From getting off the beaten track in remote lands to volunteering your skills aboard. Here’s everything you need to know about taking a sabbatical.

Take it from me. Holidays are great, but a week or two away soaking up some sun doesn’t afford the time and space you need to recharge. You might spend a week around the pool in Greece or a few days on safari in Kenya, but you’ll still find yourself sneaking a look at work emails and wondering what awaits you on your return.

What would happen if you stayed away from work for longer? If you just packed it in and said right – ‘I need some time away from the corporate grind’. I’ve done that, not just once, but for most of my adult life. As a travel writer, it’s almost like I’m on an extended sabbatical, and it couldn’t be better.

If you’re feeling a lack of bandwidth in your life, you might want to consider the power of a sabbatical. Here’s everything you need to know.

What is a sabbatical?

A sabbatical is an extended time off work. The exact length of time varies, of course, but it can typically last for anything between 2 and 12 months. Like me, you’re sabbatical may even extend longer than this, if you decide that you love travelling, and can’t bear returning to the office.

You can take sabbatical leave for a variety of reasons – sometimes it’s for something specific like a volunteering project or to develop a creative practice, to write a book or build a blog, or it could be that you simply need the space and time away from work to focus on yourself.

Maybe you’ll spend a sabbatical cleaning up plastic on beaches. Photo by Brian Yurasits on Unsplash.

What are the benefits of a sabbatical?

What’s interesting to note from this article about taking sabbatical leave from your job is the wide range of motivations different people have, from wanting to spend more time travelling with a partner or children to improving both mental and physical health.

There may also be longer-term benefits that you haven’t considered, too. 44% of people surveyed for the same article thought that a sabbatical could improve their future employability and 24% believed it would improve their long-term earning potential.

There are multiple benefits to a sabbatical, depending on how you choose to spend it. 

  • Switch off from work: probably what you first think of when you think about a sabbatical and one of the main drivers for a lot of people. Taking a step back and getting some perspective can help you return to work feeling refreshed and you may find yourself rediscovering a passion for something that had started to feel like a chore.
  • Broaden your horizons: a sabbatical is a great opportunity not just to visit new places but to explore slowly. This could mean taking your time over a picturesque long-distance train journey rather than getting a plane to save time, or visiting more out-of-the-way destinations that would normally take too long to get to.
  • Make a positive change in the world: there are plenty of altruistic benefits to a sabbatical if you choose to spend all or some of it getting involved in international volunteering projects in local communities. Opt for something where you already have the expertise to share or try something completely different and learn new skills at the same time.
Photo by ray sangga kusuma on Unsplash.

How do you start planning a sabbatical?

Talk to your employer in the first instance to see how a sabbatical could work for you. Many companies have sabbatical policies, but even if your company does not, they may still be open to the idea. Make sure to put forward the benefits to you as an employee as well as potential benefits for your employer, and be prepared to negotiate on timings and pay. 

It’s unlikely that you’ll be offered a paid sabbatical unless there is a strong tie to your work and tangible benefits for your employer, but there may be scope to ‘bank’ additional hours in advance so that you can continue to be paid an amount during your time away.

Planning versus spontaneity

The temptation with a sabbatical could be to treat it like a long holiday, to simply switch off and relax, and while this may suit some people, you may find that when you return to work you slip back into old habits and quickly feel like you were never away.

Many people find it useful to take a more structured approach to their leave, to have a set of goals they’d like to work towards or a list of countries they’d like to visit. Putting more thought into what you really want to get out of your sabbatical can make it much more valuable and memorable. 

Photo by JK on Unsplash.

How to afford a sabbatical

Unless you’re a lottery winner or have significant savings, it’s unlikely that your sabbatical will be a year-long luxury hotel stay – that kind of expense just isn’t doable for most people. That doesn’t mean that you can’t afford a sabbatical with a little bit of planning.

Let your home while you’re away

Could you leverage your home to bring you income while you’re away, perhaps through Airbnb or a long-term let? This could help you to cover the bills while you’re travelling and also mean your property isn’t left empty. Alternatively, you could use your home to secure your accommodation while you travel through a home swap provider. 

Explore destinations off the beaten track

While the main tourist towns and cities are normally pricey, taking a sabbatical means you’ll have more time and freedom to explore some of the more unusual and less well-known destinations. These are usually cheaper, especially outside of areas like Northern Europe and the US. 

Become a volunteer

If you don’t mind putting in some volunteer hours there are loads of great volunteering opportunities around the world where you can make a difference in return for free bed and board. This can be a great way to travel on a budget, make a positive change, and experience a new country in a completely different and more engaging way than simply visiting for a holiday.

I spent much of my time off fruit picking in Australia. Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash.

There we have it, the power of a sabbatical! Where will your extended work break take you?