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How to take a sabbatical in 10 easy steps

If you're feeling directionless or beaten down by the daily grind, a long break to refresh might be just what you need. Here's how to take a sabbatical and get re-inspired.


How to take a sabbatical

Sabbatical isn't a word that we use often — and when we do, it can have a variety of meanings

You may have heard it in reference to a paid year off that some academic institutions and workplaces may offer the scientists, physicians, or academics they employ. This is usually in order for them to focus on a goal that will contribute to their education or career success when they come back to work. 

In the United Kingdom, it's becoming a growing trend for workplaces to offer an unpaid sabbatical leave to give their employees optional breaks in the course of their careers. Sounds like a nice opportunity either way, right?

Where did this idea come from in the first place? Its root is in the ancient Hebrew Torah: it originated in the concept of taking a “Sabbath,” or regular period of rest, from work. Ancient Israelites were commanded to take a break from working their fields every seventh year to let the land heal, and to enjoy the fruits of their hard work form the previous years. 

Not a bad idea, is it?! 

Maybe you want to take take a break and gain some new direction in lifeOr maybe you're a student, trying to figure out your academic goals, or pursue a particular area of study for your career— if this idea of a sabbatical sounds appealing, it may be just the thing you're looking for!

It's definitely something that I needed: this time last year, I found myself longing for change. I was working a job I didn't enjoy, and realizing that I needed to figure out what I really wanted to do with my life

I had some dreams I needed to pursue, and I would never know if I had what it took to travel solo, or if I was cut out to do the things I wanted in life — that's why I quit my job and left for Scotland to volunteer in the United Kingdom in a couple of hostels for two months, and then traveled to Israel, the Netherlands, and Norway afterward!

It was one of the best decisions I ever made— I had a lot of dreams come true as I took some focused time to chase them!

Traveler planning a sabbatical world trip

I believe that everyone needs to have a day of rest in their regular weekly schedule — but sometimes, we need more than that to accomplish a goal. It may be academic, career-related, or a more personal goal relating to growth in some area… but the point is that we need an extended period of time away from our regular pursuits in order to make it happen.

The great thing is this: technically, anyone can take a sabbatical! 

Don't compare your hopes for a sabbatical to what others do — everyone's idea of a good sabbatical looks different, and the idea is to do something that will benefit you!

In this article, I'm going to focus on sabbaticals that involve travel — this is, after all, a place devoted to helping people explore the world! To show you what I'm talking about, I'd like to share a little of my own experience from last year, when I used Worldpackers to take the sabbatical of my dreams!

Picture a girl who worked a job she didn't like, and who needed to step out of her comfort zone in order to build the life she wanted — or to even figure out what kind of life she wanted! 

That girl was me: I thought I might want to open my own hostel one day, and knew that in order to decide if I wanted to work in the hospitality industry, I needed to jump in and find out what it was like! I needed to experience what it was like to work in one, and get more work experience as a receptionist so I could get a better job. 

I also longed to become a freelance travel writer — someone that could offer other people entertaining, helpful tips and stories so they could travel, too! I knew this wasn't going to happen by magic: I needed to travel more, start a travel blog, and lay the groundwork for this dream of mine to come true.

Hostels around the world

I was so excited when I saw an advertisement for Worldpackers work exchange opportunities online — it seemed like the perfect opportunity to make my sabbatical happen! Being able to exchange a few hours of work each day for a free place to stay, I'd be able to travel on a budget with ease and make my dream happen! 

And it did— not only did I get to travel, experience life as a hostel volunteer, and have time to write, but I while I was traveling I was offered the opportunity to write regularly for Worldpackers — my dream of writing travel articles came true!

It just goes to show that sometimes, you just need to take the plunge and do something different in order to turn your life around for the better!

If you aren't convinced yet that a sabbatical is the thing for you, let’s go over some pros and cons to help you decide. 

Now, I won't lie: taking a sabbatical involves risk, especially if the option to take an extended break from your job isn't offered by your workplace. If you have to quit your job in order to take a sabbatical, there is always the possibility that you might have trouble finding work when you return. In addition, you may find out that your goals are harder to accomplish than you thought — unfortunately, fears of failure aren't completely unfounded.

On the other hand, you may be able to accomplish your original goals and find that you gained even more from the experience than you thought you would, like I did: new friends, new skills, and new opportunities. 

It took me almost three months to find a job when I got home from my trip, but now I have a much better job than I did before I left, and am enjoying the other benefits of my sabbatical experience as well! 

The freedom, rest, time to reflect on what I wanted from my life — these things were well worth the risk I took in spending almost four months overseas without an income.

It wasn't always easy — I was often lonely for my home, my friends, and my own culture, or just missed speaking to people who understood me! Sometimes I worried that I was being selfish by ditching the life I was building back home, or that I was being irresponsible and would gain nothing from the experience I had chosen.

However, I came to realize that you should never feel guilty about traveling. I was able to learn that I could overcome challenges on my own, learned how to enjoy my own company, and found that through all of the highs and lows, I wouldn't trade the challenges for anything. It felt so good to overcome them and find the rewards in my efforts!

So, now that you know what it might take, are you in? If you are, keep reading for my top ten tips on how to make taking a sabbatical a reality in your life!

Solo female traveler on sabbatical

How to take a sabbatical

It all starts with a good plan.

When you're caught up in a full life, juggling work, time with friends and family (not to mention an education), the first thing you will need to do is plan. 

And I don't mean plan your trip — you'll need to plan how you are going to leave! 

Below are my best tips for making your sabbatical a reality before you even buy a plane ticket!

It may seem a little overwhelming — where should you even start? Turns out, it's simple:

1. Start saving money! 

Before you even know where you are going or what you'll be doing, you can start saving right away! The excitement of a beautiful break waiting for you will help you have the motivation to sacrifice now so you can spend later

Start setting aside a portion of your income — as much as you can every time you get paid. This is very important, especially if you won't be earning money while you travel!

2. Decide what kind of sabbatical you need

What are your goals? Will you be gaining a new skill, or adding to your education? Do you need time to unwind and refocus yourself? Maybe you have several things you want to get out of a sabbatical. 

Write down your reasons for taking a sabbatical, and keep these goals in mind as you planThis will help you stay focused on your purpose, and help you prioritize and decide what the most important things are.

Take my example: I wanted to have a good balance of new work experience, but also time to explore new places and write about the things I was doing and seeing. Knowing this made it easy for me to select what kind of work exchange I wanted to participate in through Worldpackers — a hostel position where I worked a few hours a day, and had at least one full day off each week.

3. Decide how long you will be on sabbatical

While some people tend to throw caution to the wind and travel without knowing where they will end up and when they will go home, it's wise to have at least an idea of how long you'll be gone for: this affects the amount of money you'll need to save, and if you have an active social life at home, it may affect the people you know. 

You may be limited by responsibilities or commitments (to family, to pets, to your job, etc.), so you'll need to be realistic about how long you are able to be away

Think about how long you can afford to be away, and take that into consideration as you start to plan!

4. Do your research! 

Once you know what you are looking for in a sabbatical, it's time to learn where you can get the kind of experience you are dreaming of! 

Worldpackers is an excellent resource — you can find opportunities with hosts all over the world, which will not only cut down on your travel expenses, but will provide you with excellent opportunities to learn new languages, experience a new way of life in a different culture, gain work experience in many different fields, and make connections all around the world! 

There is an opportunity for everyone, and each work exchange, social impact effort, or eco program has something unique to offer you — and you'll have something to offer them as well!

Personally, I wanted a relaxing time, with the ability to meet new people without being in a bustling city. Worldpackers provided me with a position in a small seaside town, where I could enjoy the peacefulness of a sunny beach and still meet other travelers if I wanted to!

5. Plan your budget

Now that you have an idea of where you'll be going and what you'll be doing, it's time to actually plan your budget! 

You may have heard the old travel advice of “decide how much money you'll need— then double it!” It's wise advice for a reason!

Don't get stuck partway through your sabbatical without enough to live on or use for the experiences you want to have! Learn how much you will be paying for food, travel costs, and other expenses in the country you are going to visit, and then plan extra funds for emergencies!

6. Plan when to take your sabbatical

While part of this depends on when you are able to leave, it's also important to consider when the opportunities that you seek are available

It might be hard to find any time when you can take a break from your life and leave, but my best advice to you is this: don't let fear of missing out on stuff at home make you miss out on a much-needed sabbatical!

7. Don't burn bridges at work

Finally, an important word of advice: don't burn bridges at work— but don't let your workplace own you

Give your employer notice of your plans in advance so you don't leave them in the lurch. Be friendly, and keep working hard even after you've given them your notice. If you won't be wanting the job back when you get home, it's still important to be polite and thank them for the opportunity to work for them and learn from them — they might be an important reference for you when you are looking for a new job. 

If you want to work for them again, this will be a little more difficult, especially if they don't want you to leave for such a long time. It's important to be polite but firm once you've made your decision. If I'd let my employer guilt me into staying, I'd never have had all the opportunities that my sabbatical brought me — and I wouldn't have this great new job!

With these tips for starting on your way to a sabbatical out of the way, let's talk about how to make your sabbatical a successful one... once you've started it!

Traveler on sabbatical enjoying beautiful coastal views

How to have a great sabbatical experience

1. This time away can only be what you choose to make of it

It's all about your attitude... no matter what your reasons are for taking a sabbatical trip, if you are also focused on personal growth through your experiences, ultimately you will not be let down!

2. Remember that it's more than a vacation

... although it may feel similar to one! 

A sabbatical is about rest, growth, and goals, and these will look different for each person. Accept that everyone's idea of a sabbatical is different — what relaxes or recharges them may not do the same for you. 

Be okay with doing your own thing, even if it doesn't look like you think it should — if it is healthy for you, refreshes you, and prepares you to go back to your every-day life with new skills or new plans, then you're doing it right.

3. As important as it is to plan, be careful — don't over-plan! 

If you pack too much activity into your sabbatical, or try to accomplish an unrealistic number of goals, you will be exhausted and unhappy with how your trip went... and you don't want to have to take a sabbatical from your sabbatical!

Give yourself the space to feel and fully receive all of the amazing possibilities that your sabbatical experience has to offer you.

With these tips in mind, you're well on your way to creating a perfect sabbatical — I hope you enjoy yours as much as I enjoyed mine!

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