Preparing for a sabbatical

Have you ever considered leaving it all behind for a few months? It might not be as far-fetched as one might think. Often taken by people in academia, sabbaticals are traditionally meant for a person to accomplish a goal or conduct research. However, research shows an increase in employers offering extended time off or sabbaticals to their employees. Companies do this as a way to mitigate burnout, sometimes even partially compensating them. Do you think it’s time you took a break to write that book, learn that language, or travel the world?

I have always loved to travel, but it has always been 2 weeks and bam, back at work. It wasn’t until I had the opportunity to leave the country that I really started to think, “Can I pull this off?”. My girlfriend at the time was going back home to Russia for a few months and I had a choice to make. Either wait for her back at home and risk losing her forever or pack up my stuff and go with her. At first, I was afraid of the impact it would have on my life and my career. I would have to pack up all my stuff and put it into storage, ask my boss if he would be cool with me leaving for a few months, leave a job I love if he wasn’t, and leave my friends and family. But then I started to think what I had to gain from such an experience. I would have a chance to do everything I ever said I was too busy to do, no excuses. Eventually, I embraced the fact that this was all happening for a reason. I was close to burning out at work and I needed time to rejuvenate creatively. So I went for it.

Asking for a leave of absence

It is not easy walking into your boss’ office and asking for 4, 5, or even 6 months of leave. It takes a serious commitment to the decision you have made. If your boss is understanding and cares about your well-being then perhaps it isn’t so unlikely that your boss will understand. Afterall, it is their responsibility to take care of their assets. If they balk at the idea of giving you time off, that should give you an idea for how much they value you and maybe it’s time to move on anyways. A good way to bring this up is to simply ask HR if the company has a sabbatical program (also a good thing to bring up at interviews).

Picking the place

In my situation, finding the right place for a sabbatical was not an issue. I already had an apartment waiting for me in Russia with my wife. We have a two bedroom apartment, one of which I converted into my office, and a view overlooking the river. Since my wife speaks the language, it was easy for me to settle in and not have to figure everything out on my own. I would recommend finding a place where you know the language, people speak English, or has a large community of expats.

Money will also be something to consider. Cost of living drastically varies country to country, but if you avoid expensive countries, your dollars can go a long way. Do the math, consider all the variables and plan your budget accordingly. These are going to be your major expenses:

  • Rent
  • Flights
  • Food
  • Medical Insurance (home and abroad)
  • Storage
  • Spending Cash

Rent

Cheap rent is a huge benefit if you choose to travel abroad.  It is still possible to find a one bedroom apartment for $200 – $500 throughout the world. Most even include utilities.

Flights

Depending on the time of year and where you want to go, flight prices can also vary greatly. I would recommend looking during low travel seasons to take advantage of low rates. I have always found March and October to be very good months for traveling.

Insurance

I would never leave home without it. Be sure to buy travel medical insurance with emergency evacuation. You can get a decent plan that covers up to  $1,000,000 for about $100 a month. Most hospitals overseas will bill the insurer directly.

Food

Dining out is always something to look forward to while traveling, but since this isn’t your typical trip, cooking at home is your best bet. I use cooking as a creative outlet for experimentation. Even after you get tired of eating the local cuisine, you can try cooking your favorites from back home with local ingredients.

Storage

Unless you plan on selling all your belongings, you will have to rent a storage unit. For an average 1 bedroom apartment, you are looking at a 12×10 unit which should cost you around $100 per month.

Spending Cash

This is totally up to you, but be sure to check with your bank to determine how much it will cost you to withdraw cash. Those fees start to add up quickly. I recommend going with Citibank as they usually have branches all over the world. If possible, pull out USD and find the best bank to exchange instead of exchanging through the ATM. You can usually find a better rate.

With just a little planning and saving taking time off is well within reach. Just understand that it won’t be a vacation. Unless you have the money for it, you won’t be dining out every night or staying at a resort, but that’s ok. The point is that you are taking the time to work on yourself in a place you can focus. The result is a little clarity and the answer to the question, “What would you do if you didn’t have to work”.