Planning a sabbatical…
…one of the most challenging, yet rewarding things I’ve ever done.
There’s a lot more to consider than you might think.
- How do you find out if you qualify?
- How do you plan for the dreaded conversation with your boss?
- Can you even afford one?
And more importantly, who’s going to look after Bruno the basset hound while you’re hosteling your way up the east coast of Australia?
Well, if you’re just starting to build your sabbatical plan, you’re in good hands (but, I guess we would say that!).
That’s me up there in the photo, on sabbatical in Thailand. I’ve planned out a few sabbaticals myself, and have a network of people who can help you, whatever your goal.
This page is the ultimate sabbatical planning guide, packed full of tips, and with links to content that will help you deal with almost every eventuality.
How To Plan a Sabbatical – Start Here
This article is like this page, but in shed (*it) load more detail.
Sit over my shoulder as I plan out our three-month sabbatical in Southeast Asia. There is painstaking levels of detail here, painstaking.
We recently did Myers-Briggs at work, and I finished up as an INFJ, with the highest core on ‘judging’ which said (and I quote), “you’re likely highly organised, decisive and thorough. You value clarity and prefer planning to spontaneity”.
I hope my natural gift (or flaw, depending on who you ask), will prove to be a benefit on your sabbatical planning journey.
Planning a Sabbatical – Early Stages
Tools & Tips To Make Sabbatical Planning Easier
If you are looking for a full list of tools, tip and resources to make sabbatical planning easier, check out this detailed post, which includes every great sabbatical resource I’ve squirrelled away over the last ten years.
There’s something here for everyone – books, communities, booking tools and much more.
READ NEXT: A Complete List of Sabbatical Resources
Are You Even Allowed a Sabbatical?
Before you rush off and start booking flights, it’s best to start by figuring out if you’re actually allowed to take a sabbatical!
In most countries, sabbaticals are not enshrined in law, so companies off them as a benefit – often with some strings attached such as length of service.
Most companies will have an employee handbook or intranet where you can find this information. If there is no policy, then don’t be completely disheartened, you can still have a go at negotiating for a sabbatical.
READ NEXT: Can You Take a Sabbatical? (How To Find Out)
How Long to Take?
Having researched company policies, you may find this decision made for you.
For example, I worked at a business where taking up to 12 weeks off unpaid meant you were allowed to return to your previous job, anything over that was seen as a break in service, meaning I was effectively resigning and coming back, with all long service benefits reset, and the only guarantee being a job at the same level.
If the policy doesn’t dictate the sabbatical length, then it’s over to you to decide how long you need for your adventure, and (perhaps more importantly) how long you can afford to be away for.
Choosing a Date
So you know you can take a sabbatical, and how long you want, but the next question is when?
There are two factors at play here.
Firstly, is there a certain date you need to be away for? Are you celebrating a big event, or want to travel to a country which has a monsoon season?
Secondly, when is it right for your business? If you want to maintain a good relationship with your workplace and get the sabbatical signed off, taking into account their needs is helpful. As an example, I’m a retailer, so I made sure to avoid the big trading periods of Christmas and Easter when booking our last sabbatical, which made it easier to cover me.
Financing Your Sabbatical
At some point in the early stages of sabbatical planning, you also need to figure out how much your sabbatical will cost you.
If you’re using your sabbatical to travel, there are three things to consider:
- One-off costs (such as flights)
- Ongoing cost while you are away (such as mortgage payments)
- Daily costs for while you are away
Once you’ve worked through these steps, you’ll know how much you need to set aside, and if you need to stop and earn some money while on the trip.
To make it easier, I’ve created a calculator which you can download and use.
DOWNLOAD: Free Sabbatical Costs Calculator
Speaking To Your Boss
Now comes the scary part.
Speaking to the boss.
Don’t worry, we’ve got your back here too, and created a guide to all the steps you need to take.
There are nine steps (yes, I know I overcomplicate stuff sometimes!), but the detail will take you through building out your ‘why’ statement, thinking about how to cover yourself, booking the meeting, how to have the conversation and getting written confirmation.
It’s detailed, but worth it.
Planning a Sabbatical – Practicalities
Now you’ve got your sabbatical signed off, there could still be months to go before you actually leave.
You may also have a huge list of things that need doing, with your sabbatical planning feeling almost like as much work as the day job!
The rest of this post should help you narrow down that list, and give you lots of hints on building your sabbatical plan and dealing with the big questions that come up.
12-Week Sabbatical Countdown Checklist
There was a real lack of helpful lists out there when we planned our first sabbatical (hmm, I should probably start a website to help with that), so I built one, and then refined it ahead of future breaks.
This sabbatical checklist contains a diverse range of things to think about – from forwarding your mail, to getting visas, booking flights to registering for proxy voting.
READ NEXT: 35 Things To Do Before Your Sabbatical
What To Do With Your House
Deciding what to do with your property while you’re away is one of the biggest decisions to take, and can support funding the trip if you can reduce repayments or rent.
If you own a property, you could:
- Rent it out
- Take a mortgage holiday and then use a housesitting service or find someone locally to move in and look after it
- Leave it vacant (though check this doesn’t invalidate your insurance)
If you’re renting, then your options are:
- Subletting (if your agreement allows)
- Leaving the property vacant (though again, check with your landlord)
- Cancel the lease and pay to put your contents in storage
Whatever you decide to do, dig into the fine print of your mortgage or rental agreement to make sure everything will be safe while you’re away.
What To Do With Pets
Cat, dog, gerbil or goldfish, whatever you chose for company in your family home, you’re going to have to figure out what to do with them while you’re away.
The three solutions are:
- Take them with you (goldfish road-trip anyone?)
- Put them in kennels (expensive but safe)
- Find someone to move in and look after them
This is another one of those decisions which needs to be taken early, as it may govern what you decide to do with the sabbatical (international travel may be off the cards if you need to take Fido) or how much money you have left after kennel or cattery costs.
Planning a Route
If you’re visiting more than one destination, planning for a long trip is much more complex than a holiday.
I always use the same steps:
- Research everything you want to do, and build a custom Google Map
- Build a spreadsheet, listing out all the dates, and put in any deadlines you have to hit (visas expiring, places you need to be on a certain date etc)
- Then use the map to build a broad direction of travel for the trip
My advice would be not to plan day by day at the beginning. What we end up with is more like a wireframe:
- Spend 4 weeks in Thailand (need to be out by x date due to visa)
- Travel south to north
- Must-visit places – Bangkok, Khao Yai National Park, Ayutthaya, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai
The above screenshot was our initial plan for three months on Southeast Asia. You can see how we’d mapped out the first month in advance, and then put key dates we needed to hit for the rest of the trip.
Buying Gear & Packing
Before you go, you might need to purchase some new gear.
My advice here is not to go crazy, you ALWAYS end up needing less than you think, and there’s very little that can’t be purchased on the road.
If there’s one thing worth investing in, it’s a great backpack, but from there you’ll be surprised how little you need.
See the full list of what we packed for our three-month Southeast Asia sabbatical below for some inspiration.
Finishing Up at Work
Going hard in your last few weeks before taking a sabbatical is something I feel is very important.
Showing the workplace that you’ve not already switched into ‘holiday mode’ is key to being accepted when you arrive back.
There are also a few tasks you should be working through:
- Completing a handover for whoever is replacing you to make it simple to step into your shoes whilst you’re away
- Set up your out of office on email
- Set up your voicemail greeting to say you’re away
Try not to make a big deal of leaving, this is one of those occasions where it’s best to fade away, not make a big bang.
Returning From Sabbatical
Planning your return from sabbatical can be just as tough as planning the sabbatical itself.
It can be harder to reintegrate than you might think, especially if your break has been a life-changing one.
Returning to Work
It’s got to happen at some point, the dreaded first day back at work.
It’s tough, as you will have changed, but many at work will have been through the same tedious routine day after day whilst you’ve been off.
My advice here, is to crack on. Get back to it, show the world that you’ve still got it in you, and to only share your stories if asked (no one likes a show off, especially if they’ve had to pick up the slack in your absence).
Putting the Sabbatical on Your CV/Resume
Something that may come up on your return is how to put the sabbatical on your CV.
The options are pretty obvious, either do it or don’t, but the article below goes into a lot more depth on considerations for both options.
READ NEXT: How to Put a Sabbatical on Your CV
One of my favourite quotes is:
“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened”
Getting to the end of the sabbatical is the hardest part. When you’ve had freedom for so long, the prospect of going back to reality can weigh heavy. I’ve always chosen to view this through the lens of feeling thankful for the opportunity, than sadness for the end, though it’s often easier said than done.
If you’re looking for some encouraging words to help you with your sabbatical return, check out the post below.
READ NEXT: 9 Expert Tips on Returning From a Sabbatical