10 Secrets to Successful Sabbaticals

Global Marketing Manager, Josie Walters, put her career on hold to travel long-term, she shares her secrets to successful sabbaticals, helping you to follow your dreams and change your life!

Want to take some time out but not sure where to begin? Check out these 10 secrets to superb sabbaticals and craft the career break that’s perfect for you!

1) If You Don’t Ask, You Don’t Get
I was in the enviable position of being able to take unpaid leave from my marketing job at a global firm to travel across South America for four months.

Your firm may not have such a generous approach to extended leave, but have you checked your HR policy? If you can’t take the three months you want, can you take your annual leave plus a couple of extra weeks’ unpaid holiday?

Will they be more lenient if you’re coming up to a milestone of three/five years’ service? Hiring new staff is an expensive business for any firm, but they may be willing to let you bend the rules if you’re going to come back with renewed motivation and loyalty.

2)  Prepare Your Business Case

Whether your company is pro-sabbaticals or not, it’s a good idea to think about how best to sell the idea to your boss.

A large part of your motivation might be having enough time to do the awesome overland trip you always dreamed of, but whether it’s learning a new language or improving your writing skills by keeping a travel blog, there’s probably something in it for your employer as well.

Think about it from your boss’ point of view and be ready to sell your business case!

3) Take Time to Prepare

Taking time off once you’re in a job can be difficult. But it’s not impossible. My boyfriend, Dave, and I own our apartment so one of our biggest concerns was how we were going to pay the bills whilst we were away.

My advice would be to give yourself plenty of time (ideally at least six months) to work out the things that might otherwise affect your finances and plan, plan, plan.

If money is going to be tight, what can you do before you go? It may mean eating in rather than going out for dinner and saying no to that city break. But if you’ve got a skill, talent or some spare time, why not use that to your advantage?

It’s much better to save in advance than be stuck with debt that takes months, or even years, to pay off.

Josie Maccu Picchu

Josie and Dave at Machu Picchu, Peru

4) Beg, Steal, Borrow
Traveling can be a scarily expensive business with flights, insurance, vaccinations and medication to pay for before you even get to the airport.

So when it comes to travel gear why not ask around to see what your buddies can lend you?

A universal sink plug, sleeping bag or travel wallet may not seem like expensive items to buy, but the small things all add up, so borrowing can really help your bank account before you go.

5) Budget on the Road
As mundane as it might sound, working out your budget and sticking to it will help to avoid financial headaches when you get home (or worse, halfway through your trip).

I tried to keep a note of absolutely everything we spent money on so we could stick to a daily budget, but this didn’t work very well! In reality, there’ll be a mix of wanting to splurge on that once-in-a-lifetime experience and days on buses where there’s nada to spend your money on.

A better tip is to keep a running total of the money you’re taking out of ATMs instead.

6) Leave Your Comfort Zone at Home
Edging ever closer to the big 3-0, my boyfriend and I were dubious that we’d feel old in comparison to the college students we imagined we’d come across.

The reality was that we met a whole bunch of people – some like us, in their late twenties taking time off work, others having left their jobs and the ‘Golden Gappers’ who’d retired from work and were only now fulfilling their life-long travel ambitions.

Having people from all walks of life makes it all the more interesting. Don’t be put off staying in a cheap hostel if that’s what you can afford. Or why not do something completely different and try couchsurfing?

Our couchsurfing encounters – meeting a couple in Argentina and staying with Willian, a Brazilian student – are some of the most memorable parts of our trip. Meeting locals can give you access to a world you’d otherwise never see.

Josie Glacier

Glacier trekking at the Perito Moreno glacier, Argentina

7) Get Word of Mouth Recommendations
A guidebook is awesome when you’re arriving in a new place and want to get your bearings. But a lot of information in there – places to stay, restaurants, bars – may be out of date before the book’s even been published. On a couple of evenings, we went in search of a recommended restaurant only to find it didn’t exist.

Unless you’re going off the beaten track, you’ll meet people traveling the same route as you, and more importantly, people who’ve already been where you’re going. Seek them out and get their recommendations.

8 ) Put Pen to Paper
Taking a sabbatical might be the first time you’ve had any extended time off, so why not use those long bus or plane journeys to do some soul searching?

Most of us live our lives at such pace that we’re too busy thinking about our plans for the weekend instead of whether we’re really happy and on track with our relationships, our careers and our goals.

Keep a pen and paper with you. You’ll never know how that breathtaking landscape might trigger a thought, a business idea, a dream. Write it down and look back at your list when you get back.

9) Ease Yourself Back in Gently

Getting to the end of your trip, and the prospect of going back to the daily grind can be equally daunting and depressing.

I made the mistake of wanting to use every day of leave for our trip, so we flew back with only a weekend before going back to work. What I hadn’t accounted for was that I’d come down with flu in Rio, which resulted in me taking the first week back off work.

Not a great end to what had otherwise been an amazing, life-changing trip.

Much better is to take a couple of extra days off, get your home in order and work out where you put those work clothes – let’s face it, Havaianas in the office probably won’t cut it!

10) Stay Connected
When you get back, it’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of seeing friends and family and getting back to work. But whatever journey you took, don’t forget those you met along the way.

It’s often the people that make a trip so memorable, so keep in touch with them.

Whether it’s sending those photos you promised or posting souvenirs from back home it’s a great way to keep the memories of your sabbatical alive.

Did you take a successful career break to travel? Got more tips or questions for Josie? Post up your comments below, we want to hear from you!

If you liked this, you might also like 8 Tips for Traveling as a Couple

Main image: Josie and Cynthia in a remote village near Cusco, Peru

7 thoughts on “10 Secrets to Successful Sabbaticals”

  1. Great article Josie. Glad to hear of others who took the plunge to travel. I originally planned for only 6 months off, but am loving it so much that it has been extended for several more months. So more travel and more adventure..Woo Hoo!!

  2. This truely is good advice to take while traveling. I love these ideas and wiill definatley use them on my next trip. My favorite is to budget on the road. I need to work on that the most!!!!

  3. What fantastic advice! I almost didn’t read this because of the word sabbatical since I’m not a university instructor or religious authority and those are the main people I think of taking sabbaticals….(for some reason). I’m glad I read it though. Fantastic advice and wonderful to share with my friends and readers. Thanks for this. ~Vago

  4. This post was really helpful to me. I am just starting a new job on Monday. I will definitely have to put some time in before I ask the boss for some extended time, but I will remember this post for when I do.

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