Sabbatical Stories #6 | An Interview with Darja

In the sixth of my sabbatical interviews I pick up with Darja from DeeGees Travel.

Born in Latvia, she had travelled alot in Europe but in spring 2018 took a bold decision and planned a nine month sabbatical to backpack around Southeast Asia with her boyfriend.

She says it was the best decision she ever made.

Let’s find out why….


SABBATICAL BASICS

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

The dream of just leaving everything behind and going traveling has been there for many years. Every time I came home discouraged by whatever was happening at work or in my private life, I’d cuddle on the sofa fantasizing about my exotic adventures. Years past, and the idea of a long-term journey started to look more and more impossible. I had to take care of my career, I had to think about settling down and starting a family. I couldn’t just take off! Right?

I was 31, in a wonderful relationship and pretty successful in my career. Yet I wasn’t happy. I was working too much, my lifestyle wasn’t healthy, I had given up on my hobbies, and had absolutely no time nor energy for the people I loved. Things had to change. I wanted more from life. Taking a sabbatical wasn’t the first solution I turned to though. First, I tried cutting down on work, tried going to the gym more regularly and started swing dance lessons. Although I did start feeling a bit better, the feeling of being exhausted was overwhelming. Evidently, more drastic changes were necessary. 

How long did you take for your sabbatical?

The original plan was to take a break for five months. In the end, it was almost a year.

Swimming with turtles in Indonesia

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

I was overlooking a team of product managers in an IT company. David (my boyfriend) was a developer and a team lead in an IT services company. 

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

I quit. It took me, however, a couple of months to gather the courage to finally resign from the job which was my whole life. Being the head of a department, there was no way I could have continued doing my job remotely. Nor did I want to, to be honest. I wanted a break.

David’s situation was slightly different. First, he wanted to continue working, albeit to reduced capacity. Second, being a software engineer, it was easier for him to work remotely. Since he was already based in Berlin working for a company in the Czech Republic, it came down to “merely” increasing the distance between him and the company. David’s boss was very understanding, forthcoming and a little bit jealous 😉 

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

We subleased our apartment through a specialized platform and had our amazing friends help whenever we needed any assistance in Berlin. The friendly pub next to our home was kind enough to collect and store our post for us. We are forever grateful to these people for making all this a lot easier for us!


PLANNING YOUR SABBATICAL

What was your biggest challenge when planning your sabbatical?

The most challenging part of planning our sabbatical was finding a way to organize information. Standing in front of this mountain of tasks it would have been easy to get overwhelmed and lost in the process. 

How on Earth do you plan for a six month journey? How long can we even afford to travel for? What to do with our apartment? What to do with all our contracts? What do we need to buy? There were thousands of questions.

We ended up putting a huge paper on the wall separated into three sections – “to do”, “in progress”, “done”. We then used colorful post-it notes to write down all the things that had to be done before our trip. Since our task board was in the kitchen, we looked at it daily and discussed what things we’d aim to achieve today. It was very rewarding to see post-its move from left to right. 

What advice would you give others when planning a sabbatical?

Don’t underestimate the number of little things you’ll need to take care of before you leave. Start early not to end up running like a headless chicken in the last days before your sabbatical begins. This includes planning your finances. The earlier you know how much money you will need and how you’re planning on spending it, the earlier you can start findings ways to finance it.

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

A couple of years back I had opened a savings account to put money aside for a wedding or another silly thing like this. I had then decided that I would rather travel the world than spend my years’ savings on a weekend, no matter how memorable. Of course, would have been great not to spend all the money and have some safety cushion upon our return. Since David continued working 50%, he had a stable monthly income which was more than enough to cover his expenses.

Although we had the money, the real challenge was to manage the spending very carefully. David and I calculated our daily budgets per destination and kept detailed daily spending records. This enabled us to be on top of our finances and permitted to extend the initially planned five months journey to nine. Pretty proud of this accomplishment.

What was the best purchase you made before your sabbatical?

It would have to be our hiking boots. Not only were they indispensable partners during our active outdoor adventures in the jungles of Malaysia and Thailand or when climbing a volcano in Indonesia, but they were also a constant reminder to do more. The hiking boots weren’t the lightest to carry in our backpacks, so we wanted to make sure we made the most of having them with us.

At the top of Mount Bromo in Indonesia

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

We got a Rough Travel Guide for Southeast Asia as a starting point, but then read a lot of blogs and watched a lot of YouTube vloggers to get a real feel of a place. This helped find inspiration, manage our expectations and avoid common tourist mistakes. Love the travel blogging community!


ON SABBATICAL

Where did you go on sabbatical?

We spent nine months in Southeast Asia (Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia). Upon our return to Europe, we visited Switzerland, Czech Republic, Germany, Latvia, and Bulgaria. And the journey continues!

What was your favourite part?

Although we truly madly deeply loved Southeast Asia, it’s not necessarily a specific place which we’d call our favourite (the list of candidates is endless!). It’s more about the amazing people we’ve met along the way and the knowledge they’ve shared with us. One of the most fascinating things we’ve learned in Asia is how spirituality is a part of people’s everyday life, how it helps stay sane and most importantly – happy. We’ve learned a lot about yoga and meditation, and have made it a part of our daily lives as well. 

At the Angkor Temples in Cambodia

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

No. Things could have not gone better. Even the little mistakes made along the way (like getting scammed in Bangkok) were an important part of the journey. Of course, looking back I sometimes think, why could I have not done that sooner? I guess I couldn’t and that’s ok.

How did you survive constantly moving from one place to another? Were there any routines you developed that you think helped?

After the initial rather insane itinerary moving from one place to another every couple of days, we realized we had to slow down. We adopted slow travel practices and tried to stay in one place for at least a week, but ideally even longer. 

We began getting up really early (around 6 AM) and started our days with yoga, writing a journal and setting up an intention for the day. Since it was the two of us, it was important we respected each other’s preferences and agreed on the plans for the day and the week. Whenever we missed doing that, either one of us or even us both ended up being disappointed. So, morning routines and continuous communication are what made the nomadic life work for us.

In terms of organizing our travels, we’ve learned to do most things independently, without relying on local travel agents or tour operators. Not only did independent travel help combine our activities with work and blogging, but it also helped us save some money.


AFTER YOUR SABBATICAL

How did you adjust back to life after your sabbatical?

Terribly. In fact, we didn’t at all. Instead, we decided to change what we called “normal” and to continue living a nomadic lifestyle while working. When we were clear with what we wanted, the universe provided the means. Soon after our return back to Europe, an old friend of mine contacted me and offered us both a job whereby we could be remote and work 80%. This is exactly what we were looking for! And thus, our journey continues.  

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

Think critically about what you really want to accept from your “old” life and what needs to change. Don’t settle too quickly, don’t be scared to break the rules and step out of what is expected of you (even by yourself). It’s your life, you only have one to live, so make it count. 


FINISHING UP

Any other advice you’d offer?

Go for it! The absolutely scariest part of taking a sabbatical is the first step. I have yet to hear from anybody who has taken a sabbatical and regrets it in the aftermath. 

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

My travel blog – DeeGees Travel

Leave a Reply

avatar
  Subscribe  
Notify of
Scroll to Top