The Sabbatical Stories #1
An Interview with Amy Jenner
In the first of a new series for the site, I pick up with seasoned traveller Amy Jenner.
Amy has always had a passion for travel and a drive to continually have new experiences, whether it’s in her home county of Buckinghamshire, England or the other side of the world.
She’s recently taken the leap from a demanding career in Retail Management to a rewarding role Community Development at her Local Authority, and when she’s not at work, you’ll find Amy practising yoga, meditation, Brazilian jiu jitsu or pole-dancing! That’s quite a set of hobbies, especially when you add in the fact she’s trying to learn Spanish from her lodger!
Amy also shows a great care towards the environment, and is currently working on reducing her plastic consumption.
You can find Amy on her regularly updated Instagram account @TheLifeOfLemons where her passion for travel and adventure shines through.
So without further ado, let’s sit down at the sofa, grab a cup of tea, and get to know a bit more about Amy’s sabbatical story….
What was going on in your life that prompted you to take a sabbatical?
At first I thought it was great that I was the first of my friends to get a career job post University, but equally I was jealous of the amazing fun and adventures they were having without me. So when a good friend in Perth invited me to her wedding I knew this would be an opportunity not to miss, and felt like I should make the most of being on the other side of the world.
When I started thinking about a second sabbatical I had recently come out of a 6 year relationship (with someone who didn’t share my passion for travel) and had been having a tough time at work. I felt like a 10 week trip travelling with friends was just what I needed to focus on myself and re-evaluate about what I wanted from my work and personal life (it took me another 2 years to figure it out, but I got there!).
How long did you take for your sabbatical?
Initially I had planned to travel for 3 months and take what was known in my job as a ‘lifestyle break’, but after spending some time in Bali, Australia and New Zealand I knew I wasn’t ready to go home.
So I made the decision to request a career break, which essentially means I broke my service and would have to join the company again.
I stayed in Australia for an extra 3 months. There was definitely part of me that wanted to stay even longer but I was saving to buy a house and didn’t want to use all of my savings as that was important to me too at that time.
My second trip (6 years later) was 10 weeks long. I had just received a promotion at work and didn’t want to be away for too long as I was worried it would damage my career, although on reflection, I don’t feel I needed to worry so much about this.
What line of work were you in when you decided to take a sabbatical?
I was working in retail management for a large supermarket. On my first trip I was a line manager and on my second trip I was a newly appointment senior manager.
How did you persuade your boss to let you take the time off?
I had a good relationship with my manager when I made my first request, I was honest about why I wanted to go and although he wasn’t 100% on board with the idea he helped me complete all of the necessary paperwork required. When I was in New Zealand and made the decision to extend my trip, we communicated via email and he made sure I understood the risk to my job as the extended trip meant I would be officially on a Career Break and therefore not come back to the same job (this meant I was at risk of changing roles and stores).
The second time was not so easy or straightforward. I was now a senior manager and had not long been signed off from a probationary period in my new role. I had been having a tough time in this role and had been working extremely long hours, with very little time off. My letter to request the time off was met with a ‘you have to be kidding me, get out of my office now’. My manager was not happy at all and tried to stop me from taking the extended leave so I felt that requesting the time off was a bit of a risky move but, working for a large organisation, I was lucky that there was a policy in place that would support me.
How did you organise the complexities such as your house, pets etc whilst you were away?
Luckily I didn’t have any dependants and both times I was living at my best friend’s family home, so I didn’t have anything to take care of other than planning my trip.
Recently I have been taking shorter trips. I have a lodger who provides additional income to allow me to do this, but also it means that I have someone who I trust to look after my home.
What was your biggest challenge when planning your sabbatical?
I feel like this is the obvious answer, but for me, deciding where to go! Both times I thought the trips were a once (or twice!) in a lifetime opportunity so there was a lot of pressure to get it right.
What advice would you give others when planning a sabbatical?
Don’t follow the crowd, think about where you want to go and what you want to see and plan. You can never be too prepared, but make sure your itinerary is flexible so you can do all the things that you discover when away!
If you haven’t travelled before I’d recommend starting off in an English-speaking country (unless you are fluent in other languages). You’ll always meet English speakers across the world but I found choosing a country this way took the pressure off whilst I was getting a feel for being a back packer. The first place I ever went was Hong Kong, and it was a bit of a struggle. If I had I have gone back at the end of my trip I think I would have had more confidence, and had a totally different experience. I spent 6 weeks by myself in Australia and had a very different experience with communication compared to my sister who was in China!
How did you manage your finances so you could afford to take the time off?
I have always been good at saving and was in a well-paid job for both trips with no mortgage to worry about (looking back I was very lucky!), so money wasn’t a real issue. However I made sure to set myself a realistic budget.
I shopped about to find the best deals for flights although both times STA travel provided the most competitive price, and they organise it all for you so you don’t have to worry about coordinating booking lots of flights.
What was the best purchase you made before your sabbatical?
On my first trip it was a wind up radio…. Things have changed a lot in the past 10 years!!
I always recommend earplugs & an eye mask! Great for planes and Hostels. Getting a good night’s sleep makes all the difference especially if you are moving around a lot.
Were there any books or resources you used to plan your sabbatical that you’d recommend to others?
I love a book, and there are some great ones out there. I’d previously used Lonely Planet guides to help plan my trips (and a great resource to take away with you), but over the years I felt that they became more of a directory, and so I switched to Rough Guides for a while.
Obviously the internet is now a massive part of our lives, nowadays I find myself engrossed in Blogs and Trip Advisor forums. Instagram is great to find out about things that are off the beaten path too.
I’m ‘that person’ who takes the airline magazines away (I’m still never sure whether you are meant to!!). I go through them and see if there is anything interesting for my current location and then I tear anything else interesting out for my scrap-book for planning future trips. I always find something fun!
Where did you go on sabbatical?
On my first trip I spent 4 months Australia and 2 months New Zealand visiting Hong Kong and Bali for a week each and a quick stop off in Los Angeles on route home.
6 years later saw me visit Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and India.
What was your favourite part?
For culture, Cambodia. The conflict there is so recent yet and it was moving to see people who had been through the struggle. The children there were happy to practice their English and play with you and didn’t want for anything, which was contrast to Thailand.
For fun, Cairns (Australia) was just the best. $3 steak and dancing on the tables in The Woolshed is something I’ll never forget!
Is there anything you’d do differently if you had the time again?
With my second trip, I think I’d have either gone for longer or visited fewer places. It’s good to have a bit of flexibility in your trip so that if you find somewhere you love, you can explore it more. We were on such a tight schedule that we didn’t get to explore anywhere near as much as I’d have liked.
I feel like it just scratched the surface but on the plus side, it was like a taster session to plan for another adventure!
How did you survive constantly moving from one place to another? Were there any routines you developed that you think helped?
I was pretty comfortable (I had moved about a bit since leaving my family home to head to Uni at 18) so moving about a lot didn’t phase me.
Learning to live out of a bag can be tough, you’ll start off folding everything neatly each time you move but after a while you probably won’t care! I also realised that I always packed far too much ‘stuff’, now, as long as I have my passport and money I’m pretty content.
If I am doing any long train journeys I often book them overnight, this saves on accommodation costs and means you haven’t wasted a day. I prefer to arrive in a new location in the morning so that I can get my bearings more easily which helps me to feel settled.
AFTER YOUR SABBATICAL
How did you adjust back to life after your sabbatical?
After both trips I thought I would struggle to adjust, but heading back to work was pretty easy. Within a few days my adventures felt like a lifetime ago! At the time, going back to a busy retail environment meant that other than some new faces, not a lot had changed and I was able to just get stuck back in to it.
What advice would you give to others on returning to help them come to terms with normal life again?
Give yourself time before you go back to work. I’m terrible for getting home late in the early hours and heading for work early next day, this is manageable after weekends away, but after a long trip it’s nice to have some time to wind down and prepare for going back to work.
You’ll have lots to say about your adventure and your family, friends and colleagues will want to hear all about it, but don’t forget to ask them about what they’ve been up to too!
If you’ve been away for a very long time then this might not be practical, but put fresh sheets on your bed before you leave, coming home to a freshly made bed makes all the difference.
Likewise, try to have your favourite food (that you’ve probably missed!) on hand, there’s nothing worse than coming home to an empty cupboard.
Any other advice you’d offer?
My top tips:
Make Friends!! I noticed a huge difference in the 6 years between my sabbaticals….. Hostels went from extremely sociable environment to everyone sat in silence staring at their phones. But hostels are great, and you never know who you’ll meet- don’t be afraid to be the one to strike conversation. Making friends from other countries is fun, and you’ll often get invited to visit them so they can show off their homeland. With your new friend as your personal tour guide you’ll get so much more out of your trip. Don’t forget to offer your hosting services too!
Don’t spend all of your time looking through a lens. Yes, you want to have photos to remember your time away, but when you look back in 10 years’ time, will you remember where you were when you took them? Did you miss out on something because you were busy trying to capture a moment rather than enjoying it yourself? I switched to Polaroid a few years ago and take a few on my trip, spending the rest of my time really immersing myself in my location. When I look at the photos (which I put straight up on my wall) I feel warmth and remember the locations and experiences as if I was still there.
A little bit of the local language goes a long way – take your time to learn basic phrases. If you get the opportunity to talk to locals, make the most of it, you’ll learn some amazing things! Duolingo is a great app for learning the basics before you go and Google Translate is simple to use when you are away, although I like to write down a load of handy phrases so I don’t have to rely on the Internet.
Where can we find you to read more about your adventures?
I keep a handwritten travel journal. I love writing in pencil in notebooks that I pick up on my travels. I’ve not worked out what my niche is yet so I don’t publicly document much – but if you’re interested you can find me on Instagram – @TheLifeOfLemons – I hope that provides a bit of an insight in to my passion for travel.