The countdown to my sabbatical is officially on!
In twenty days, I will say goodbye (temporarily!) to the job I’ve held for the past eleven years.
And seven days after that, I will board a flight bound for San Fransisco, then a flight bound for Los Angeles (or is it vice-versa?) and then a flight bound for Taipei, Taiwan.
And just like that, I will begin the sabbatical that I’ve been planning for the past four years.
Planning for My Sabbatical
Four years ago, I registered in my employer’s deferred salary program. Since then, my employer has taken 20% off of my paycheque every month, setting it aside so that I could get “paid” during the eight months I will take off work.
I talk about the advantages and disadvantages of this program in the post above. Basically, salary deferral is good because it’s forced savings and it put you in a lower tax bracket while you’re working, but it’s not great because you don’t earn much interest on the money that’s set aside. Oh, and you make 20% less per month than you did before!
I had originally planned to take my sabbatical last year, but I signed on to a three-year project and asked for a deferral (… of a deferral) to see the project through to completion. Now that it’s over, I feel comfortable walking away from work for eight months, knowing that a job is waiting for me upon my return and that I have 33% more money saved than I’d originally planned!
I’m basically Beyonce now. (Also, that’s the first GIF on my site, ever!)
Although I’m super excited, the lead-up to departure hasn’t been easy.
The biggest challenge has definitely been sorting out my home situation while I’m away. I own a condo, and I’d been hoping to find a tenant to be my “roommate” while I’m away – they could have my guest room and the master bathroom, and I would move all my stuff into my master bedroom and the en-suite bathroom.
However, July through February is a wonky rental period in my city (I mean, it’s June 7th today and it literally snowed all morning… nobody is going to want to move their stuff to a new place in the dead of February…) and as of today, I still don’t have a tenant lined up. If this doesn’t work out, then I will need to find someone to do a twice-weekly “sweep” of my unit for eight entire months, which is kind of a big ask of a neighbor. I don’t need the money as much as I’d like to have someone in the unit regularly, making sure nothing explodes!
The other thing that has taken a lot of time, effort and money is sorting out my health care. I had to schedule an initial consultation at a travel medical clinic, and then return several times (during business hours…) to complete my vaccination series at a cost of more than $1100. I had to pay another $300 or so (I think – accurate details are in the post above) for prescribed medications, and I had to take more time off work to squeeze in a last-minute dental check-up before I left home. All in all, I missed more work than I would have liked in the days before departing.
Why Am I Taking a Sabbatical?
I don’t have a specific “personal development” goal for my sabbatical. This isn’t an Eat, Pray, Love thing for me. Rather, it’s an opportunity to visit some places that I’ve always wanted to see, but where the climate isn’t necessarily conducive to a great visit during the times of year that I can normally travel. I’ll talk more about destinations below.
I suppose the other thing is that while I do love my job, I’m not convinced that it’s super-healthy to just work, non-stop, forever. I work in education, which means that the longest break I’ve had from school (either as a student or as a teacher) was four months back in 2002, during my university’s normal summer break. The year after that I started accelerating my first degree (of three) by taking summer courses, and since then I’ve been continuously either employed as a full-time teacher or registered as a full-time student (and for two years, when I was working on my masters degree, I was both!).
I feel confident that taking eight months off from both being a student and being a teacher will be a really positive experience, and that I will return to work re-energized and re-inspired. I have colleagues who are suffering burnout and who are on stress leaves or other mental health leaves, and I’m hoping this eight-month break will help me avoid going down that path.
Where Am I Going?
Last autumn I found a great airfare to Taipei, Taiwan. It cost less than $400 Canadian, including TWO checked bags (I’ll just have my backpack, though). Once I discovered that Canadians don’t need a visa to enter Taiwan, I immediately booked the flight. At only $400, I knew I wouldn’t feel too bad if later I decided to start my trip via an alternate arrival point, but I didn’t ever find an alternate route that was more appealing. So, I’m heading to Taiwan, but just for four full days (excluding arrival and departure days).
I’m feeling a little bit dumb about this. I have previously visited Southeast Asia during my annual summer break, but it was always rainy season in the places that I visited, so I just assumed that it would also be rainy season in Bali, Indonesia. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that July and August are actually the dry season in Bali, and that I could have visited pretty much any time over the past eleven years.
So, here I am, heading to Bali for about five or six weeks. I’m starting in Ubud for a week before heading to the coast via Canggu and some of the nearby islands. After that I’m going to pop over to Bangkok for a five-night visa run (and a chance to re-visit my favorite food courts!) before returning to explore more of the off-the-beaten-path destinations in Bali.
From Bali, I need to fly to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Shockingly, there are no direct flights, so I need to transfer via a few other places. Since I’ve got lots of time, I’m routing the flight via two of my favorite cities. The first is Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I was here for two days in 2016 and immediately fell in love with the city (and with the monkeys at the Batu Caves!). This time, I will spend about four or five nights in Kuala Lumpur before I catch my next flight.
Istanbul, Turkey was actually the first city I visited on a long recreational trip (as opposed to a long “trip” taken to work or study abroad). I had a friend living in the city, so I stopped by for a few days on my way to – get this – Chisinau (thanks Turkish Airlines!). That was nine years ago, but I still have great memories of the beautiful waterfront, the delicious food and the spectacular architecture. Oh, and I will always be thankful to my first Turkish Baths for teaching me what real exfoliation looks like! On this trip I have about five or six days in Istanbul and my plan is basically just to relive my 2010 trip!
Since I haven’t been to most of these destinations, I used stock photos for all of this post. I couldn’t actually find a photo of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, so I had to go with a general photo of Kyrgyzstan (which, oddly, was tagged “peasantry”…). I have previously traveled to Mongolia and consider it to be one of the most amazing places I’ve ever visited, and I’m hoping that Central Asia will tick a lot of the same boxes (goats, camels, wide open spaces, the Cyrillic alphabet…).
What makes this part of my trip unique is that I will be joining a twenty-three day organized group tour with G Adventures. I’ve never done a “real” multi-day group tour before (my overnight tour of Chernobyl last year was only one night, and my tour of Mongolia was not particularly “organized”…). I don’t have particularly high or low expectations – either way, it’s only twenty-three days out of my longer eight-month trip.
My G Adventures tour ends in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and I’ve given myself ten days in the country after the tour. I think the tour will cover most of the touristy highlights, so I’m hoping I can spend those last ten days doing some more off-the-beaten-path type activities and maybe visiting more rural villages or “second” cities.
I feel like it’s kind of dumb to speak of “India” generally, but my goal really is to see as much of the country as possible, and to travel at a slow, steady pace. India is a destination that I’ve dreamed of visiting every since I became a vegetarian fifteen years ago (you can read about my vegetarian travels if you’re interested!) and I’m so excited to be able to visit outside of monsoon season.
So far, I have plans to fly into Delhi, and then explore the main destinations in Rajasthan, arriving in Udaipur just in time for Diwali. That’s as much as I have booked, but my plan is to then begin heading south towards Goa and Kerala. I haven’t done much research on Southern India yet, but I’ve still got five months from now until I get there!
Taipei to Udaipur is only the first four months of my trip, and I don’t have anything on the agenda for November through February. South India is obviously on my mind, and I’d also like to head south to Sri Lanka as well. After that I really have no idea (okay, writing that makes me feel a little panicky!). I wouldn’t mind doing some scuba diving in the Indian Ocean, or possibly heading over to South America (I’ve always liked the way “Uruguay” sounds…) or maybe backtracking towards Southeast Asia to visit countries I have yet to explore, like Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos.
What do you think – where should I go after India? Let me know in the comments!
I appreciate that being able to take eight months off work is an exceptional privilege, and I intend to use this “gift of time” to its fullest, both for my personal enjoyment and, hopefully, to gain actionable knowledge about the world that I can use to be a better global citizen.
I’m definitely planning to bring you lots of content while I’m away, including posts like this with updates about my life on the road, and also super-useful destination guides, itineraries, reviews and travelogues to help you with your own trip planning.
As I said above, I’d love to hear your suggestions about places to travel from November through February (you can mouseover the “Destinations” button above to see many of the places I’ve already been – hopefully you can suggest some new spots for me to check out!) and I also love hearing about your own sabbaticals, RTW trips and gap year adventures. I read and appreciate all your comments, so thank you in advance!