For most people who decide to take a grown-up gap year one of the biggest decisions you’ll have to make is whether to quit your job completely or to take a sabbatical from work.
I think that choosing what to do about your job while you’re away very much depends on the reasons you’ve decided to make your trip in the first place. If it’s because you a) hate your job b) hate your boss or c) hate the people you work with, then it’s a bit of a no-brainer. But it’s not always as black and white as that.
Making the decision
For me, quitting my job was the only option if I wanted to travel and a number of things led me to make that decision. Here’s why I decided to take my own grown-up gap year.
I also felt I needed time away from work to see whether it was a career I wanted to continue. Although being a journalist was all I’d ever dreamed of doing, I’d become a bit disillusioned along the way. I felt like a break would do me good and give me the time to think about what I wanted.
However, if you enjoy what you do and it’s just a case of needing a change or a bit of a break, then the prospect of packing it all in can seem daunting.
That’s why sabbaticals are great. They provide the chance to go away, safe in the knowledge that your job will be there when you return.
More companies are now cottoning on to the idea that happy employees are more productive employees. Consequently, many now look quite favourably on allowing staff to take a career break.
If you’re still not sure whether to take a sabbatical or career break, here’s a summary of both.
What is a sabbatical?
- A sabbatical is a fixed amount of time away from your workplace. It can be anything from a few weeks to a year.
- You continue to be employed by your company and will return to your same job.
- Most sabbaticals are unpaid. However, in a few lucky circumstances, companies will continue to pay you during all or part of your trip.
Consider a sabbatical if: you feel you need a short break from work, you want the security of a job to return to, you have a trip in mind which can be done in a set amount of time.
If you think this is the option for you, here are five easy steps to ask for a sabbatical.
What is a career break?
- A career break means you hand in your notice and leave your job permanently.
- It allows you to take as long as you want for a trip, which provides greater flexibility.
- This option requires more long-term planning, particularly when it comes to finances.
Consider quitting your job if: you want a complete break from your current career, you don’t have a fixed plan or know how long you want to travel for, you have the finances to keep you going or are able to work along the way.
But don’t just take my word for it. Here are some real-life case studies from people who have done both:
Sabbatical Case Study: Lucy Dodsworth from On The Luce
Here Lucy from On The Luce explains how she took a ten week sabbatical to visit New Zealand.
What was your work situation when you took a sabbatical?
I’d been working for a London university for about three years as a publications officer, producing three annual prospectuses. It was a really hectic job for nine months of the year, but in the autumn it got very quiet.
About five years before I had been on a round-the-world trip through Asia and Australia. But I ran out of money before I made it to New Zealand and I really wanted to go back and see the country.
I worked out I needed about ten weeks to see what I wanted in New Zealand and do a couple of stopovers, which I could fit into my quiet period at work.
Why did you decide to take a sabbatical?
I’d already give up a previous job to do my round-the-world trip and although I managed to get a job when I get back, I didn’t know if it would be so easy this time.
Also my last trip was a long-term one and this time I didn’t plan to be away so long so it was less worth the risk. Plus I did still enjoy my job, I just wanted to be able to travel too.
How did you request a sabbatical?
I asked about six months before I wanted to go, to give plenty of time to sort out the details. I tried to plan for any questions my boss would have in advance, by setting out a schedule for the year and showing how my trip could fit in with it, and suggesting how any problems could be dealt with while I was away.
In the end I took four weeks of holiday and six weeks unpaid leave.
How did your colleagues react to your decision?
The company did have a formal sabbatical scheme, but you had to have been there for five years and I didn’t know of anyone in my department who’d taken one.
I don’t think my colleagues were all that surprised as I always took a lot of holidays and they knew all about my passion for travel.
My job was unusual as it was on such a seasonal schedule, so the company didn’t have to worry that lots of other people would want to do the same as their situations were different.
Was your trip it worth it?
Definitely! I loved New Zealand as much as I thought I would and managed to see everything I wanted to. Plus, I fit in stopovers in California and Hong Kong on the way there and back.
I’d saved up before I went, but knowing I was coming back to a full-time job meant I didn’t worry about money so much and could splash out on a few things.
Was it difficult to settle back into the workplace having been away?
Not really, as there had been someone covering day-to-day updates so I didn’t have too much to catch up on.
It was a bit hard to motivate myself to start with. But I came back to work in December, so I didn’t have long until the Christmas break which helped.
Long-term though it made me realise that I didn’t want to be tied to a nine-to-five job, so a year later I left to go freelance.
What would be your advice to anyone thinking about taking a sabbatical?
Make sure that you think about any questions or concerns that your boss might have so you are prepared. Also try and be as keen, helpful and good at your job as you can be in the run up so they see how indispensable you are!
Career break case study: Rob Freeman from Travel Marmot
What was your situation when you decided to quit your job?
I was working as assistant sports editor for a group of newspapers. I’d been in journalism for 20 years, was honing in on my 40th birthday and had a mortgage. So not exactly a normal candidate to jack it all in!
I wanted to do a trip from London to New York without flying. So we would travel across Europe to Moscow, through Russia and Mongolia on the Trans-Siberian Railway to Beijing. Then a loop around China and a cruise ship across the Pacific to Alaska.
I requested a six month sabbatical, but unfortunately it was turned down. But I really wanted to do the trip, so I decided to hand in my notice.
How did your boss/colleagues react to your decision to quit?
My boss wasn’t happy when two senior staff members handed in their notice on the same day (my mate did the same). But we worked hard to keep it amicable.
Was your trip it worth it?
Undoubtedly. It was the best thing I’ve done and it has changed my life hugely.
On top of the original trip, we also took a sleeper bus across North America to New York. I was away for about five months in total.
I make a lot less money now, but that is nothing compared to what I learned, what I saw, the memories I’ve got and, most importantly, the friends I made.
How easy was it to get a job when you returned?
Remarkably easy. When I first returned, I got enough freelance subbing shifts back at my old office to live on.
I also kept in touch with the company that had run the trip I went on and applied for a job as a tour leader. They turned me down due to lack of experience, but took me on in the office instead. So I helped with its marketing and website and dealt with clients. Essentially I got paid to write and talk to people about travelling.
Sadly, the company got taken over and the new owner decided he didn’t want to run the long overland trips. So I left and returned to journalism.
What would be your advice to anyone thinking about quitting their job to travel?
The simple answer is do it, but that’s not right for everyone.
However, if you have a trip you want to make or place(s) you want to visit, don’t put it off until another time. You never know what is around the corner and there will always be an excuse not to do it. Excuses are easy to find, but there’s always an equally valid reason to say yes – even if it is only that it will be great fun.
There’s usually a way round most of the obstacles which appear to be in the way and, personally, I feel I got more out of the trip than if I’d done it at a traditional gap year age.
There’s a lot more tales to tell from travelling than sat in an office.
If you’re still trying to decide whether to take a career break or sabbatical then this may help and if you’re worried you may be too old to take a gap year, then check out this post.