Taking a Sabbatical: 10 Practical Lessons from a 3x Veteran
I know from personal experience that taking a sabbatical can be a powerful experience. Our 3 month sabbatical around Southeast Asia in 2018 was unforgettable and we came back with a lifetime of memories.
Taking a sabbatical can also be a daunting experience! There is money to save, hundreds of jobs to complete and that oh-so-scary moment of having to ask your boss.
So what better way to pluck up courage than taking advice from someone who’s been there on more than one occasion.
Step in Bridget, also known as The Flash Packer.
Bridget has taken three sabbaticals to different parts of the world and, in this detailed post, shared 10 lessons to help you when planning your own sabbatical.
LESSON 1: Have a Financial Plan
Affordability and the challenge of financing a sabbatical depend on your stage of life, your financial commitments and style of travel.
When I went on my first sabbatical I lived at home and had zero financial commitments. As it was largely volunteering opportunity that included bed and board, putting aside money for this wasn’t difficult.
Fast forward seven years and I had my own place and mortgage & bill payments to meet. In this circumstance, not only do you have to budget for your trip but also the cost of meeting your bills whilst away. Letting out your home short-term is an option but may not be feasible or desirable. Alternatively, you need to save like crazy or take a second job. I did the latter, working evening locum shifts (I’m a pharmacist) two nights a week for nine months to earn extra cash.
Sabbatical #3 was at a later stage of life when I had more disposable income and monthly outgoings were less. For this trip, it was merely a case of saving like billyo! No moonlighting required. Whilst not luxury travel by any means, this did allow me to
READ NEXT: How Much Does a Sabbatical Really Cost?
LESSON 2: Do Your Homework
Never assume that you will be granted time off to travel. Check if your employer has a flexible working or sabbatical policy. Ours is available on our organisation’s intranet.
If in doubt, speak your HR advisor. However, even if one exists being granted this leave isn’t a certainty and it will be at your manager’s discretion.
On all three occasions, I first approached my line manager to sound them out on the idea before putting in a formal
LESSON 3: Be Respectful When Approaching Your Boss
Most managers will have two issues in mind when considering a request for unpaid leave and you should be prepared to address both of these. You need to sell the idea to them.
Firstly, how will you going taking time off to explore more of the world benefit them and the service / organisations / their clients? Of course, this will depend on your line of work. I sold the idea on how this would broaden my perspective, leave me refreshed, revitalised and brimming over with great new ideas on my return!
Secondly, how will your work be covered in your absence? I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to come armed with a plan. Break down your job and take a view on who is going to take on which of your responsibilities and how much preparation or support will they need. You need to give your boss the confidence that your work will be covered in your absence.
READ NEXT: How To Ask For a Sabbatical (And Get One!)
LESSON 4: Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail
Planning each of my sabbaticals was a very different experience.
#1 Volunteering on a kibbutz
I just booked a return flight to Tel Aviv and rocked up at the agreed meeting point with my backpack and not a plan in my head. The core of the trip was the volunteering experience with travel around the region fitted into our time off.
#2 Around The World trip with most time spent in Oz / NZ
Although we did tweak it on the road, this was pretty much fully structured with flights and most accommodation booked in advance. For this
#3 Southeast Asia
Apart from return flights and accommodation booked for my arrival point, this was unstructured, having a vague idea of where I wanted to go and in what order. But if you have the liberty of more time on the road and don’t have to cram as much as possible in two weeks or so, this gives you the freedom to take this approach.
READ MORE: My Best Places, Food and Experiences in Southeast Asia
LESSON 5: Put Together a List of All Your Loose Ends
This was only an issue for the second two sabbaticals.
Direct debits are a Godsend here as bills can be spread out on a monthly basis. I left keys with friends and family who kindly kept an eye on the place.
Another consideration is house insurance. Many insurance companies impose a maximum period that a property can be left unoccupied. My brother lived in my place on and off to prevent invalidating my insurance. Other options you could consider is hiring house-sitters, short-term let (check your mortgage conditions and
READ NEXT: 35 Things To Do Before Long-Term Travel
LESSON 6: Only Buy What You Really Need
The last thing that you want to do is lug around unnecessary items when taking a sabbatical. In all honesty, I don’t think that there is anything that I brought that I absolutely couldn’t have done without. Nowadays, you can buy most necessities en route. And bear in mind that my first sabbatical was pre-Internet,
Having said that, if I was to do another sabbatical a mobile phone would be essential, both to keep in touch with people and as an information repository.
As exciting as long-term travel, it can be a lonely experience with the risk of homesickness. Call me sentimental but I’ve always carried photos of loved ones, either physical or digital (also good as conversation starters with people
As a total shutterbug, the one item that I’ve never been without over my years of travelling is my camera!
SEE MORE: Everything We Packed for a 3-Month Sabbatical in SE Asia
LESSON 7: Make Commitments To Yourself
I promised myself that I would try to be more fearless and less introverted. Go with the flow and try to not to have a rigid routine, on the basis that work provides enough routine which was part of what I wanted a break from!
Pushing back against my natural introversion, I viewed these sabbaticals as a way of forging new friendships. In fact, one of my dearest friends is someone that I met on my first sabbatical. How good is that?
LESSON 8: Record the Memories
I still have a number of hand-written notebooks and bulging photo albums (yes, some of this was pre-digital cameras!) stuffed with my precious travel memories. Each sabbatical was a transformative experience in its own way and I wanted to savour and relive them for many years after I returned.
The people met, foods
Nowadays, apart from the occasional Facebook post and Tweet I don’t share on social media. For me, Instagram is a no but let’s not get into that!
LESSON 9: Return to Work With a Bang
Let’s face it. It’s tough coming back to work after a 2-week holiday let alone a longer break. Allow yourself a little time to transition back into working routine and responsibilities.
On all occasions, I was fortunate to have supportive colleagues and my responsibilities were covered well in my absence which does make life easier. People appeared eager to hear about my adventures and I was happy to share some stories.
When you return to work exude enthusiasm for the job and attack it with gusto. What your colleagues and manager don’t want to see is a miserable so-and-so who is less than thrilled at being back. Although you may feel this way at time, hide it.
I found that a long break gave me perspective, allowing me to not to get so caught up in petty issues, instead focusing on the big ticket items.
LESSON 10: Don’t Forget What You Learned
It’s hard to know where to start but here are the main takeaways from taking a sabbatical.
If you want to do something just do it! Whenever I am procrastinating or have spells of self-doubt, I think back to these experiences.
Memories last longer than stuff and have more value. Compared with my many of my peers, I take a ridiculous number of holidays but I have never, ever questioned the wisdom of doing so or regretted these decisions to travel. I don’t own designer dresses but I treasure so many great memories. These memories are by far the biggest benefit of taking a sabbatical.
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