Sabbatical Stories #7 | An Interview With Lotte

Lady standing in front of the Gardens by the Bay in Singapore

In the seventh of my sabbatical stories interview, I pick up with Lotte from the Phenomenal Globe Travel Blog.

Lotte is a thirtysomething traveller from the Netherlands.

After years of holidays and long-term trips with her husband, they now travel as a family with their son.

This hasn’t slowed them down and they’ve taken him on the Trans Mongolian Express and a trip to Japan as well as trips closer to home.

Learn more about her sabbatical story below.


Sabbatical 101

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

Well, several things.

First of all, I had been dreaming about making a round-the-world-trip for years. Fantasizing about getting on a plane bound for an exotic location where I would learn about other cultures. Trying new and perhaps even scary food, where I would see how people in that faraway place lived their lives.

Yet there were always reasons not to go: starting my study, having little money as a student, saving for my wedding, starting my first job, starting my second job.

However, when my husband finished his Masters degree, we felt it was the perfect time to go. I was working at the time but was granted a sabbatical by my manager.

How long did you take for your sabbatical?

Five months in total.

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

I was working as a process optimization consultant at a Dutch bank.

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

Our department had an official sabbatical policy!

I wasn’t the first one to go on sabbatical, nor was I the last.

The only two rules we had were: only two people can go on sabbatical at the same time and a sabbatical can last for a maximum of six months.

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

We rented a house before our sabbatical and just quit the lease before our trip.

Once we were back home, we started looking for a new place. We lived with my parents in law for only a month before finding a new apartment.


Sabbatical Planning

What was your biggest challenge when planning your sabbatical?

Deciding where to go!

There is a phenomenal world out there and so many beautiful places, it was difficult to narrow it down to a feasible itinerary.

We didn’t want to feel rushed so we only planned out the general outline of the trip, booked our plane tickets and campervan for New Zealand (because we would be travelling in high season) and that was it!

Photo of rocks in the sea
Nugget Point, New Zealand

What advice would you give others when planning a sabbatical?

Set a clear budget for your trip and plan your trip accordingly.

While we saved up a lot of money (€20,000) we were not exactly sure how much our trip would cost.

We set a budget of €100 a day (including everything, flights, diving, accommodation, visas, EVERYTHING!).

We decided to visit:

  • One expensive country (New Zealand)
  • Two medium prices countries/cities (Hong Kong and Singapore)
  • Six cheap countries (Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and the Philippines)

That way we were pretty sure our budget would be sufficient and we wouldn’t be stressed out on the occasional day we would overspend. 

Sabbatical Guide Notes: This is a really clever way to think about planning a route and not one I’ve seen before. A mix of countries in different price ranges to make the budget stretch further.

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

We saved money for years!

The years before our sabbatical we didn’t take many trips and we rarely went out for dinner. I tried to avoid buying coffee or a sandwich on the go as much as possible and severely limited the amount of money I spent on clothes (just the bare necessities). 

During our trip, we didn’t incur any living expenses as we didn’t have to pay rent. We paid for our healthcare insurance a year in advance, stopped our mobile phone subscriptions and made just sure we had no (or almost no) recurring expenses. 

What was the best purchase you made before your sabbatical?

A good quality and well-fitting backpack.

Make sure to try several ones in a specialized outdoor store and ask the staff for advice. Having a good backpack will make your trip so much more comfortable! 

Sabbatical Guide Recommendation: Osprey backpacks are tough, spacious long-lasting. My favourite version has a zip off day-pack and a fully opening top, almost like a suitcase, making packing it really easy. Check it out here.

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

I love Lonely Planet guidebooks and have one for pretty much every country we visited.

Before our trip, I’d read the suggested itineraries and highlights and during our trip get into the nitty-gritty details. I also read a lot of blogs, especially to decide which islands we would visit in the Philippines, and use Tripadvisor to find nice restaurants. 


On Sabbatical

Where did you go on sabbatical?

We made a 6-week road trip around New Zealand and travelled around Southeast Asia for three and a half months (Hong Kong, Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Singapore and Malaysia).

Rice terraces in the Philippines
Rice terraces in the Philippines

What was your favourite part?

Definitely driving around New Zealand in a camper van! New Zealand is just incredible and the freedom of camping anywhere (where it’s allowed) and being outside all day was just the best.

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

Well, in hindsight, I would have loved to spend more time in New Zealand.

Because it’s not a cheap country and we had only budgeted for six weeks there, but when we returned from our trip we still had some money left (which I would have loved to spent on some additional time in the most beautiful country on earth).

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

We did move around a lot, both in New Zealand with the van, as well as in SE Asia.

Personally, I feel it helps to have a packing routine. For me this takes away the stress of constantly having to pack and unpack.

Also, you do settle in sort of a routine. In New Zealand, we would usually make breakfast, drive somewhere, go on a hike or do another activity, make lunch, drive somewhere else, do another hike/activity, find a campsite, cook dinner and relax.

In SE Asia we had less of a routine (because we travelled around a lot, which takes up a lot of time in this part of the world😉) but we would have a day of doing nothing every once in a while, to stay sane.

A lady sitting against a sunset
Relaxing in Phu Quoc, Vietnam

After Your Sabbatical

How did you adjust back to life after your sabbatical?

I had a very hard time adjusting back to normal life.

I was crying the night we flew back and it took me months to readjust to ‘normal’ life.

In fact, my husband and I both wanted to do more travel so we immediately started planning for a second long-term trip, without a fixed end date. We travelled for a year in 2017, which was amazing!

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

What really helped me after my second trip, was the fact that we choose to go back.

Whereas after my sabbatical I had to go back on a fixed date, knowing work would start again two days after we returned. So if you have the luxury of taking a trip without a fixed end-date, I’d highly encourage you to do so. That way, you can go home when you feel like going home, instead of going home because you have to.

I know this may not be feasible for everyone (believe me, we made some serious sacrifices to save up as much money as we possibly could to travel for a year) but you can stretch your budget a lot when travelling slower and to cheaper countries.


Finishing Up

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

Check me out over at the Phenomenal Globe travel blog where you can read more about my adventure.

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