Well, it has been a while since I’ve posted. I’ve been reading some other blogs, like actual, good ones. They are so beautiful, engaging, and funny that I started to get disinterested with our stuff. But, I’m getting back to it nonetheless. To ease in, I figured I’d start with a list.
The list I’ve been marinating on is what lessons we’ve learned from taking a sabbatical. We’ve been traveling for several months now, so it’s a good time to look back at our time and reflect on any nuggets of wisdom we’ve gained along the way.
A word on the word sabbatical. This is not some sponsored break from our jobs. It’s a faux sabbatical – you know – the one where you just quit your job and move and then refer to it as a sabbatical because it sounds more legit and less nutty. But who are we kidding??
Without further ado, 11 lessons learned from taking a sabbatical:
- Pack with purpose. Packing for long-term travel can be challenging, but is especially difficult if you plan to live places for months at a time. When you move to one city abroad, typically people bring and ship many of their belongings. That makes sense since you are effectively making a home somewhere else. On the other hand, if you are constantly nomad-ing (not a word) around a region, you go for the big backpack stuffed to the brim with just the essentials. Us…we did something in the middle of the spectrum — opting to stay in a new city roughly ~3 months at a time. So, how to pack for that? Well, it was a little hit and miss. We didn’t bring some items that we ended up needing to buy. But, we brought some seemingly weird items that turned out to be really good ideas. We didn’t bring a knife or cutting boards, assuming our apartments would be well-equipped with those items. They were not. We did however, bring a salad spinner, French press, meat thermometer, kitchen scale, and knife sharpener. We have used all of those items many, many times, but believe me, I felt ridiculous packing up a salad spinner. It’s probably been the most used item we brought with us. Also shocking because who knew I eat salads? Certainly not my former co-workers since once, when a co-worker saw me eating yogurt at work, she said (in the sweetest, genuine, totally not ill-intentioned voice) “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you eat anything healthy before”. She was Indian, which I think makes that interaction somewhat less surprising.
- It IS as crazy as it sounds. We have done and seen things that we realize we may never get to do in the future. We also have absolutely no future plans as of yet, which would be uncomfortable for a lot of people. Although, we have agreed to work on plans starting next month, so we aren’t totally irresponsible…just a bit. But getting ourselves out of the daily grind and having completely new routines that don’t involve making powerpoints, telling people to do their jobs, sometimes doing their jobs for them, and checking work email 1000x a day is huge. And it’s the little things that remind me how significant this is. When we wake up and are deciding where to get coffee, or we’re walking through a market, or trying some local, weird delicacy, I am sometimes present enough to recognize that it’s just the coolest and craziest thing that we are getting to do this.
- It ISN’T as crazy as it sounds. Usually, when we tell someone about this trip, people think it’s awesome and exciting and some are envious. It is awesome, but there are a lot of sacrifices that come along with it, and it probably wouldn’t be for everyone. On top of the income we aren’t earning, we’ve missed weddings, events, and even funerals that we really, really wanted to attend. And also, it’s often just regular life sometimes, but with a more interesting backdrop. You still have to do laundry, wash dishes, cook, etc. And sometimes, doing those simple things in a foreign country can be hard and frustrating (ahem…exhibit A).
- Say goodbye to your comfort zone. Everyone’s zone is a little different in size and scope. Maybe you’re a gregarious extrovert that thrives on interacting with people, in which case you’ll probably soak up every minute of a trip like this. Or maybe you’re like us – much more reserved, introverted souls. Well, then you’ll have a tougher time because literally everything you do is out of your comfort zone. But in some ways I think that makes it that much more rewarding. It’s a real challenge to make a foreign place feel like home and I do feel proud that we’ve been able to do that with reasonable success.
- Only go on a sabbatical with someone who has similar money management tendencies. Regular life is hard enough when you’re saver and he/she is a spender or you are both spenders. A trip like this can exacerbate those characteristics since budgeting is imperative. Through some mix of luck and upbringing (maybe that is luck too), both of us have always been good money managers. It’s landed us in a place where we are conscious financial planners and nearly always agree on money-related decisions. We are constantly having to make them here – from creating our original budget, to tracking our ongoing spending, to unexpected trips and restaurants that pop-up that one of us wants to try, etc. It’s an indispensable source of comfort to be on a journey where you both share the same financial perspective, but can also gently check each other when one of you veers from that.
- Who would you want to be stuck on a desert island with? Only go on a sabbatical with that person. It is exactly like a desert island sometimes. I was rambling on about some random philosophical musings to someone the other day and got the sense I was boring them — and felt immediately self-conscious once I caught on (which for the record, doesn’t help with the rambling). Now suuure, I can admit that those soliloquies can be a bit tiring, but it reminded me that it’s probably best not to be stuck alone for extended periods of time with someone that doesn’t appreciate your awkwardness. Especially if you’re a person who’s 80% person awkward, and 20% ice cream.
- Sell, don’t store. Stuff weighs you down. Sometimes that’s good, but sometimes that’s bad – and you really should think through it. It was easier and faster at the time for us to store stuff so that’s what we did, but we really didn’t discuss it as much as we should have. The night before we left we were sitting on the floor of our empty apartment and both of us were regretting that we had put our things in a storage unit. And many wise people told me that was a silly thing to do, but I didn’t want to think about it. Well, now it’s made our future return plans a little more inconvenient and costly.
- Create memories that resonate with you. Museums, churches, castles…these get old after a while. It’s important to do the the type of things you’ll really care about later — that you’ll really want to remember. It’s hard not to feel compelled to work through the must-see lists when you arrive in a new city, but that ends up getting costly fast and often isn’t the stuff that lingers. So we are getting better at spending time and money on the things we want to do rather than the things we think we should do.
- Create routine in the absence of any. After about the first week where you realize you aren’t just on a vacation, it can be downright disorienting. There is just so much freedom — too much freedom — that it is hard to know what do with yourself. Having a daily french class for the first month was so helpful and it really affected us when we ended the course. So we try (and fail, but still try) to implement a routine as much as possible to enable us to be more productive and conscious of our time. Otherwise, it’s really easy to have the days bleed one to the next and to wake up one day to realize months have just gone by.
- Make goals, but be realistic about what you can accomplish. So this is a tough one for me. I’m part dreamer, part pragmatist. I’m a little embarrassed to say that initially, I bought into the notion that this trip was going to be some life-changing, inspiring, epiphany-inducing experience because I’d read so many posts about how these trips were exactly that for so many people. It might or might not happen like that. But rather, it’s important to set goals for what you want to accomplish on a trip like this and keep them realistic. I had grand plans at first. Now I have petite plans (see what I did there??) and it’s still unlikely I’ll accomplish all of those. And yeah, status on the goal of layering in humor on the blog — work in progress.
- Perspective is awfully bittersweet. Getting yourself out of your normal routine has the benefit of allowing you to gain perspective and be a little more retrospective and introspective. And while all those -ectives sound flowery and enlightening, it can kind of sting. For us personally, it’s made us acutely aware of just how self-indulgent a trip like this is when there is so much real life happening in real life and makes us question how we should be using our time and resources in the future. And no, we haven’t had any epiphanies (see #10), so we are just sitting (uncomfortably) with those thoughts for the time being.
And there you have it. We’ll see what lessons the next adventures hold for us.