woman staring into distance at mountain

Make a change in your life with a radical sabbatical. (Photo: Getty Image)

Tips + Trends

Gotta Get Away … for a While? Why a Radical Sabbatical Might Be the Answer

For 10 years, I worked in New York City’s cutthroat fashion industry — from retail jobs when I was 15 to eventually being the manager at a strategic branding agency at the ripe age of 25. I had earned a successful career as a fashion publicist, and when I was offered a promotion in 2014 to become the director of the strategic branding agency, I should have been overjoyed. After all, the role was everything I’d been working toward for a decade. Instead, I felt devastated.

I didn’t realize until that moment that although I had a successful career, I wasn’t happy. There wasn’t room for me to grow much further in the industry, and I was beginning to resent spending most of my early 20s at my desk. Fortunately, I realized then that working in fashion wasn’t my life’s purpose.

After a few months of reducing my spending to bulk up my savings account, I resigned from my role, intending to go to Uruguay, my ancestral home, for a year. I was creating a self-imposed radical sabbatical and believed I’d return to public relations after some time away, but life has a tendency to work out in ways we’d never expect. Six years and 64 countries later, I’m still traveling.

“Radical sabbatical” is the term for making an intentional change in your life, getting away from the usual pace of life and shifting your life toward the type of lifestyle you’d like to be living.

It usually means leaving behind what you know — which often includes your career — to have time to figure out who you are outside of your profession. Many choose to spend time in nature to feel grounded and gain clarity on their true desires, while others choose to go to historic cities they’ve always wanted to explore.

Some travel full-time, hitting up many destinations as they take six months to a year away from their career. I keep traveling as my curiosity drives me to far corners of the world to develop a better understanding of humanity and the globe’s many cultures.

Here are five tried-and-true tips for planning a radical sabbatical.

Start Saving

woman packing car
Plan to downsize your life. (Photo: Getty Image)

Once you have the hunch that you may want to take a radical sabbatical, start to reduce your spending and focus on saving. I prepared for four months by only taking public transportation, cooking at home and not buying any clothing.

As I would be leaving my apartment in New York City and traveling out of a suitcase, I sold my assets, including furniture and high-end clothing and accessories. I left the U.S. with $10,000 of savings, which was enough liquid cash to support my travel style at the time.

As a good rule of thumb, you’ll want enough saved to support your cost of living and then at least an additional 20 percent for experiences and unexpected costs.

Tell Your Job

Be transparent and direct in your intentions when you give notice that you’ll be taking a sabbatical. If you intend to return to your role, ask for a specific amount of time away. See if you can utilize any unused paid time off or sick days during your sabbatical.

Work with your manager to create a plan for whoever will be covering your workload while you’re away, and offer to be available should they have questions or need support with tasks. Much has changed across many industries since 2016, and working remotely is more common than ever.

Perhaps you can ease into a sabbatical by first working remotely, reducing your hours and eventually taking a few months away from your work entirely.

Stay in Touch

woman working on laptop outdoors
Change your office view for a while. (Photo: Getty Image)

Maintain your professional relationships while you’re on your radical sabbatical. Continue to have a strong rapport with your colleagues and supervisors while you’re away by being available should they need your assistance, checking in with them and engaging in conversations.

Six years later I still have a great relationship with my former supervisors — I’ve even gone to visit and stay with my boss in Dubai.

To stay in touch with your friends and family you may want to start an Instagram page where you can share travel pictures or send out a monthly email with updates. Your loved ones will be eager to get a glimpse of how your radical sabbatical is going.

Get Insured

Don’t skip health insurance. Most companies won’t let you keep your benefits while you’re on sabbatical, and while some U.S. health insurance plans may offer international coverage for short-term trips, it’s better to purchase a travel insurance plan made for expats, such as GeoBlue or SafetyWing.

Decide Where to Go

people on camel ride in morocco
Find yourself in unexpected places. (Photo: Getty Image)

Choosing where you want to go is one of the most exciting parts of a radical sabbatical, but it can be daunting — there are so many incredible places to visit. Determine what kind of environment will be most beneficial for you to take the time to look within and discover what you want your life to look like after your sabbatical ends.

Perhaps being surrounded by nature calls to you — if you want to be near the sea and mountains, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, is a great choice. To truly get off the grid, choose an island such as Curaçao.

If you find that you’re most inspired by cities and you’re overwhelmed by language barriers, spend your radical sabbatical in London, England, or Sydney, Australia. I thought I’d spend my sabbatical in Uruguay but ended up spending my first year abroad based in Madrid, Spain, and Florence, Italy, with many trips around Europe and several weeks in Morocco.

Booking all of your accommodations with one hotelier brand can help you rack up points to extend your radical sabbatical even further.