5x5 Free Thursday: Five ways to follow up my sabbatical

Wonderful though it is to enjoy this unexpectedly long London summer without the pressure of full-time employment, I feel the need to have an exit strategy before my self-imposed sabbatical year expires.

My old home will supply a basic income when the builders move out and tenants move in, but the thought of a whole year without a purpose is making me nervous, and I’m starting to miss the regular human interaction that comes from doing something productive with a group of people. That old man in the supermarket queue who’s just a little too keen to keep talking to the cashier? I don’t want to be that guy. I guess he didn’t, either.

The PR life wasn’t for me, and I felt like I’d seen all that tech journalism had to offer. So here’s a few options I’ve been thinking about for starting my new life.

Shanghai has a lot to offer. What can I offer in return?

1 Swap London for a new city I’ve lived in London for more than 17 years, and after seeing a couple of other cities for more than a few days, I’m tempted to try living somewhere completely different for a few years. Of the places I saw, Shanghai and Melbourne made a good impression: Shanghai is a cosmopolitan city that’s fairly accessible for Westerners and I already have friends there to ease the passage; Melbourne is a friendly city with a pleasant climate where I also have a few familiar faces to look up.

Unfortunately, you can’t just turn up in China or Australia a decide to settle down. Like most countries, they like you to have an occupation to keep the taxman happy. So the question becomes, what will I do when I get there?

There’s so much more to see

2 Keep on moving One thing my travels taught me was that there’s a lot more to see, and that you need to take your time. Shanghai would be an ideal base for exploring south east Asia, India and Nepal, while Melbourne opens up the vastness of Australia.

But do I even need a base? Moving my accommodation aspirations from hotels to hostels would make it possible to travel through Asia, or Central and South America, indefinitely on a modest budget, with the occasional return to luxury. And you get to meet more people in hostels. Most people go travelling in their post-university 20s or as an early career break in their 30s, but being a 40-year-old backpacker was a lot of fun.

It’s a good name for a blog, too (I thought of it, so hands off), and few things are more inspirational for writing than travelling to new places.

You’re cute, sure, but what’s going on in your head, little fella?

3 Go back to school I’ll definitely need a crash course in Mandarin if I return to China, and a TEFL qualification would give me a way into almost any country I’d like to visit for a while.

But I’ve been thinking about more serious studies as well, such as turning my fondness for monkeys into a degree in zoology or primatology, or making a serious study of astronomy. I’ve also been entertaining a more esoteric idea around the increasingly grey area of what constitutes a sentient creature, and what rights they should have. Is it a binary option like the medieval notion of a soul, or a continuum where some animals can be considered sentient at the same level as children? It’s a question society should probably consider before we begin to create artificial intelligences, however limited.

4 Write for cash I still love writing, even if I got tired of the repetitive topics, stories and products of consumer technology. I’d love to get paid for writing about travel or pop-science, but that only comes from demonstrating your experience, hence my division of 5x5 into discrete topics. The 5x5 project is enjoyable if a little time-consuming, but there are other factual writing projects I’d like to pick up, such as resurrecting my space tourism blog, A Holiday In Space. Surely there has to be some life in the industry?

Like many factual writers I’d also like to write fiction, and the first step to that might be a short course in creative writing. The National Novel Writing Month in November is also perfectly placed for a pitch at churning out 50,000 words.

5 Voluntary work Lots of my ambitions above would be helped by taking on some voluntary work, and I’ve been pointed towards the UN Online Volunteering Portal as a place my skills might be used. Beyond this, there are also primate and environmental conservation projects which are always looking for volunteer labour, and would give me a taste of what it’s like to work in the field away from the comforts of home and office.

The question, it appears, is not what I might do, but which of these options I want to pursue. Oh, hello option anxiety.

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