If you’re reading this, you most likely work full-time, haven’t taken nearly as many vacations as you want to, and are craving a new adventure. Maybe you can’t take a long vacation unless you quit your job or get a remote job, which frankly isn’t possible for many careers. If this sounds like you, a travel sabbatical could be exactly what the doctor ordered.
But what is a travel sabbatical, exactly?
A travel sabbatical is a unique opportunity to step away from the daily grind and explore new places, cultures, and indulge in new experiences. It’s an opportunity to take a break from work for a period of time and enrich yourself in new and inspiring ways (that can ultimately benefit your career in the long run!).
If this is a new concept to you, you’re not alone. Many people don’t know what a travel sabbatical is, how you can make it happen, or the many benefits it can offer you, your company, and your career.
This guide will break down each of these burning questions so you can confidently familiarize yourself with the concept of a travel sabbatical and assess whether it’s the right move for you!
Let’s dive right in.
What Is a Travel Sabbatical?
A travel sabbatical is an extended period away from work, usually ranging from one month to a year, during which people take time to travel, learn, and rejuvenate. Travel sabbaticals can be paid or unpaid, and are usually offered after someone has worked at a company for a certain amount of time, usually around 5 years (though this can vary).
The concept of sabbaticals originated as a way for professors to take a break from teaching in order to pursue deeper studies or travels, but they have spread to many other industries over the last several years.
Today, just 5% of companies offer paid sabbatical leave in 2018, according to Workable. However, this number is slowly growing – and it’s possible you can qualify for one or even propose your own sabbatical within your company (especially if you have a few years of tenure under your belt!).
How Can I Take a Travel Sabbatical? Different Kinds of Sabbaticals to Consider
Paid (Work-Sponsored) Sabbaticals
Paid sabbaticals are work-sponsored breaks that offer you a period of extended time off in exchange for your commitment to the company. Companies will include sabbaticals as a policy in your benefits package and provide guidelines around use – typically this will be “X weeks or months off in exchange for Y years of work within the organization.”
In the US, where paid sabbaticals aren’t super common but do exist, you might expect to see a paid sabbatical package of anywhere from 2 weeks to 3 months for 4 – 10 years of work. I have worked for a company that offers 2-3 months after 10 years, for example.
Before you start packing your bags, it’s important to have an open and honest conversation with your employer and start planting the seed to eventually gain permission to take the sabbatical. Make sure you fit the requirements for your sabbatical benefit and that you’ve worked at the company long enough to cash in.
From there, set up a meeting with your boss and/or HR to talk through the steps towards taking a sabbatical. In that meeting, explain why and when you want to do one, highlighting the goals of your sabbatical and what you hope to accomplish while you are away.
If your company does not have an established policy, don’t let that stop you from inquiring about taking one. For some companies, especially in the tech space, they often simply haven’t been around long enough to have considered a sabbatical policy for tenured employees. It can never hurt to ask “what if”!
Emphasize the benefits that you’ll be able to bring to your employer and team, and be prepared to share the length of time you are looking to take off from work. If applicable, be sure to also come to the table with a coverage plan so that you can demonstrate forward thinking and ensure nothing will fall through the cracks during your absence.
Work-Sponsored Sabbatical Alternatives
While some companies have established policies for sabbaticals, others may not. If even after asking, your company is unable to offer a formal paid sabbatical, consider proposing alternatives.
You could take a shorter leave, request a period of time with an adjusted schedule (such as a month of working half days or taking Fridays off), take unpaid time off, or ask about the possibility of working remotely while traveling. Perhaps all your schedule needs is a tweak so you can still reap the benefits a sabbatical could’ve otherwise provided, such as traveling, learning a new skill, or getting a degree.
Flexibility and compromise can go a long way in reaching an agreement that works for both you and your employer, so don’t be afraid of coming to the table with ideas! And who knows – you could be the reason your company considers creating a formal sabbatical policy for others to follow in your footsteps.
Maybe your company doesn’t offer a sabbatical program, or they are unable to work with you on an alternative solution. Maybe you just want to take a longer break to travel and recharge your batteries in between jobs. This is where a DIY sabbatical might be the right choice for you to consider.
A DIY sabbatical – also known as an Adult Gap Year, a Career Break, or a Career Timeout – is essentially quitting your job (if you are employed) and dedicating a specific amount of time to yourself with the goal of recovering from burnout, reflecting on your career path, traveling the world, or embarking on a passion project like writing a book or starting a company.
It can require a leap of faith, as taking an extended period of time off often means quitting your job without having a new gig already lined up, but for those that are brave enough to do it, the rewards and opportunities for growth can be endless.
Things to Consider When Taking a Travel Sabbatical
So, how can you turn your dream of taking a travel sabbatical into reality?
It takes a lot of preparation and planning but is worth it once you’ve hit the road. Remember – everyone’s situation is different and can vary depending on your finances, current job, long-term career goals, and lifestyle.
Here are some steps to consider as you prepare to pursue a travel sabbatical.
Financial Preparation for Taking a Sabbatical
First, you need to make sure you’ll have the financial means to support your sabbatical. If your sabbatical is paid, then you’re probably taken care of. If not, you’ll either need to build a savings safety net or find a way to support yourself during your time off.
Start saving money for travel sooner rather than later and make sure your finances give you the runway for your entire sabbatical plus a buffer of time (2-3 months, ideally) post-sabbatical. You should calculate your monthly expenses and set a budget for your time off, and make sure you have enough cash stowed away for utilities and other recurring bills that will be maintained during this time period. You’ll also probably want to build yourself a safety net for emergencies if you don’t have one already.
Finally, you’ll also want to save some ‘fun money’ so you can treat yourself to that random snorkeling tour or Spanish class along the journey of your sabbatical, too.
To alleviate or offset these costs, you can also consider freelancing or doing part-time/remote work during your sabbatical. There are several programs, like Workaway, that can help you find international jobs.
Deciding When the Right Time is to Take a Sabbatical
The right time to take a sabbatical is different for everyone. Of course, you might first and foremost be at the mercy of your company’s sabbatical policy, so you’ll want to know exactly what those terms are before you start planning.
You’ll also want to consider where you’re at in your career and what the implications will be for taking time off, especially if it’s going to be a significant amount of time. Will you be missing any career-changing opportunities while you’re on sabbatical?
It’s also critical to consider the impacts of a sabbatical on your life. Many find taking longer sabbaticals – like travel sabbaticals – to be the easiest to pull off earlier in your career before you have a home, kids, dependents, or even direct reports at work.
Of course, the world isn’t going to end if you take an extended break. So don’t feel like your sabbatical ship has sailed just because you have kids at home or a team that reports to you. Plus, sabbaticals don’t have to be a full-year expedition. Just 3 or 4 weeks of focused relaxation can do wonders for recharging your batteries and giving you renewed perspective on your goals.
What to Do with Your Home or Apartment While Taking a Travel Sabbatical
If you’re planning to travel on sabbatical for an extended period, what will you do with your house or apartment?
Apartments are easier, as you can aim to get out of your lease early or time your sabbatical around the end of your contract if you’re looking for a clean break. Or, if you plan to keep your apartment for the duration of your sabbatical, you can sublet, list it on a short-term booking platform like Airbnb, or even monetize it in other ways like listing it on Peerspace.
If you’re a homeowner, taking extended time away from home can feel especially daunting, but there are even more solutions for you! House-sitting sites like Trusted House Sitter provide you the option to offer up your home as a free or low-cost accommodation to other travelers during your sabbatical. This can be ideal if you have pets or plants that need tending to, or if you just like the peace of mind that comes with knowing your house isn’t empty while you’re gone. You can also find cheap homes to stay in yourself during your travel sabbatical!
You could also consider home swapping with Kindred, which pairs people who want to travel to your location with someone in your destination, and you stay in each other’s homes for a set period of time.
Like the apartment recommendations above, subletting, short-term rental, and medium- to long-term rental are also viable options for homeowners!
Reasons to Take a Travel Sabbatical
Taking time off can absolutely benefit you and your career.
It’s not just about relaxing by the pool. Countless people use their time off to further their education, gain new perspectives, and invest in bettering themselves. There’s no right or wrong answer to taking a sabbatical, but knowing your purpose and the benefits you are hoping to gain from your sabbatical will help you stay focused as you plan your time off.
Here are just some of the most common reasons to take a sabbatical:
- Wanting to travel (and, travel can be combined with so many other sabbatical scenarios, making this an easy goal to accomplish!)
- Wanting to recharge or recover from burnout
- Wanting to reflect on one’s career trajectory
- Wanting to get a degree or study a new skill / trade
- Wanting to pursue a journey of self-discovery
- Wanting to volunteer
- Wanting to spend more time with family
It’s not uncommon for people pursuing sabbatical to combine a couple of these goals into one extended adventure. Pursuing higher education in London, going on a wellness retreat in Bali, and pursuing self-discovery on a backpacking trip in the Andes can all be examples of a travel sabbatical that accomplishes multiple goals at once.
In turn, companies that offer sabbaticals can gain a lot by investing in and supporting individuals as they recharge and seek fresh inspiration. In the long run, sabbaticals can help prevent burnout and increase employee longevity. It’s a win-win.
RELATED: How to Add Travel to Your Resume
Preparing your Job for Your Sabbatical
It’s crucial to make sure your job responsibilities are covered during your absence if you’re taking a paid or work-sponsored sabbatical. This might involve training a temporary replacement, ensuring your colleagues are aware of your absence and responsibilities, putting together a plan of action, and establishing open lines of communication with your boss.
Ask what the next steps will be when speaking to your boss and your HR team once your sabbatical is approved, and allow enough time to ensure you’ve prepped accordingly.
Being proactive in preparing for your departure will not only give you peace of mind but also further demonstrate your commitment to your company and your coworkers, who will in turn be even more supportive of your sabbatical (and excited to hear all about it when you return!).
Different Ways to Take a Travel Sabbatical
Taking a travel sabbatical can be an incredible journey, and the options for doing so are endless. If you aren’t sure where to start, or are daunted by planning the perfect trip, consider these tried and true ways to take a travel sabbatical.
Group travel is a very popular option for those on a sabbatical. There are several group travel companies that plan short and longer-term trips that you can sign up for.
Some examples of career-friendly group travel include:
- Noma Collective (Read my full review of Noma Collective here)
- Remote Year
- Intrepid Travel (Read about my experience in Peru with Intrepid here)
- CazeNove + Loyd
If you want to explore a new place on your own, solo traveling is a great way to do so! You’ll have the most flexibility to plan your trip and get to do exactly what you want, when you want. You can stay in community-oriented accommodations, like Selina or Outsite, to meet other people on their own personal journeys abroad.
If you’re working remotely, you can find your own coworking spaces (most cities have them!) and get a monthly or daily membership.
Or, if you’re purely seeking exploration and learning, you can plan your own trip or indulge in a pre-planned itinerary. Many companies will plan your dream sabbatical trip for you, especially if you are looking for something a bit more premium and have the money to spend to make your experience luxe. Companies like Cazenove+Loyd and Aman, for example, take travel sabbaticals to the next level.
Volunteering is an excellent way to give back to communities during your time off. There are a ton of volunteering abroad programs you can sign up for or if you’re based in one location, you can look into local opportunities yourself.
Here are some programs to consider:
Retreats offer clearly defined goals and a structure to your sabbatical, and these days, there are amazing retreats for everything from yoga and community-building to cooking and coding. Countless sabbatical-friendly retreats are also set against inspiring and refreshing backdrops, like the red rock vortexes of Sedona or the beaches of Thailand. And, you can find anything from a 3-day retreat to a 1-month retreat, making this option amenable to virtually any sabbatical timeframe.
Here are some retreat-finding resources and retreat examples to consider:
- Retreat Finder
- Tea Huntress Rejuvenating Retreats (Multiple Destinations)
- Chopra Infinite Possibilities Retreats (Multiple Destinations)
- Moniack Mhor Writing and Songwriting Retreats (Scotland)
- Kopan Monastery Retreat (Nepal)
- Wonderland Yoga Retreat (Thailand)
- Into the Wild We Go Women’s Photography Retreats (Multiple Destinations)
Continuing Education / Personal Projects
Being on a sabbatical is a great time to learn a new skill or hobby or take a class in something related or completely unrelated to your career.
People use travel sabbaticals to work on personal projects they’ve been putting off like learning how to scuba dive, taking a photography course, pursuing their Masters or higher education degree, or learning new skills like how to code. Some people even travel to a country to pick up a new language.
The possibilities are endless and you can choose to partake in anything you’re interested in. Just make sure you’re aware of any sabbatical parameters set by your employer if you’re opting for a work-sponsored sabbatical.
Planning a travel sabbatical can seem overwhelming, but it is totally worth it. From the numerous benefits it has for both you and the employer, to the possibilities available to you to enrich your life in new ways, a travel sabbatical can be endlessly positive.
If you’ve been on the fence about taking the leap, you’ll never know if you don’t try.
So, what are you waiting for?
If you’ve been thinking about taking a travel sabbatical, let me know below! What are you planning, where will you go, and what will you do?
Read This Next:
- How (and Why) to Add Travel to Your Resume
- Remote Work Travel Programs Reviewed: My Noma Collective review
- How to Ask Your Boss for More Vacation Time (The Right Way)