You hear the term “sabbatical” more and more these days – so let’s first define the type I’m referring. This isn’t an extended vacation; it’s a life-change. Something that’ll take you off the map (or on the map…) for 1+ years to indefinitely. This post isn’t to discourage your plans; it’s to make you think about them strategically. Not jumping on a plane because some blog told you to (which can seriously f*** up your life). Actually considering the risks, gains and impact, and maximizing its return if you decide to move forward.
Here are some questions to get you started:
Why are you leaving?
One of the most important things to consider is “why”. An extended sabbatical can be expensive and put your academic/professional careers at risk if not managed responsibility.
Is your sabbatical to go somewhere, or to get away from it (and I don’t mean in the physical sense). We often use travel as an escape from the regular stressors of life. But don’t be mislead that those stressors won’t be there when you get back. If you were fired, dumped, humiliated – I assure you, it’ll pass. Temporary setbacks shouldn’t put your future at risk, and learning to cope with them is part of life. Perhaps a 2-week vacation will give you the space you need (without jeopardizing your resume in the process).
But if this is something you’ve considered for awhile, a means to changing your life (and it will), then embrace the risks and accept responsibility wholeheartedly. It can be one of the best decisions of your life – but also the worst if you’re caught unprepared.
Do you have the funds?
I’ve heard of travelers who embark with close to nothing in their pockets – and that’s a way to do it. But for your sake, and the sake of your friends and family, I urge you to embark with something. There’s nothing worse than putting your life at risk for something as stupid as money. So consider the common expenses:
Pre-trip Expenses: Related posts below:
Accommodations: Which can run from $5/night to $50, depending on your city and level of comfort.
Food: Probably your least expense if shopping responsibly at markets and cooking yourself.
Transport: Planes, trains, and automobiles – all with different purposes and different safety levels pending your location. Walk when you can, learn the public transit, and consider time-of-day impact on safety and accessibility.
Additionally, there are loads of online resources to make your trip more affordable. Workaway, HelpX, and WWOOF for example, where you work in exchange for free accommodations. CouchSurfing can also be a blessing, but be sure to research who you’re staying with – read reviews and request their Facebook to get an idea of who they are as a person.
What’s the best timing?
I can’t stress this enough, be strategic; you’ll get more out of your trip if you do. I postponed my trip 18 months to get the job, money, and preparation needed to extend my trip by nearly 300%. There’s a time and a place to spontaneously hop on a plane – but sabbatical isn’t it.
Had you waited a year, could you finish your degree or get more job experience? Had you waited a month, could you save 30% on airfare that could now be put toward another flight? Approach this as you would any other life-change – new college, new apartment, new job – and I assure you, you’ll be happier and richer with the outcome.
Are you comfortable with discomfort?
This is a trick question: If you’re comfortable with discomfort, do it. If you not comfortable with discomfort, do it! There’s only one way to get better at something, and that’s to face it head-on.
If you read my first post, you know I welcome discomforts. Early in my travels, I missed my connection 3x in one day – leaving me panicked and on the brink of tears for a good few minutes. But then I stopped, took a deep breath, and knew the only way out was a rational one. I arrived at my destination just 40 minutes after I was supposed to.
It’s instances like these that make you more comfortable. Realizing there’s always a solution (even if different than initially planned), and knowing you’re in full control of the outcome. The more challenges you overcome, the more capable you’ll realize you are. After that, anything is possible.
What’s your return plan?
The scariest part of leaving is not knowing what you’ll do when you get back. Where will you go? How will you support yourself? I obsessed for months over resumes, business plans, and timetables. Until one morning I realized that you can’t plan for something that’ll change – and that something is you.
Your travels will introduce an incredible amount of experiences, people and opportunities into your life; things that’ll change your interests and priorities when you return. So have a plan when you get back – but don’t let it’s viability control your departure. Embrace the unknown, brave uncertainty, and leave the questions you can’t control behind.
It really comes down to being smart. A sabbatical can happen on any budget in any timeframe – so ask yourself what type of sabbatical are you looking for? Are you leaving for 6 months or 2 years? Big cities or small towns? Working or recess? Different sabbaticals answer different needs, and all sabbaticals change your life. Decide how big you want that change to be.