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Taking a sabbatical

Taking time off to travel the world isn’t just for young people taking a gap year before embarking on their university education, but so often that is the perception, and many people use the excuse of ‘life’ getting in the way as a reason for not giving it a go. If I had a dollar for every person that told me how envious they were when I decided to pack up and head to South America for 4 months, then I’d have been able to afford some very stylish accommodation along the way. It is absolutely true that careers, mortgages and having kids can make it difficult to just drop everything and go, but they don’t make it impossible. It just requires a bit more planning (and finances!) than if you were a care free 18 year old. Here are just some ideas to help you overcome the major obstacles that can stop older backpackers from hitting the road.

The reality is that not all companies offer sabbaticals. I was fortunate enough that my company implemented an unpaid sabbatical policy for staff with 5+ years service, and so my request was agreed quite easily, but if your company don’t offer then you have no choice but to present your case for unpaid leave. Think carefully about how long you will need off and what you will do with your time. You need to sell this idea to your employer, and they are much less likely to agree to a year off spent lazing around on a Thai beach, but might think differently if you are going to learn a new language or volunteer, as it could be beneficial to your job when you return. Think about the timing of your request; give them plenty of notice, but don’t be insensitive either. Present valid reasons and evidence to show that you deserve this time off. Provide constructive solutions as to how your absence will be covered in the short term, and if necessary gain buy in from colleagues to support your application. Ultimately you want to present a case that is so attractive to your employer they can’t say no, so try putting yourself in their shoes. What would you be looking for?

Owning a house can be the biggest obstacle preventing us from hitting the road. If you are renting, then things are slightly easier, as you can simply arrange for your belongings to go into storage whilst you are away. Don’t be put off though just because you have a mortgage. The most cost effective way is to rent your house out. If you don’t have friends or family nearby that are on hand to deal with any repairs or emergencies whilst you are away, then consider appointing a letting agent to handle those should they arise. They do take a small fee, usually a percentage of the monthly rental, but it does provide amazing peace of mind. They will also carrying regular inspections of the property and make sure the tenants are looking after your home. If you can afford to do so, why not try a home swap with another like minded family from another country? There are lots of companies on the internet where people register their homes all over the world. Take a look, you never know what you might find.

For those with children, the thought of taking off half way around the world for an extended period of time, is just unimaginable. A trip to the local mall is problematic enough, but Asia? Forget it. Having kids doesn’t mean you can’t travel, it just requires a lot more planning. Admittedly things are a lot easier in some ways when they are not yet school age, but even when they are at school, you still have options. Think about using the long summer vacation effectively and putting it to good use or consider home schooling whilst you are on the road. If you intend to stay in a place for a long period of time you can also consider sending your kids to a local school, not only can they start learning new languages, but the exposure to a different culture will be eye opening for them and for you. The key is to plan things well when you are taking children along. They need to feel a part of it. Encourage them to keep a journal, and fill it with photos, drawings, ticket stubs and postcards. Not only will it keep them busy, it will be a fantastic record of their experience.

There are definitely more obstacles and responsibilities when you get older, of that there is no doubt, but it all depends on how you view things. If your burning desire to explore hasn’t gone away, and you can’t see yourself waiting until retirement, then knuckle down to some serious detailed planning and prepare the trip of a life time for you and your family.

Written by: Vicky Fellowes
Vicky writes for dinner plate diaries where she blogs about her food adventures from around the world.

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