Taking a sabbatical is something many of us dream about.
Distinctly different to taking traditional paid time off, sabbaticals offer the chance to take a career break while accomplishing something that would be difficult to do while working full-time, such as travelling abroad for an extended period of time, writing a book, or taking on a home renovation project.
Yet, planning a sabbatical takes time and it often involves some forethought, especially when it comes to the financial side of it.
For a successful sabbatical (aside from it being great for your mindset) here are 10 things to consider and the steps you can take to help ease your money worries in the lead-up, and to make the return as comfortable as possible.
1. Research the business or organisation you are in
Find out if there is a history of offering sabbaticals.
Are they mentioned in your contract? If you are an employee, you may have long service leave. What are you owed (if anything)? What are the conditions around your contract of employment, and can you locate someone who has had experience planning one of these in your organisation?
For example, I located a partner in the business who had taken a sabbatical and asked as many pre-planning questions as I could. In terms of her experience with the firm, this gave me a level of comfort.
2. Give your company as much notice as possible
You’ll need approval before taking a sabbatical, and the earlier you can help organise options (such as finding a replacement), the better.
If it’s up to you to cover yourself, work out a project timeline with the business that will see projects wrapping up or being transitioned to others in your planned absence.
3. State your case
Understand your main reasons for taking a break, like ‘why now?’
It’s good to share more detail about the reasons for your sabbatical, such as a life or family event that’s important to you. You will find people will be more supportive when they recognise the purpose behind your request.
4. Socialise with stakeholders
This is a big one and I can tell you that it gets easier the more times you say it. I certainly felt very awkward talking about it at first, but it was necessary.
It’s a good opportunity to sit down with people you work with and seek their input into how you might best manage your workload in the lead up to your break. You will find they are likely to be the first people you will connect with when you return so you can plan how you will go about this as well.
5. Block out your diary
This is therapy… blocking your diary with a big ‘out of office’ feels great.
If calendars are shared in your organisation, people who work with you will see this if they are trying to book something down the track. Use this as a planning tool as well.
Set up a countdown and set some goals for things that need to be wrapped up before your last week or two in the office. Also set up reminders for important things to do prior to your leave.
6. Prepare a mini budget for your time away
Think about accommodation and transport costs (see below for some suggestions). If you have any savings (at the time of the decision), what percentage might you commit now to the travel budget versus, say, lifestyle costs?
7. Consider the trade-offs
Be prepared to consider that there might be some sacrifices to make this work or reduce a money headache that will grow as your sabbatical gets closer!
I recall having to hand over a program I was really passionate about as the main deliverable occurred during my sabbatical. The business needed someone to take full ownership of it and it would not have been fair to hang onto this until I left only to take it back when I returned. Hanging onto this, during my sabbatical, may have led to greater income for me down the track but the sacrifice on my sabbatical time would have meant it was not the break I was planning.
A different kind of trade-off would be making the decision that you won’t go ‘shopping’ for the six months leading up to the break; or no Uber Eats, no new tech or no more shoes.
You can have fun with this and maybe there is a reward for you once you reach your destination.
8. Start saving now
Where will your savings be focused before you take leave (e.g. for the travel list)? Can you pre-pay any costs for your time away (this will also reduce admin while you’re away)?
Commit a percentage of your income now to your sabbatical budget, whether that be for travel, to cover living expenses while working on another project, or costs associated with renovations.
9. Consider all the ‘open your front door’ costs at home
What won’t be needed while you are away? Do you need your home to sit vacant while you are away? Is there an opportunity to make money from your home or at least get some help with the bills while you are gone?
10. Balance education (within reason)
Can the kids miss some school? Do they need to join you on the whole trip? Find out whether their current school will allow no school fees to be paid while your children take a semester away.
Also identify the costs of an international school (or similar) option, should this be a longer sabbatical with kids.