This is going to be a very different style blog post than I am used to, but here goes nothing.
It was around the beginning of this year when we decided by the end of the same year we would take a 6-month sabbatical to travel around Asia.
When we told family, friends, bosses, and co-workers about our plan most everyone’s response was the same. “Wow I wish I could take off 6 months, even 3 months would be nice.” I usually smiled and agreed with them, that yes it will be nice, but I stopped short of explaining that they absolutely can do the same thing.
We are not special, we are not different, we have just made the decision and started putting in the work to do so.
If you have a similar desire in your heart, my biggest advice is not to wait for the prefect moment to take time off and do something you truly want to do. You have to make the time, and it’s going to be messy and require ALOT of work. For us, we started planning for our 6 months sabbatical a year in advance, and during that time we spent most weekends planning and saving.
In this post, I’m going to share our process from inception to realization of taking a 6 month sabbatical.
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- Why we decided to take a Sabbatical now
- What is a Sabbatical Leave?
- How we planned for our Sabbatical
Why we decided to take a Sabbatical now
After moving home at the end of 2019 from living abroad in Germany for two years, we started to settle back into our life in America, but knew that we were actually forever changed.
We had witnessed, even lived a way of life for the past two years that wasn’t solely focused on building more wealth, working more hours, or being the busiest. We would take walks with the dog to the park, we traveled every weekend even just by car to the next city over, and we cooked meals together nightly.
Climbing the corporate latter at all costs and the constant grind that is the forefront of American culture just didn’t fulfill our purpose anymore. Or maybe we finally found our purpose.
We want more balance, boundaries, and we want to see the world. We want to experience the uncertainty of being in a new place, we want to problem solve when we miss our train connection, we want to discover new cultures and the ways of life of people around the world that are different from us.
We felt that we had seen a lot of Europe and were ready to start exploring more of Asia/South America. So the original plan was to take a month long trip to Asia at the end of 2020 where we would start with exploring three Asian countries.
Well we all know what happened to those end of 2020 plans. When the pandemic hit, we lost 2 years of being able to travel internationally. Instead, we took to our own backyard and discovered the beauties of the United States that we had taken for granted all these years.
However, the global pandemic further showed us that tomorrow is not a guarantee. And there was a fire burning within me to explore a part of the world I have never seen before that I need to follow.
Why did we decide to take a sabbatical leave now? If we died tomorrow and never got to explore this side of the world, we would feel incomplete. We gave the world some time to heal from the pandemic, and we are ready to take on this next adventure.
Starting in December 2022, we will be taking a 6-month sabbatical to explore Asia, a little of the Middle East, and maybe throwing in a month in Italy at the end.
What is a Sabbatical Leave?
We are actually not quitting our jobs to go explore the world, as catchy as that would have been for the blog title. We are taking a sabbatical leave from work.
A sabbatical leave is an extended time away from work that is granted to an employee for various reasons including, personal, professional or educational.
I want to caution you from thinking that a sabbatical is just an extended vacation. A sabbatical is really an opportunity to explore your passions, learn a new skill, discover your purpose, or spend time with loved ones.
Do you get paid for Sabbatical Leave?
Generally shorter sabbatical leave is a paid leave that your company grants for employee that have some tenure. In cases that the leave is unpaid, your company may allow you to take a portion of your vacation at the front end of your leave period.
Regardless of the paid or unpaid nature of the leave, you would remain employed during the leave and have your role waiting upon your return.
How long is a Sabbatical Leave?
A sabbatical leave can be any length from one month to two years and can be impacted by your company’s leave policy.
What if your company doesn’t have an established Sabbatical Leave policy?
Even if your company does not have an established leave policy, there is always an opportunity for you to negotiate for what you want for your life.
My company has a 12-month personal leave policy which is what I am utilizing in order to stay employed during our time away.
Unfortunately, my husband just started a new job in July of this year, and their leave policy is only 3-months. But that did not stop him from negotiating an extended 6-month personal leave by explaining how this time away exploring other passions that may not be work related, will actually make him a better employee upon his return.
Will it hurt your career to take a Sabbatical Leave?
I know there are people out there that would say yes, but I do not believe taking any type of leave will hurt you in the long run.
Taking a sabbatical is about you, but also those around you so that you can bring your best self to the team. Taking time for yourself to explore your passions, learn a new skill, or discover your purpose helps you to bring your best self.
Those who have a problem with your boundaries are trying to take advantage of you.
How we planned for our Sabbatical
Now we get to the logistics of how we actually planned for 6-months traveling abroad.
1 Year – Making the Decision & Timeframe
Honestly, the timeline is going to look different for everyone based on your situation. For us, we own a house, have a dog, W-2 jobs, but no kids. We are also planning this during what we think is the downturn of the global pandemic of 2020.
During our couples goal planning retreat back in January 2022 is when we decided that at the end of this year we would set off on our sabbatical trip. So the plan was in motion for about a year, and we just had to hope that the pandemic restrictions would die down, and we could pull this off in that timeframe.
8 Months – Building an Itinerary
For a planner like me, this was a big daunting step, especially for such a long trip. However, if you are more “go-with-the-flow” like my husband, you may have an easier time building a rough itinerary.
My best advice is just to start and you can always make adjustments along the way.
I am continuing to make adjustments to the itinerary today, so look at this as more of a fluid step. I will say that the hotels I reserved through Booking.com and Expedia.com (always booking free cancellation for flexibility) 5-8 months out were ALOT cheaper than if I was booking them now 2 months out.
What do I use to plan a trip itinerary?
I have this spread sheet. I work in spread sheets everyday after all for my day job, so it just makes sense.
This spread sheet is the holy grail of my travel planning. I started it to to keep myself sane and organized when we were living abroad in Germany and traveling almost every weekend.
My Excel has a tab for every trip we have taken since 2017, which ultimately end up as blog posts here! You can grab a copy of my trip planning template here.
The Itinerary Process
Needless to say, I started planning this trip as well in my trusty Excel file. Start by laying out the dates of your travels, then laying out the countries and cities you are hoping to visit in an order that makes the most sense initially.
I probably had 5 or 6 iterations of an itinerary by the end, that’s ok and all part of the planning process!
Once you start researching the cities and things to do, you can adjust the number of days you want to stay in each place, as well as the best route from city to city (which may cause you to rearrange the itinerary again).
You may also want to consider the best time of year to visit each place. For example, considering rainy seasons and local holidays that may cause extra traffic/closures.
If you are interested in more details on how I plan itineraries, you can check out My International Travel Planning Process blog post for more details.
6 Months – Breaking the News to Family & Friends
About 6 months away from our departure date, we broke the news to family and select close friends. By this point we already had purchased the big flight over to Asia, had an initial itinerary so that when asked we could talk about our plan, and had a plan for our house, jobs, and pets.
It is good to have the big details in your life thought through when you break the news to people close to you since they will definitely be curious. This way, you can put them at ease that you have a plan!
3 Months – Asking for Time off from your Job
At the three month mark is when we started having conversations with our employers about taking the personal leave. Most companies require 90-days notice to be submitted through your HR department.
All went smooth sailing, and we are both approved to move forward with our personal leave period!
This was honestly the smoothest part of the whole process!
2 Month – Vaccinations, Visas & Details
2 months out and we are starting to nail down the itinerary, flights, transportation, and hotels for the first couple months of the trip.
We don’t want to spend too much time booking and coordinating hotels/transportation while we are on the go, so we have done a lot of researching up front.
I am also starting to gather together our packing list to make sure we have enough time to think through everything we will want to take with us. The current plan is to each have a 60L duffle bag and a separate day backpack for days spent exploring.
You will also want to start thinking about any visas and vaccinations that you will need for the countries you are visiting. Only Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia (visa on arrival) and Japan are visa free for US citizens. However, most visas you can apply through the e-Visa process but only 1-2 months before your planned entry day. Therefore, this will need to be done on the road for us. I would suggest that you review the e-Visa application ahead of time to ensure you have all the necessary documentation with you already to complete the applications.
1 Month – TBD
One month left, time to freak out. Just kidding, but I’m a little bit serious.
As I write this today, we still have not crossed over into the 1 month until our trip, so I will update this section down the road.
Wrapping up this blog post, I really have no idea what to expect next from our sabbatical. It will be the biggest adventure of our lives, but I’m also extremely nervous at the same time.
I heard a quote the other day, that made me think of this exact situation. Someone asks another person how they get over their fear of trying something new, and they respond “I don’t, I just do things scared”.
If I waited until I wasn’t afraid, I would have never moved to Germany, bought a house, or married by husband, all of which have been the best decisions of my life.
I can’t wait to share this next chapter with you all. Feel free to follow along with our sabbatical on Instagram and here on the blog!