I read a brilliant quote somewhere on Twitter the other day which went something along the lines of this: ‘No one ever looks back after a year of travel and says “I wish I’d stayed at my desk”.’
And I almost feel like I should just post that and nothing else here, because that basically sums it up doesn’t it?
But I also know that it’s not always as simple as that. Deciding to take a career break or a sabbatical is probably one of the biggest and scariest decisions you’ll ever have to make (trust me, I’ve been there). And while I would always massively cheer on anyone who chooses to take a grown up gap year, I realise that there are plenty of things to consider before you decide to take a break from, or quit, your job.
However I honestly believe that you will never, ever, regret making the leap.
I think there are a million different reasons why someone might want to take a sabbatical or a career break. For me, it was a feeling that I was somehow missing out on something I’d always wanted to do. I’d travelled a fair bit after finishing university and absolutely loved it. But since becoming a journalist I felt as though I’d been swept along in the world of work and suddenly, as I approached the age of 29, I was worried that I might be leaving it too late to pack everything up and set off on that trip of a lifetime I’d always said I would get around to one day.
Other people I met along the way on my trip had chosen to make their trips for totally different reasons. Some felt like they’d missed out on the traditional ‘gap year’ when they were younger; others felt disenchanted with the job they had left behind and some had just come out of relationships and needed a break from life back at home. There were also some parents with children who wanted them to see the world while they were young and others whose older children had recently left home, leaving them with more free time to pursue new things.
Whatever the reason, sometimes making that initial leap is one of the hardest things to do. When I was trying to decide whether to go on my 30b430 trip I was very conscious of the fact that most of my friends around me were doing the exact opposite, by settling down. It was a decision I agonised about for weeks.
Now I’m not going to pretend that I know what is best for you at this particular moment in time, as everyone has their own circumstances to consider before making such a big decision. But before you march into your boss’ office, waving your letter of resignation above your head (because, let’s face it, that’s obviously the way to go out in style), you might want to ask yourself some of the following questions:
Can I afford to travel?
Think about the trip you want to take (how long for and the places you want to go) and the budget you want to travel on (roughing it in hostels or living it up on five star resorts) and then research.
It’s all very well saying that you don’t mind doing your trip on a shoe string and then suddenly finding yourself feeling totally homesick in a grotty hostel in the middle of an awful town and knowing that all you want to do is put on a nice dress and go to a fancy restaurant without having to worry about the bill (and yes, I have been there, many times.) It’s worth thinking about the lifestyle you currently live and what elements of that you are willing to give up. One of the things I discovered quite quickly on this trip was that since working I’d become used to going out for nice meals. I love good food, so going out for dinner with my friends was something I really enjoyed back at home and I was surprised at how much I missed this while I was away. When I took my first solo trip at the age of 19 I was happy to battle away in a hostel kitchen, sharing one saucepan and eating pasta seven nights a week but on this trip I loved it when I met people who suggested going out for dinner. It was a rare chance to get dressed up, eat good food and forget about the fact that we were going to go back to sleep in a dorm room with nine other people.
So I’d advise working out a rough budget (guidebooks usually have quite helpful little budget lists and lots of bloggers write about their travel spends) and see whether you have enough to cover the basic costs, as well as a few little extras.
Don’t forget to factor in additional activities you want to do. It never fails to amaze me the number of people I meet who are travelling on such a strict budget that they never have the cash to do any of the fun things on offer. I’m all for being careful with your money but imagine going to New Zealand and never doing a sky dive or a bungee jump or arriving in New York but not being able to afford to go to a show (both situations I’ve seen happen.)
Also, as a ‘grown up’, don’t forget to take into account things that you’ll have to continue to pay while you’re away. I know you don’t want to think about it (who does?) but things like your mortgage, insurance and (if you’re American) your student loan (UK residents can put theirs on hold while travelling) still need to be paid.
If you don’t have enough money to do all of that then my advice would be to start saving. Trust me; it’s better to wait a while until you have sufficient money rather than going and missing out on things along the way because you can’t afford to do them.
What sacrifices will I need to make in order to travel?
I hate to be the one to break it to you, but in order to travel you will probably have to miss out on some other stuff. And while some of it, like who wins X Factor, you can probably live without, other sacrifices, such as missing a friend’s wedding or taking your children out of school, are going to be more difficult to make.
I remember when I went on my first six month trip to South America straight after university and everyone said to me: “Nothing will change while you’re away” and it was true. I got back and, of course, some of my friends had got jobs and moved on to new things but nothing fundamental had changed. Before I left on my 30b430 trip, people said the same to me. But this time I knew it wouldn’t be true. We were all a bit older and many of my friends were about to enter new stages of their lives. Some friends were pregnant before I left so I knew that by the time I got back they would be mums and their lives would be totally different.
It is inevitable that at some point during your trip you are going to miss something you wish you could be at. For me, it was a good friend’s wedding. Even though it was a hard decision to make, I knew that this was the best time for me to take the trip so I talked to her about it before I left and she was really supportive and understood my reasons for wanting to go.
I would recommend thinking about what you’ll miss during your time away and whether the benefits of travelling will outweigh the disappointment you’ll feel at not being there. If not, it might be worth considering taking your trip at a different time as, believe me, there’s nothing worse than being away and wishing you were back at home.
What will I do about work when I travel?
Some people choose to head off on a trip in order to pursue a totally different career path when they return. And if that’s the case, it makes the decision-making process a lot easier. But if you are planning on either taking a sabbatical or rejoining the work force in the same area when you get home, it’s worth thinking about how things will change while you’re away.
If you’re just going for a few months you may find that things don’t change too drastically. However, if you’re planning to head off for longer you could find that things are quite different when you return and it might be worth considering how you can keep your hand in – maybe by doing some work while you’re away or keeping in touch with your old boss or colleagues.
I decided to set up my previous blog before I went away, both as a means of staying in touch with people and to enable me to keep writing, something which I did every single day in my job. I even used my shorthand during interviews as I was terrified that I would forget it in the nine months I was away and there was no way I wanted to go through the stress of learning it all over again!
Am I travelling for the right reasons?
This is the main thing I tell people who ask my advice about travelling: travel because you want to travel. Go because there are places you’ve always dreamed of seeing and things you’ve always wanted to do. Not because it’s ‘cool’, or because someone else thinks you should, or because you’re trying to prove something. I met a number of people on my trip who were travelling because they had come out of a long-term relationship and they felt they should. I even met one girl who went home after only a couple of months into a year-long trip because she felt like she’d been talked into it by her family. There are days when travelling is hard and it can sometimes be a bit lonely so you have to be prepared for that. If travelling is something you love and you really want to do, then you’ll get through those tough days because you know that there are so many more fun ones to come. But if you’re heart isn’t truly in it, then it’s going to be a miserable trip.
People often ask me what is the scariest thing about travelling alone and I always tell them making the decision to go. Because that is the biggest choice you’ll have to make. It is the one that you will agonise the most over and find yourself explaining (and sometimes even justifying) to other people time and time again. But funnily enough you’ll often find that once you’ve made up your mind and booked your tickets, when there’s no turning back, that everything else will fall into place.
If you’re still trying to decide whether to take a career break or a sabbatical this post may help. Find out more about saving money here. And this may help you work out how to set a budget for your trip.