how-to-plan-for-a-sabbatical-1

Sabbaticals are often associated with college professors, who take a year off to do research off in a far corner of the world. It’s not usually something that people think that they can do with their jobs or families. But that doesn’t have to be the case.

There are lots of travel blogs out there that will tell you how to quite your job, sell your stuff, and travel the world…including this one. In fact the first full year of this blog was dedicated to that concept. You can read more about what it’s like to live in a van in New Zealand and how to travel long-term on a budget if that still sounds like that would be your jam.

While selling everything and living in a van certainly is an option, it’s not the only option. There are ways to plan for a sabbatical so that you have a job when you come back, and all your stuff will still be there. This way you can travel longer without having to start all over when you return.

Pat and I are currently in the early stages of planning a sabbatical in 2019 to celebrate our 10 year anniversary. We travel somewhere different every year for our anniversary, so it seemed only right that we cap off 10 years and Mr. and Mrs. with a special trip.

You might be thinking “2019?! That’s forever away!” Well, to plan for a sabbatical, where you’re still going to have your job when you come back, sometimes a long term plan is the best plan. So, without further ado, let’s get into some of the things you’re going to want to start thinking about now, for that sabbatical later.

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1. How long will my sabbatical be?

This is an important question for a few reasons. 1. If you are an American, most places will allow you to stay without a special visa for up to 3 months. Any longer, and you’ll likely need to apply for some type of visa. This adds complications and sometimes cost. If you want to have a longer sabbatical than 3 months, it might be a good idea to split your time between two nearby countries. Then you save on some travel expense, get to experience more places, and can travel longer.

There’s lots of ways to skin this proverbial cat, but it’s something you need to consider early on.

You also need to think about your length of travel because, if you can bank vacation days, you need to start a plan now, and figure out how much you can accrue, and by when. Depending on how much you can save every year, while still taking a little time off here and there, will determine when you can take off. If you can swing to get paid vacation time during your sabbatical, it will make affording your trip much easier.

If you are in good standing with your employer, it might not be a bad idea to float the idea past them. Mention that in 4 or 5 years, you’d like to take a longer trip, say 3 months and wanted to get their feedback. There might be a time of year when it’s easier for you to be gone. You might need to skype in for staff meetings, or do some telecommuting one day a week to make it work. Either way, if you’re a good employee, it will be much cheaper and less of a headache for most employers to work to find a way to give you the time off rather than replace you, particularly if you’re making a 5 year commitment to be with the company. The key is to know your audience when having this conversation.

2. Where will you go?

This will also be key as you start to figure out your budget. Large cities are typically going to be more expensive. Sometimes even picking a small town an hour or so away can save you substantial amounts of money. Also take into account public transportation. If you’re only going to be gone a few months, you probably don’t want to try to buy and sell a car. You definitely can, and some places that will make more sense in. But for a 3 month sabbatical, living somewhere where you can rely on public transportation will be super helpful. Most places in Europe would be ideal for this type of scenario.

Language is also going to be something to consider. If you want to go somewhere where you don’t speak the language fluently, start studying now. Really, it’s so difficult to become fluent in a language when you’re not immersed in it. If you study it now, once you’re immersed in it, it should start to come to you.

Pat and I are thinking of either staying in Italy or Spain for our sabbatical. I speak the tiniest amount of both languages, so it’s going to be a bit of a struggle. But, to be honest, I’m really looking forward to the experience. I want to come back with a really strong command of a new language and this is the best way I can think to do that.

Duolingo is a great program for learning many languages. I used it before we went to Italy and although I wasn’t even close to being fluent, it did help immensely. I’ve also started listening the the podcast ‘Coffee Break Espanol’ to buff up on my high school Spanish. It’s a lot of fun and hosted by Mark and Kara who are Scottish, so it’s like I get a little dose of Scotland and Spain in one little podcast. I listen daily on my drive to work, and I’m hoping by 2019 I’ll be ready to take on the Spanish countryside!

When trying to decide where to go, using lists for best places to retire as inspiration are often a good place to start. Places end up on these list for usually a few key reasons: low cost of living, fairly safe, and decent health care. All are important factors when picking a place to live even for a short time. To get you started, here are 21 of the best places to retire in the world.

3. What will my living arrangements be?

Unless you’re Oprah, you likely can’t afford to stay in a hotel for your whole trip, at least most places. That means you’re going to need to sort out some other arrangements. Renting an apartment or house sitting are likely to be your best options. House sitting is really nice because it’s free and because you’ll have everything you need. You’ll likely need to do a little work: feed the dog, water the plants, mow the lawn, things like that. There are lots of companies that help you find a house sitting gig. Some of them are better than others and some specialize in certain parts of the world.

Renting an apartment can also be a great option. You’ll want to find something that’s furnished, and it will be an added bonus if all your utilities are included so you don’t have to fuss with getting that all set up for only a few months. Finding a vacation rental can also be a great option. Look for off season rentals, so that the owner will be pleased to have some income coming in, even at a discounted rate, and it will include everything you need. Often times you can negotiate a lower rent since you’ll be there long term.

This is also assuming that you’re not doing a three month backpacking trip of the Appalachians…which would also be cool. There are many different scenarios for a sabbatical, it’s all about figuring out which one is perfect for you.

Like I said, lots of ways to skin that cat.

4. How will you access your money?

You’ll need cash on a fairly regular basis. When you’re on a two week vacation, this isn’t too hard to sort out, but over 3-6 months, you’ll need know that you won’t have any issues accessing your cash back home.

I’m a huge proponent of a Charles Schwab Checking Account. You earn interest on your balance, they don’t charge you international fees for either transactions or ATM withdrawals, and they reimburse you for ATM fees issued by other banks around the world. Their customer service is awesome and I couldn’t recommend them more highly. I’ve been using my Chalres Schwab account around the world for over 6 years and have loved it.

Whether you decide to go with them or not, you need to make sure you can get cash and spend it wherever you are going to be. Some places don’t have ATMs on every corner, some places it’s not easy to use a credit card. You’ll likely get a better deal on the currency conversion through an ATM or through a transaction than you will through a currency conversion business. They’ll charge you fees and that will add up over the course of your trip.

5. Planning for a worst case scenario

Likely things will be fine. BUT! You never know when a tropical storm, a government coup, or a car accident, or a bout with malaria will derail everything. If you are and American and are going to be abroad for your sabbatical it’s important to register with the Department of State. If there’s a natural disaster or some other crises, registering on this list will the them know that you are in the country and likely need assistance getting out. This is really a worst case scenario, but it’s so quick and easy to enroll that it’s crazy not to.

Travel insurance is also really smart. If you break your leg surfing, get malaria, have all your luggage stolen, and many other scenarios you’ll be covered. It’s a good idea too because sometime your standard health plan at home won’t cover you when you’re abroad. I usually hate buying insurance because in my head I think bad things are unlikely to happen to me, but bad things do happen to good people. When you’re going to be gone that long it’s definitely nice to have some peace of mind. To find a plan and a company that’s right for what you’ll be doing and the part of the world you’ll be in, here’s a list of the best travel insurance companies for 2016.

6. Who’s going to keep things running smoothly at home?

If you have a pet or even a houseplant that you’d like to be cared for while you’re away you need to make sure you’ve got a responsible person around to take care of that. Even if you have no living things depending on you, you still need someone. For what you ask? Bringing in your mail, checking on your house from time to time to make sure it hasn’t burned down, a pipe hasn’t burst, a tree hasn’t smashed it to smithereens….or am I the only one who worries about these sorts of things?

7. Got kids?

“I can’t take off to Argentina for 3 months, I have kids.” While I can’t confess to be an expert in travelling with kids, I do know that it is possible. Take them with you. My brother and I had to travel with my dad some for his job, and it totally worked out. If your kids are in school, check with their teacher to see how they can turn in work while they are away.

Travelling is one of the best education tools out there. Kids are sponges. Some kids might initially balk at leaving their friends for 3 months to go on this trip, but look at this way. They are likely going to come back with stories they can tell for the rest of their lives, probably speaking another language (because, let’s face it, they’re going to learn it faster than you), and they are now going to be citizens of the world with a better appreciation for the the things around them. I would have killed for an opportunity like that. I just started following Travel Mad Mum, about a couple travelling around the world with their baby, it’s great!

8. There’s going to be more!

We are just scratching the surface of the sabbatical planning ocean. As we learn some tips and tricks, we’ll be sure to pass them along to you. Stay tuned here for more details.

Have you taken a sabbatical? What tips and tricks would you share? Let us know in the comments, and don’t forget to travel happy!

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