I once interview an event planner who took an intensive cooking course which allowed her to bridge over in to catering which was a much more lucrative business. He already had the contacts from her previous role, and set up her own business to serve a different market.

For example three, travel can grow an individual in so many ways. From helping someone to become less introverted, learning about different cultures or just refreshing you to tackle the job with a new zest and energy, a sabbatical can really help your personal development.


Planning a Personal Sabbatical

Planning a sabbatical can be a huge piece of work but don’t be put off. As with any big change, when you take the time to think it through and put together a list of what needs doing it all seems a bit more achievable.

When Becca and I were planning a sabbatical we initially brainstormed everything we thought we might need to do. We had a shared note on our iPhones and for the first few weeks we added all our random thoughts into it. 

Here is a selection of the things that were on there:

  • Who will look after the cat?
  • Book travel insurance
  • How many direct debits can be cancelled while we’re away
  • Photograph key documents and store in Dropbox. Share with family
  • Plan rough idea of route
    • Put in key milestones of where we want to be
  • Book flight
  • Blook throwaway flight for visa
  • Pre-book Vietnam visa
  • Get travel credit card with low fees

This is only a small portion of what we ended up on there! If you want a complete list then check out my post ‘35 Things To Do Before Travelling Abroad Long Term

Once we had the list we each took a handful of jobs and sat down every Sunday morning to review where we had got to and what more needed doing.

Whilst planning a sabbatical can seem like a massive piece of work when you have a list and review it weekly it’s amazing how quickly you can make progress.


How Much Does a Personal Sabbatical Cost?

How long is a piece of string!?

For a simple and up front answer, we managed to travel for 3 months in Southeast Asia for £7,200 or around £79 a day. We paid for the main flights a long way in advance so this didn’t feel like a cost as the time, the £7,200 was the cost of day-to-day travel, hotels, good and experiences whilst on the move.

How much you will need to spend if you decide to take a sabbatical will be dependant on a number of things:

  1. What are you planning to do?
  2. How long are you travelling for?
  3. Where are you travelling to?
  4. What is your travelling style?

For the first point, sabbaticals aren’t just taken to travel the world as we saw above. If you are taking a sabbatical to be at home with family it’s going to cost alot less than taking one to overland across Africa. If you are planning to travel staying in one place and housesitting will cost alot less than constantly being on the move and paying for transport and hotels. When you start to plan out your cost then this will be the first thing you factor in.

Secondly, taking 4 weeks vs 12 weeks will obviously create more cost, and mean a longer period of time without a salary. Check out my post ‘Can You Afford a Sabbatical?’ for a spreadsheet that will help you calculate this.

Thirdly, different parts of the world cost vastly different amounts of money. Broadly speaking Asia and South America are the cheapest continents with Oceania, North America and Europe more expensive (I haven’t done much Antarctica research!). I find this post ‘Our Daily Budget for 35 Countries’ a useful place to start when doing research.

Fourth(ly) – is that a word!?, your travelling style will determine alot of your cost. Happy to couchsurf and sleep in hostels. Cheap! Want 5* luxury and lots of lovely restaurants. Expensive! It’s obvious, but a huge consideration to make. Our travelling style is very different in our thirties than it was in our twenties but equally we now have more money to support us.

How to finance or afford a personal sabbatical is the number one question I get asked for so I have a separate page that guides you through all the information I have available on the site – FINANCING A SABBATICAL.


How To Request a Personal Sabbatical

Request a sabbatical can be the most nerve-wracking part of the process.

If you want a full guide to the process then read my post ‘How to ask for a Sabbatical, and get one! [9 Easy Steps]

For a quick guide though there are two important things to consider, both of which require you to show some empathy towards your boss’s situation.

Firstly, be clearly able to answer why you exactly want a sabbatical. Remember this needs to be signed off, there is no guarantee of getting it accepted. If you can be really clear with your ‘why’, and describe how it will benefit both you and the business then it will show how serious you are. 

Secondly, build a plan for how your work will be covered in your absence. This will be the biggest concern your employer is likely to have, so if you’ve already thought it through your can remove one of the biggest obstacles to them saying yes. It might be the perfect opportunity to step someone from your team up which will have huge long-term benefits to the strength of the business. You might offer to recruit and fully train a temp, not leaving until they are completely up to speed.


How to Put a Personal Sabbatical On Your CV or Resume

When you’ve finished your personal sabbatical and return to work, this is one of the biggest considerations you need to make.

With most short sabbaticals I would consider not putting it on at all. If you’re taken two months in the middle of a job you were in for five years then just have the five year job on your CV. It might come up in conversation at an interview after a reference check, but you can talk it through then.

If you achieved something you are particularly proud of or you feel will enhance your career then definitely add it to your CV. Many people take sabbaticals to learn new skills so it makes sense to add this to your resume.

If your sabbatical was much longer then you are going to have to add it in and explaining the gap in your career, but given the way the world of work is changing must recruiters are respectful of people who take time off. In my last interviewer the recruitment consultant actually showed a genuine interest and wanted tips on how to book one himself! It was definitely not a difficult discussion to have.

The above is going to be dependant on your profession and the level of precedent there is for employees taking career breaks in your line of work, so do some research before making your final decision.

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