INSIDE: Considering planning a sabbatical? It just might be the best decision you’ve ever made. Find out why it was for me and how to plan yours.
[Hi guys! Have a great article today by special guest, Lisa Hoashi – fellow blogger, adventurer, and now awesome life coach. If you’re looking for new ways to take control of your life, this could be one of them! Hope it inspires you!]
The scariest part of taking a sabbatical was, of course, about money.
I know I’m not alone in this because I regularly meet people who hear my story and say, “I would love to take a year to travel.” Their eyes glaze over as they imagine trekking in Nepal, beaches in Bali, a Kenya safari. Then they glance back at me. “But I could never do it,” they say.
“Why not?” I ask. I figure that if I could do it, they could too.
“Where would I get the money?” they say. “Plus, I could never quit my job.”
I get that. That’s what I thought too.
Why I took a sabbatical year
Since I was a kid, I dreamed of growing up to be a traveler and adventurer. Somehow, life had gotten in the way of that person I’d dreamed of being, despite having made some good progress.
I had a good life: I lived in beautiful Portland, Oregon; I had wonderful friends and family; and I loved my job and had a good salary. Yet a small voice inside nagged me, saying that this wasn’t exactly the life I’d dreamed of. I was headed toward a corporate career. I was working a lot and stressed. I was still single, when I wanted a family of my own.
I’d gotten off track.
In early 2010, I had hired a life coach for six months. We talked a lot about what I truly wanted out of life. She asked me to plot my dreams on a timeline. I saw I had limited time to make them happen.
I’d have to take bold action if I really wanted to go after my travel dream.
Taking a big leap, deliberately
[Oregon’s Painted Hills]
I was in my early 30s. After more than a decade of hard work, I was going to halt my successful career so I could travel the world like a free-spirited 20-year-old.
This was crazy.
Unlike a 20-something, it felt like I had a lot more to lose.
I was committed to this dream though. It was clearly not going away.
In the end, what helped me most when I was planning a sabbatical was the fact that I’m a practical idealist. I love cooking up creative, big ideas, and I also know they’re not worth a damn if they can’t be put into action.
So here’s what I did:
#1. I gave myself permission to dream
What would I do with a whole year of free time? To my surprise, my list was basically everything I’d told myself I’d do if only I had more time. Including:
- Bucket list stuff like a week long solo backpacking trip and crossing the ocean in a sailboat
- Visits to friends and family in the U.S. and Chile
- Travel to Mexico, South America, Japan and SE Asia
- Improving my skills in Spanish, the outdoors, and writing
#2. I reality-checked my dreams
I took stock of all the money I had, using mint.com and a basic spreadsheet.
I priced all my ideas. I got quotes for airline tickets and itineraries. I investigated language schools, sailing and wilderness survival courses, and organizations like WWOOF and Couchsurfing. I looked up recommended travel budgets for all the countries I wanted to visit. I checked travel insurance and storage unit costs.
#3. I started to make decisions
Decision #1: How much money will I allow myself to spend?
I had seriously saved money for about five years. I’d worked hard at my job, negotiated promotions and lived frugally (cheap rent was key).
I had $30,000 in cash savings. It was interesting to notice that this was what I’d want to save for a down payment on a home. Hmm.
I decided I really didn’t believe in spending so much money on a year off. So instead I settled on what someone might spend on a new economy car: $17,000.
So I was giving up a Ford Focus for a year to do whatever I wanted. That seemed reasonable.
Dividing $17,000 across a year gave me a daily budget of just under $50 per day. Could I enjoy myself on $50 a day? I knew from travels to Mexico and Thailand that I easily could.
Decision #2: What would I have to give up?
I made a budget spreadsheet, broken into months. It was immediately clear that some things were too expensive. Japan and the sailing course would have to wait.
Travel in South America was a shoo-in. One could travel on $25-30 per day in many countries.
If I saved money in some months, I could splurge in others.
This step didn’t take much time. It felt like my ideas were snapping into place.
Where I stalled was giving notice at work. The Point of No Return. I worried about finding another job I loved so much. As reassurance, I:
- Updated my résumé and looked at jobs I might want to apply for when I got back. For positions where I needed additional skills, I thought of ways to get those during my sabbatical.
- Met with my professional mentors to ask their advice. One of my mentors especially boosted my confidence. She told me that: 1) I was crazy to think no one would hire me again, and 2) To go now, before I missed the chance!
- Set aside a chunk of cash as my “New Life Startup Fund.” I didn’t know where I would land after one year. I’d give up my rented apartment and most of my possessions to save on storage costs. I decided to quit my job rather than take a leave of absence, because I wanted to be open about my next job.
My openness to the future was exciting, and terrifying.
To create a safety net for myself, I imagined that a likely end-of-sabbatical scenario would be that I would return to Portland and look for a job. I hoped I could find a job in four months. So I multiplied my normal monthly spending in Portland by four.
This was the amount I set aside for my “New Life Startup Fund.”
My money plan in action!
[At the top of Pedraforca mountain in Catalonia]
In May 2013, at age 34, I quit my job and set out on the yearlong sabbatical. Here’s what happened with my money.
- I started spending it. The first leg of my trip was in the U.S., so although I was camping and backpacking, and my friends and family were letting me store my stuff in their basement, sleep on their sofas, and treating me to beers – it was expensive. I overspent. Every time I pulled out my wallet I felt a flash of anxiety. I had no job. Yikes.
- I started getting used to it. I really hit my stride when, four months later, I chucked my careful planning and budget, and caught a flight to Europe. One of my best friends had invited me to join her in the south of France. We went camping in Provence. Awesome.
Happy, I continued on solo to Italy and Spain. I Couchsurfed for the first time and loved it for meeting locals and saving money. At the height of carefree spontaneity, I ended up on a farm north of Barcelona and fell in love with a Catalan farmer.
- Falling in love was excellent for saving money! At first, I blew a fair amount of money changing my travel plans to be with my Catalan, but then lived cheaply (and blissfully) on the farm until my tourist visa for Europe expired.
- I got better at living cheaper. Exiled from Europe, I doled out another $650 for a one-way ticket to Buenos Aires and the real penny-pinching began. In northern Patagonia, I met a 23-year-old German traveler with an audacious idea: hitchhike to the end of Chile’s Carretera Austral, cross into Argentina and trek around Torres del Paine. She was the perfect travel buddy. Our daily budget was $20 each (although she complained this was too much). We traveled two months together and had the time of our lives.
Many events followed, but these are the key moments of my sabbatical money story.
Basically what happened was this:
The more time passed and the less money I had, the more comfortable I was. I knew that planning a sabbatical was the right thing for me.
Being frugal is a skill you can hone. Plus, once out on the road, I met many people on much longer adventures, on much less money.
There were hard parts of course. At first, a lot of fear and anxiety. I had to get used to “roughing it”, especially on long stretches of hitchhiking, no showers, and too many cheese sandwiches.
Self-comparison could mess with my head too. I’d meet up with an old friend in the city and notice that my shoes or my jeans were looking shabby. I had to admit I was different now. I had spent an entire year living out of a backpack.
The payoff was incalculable though. I had abundant time to reflect on what mattered to me most. I soaked up beauty in wild places. I regained fluency in Spanish. I met wonderful, inspiring people. I had fun. I had adventure.
The big finish
[A campsite in Patagonia, when we crossed from Chile to Argentina]
In April 2014, with just a month left in my sabbatical year, I picked up my Catalan farmer at the Portland airport, and we set off with a month-long road trip of my home state.
I knew that at the end of the month, I had some big decisions. Where would I live? What would I do for work?
Despite such big unknowns, I was certain about one thing: I was proud of how I’d managed my money. I was going to come in under my $17,000 budget for the year. (In the end, the 12-month total was $15,900.)
This meant I had a well-padded “New Life Startup Fund” and could make my decisions without stress or undue pressure. Plus, I now knew that if I needed to live on $20 a day, I could.
The day after we summited Mt. Hood – an item off Manel’s bucket list – I told him that I’d move to Spain to be with him. I knew we made an awesome team, and I wanted to start planning our future.
A week later, sunbathing next to a river in the Olympic National Forest, Manel interrupted my lazy bliss by asking pointedly, “Are you sure you want to look for another communications job? Wouldn’t this be the perfect opportunity to start your own business?”
His question swung open a door inside me. I did have an idea.
I wanted to be a life coach and work with others who also knew they had to make a change in their lives in order to stay true to themselves. It didn’t matter what the change was – whether it was about work, lifestyle, home, community, mindset, or a sabbatical – just as long as they were committed.
What to do if you’re considering planning a sabbatical
[The French Valley Mirador, in Torres Del Paine National Park, Chile]
Planning a sabbatical involves a lot of decisions. I’m not going to pretend to know what’s best for you. Yet I can highlight a few principles that worked for me. (Also, you can likely apply these tips to any big change in life.)
Get clear on your ideal outcomes. Take time to write down everything you want out of your sabbatical. What do you want to experience, do or learn? Who do you want to be by the end? How can you use your time off to get closer to these ideals?
Keep your options open. Two immediate decisions you’ll face are: Should I quit my job or negotiate a leave of absence? Should I sell my home or rent it? These are very personal decisions. If I had to put my stake in the ground though, I’d recommend that you create a situation where you are as free as possible during your sabbatical. During your time off, especially if you are traveling, you are going to encounter so many different new ways of life and perspectives. If you’re not obligated to return to your old life, you now have a chance to apply your learnings toward designing a new life that really fits you.
Overcome fear with practical planning. If you’re ever tempted to give up and say “I can’t do this,” ask yourself if you’ve really explored all the possibilities before you. If fear is keeping you from planning a sabbatical, find some practical steps to mitigate risk and provide a safety net.
Enlist outside help. There are steps we are called to take in life that are vitally important – and also super tough. Reach out for help if you are stalling. I was terrified of quitting my job even though I knew it was a step I needed to take. I enlisted professional help so I followed through. (A coach is awesome for this!)
Be kind to yourself. If I could go back in time, I would be a lot nicer to myself just before and after I quit my job. During that time, I said a lot of mean things to myself: You’re making a huge mistake. You’ll never find a job again. You’re throwing everything away. By contrast, most people around me said, “Wow! You’re so brave. I admire you.” If I had focused less on my fears and more on my strengths and the amazing opportunity now before me, I would have had more confidence and fun those first few months of my sabbatical.
Remember that your money is a powerful tool. I think many people rule out planning a sabbatical because they think spending money this way is too self-indulgent. This seems like a cultural paradigm more than anything. In the U.S. nobody has a problem with you if you buy a new pickup truck or diamond engagement ring. It’s unlikely they call you selfish or privileged. Instead they’re glad you could buy something you wanted.
Listen, you work hard for your money. Use it to really serve you and your life goals. Don’t let the status quo dictate your spending. If you know that taking time off will make you happier and more effective when you do get back to working and making the world a better place, by all means, that’s money well spent.
A new beginning
[At home on the farm in Catalonia]
My sabbatical taught me important lessons about what I wanted in life and work. I desired a life with lots of free time and a close relationship to nature. I wanted inspiring, meaningful work with a social impact, but I would never be a workaholic again (a common side effect of taking a sabbatical). I also wanted to use my whole range of strengths in my job – not just a select few.
I saw that farm life in Spain and my own business were the perfect foundation for this dream.
So, in the end, I moved to Spain, Manel and I married, and I started my own life coaching business. With Manel’s generous support, I’ve able to use my “New Life Startup Fund” largely as my “New Business Startup Fund.”
These were three huge changes, all in one year.
My sabbatical year was a piece of cake compared to this first year in Spain. I underestimated how challenging it would be to move abroad and start my own business here.
This is big stuff, and I’m still figuring it all out. I committed because I know it’s worth it. My sabbatical gave me a huge opportunity. I have the chance to create a relaxed, love-filled life in a beautiful place with an amazing partner, and to design my own meaningful and joyful work, in partnership with inspiring people from all around the world. What can planning a sabbatical do for you?
I am saying Yes to this. And you should too.
Lisa Hoashi is a life coach. Her adventure headquarters is now a farm next to the Pyrenees, an hour north of Barcelona. Try out her unique approach to designing an awesome 2016 with A Practical Idealist’s Guide to a New Year.
UPDATE: Lisa now has a podcast that features stories from single professionals, couples, and families who have all taken the sabbatical leap. Check it out! –> Leap Like Me.
Jay loves talking about money, collecting coins, blasting hip-hop, and hanging out with his three beautiful boys. You can check out all of his online projects at jmoney.biz. Thanks for reading the blog!