Firefighter Tim Visits 5 Continents In a Year

In the third interview of my ‘Sabbatical Stories’ series, I pick up with Tim Tunnicliff, a 41-year old firefighter and former semi-pro rugby player from the UK.

Tim’s always been interested in foreign lands although, when he was a kid, family holidays were mostly spent in Devon.

He loves his music, and has played in a few bands and is now fully into marathons. He will be running his third this year next week in Edinburgh and has entered a double marathon ultra event two weeks after that.

Tim documents his adventures over at Tunnock’s World Tour, so head over and say hi!

So now we’ve had an introduction, let’s get to know some more about the sabbatical experiences of this hero-come-adventurer.


What was going on in your life that prompted you to take a sabbatical?

was working, working hard. In fact at times that was really all I was doing. My full-time job as a Firefighter was accompanied by plenty of rugby coaching and I was also helping people with websites in whatever time I had spare. My recent travel experiences at that time had been mostly limited to Stag Weekends and Rugby Tours and I was desperate for a change of pace. I wanted to do something huge and memorable. Travel was my answer.

How long did you take for your sabbatical?

took a whole year for my sabbatical. I would have taken longer if I could have. In fact, I asked if I could extend it but got turned down.

What line of work were you in when you decided to take a sabbatical?


How did you persuade your boss to let you take the time off?

The Brigade has a responsibility to accommodate work/life balance within it’s workforce. As long as you can make a compelling case and it is within the protocols then there is no reason for it to be declined.

Tim in Tanzania

How did you organise the complexities such as your house, pets etc whilst you were away?

I really tried to keep things as simple as possible. I don’t have any pets to worry about and I found a good friend to look after my flat whilst I was away. I ruthlessly went through my possessions and sold or donated over 50% of my things. Once I got started I found this an amazing experience – thoroughly therapeutic. My family helped me out by storing the rest of my things and I was ready to go!


What was your biggest challenge when planning your sabbatical?

The biggest challenge was without doubt, what to leave out. There are so many incredible places in the world and I wanted to go everywhere. Eventually I whittled my list down to around 5 must-have locations and then built the rest of my itinerary around those places.

What advice would you give others when planning a sabbatical?

Don’t plan too tightly. Some of my best experiences and most favourite places came to me through conversations with people on the road. Don’t plan so strictly that you can’t adapt and take a different route if a good opportunity arises.

How did you manage your finances so you could afford to take the time off?

Several years of working hard meant that I had a reasonable pot of money to dip into.

Sunset in Malawi

What was the best purchase you made before your sabbatical?

can tell you the worst! I bought one of those chairs that you fill with air by swooping them around. I didn’t use it once and eventually gave it away after a couple of months.

But to actually answer your question, I’d have to say I was very happy with the backpack I bought. I put a lot of thought into it and settled on one with wheels but it could also be worn as a pack. This turned out to be a great choice as I only needed to put it on my back three times in the entire year.

Were there any books or resources you used to plan your sabbatical that youd recommend to others?

Nothing specific. I just spent a lot of time on Google. Once I got started, Hostelworld was great for accommodation and the XE Currency app was brilliant at letting me know how much a Quetzal or a Lempira was worth in my British Pounds.


Where did you go on sabbatical?

had a fairly radical itinerary. It went like this:

  • Alaska
  • Canada
  • USA (for Burning Man)
  • Mexico
  • Cuba
  • Central America (Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua)
  • UAE
  • Africa (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique, Malawi & Zambia)
  • Australia
  • New Zealand

What was your favourite part?

Burning Man was undoubtedly my favourite thing on the whole trip (so much so that I went back the following year) but Central America was an incredible time too, especially Guatemala. The backpacker trail is so good that is virtually impossible not to get a whole gang of mates very quickly.

Tim getting into the spirit of things at Burning Man Festival

Is there anything youd do differently if you had the time again?

would probably visit fewer places. It’s in my nature to try to see everything – be thorough. As a result, I visited several towns that I really didn’t have too much interest in. I stayed for a night or two then moved on. Having said that, I really enjoyed exploring new places without too many preconceptions, so maybe I’d do it exactly the same if I had my time again! Maybe I should find out…?

How did you survive constantly moving from one place to another?

found the nomadic lifestyle very comfortable. I was entirely happy moving on every couple of days or whenever the mood took me. If I felt a bit of travel fatigue creeping in then I’d just stay still for a little longer. The desire to get back moving would return after a short while and I’d be onto the next adventure. If I’m honest, this surprised me. I thought I might grow tired of the lifestyle but I never did.

Were there any routines you developed that you think helped?

Being an expert packer is essential. However, being an expert unpacker was even more important! I would only unpack the things that I knew I was going to need and leave everything else in my bag. Also, when it came to leaving a spot I would pack my bag with the things I knew I was going to need at the next place on top. As such, I rarely had to empty my bag or search for anything. I also became very aware of all the things I wasn’t using. I got rid of these unused items as I went. My bag got lighter and lighter the further I travelled.

“Impossible is Nothing!” – Scaling a mountain in Alaska


How did you adjust back to life after your sabbatical?

This subject was so important to me that I wrote a whole blog post about it (Tips to Avoid the Post-Backpacking Blues), however, the overall idea was to take the best elements of travelling and attempt to apply them to normal life. So, I don’t have permanent accommodation. My time is spent house-sitting, staying with family or doing short trips around Europe. I live light and I can go and explore whenever my work schedule permits.

What advice would you give to others on returning to help them come to terms with normal life again?

The world is generally a much more flexible place now. See what changes you can make to ‘normal life’ to try to keep the feel-goods flowing. My alterations were quite radical but even a few small changes could make a big difference. Also, start planning your next trip straight away!


Any other advice youd offer?

Go and do it. I spent ages trying to work out whether it was something I could do, whether it was right for me. It was one of the best decisions of my entire life and I met many many people who’ve said the same. Even if you don’t enjoy it, at least you’ll know and there can be no ‘what ifs’.

Where can we find you to read more about your adventures?

My blog is the centre of my online presence –’m also pretty active on Instagram.  Come and check it out and read about the Ultimate Travelist Challenge that I’m undertaking.

Sunrise in Guatemala

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