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.
I 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.
I 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Several years of working hard meant that I had a reasonable pot of money to dip into.
I 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.
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.
I had a fairly radical itinerary. It went like this:
- USA (for Burning Man)
- Central America (Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua)
- Africa (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique, Malawi & Zambia)
- New Zealand
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.
I 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…?
I 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.
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.
This subject was so important to me that I wrote a whole blog post about it (), 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!
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?
Useful Tools for Booking Your Sabbatical
I always use Skyscanner or Agoda alongside Google Flights to make sure I’ve got the best price. I use Google Flights to save a route and monitor price changes and a combination of Skyscanner and Agoda to get the cheapest tickets.
If you are in the UK I would also highly recommend signing up for Jack’s Flight Club to get incredible flight deals sent to your email inbox every week.
When booking accommodation I always start with Booking.com as they generally have the best range and prices. I also regularly use Airbnb for longer stays and apartments in cities (use this link for £25 off your first stay). For a different experience try signing up to Housecarers for free house-sitting opportunities (get 10% off membership with this link).
Travel insurance might seem like an unnecessary cost, but when a flight gets cancelled, injury occurs or you damage a piece of gear you’ll regret not paying in advance. I’ve used World Nomads for two sabbaticals and (after badly damaging a hire car in Laos!) found the claim process to be simple and transparent.
Getting from the airport to your destinations is an added stress after a tiring flight, so take the guesswork out and pre-book with JayRide.com. Their prices often beat the local taxis and I've found them to be reliable and easy to use.