Taking a sabbatical is a big decision and one people make for many different reasons.

Most commonly, sabbaticals are used gap-year style to travel, but this is just the tip of the career break iceberg.

From humanitarian aid to writing a book, learning a new language to cycling the highest mountains in Europe, sabbaticals are used for a huge range of reasons.

The truth is there’s rarely a single reason for taking a sabbatical.

For me, I had the urge to travel after dedicating my 20s to growing a career. Mrs SG and I were getting ready to have a family and knew backpacking would be off the agenda very soon and I’d recently seen my Dad involved in a nasty cycling accident that made me reflect on the one certainty we all have in life. I also was shattered after 15 years of work in operational retail and needed some time to think about an offer of a new job out in Australia.

What I can tell you though, is I’ve not met a single person who’s regretted it.

And I’ve interviewed a lot of them.

Not a single person would swap their memories for another three months behind a desk.

In fact, it’s the reason I created this site, to inspire more people to do the same. Helping them to understand what a sabbatical is, how to afford one, how to tell their boss and how to get all the planning done.

So if you’re interested in taking a sabbatical join the email list below and I’ll teach you everything I know.

But for now, let’s discover the top reasons people take a sabbatical.

To Travel

on sabbatical in laos
Me on sabbatical in Laos, at Wat Phu

Travel is one of the most popular reasons for taking a career break. The world is a hard place to see on vacations and weekends, so taking an extended period of time off can be a great way to see the distant corners of the blog that feel inaccessible on a short break.

Travel is one of the most rewarding things in life. It breaks up the normal day-to-day pattern, freeing you up from the constraints of home and allowing you to experience new cultures and new perspectives. 

Long-term travel is very different from taking a vacation, giving you the time to go slow and experience the world around your rather than seeing it go rushing by in an aeroplane. Don’t feel the need to pack in too much, loose plans that allow you to adapt on the move are the best, giving you space for spontaneity, or just to stop for a while if you want to.

There are so many different options for travel too.

The cliched version is backpacking (and yes, I am a cliche!) but there is also overloading, house-sitting, taking a road trip, completing a long cycling trip or even horse-riding.


To Volunteer

Taking a sabbatical to make a difference is rooted in the very origin of the word. Sabbaticals and gap years have long been used to volunteer, and use your skills in other parts of the world.

So if you feel the same, how would you choose what to do?

Well here’s a list of things that might get your brain juices flowing:

  • What are you passionate about?
  • What makes you most angry in the world?
  • What are you worried might not be there for the next generation?
  • What skills do you have that might be useful in other parts of the world?
  • What are the biggest environmental challenges facing the planet right now, how could you help?

They fall into a few categories that you. might want to research:

  • Community and building projects
  • Archaeology
  • Conservation
  • Farming
  • Teaching
  • Coaching
  • Supporting after humanitarian disasters

Whether it be conservation surveys in Namibia, teaching English in Bolivia, or building schools in Indonesia there are volunteering options to suit whatever you’re passionate about. 


Work Related

To Stop You From Quitting

If you’re in a job that has driven you to the point you want to quit, then it might be time to consider a sabbatical.

If you had no job lined up to go into then why not?

It will give you some time away to consider your options, whilst also having a job to fall back on if it doesn’t work out.

Or you may come to realise that it was just overwork, tiredness or other issues that were causing you to want to quit, and the sabbatical gives you a new sense of perspective.

To Avoid Burnout

business woman having headache at office

Burnout is real. Working too hard, not getting enough sleep, and compromising on food and lifestyle can lead to long-term mental and physical problems.

No-where is this described better than in Jeffrey Jung’s book ‘The Career Break Traveller’s Handbook‘.

The Career Break Traveler's Handbook (Traveler's Handbooks)
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The Career Break Traveler's Handbook (Traveler's Handbooks)
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Jung, Jeffrey (Author)

In it, Jung compares a normal working life to that of a pro athlete.

“Pro athletes are finely tuned physical machines. They are expected to give 110% on the field. One mistake could cost them or their team the game. But off the field, they relax! They get physical therapy. Yes, they train and maintain themselves to keep up with the high level of intensity on the field. But they also rest and rejuvenate so as not to over-stress their bodies. Finally, pro athletes get an off-season to prepare for the next one. The stress put on pro athletes is physically evident. The stress created in our jobs is not. Yet stress is there nonetheless. Let’s learn from the pros and take care of ourselves when not at work. We have to make time to rejuvenate and create our own off-season.”

So why not use a sabbatical to create your own off-season?

READ NEXT: 5 Great Books To Read Before Your Sabbatical

To Escape and Re-Evaluate

There are lots of big milestones in life that can make us want to escape: a big birthday, the death of a family member or the kids moving out.

All of these are moments in time that might make you want to escape your current life, and re-evaluate where you are. 

It was certainly the case for me. After missing out on a promotion at work, and then seeing my dad involved in a major road accident that could have easily been a lot worse than it was, I re-evaluated.

I asked myself a lot of questions about what was important to me, and how I wanted to look back on my life in 50 years’ time.

what is a sabbatical escape
I love this photo from the train on our way to Khao Yai National Park in Thailand, this guy seemed to encapsulate my mood!

The answer I came up with was a sabbatical, giving me the opportunity to spend more time with my wife, and to get out and see parts of the world I wouldn’t get to otherwise.

Escaping is pointless without a re-evaluation. If you escape for three months, with no plan, your troubles will still be there when you return.

If you are going to use a sabbatical for this purpose, then be clear about what you are looking to achieve. You might just need some time to think or spend some more time with family. You might go to an extreme and join a meditation retreat.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure your sabbatical is not going to compound the problem, and have a clear idea of how this extended break will help you.

To Knock Off a Life Goal

Your goal might be to travel, but there are many other goals people knock off using a sabbatical.

It might be you want the time to focus on your first book. 1,000 words a day for three months and you’re hitting the length of an average novel.

It might be to complete a physical challenge (I knew a guy who cycled the whole way around the UK!) or to follow a sports team on a trip you’ll remember forever.

Or it could be to spend more time with family. Maybe a child growing up, or that last chance to take a trip with an elderly parent.

Spending Time With a Loved One

This was one of the main reasons for taking our first sabbatical.

Becca and I met at quite a young age, and since then life had mostly revolved around work. In this time we had both been promoted a few times, and also relocated with work to secure better opportunities.

To be clear, this was a fantastic time for us. It set us up for life, allowing us to own our own house with a short mortgage, gave us the skills to be respected within our chosen careers, and allowed us to save a lot of money so we could travel whenever we wanted.

what is a sabbatical spending time together

The main thing this hadn’t given us was time. Regular six or seven-day weeks coupled with long hours, meant time as a couple was infrequent and generally saved for holidays.

After ten years of this pattern, we decided a change was needed. A change in jobs allowed us more time together, but we decided we wanted one big break before we had a family, and a sabbatical was the perfect way to do this.

If this sounds like you, then maybe a sabbatical is the perfect way to spend some quality time with a loved one.

Learning a New Skill (or Perfecting an old one)

Taking a sabbatical can be the perfect way to pursue your passions outside the workplace.

Why Take a Sabbatical? Learning To Dive

If you’ve always wanted to complete your divemaster training, pursue your love of filmmaking or become a ski instructor then an extended period of time off work will allow you to do so.

And you never know, your new-found skill may open up doors to other career paths, that get you out of your stuffy office cubicle and enjoying a different course in life.

And they don’t have to be non-work related passions either.

Many people take sabbaticals to learn skills that will help them further their careers – taking some time to complete a programming course, do additional studies towards a master’s degree, work on an archaeological dig, or complete an internship. All of these are great ways to enhance your CV and grow your skillset. 

Take some inspiration from Jo who took time off from a busy restaurant job in London to do her divemaster training before using it to do a complete career change.

READ NEXT: We Learned to Dive in Nha Trang, Thailand While on Sabbatical

To Enjoy Time off Whilst You Are Still Young

The traditional way to view a career, was to work hard for 50 years followed by retiring. 

But what if you built some of that retirement time into your career itself? This would give you the chance to travel and have time off when you are still young, still brave enough to travel and still fit enough to make the most of it.

I am not trying to say for one moment that 70-year-olds can’t travel, but it’s a fact of life that the older we get the harder some things become. 

And not just that.

Working flat-out for 50 years is a tough mental slog. Your brain and body get used to the routine, so switching off after all that time can be a hard thing to do.

So why wait?

Why not build some downtime into your career, so when you do get the chance to retire fully, you will have a much better idea of how to handle it?

Sabbatical FAQs

What is a Sabbatical?

A sabbatical is a (generally) unpaid period of time off work as agreed with your employer. In most countries, these are not a legal right (like sick pay or maternity leave) and form part of an employee benefits package.

LEARN MORE: What is a Sabbatical? (The Biggest Resource on the Web)

How Long is a Sabbatical?

Generally, a sabbatical is considered as being anything over a month, with the upper limit imposed by your employer. Some will allow up to five years off before the contract is broken.

From my research an average sabbatical lasts around eight months, which was much longer than I expected, though 50% of people surveyed took less than six months.

The most important thing is to be clear on your goal for a sabbatical, work out how much it will cost and then build the plan for how much time you need from there.

How Do I Apply for a Sabbatical?

This will very much depend on your company.

I cover the process in full in ‘How To Ask For a Sabbatical (& Get One)‘ but you need to start by either reviewing your company’s intranet page or chatting with HR to find out what policies are available.

From there an application will need to be lodged with your line manager.

Remember though, that sabbaticals are an employee benefit, not a legal right, so how you approach your boss and offer solutions to questions such as ‘how will I cover you whilst you’re off?’ will be key to getting the stamp of approval.

The Sabbatical Guide contains affiliate links and is a member of the Amazon Service LLC Associates Program. If you make a purchase using one of these links, I may earn a commission, at no additional cost to you. For more information, see our disclosure policy.

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