How to Take a Sabbatical

Bryan Searing
Jan 29, 2018 · 10 min read
Photo by Madi Robson on Unsplash

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I leave tomorrow for my two-month sabbatical. I’m heading to Korea to be a volunteer at the 2018 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games.

I’ve been planning this for so long, I have trouble believing that the time has finally arrived.

Taking a sabbatical takes planning and preparation. For me, this was not a last-minute get-up-and-go adventure. But it’s worth the time and effort to prepare. My idea started in 2016 — while watching the 2016 Summer Olympics on TV.

It’s definitely more complex than planning a vacation.

But taking a sabbatical is more attainable than you may think.

If you are interested, then here’s what I’ve learned so far

Note: This is not a linear process — you’ll probably have to chase down information, make some plans, flex with new and changing information, and go back to the drawing board a few times.

In general, these are the issues you need to address to make a sabbatical a reality.

1. Talk about the idea with your spouse/partner

Bringing up the idea is probably the easy part.

And chances are your partner is equally interested in the idea. You just need to make sure you’re both comfortable with the idea. Which means fleshing out a viable plan.

My wife liked the idea of volunteering at the Olympics, but couldn’t initially see how it could work. We had to develop a plan together.

2. Determine the purpose of your sabbatical

Originally, sabbaticals meant paid leave for a university professor to study or travel. Usually, the time period was one year and it occurred every seven years — taking its cue from the word “Sabbath.”

But sabbaticals have evolved. The time period has flexed.

Sabbaticals may or may not include paid leave. And they are not limited to university professors.

But one component seems to have remained constant: Purpose.

Photo by Bobby Burch on Unsplash

What would you do with a year off? Or 6 months? Or even 2 months?

  • Volunteer?
  • Travel?
  • Start a new business venture?
  • Backpack the Andes?
  • Sail around the Caribbean?
  • Build a house?
  • Pursue an artistic endeavor?
  • Check off a bucket list item?

A sabbatical is a time to put your mind, your talents, your skills and your energies toward a different purpose. It’s an enrichment period.

Sometimes you create the opportunity. And sometimes the opportunity falls in your lap.

I love watching the Olympic Games. Summer or Winter. I’m a total junkie.

And I love Korea, because I lived there as a young man. I’ve always dreamed of returning for a significant length of time.

The 2018 Winter Olympics provided a perfect opportunity to bring together two of the many things that have meaning to me.

I applied and was accepted.

3. Identify where you want to take your sabbatical

Your dream may dictate the location — such as hiking the Andes.

Or the opportunity may dictate the location — as in my case.

But you also may be pretty open — which can open new, exciting opportunities. If you are, start with some research.

For example, if you want to volunteer abroad, identify the type of volunteer work you’d like to do. You’ll enjoy it more if you have some interest in the purpose the nonprofit is serving.

List the parts of the world you may have interest in experiencing. Search for organizations in those countries.

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Pattaya, Pattaya City, Thailand; Photo by Trinity Treft

Find out if they accept international volunteers.

  • Can you volunteer if you don’t speak the language?
  • Do they provide room and board for volunteers?
  • Some organizations may have an established program. But plenty may be willing to accommodate you even if they don’t.

You need to think through some logistics — at least at a high level.

In my case, the PyeongChang Olympic Committee was willing to accept international volunteers (though only 1000 of the 21,000 volunteers are international). And they were also willing to provide housing and meals for international volunteers. That was a big relief to my budget.

Which brings up the next topic…

4. Determine a high-level budget

There are two sides to this:

  • How much will you need for the sabbatical activities?
  • How much will you need to cover expenses at home (if you are leaving home for your sabbatical)?

When you know these two answers, you can figure out how much you need to save up. Which will determine the timing for your sabbatical.

Think through both the big ticket items and the day-to-day stuff.

Sabbatical Activities Expenses

  • What are the typical travel expenses (air and ground)?
  • How much do you think you can live on per day? This includes housing, meals, getting around, activities in your free time. I had a different per diem for days when I was volunteering vs. days when I was off. I figured I’d spend more on my days off.
  • What kind of clothing, shoes or equipment will you need to purchase?
  • What supplies will you need to take vs. what can you buy?

Expenses at Home

  • What do you need to keep paying while you are gone?
  • Will you keep your house/apartment? If you do, you need to account for the monthly payments + insurance. If you don’t, where can you store your belongings? Account for storage rental fees.
  • Will you keep your car? If so, where will you store it? Ask your auto insurance provider how they recommend covering the vehicle in this situation.
  • What are your options for health insurance? Especially if your company policy won’t cover you while away.
  • Are you taking your phone? What does your provider offer for your destination?

I padded my projections by 10% to be safe.

Now you have an idea of how much you need.

5. Broach the subject with your employer

If you don’t want to return to your job/employer after the sabbatical, then this is not an issue.

But if you do want to return, then start the conversation early.

If your company has a sabbatical policy, then follow their procedures to get it scheduled. It might even be a paid-leave policy — which is great for you.

If your company doesn’t have a sabbatical policy, they may still be open to the prospect. When you approach your boss about the topic, come prepared.

Plan to talk about:

  • Your desire to take a sabbatical and why.
  • Discuss the merits of a sabbatical to both you and to your employer — many folks talk about their increase in creativity, perspective, productivity, new skills, problem solving, ideas, energy.
  • Your boss will have questions. Have some details in mind around timing, duration, your accessibility while away.
  • Share your desire for re-employment after the sabbatical. Recognize that your boss may not be able to promise you the same position, but may be willing to promise you some position. That’s fair.

In my case, I had the conversation with my employer a year in advance.

I had the conversation with my clients 6 months in advance. I needed to assure them that the team would continue to serve their needs in my absence.

If your employer won’t work with you…

Then take that into account into your budget. You will need living expenses while you hunt for a new position.

Many folks, who have taken a sabbatical, report that prospective employers are interested in their sabbatical experiences. Be prepared to share what you learned during your experience and how that can benefit the new organization.

6. Prepare physically, mentally, emotionally

Photo by Kalen Emsley on Unsplash


Determine the physical requirements of your sabbatical activities. If you’re hiking the Rockies, are you prepared for that physical strain?

  • Do you need to get into shape?
  • Do you need to lose weight?
  • Do you need to complete a medical procedure beforehand?
  • What kinds of exercise or practice runs would help you?


Determine the mental activities related to your sabbatical activities.

  • Do you need to learn a new language?
  • Do you need to learn about what life is like in your target destination?
  • Do you need to set up ways to manage your life at home while you are away?
  • Do you need to learn a new skill?

A friend of mine decided to sail the Caribbean with his wife for six months for his sabbatical. Although he knew how to sail, he wisely purchased the boat a year before they departed.

He wanted to practice with his boat for a year. He wanted to learn how to make repairs on his boat. He wanted to take trial runs to think through the details of life on a boat.

I’ve been renewing my Korean language skills for the past year. I’m proud to report I no longer feel like a beginner.


Not gonna lie — as the sabbatical gets closer, I have panic moments. Am I prepared? Do I have enough money saved? Am I crazy to do this?

When I feel my blood pressure rising, I pull out the plans, the budget. I remind myself that I’ve thought this through and I have contingencies.

I try to figure out what’s causing the stress — and then I address it.

The other day I realized I was stressing about my public transportation options in the town I would be in. So I spent a little time reading and researching. TripAdvisor is a lifesaver! Now I feel at ease.

7. Find other ways to raise money

You have more options to raise funds and cover expenses than you may think.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Sell some of your possessions — and don’t buy more — which goes along with my last article:
  • Cut back on unnecessary expenses — eating out, Starbucks, shopping, monthly subscriptions. (Notice I said “cut back” not “cut out” — you’re just making some priority shifts.)
  • Drive Uber or Lyft on the side
  • Pocket your tax refund
  • Set up an automatic transfer to your savings account with each paycheck. Sometimes if you don’t see it, you don’t spend it.
  • Consider getting a credit card that offers significant bonus miles upfront. I found one that gave enough bonus miles to cover both my flight and my wife’s flight to Asia. Even though it had a hefty annual fee, that fee was significantly cheaper than the flights would’ve been.
  • Here’s a tip I learned: Every time you decide to NOT buy something, move that money to your savings. So, for example, if you eat lunch out every day, but then one day decide to bring lunch from home, take the $10 you would’ve spent on lunch that day and put it into your savings. You’ll be surprised at how fast that money builds up.
  • You could consider GoFundMe —I think people may be more likely to pitch in if you demonstrate that you are raising the bulk of the funds. I didn’t go this route, but it is a possibility for others.

8. Think through medical needs

If you take regular prescriptions, you’ll need to consult with your physician about how to handle that while you are away.

I don’t take regular prescriptions, but I did give some consideration to how to handle illness while on sabbatical. I’m taking along over-the-counter drugs that I usually use for headaches, cold and flu — just to be prepared.

I know I can get medicine in Korea. But I’m taking along what I know usually works for me.

NOTE: there may be some restrictions about what types of medicine (and how much) you can take into another country. Take some time to research that.

Now You Have a Plan to Work Toward

Even if it’s a year or two out, your sabbatical is now a reality — because you are working and fine-tuning your plan.

  • Socialize your plan — other people will have some great suggestions.
  • Make progress every week on your plan — to keep the momentum going.
Photo: Great Britain Olympic Committee

Look for Me at the Winter Olympics

At this point, I can’t imagine NOT taking the sabbatical. It’s been such a part of my life for the last year.

I’ve been assigned to the Olympic Sliding Centre venue to help with victory ceremonies for the bobsleigh, luge and skeleton events. I’ll be providing support to the medalists.

Um. Cool.

I’m pretty sure that the cameras won’t ever be pointed at me… but you never know. So keep an eye out for me.

And I’ll be writing about my experiences at the Olympics on The Mission. If you want to follow my adventure, then just follow me.

Sometimes You Need a Little Creativity Boost

My free eBook might just help:

5 Exercises that Will Make You 10 Times More Creative

I use these exercises to keep the juices flowing — in myself and in my clients. (I am a marketing consultant, after all.)

Follow me on Facebook.

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Bryan Searing

Written by

Historical Fiction Author. Marketing & Insights Consultant. Husband. Father of 3. Inspired by Innovation, Creativity, Imagination + Design.

A network of business & tech podcasts designed to accelerate learning. Selected as “Best of 2018” by Apple.

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