The Difference a Sabbatical Year Makes

This is a guest post by Andrea from Inspiring Travellers

Being a childless thirtysomething couple has its advantages.

Freedom for one thing.

No matter what you’re doing, nothing is holding you back from making your proverbial dreams come true.

Whether that’s starting a business or deciding to change careers or taking a risk of another kind, as long as you support each other, anything seems possible.

Some of us choose to settle into a routine and comfortable life, keep chipping away at that mortgage, climbing the rungs of the career ladder or working hard at perfecting a craft.

And some of us choose to do something a little different…like travel.

Taking a Sabbatical year
Fun in the snow during our climb of Volcan Villarrica in Chile

Last year we spent just under 12 months travelling around the world. It was easy for us to decide where we wanted to go because we had a checklist of things to do before we start a family.

So we enjoyed time in New Zealand, South America, Europe, the Middle East and then a couple of weeks back in Australia at the end.

The travel was fast-paced and action-packed, a huge departure of our usual nomadic M.O. which is to be expats working and living in a new country for months or years at a time.

My husband and I are an international couple, meaning we held different citizenships from each other when we met while travelling several years ago.

Because of this, deciding to take a year off to travel together was a little less daunting than perhaps it is for people who have never been overseas before or never thought about doing anything so unconventional.

But there was always that niggling question of whether or not it was the right decision, whether or not we would regret it when it was all over.

Taking a year (or even six months) off from work was a huge decision. We faced not only the tangible costs of the trip, but also the opportunity costs of our forgone income and an extra year of work experience.

We risked having a bad time and being forced to just keep on going anyway because we’d made our bed. While most of the people in our lives were supportive, not everyone was convinced we weren’t insane when we first started out.

So what did we gain from this little experiment in madness?

Time to Think

Sure, we think all the time in our regular life. We would think about what to do on the weekend and what we thought about this issue in the news or that personal relationship that was bothering us.

We’d think about the chores we needed to do and where to take our next holiday and whether or not the other one had paid the bills that month.

I’m sure you’ve gathered that isn’t the kind of thinking I’m talking about.

Physically removing ourselves from our routine gave us more time for real reflection. We could sit around and talk about our lives and different possibilities withouth the stresses and mundane interruptions of our regular lives.

Our conversations turned to the more important things in life, the big things, the things you forget about when you’re going about your day to day.

Each day brought fresh experiences, which helped us to put everything else in our lives in perspective. Or sometimes we’d just see a really great sunset and think about how wonderful that was.

Life was somehow simple again.

In between these periods of thinking and talking came another wonderful thing: an incubation period for ideas. Talking and thinking can only get you so far. Your mind needs time to process everything, to take it all in, to rest. The most creative people are those who are exposed to a wide variety of things.

Taking a travel sabbatical was just the thing for injecting novel ideas into our lives. Some brilliant gems would come to me in that hazy half hour as I was waking up in the morning. I don’t have that kind of luxury in my usual working day.

We also had the opportunity to learn more about and develop our relationships with ourselves.

I love lots of things about myself and am really proud of them. But a few things that I don’t like came out this year as well. I don’t feel sad about these, I’m just relieved to have had the opportunity to realize those and make improvements.

A Stronger Relationship

One Tree Hill New Zealand
Enjoying a break on One Tree Hill in Auckland, New Zealand

Being together 24/7 is an interesting proposition. You do most things together, solve problems together, get stuck in the muck together.

It’s a make it or break it situation.

I’m not sure that all couples are cut out for full-time long-term travel together but I’m really glad to know that we are. And how else would I know this if we hadn’t done the experiment?

We’re More Focused

All that thinking and talking and time together led to a few things. First of all, we established what wasn’t working for us in our pre-travel life.

It’s easy to get stuck in a rut in your routine life and feel the unpleasant side effects of things but it can be so difficult to actually see the causes. You’re too close, too focused on the negative by-products of the seemingly invisible crap that surrounds you.

Getting away and out into the world gives you a bit of perspective and a chance to identify what’s causing your unhappiness.

Another thing we gained was a plan. We now have a better understanding of what we want to do with the rest of our lives, an overall clarity of purpose, if you will.

We try not to plan specific things too far in advance but we have a rough idea of what we want our lives to look like in five or ten years time and what we need to do to get there.

Once you’re focused on something it’s much easier to develop tunnel vision and put your efforts specifically into achieving those goals.

New Friends, New Perspectives

I really believe that special people come into our lives at just the time that we’re most ready for them. I love making new friends and exposing myself to many different people all the time.

gap year travel
All dressed up at our friends' wedding in Buenos Aires

When I stay in one place so long that I’ve stopped meeting anyone new I feel stagnant and frustrated. Getting out there in the world presented so many opportunities to get to know new people and this was also helped along by our travel blog.

Last year we met so many people, including several I now call friends.

Part of our new understanding of ourselves involves surrounding ourselves with supportive people who aren’t afraid to dream big like we do, who share a similar outlook on life and get excited about the same things.

For the last few years I’ve been focusing more on the relationships in my life that are positive and less on the ones I’ve outgrown. It can be harder to make new friends at home or in a life where patterns are firmly established.This year was incredible for meeting new people and having awesome conversations.

It’s amazing to see who comes into your life when you’re open and ready for them, and getting out into the world gives you a tremendous opportunity to bring new energy into your life.

Figuring Out Where To Next

We also made a few realizations this year about our travel style. We don’t want to travel full-time forever. We prefer to immerse ourselves into one culture and location and take shorter trips from a home base.

We realized how important travel is for us as well. Even when we start a family we’ll make plenty of time for travel. Breaks rejuvenate us and help us develop fresh ideas and thoughts, aside from the enjoyment we get from the travel itself.

We also got more perspective on different destinations because we actually got to go there and see how other people live.

It’s fun to talk about wanting to live away from it all on a ranch in Patagonia, for example, but going there and actually seeing what that life would be like was eye-opening.

So, Did We Change?

I’ve always believed in the saying,

‘People don’t change their minds, they make new decisions based on new information.’

So the short answer is no, we’re the same people we were when we left. But I can’t help but feel that we’re somehow more awakened, more knowledgeable and better versions of ourselves.

I think a gap year is beneficial at any stage in a person’s life. Take more than one. It will affect you in different ways at different times. Just make sure you do it – it’s a wonderful gift to yourself and the benefits more than outweigh the costs.

Bio: Andrea Spirov is one half of the duo blogging at Inspiring Travellers . She’s a writer, media specialist and entrepreneur by trade but you can also find her in the kitchen or trying new beers with her husband, John. You can follow along on their latest adventures on Facebook as they become expats in Norway and explore Europe a bit more.

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42 Comments on “The Difference a Sabbatical Year Makes”

  1. A wonderfully thoughtful post Andrea! Pete and I were very glad to meet you guys along the way! :)

    • Thanks so much, Dalene – we loved meeting you guys too and hope to catch up in person again sometime!

  2. It’s true, sometimes we need to just remove ourselves from our daily routine and distractions to really reflect on things. Going to Panama on Monday and hopefully I can get some of that done!

    • Have fun, Jeremy! We became very interested in Panama while we were in Colombia – sounds like a great place to explore.

  3. Great summary of what you got out of your travel sabbatical, Andrea. I agree with your comment that we do not change but rather become better and more knowledgeable versions of ourselves.

    Even though we met for one evening of drinking wine in BA, being able to read about your continued travels through your blog has been great. I hope our paths cross again in the near future!

    • Me too, Stephanie – I’ve loved reading your blog, especially as you head through the places we visited when we were in South America. Hopefully your travels will bring you to Europe in the future? Would love to meet again =)

  4. This is a very thoughtful and encouraging post. I’m in a gap year, trying to figure out where to travel next. I really think it will be nice to have a home base and to take short, frequent trips to places I’ve always wanted to see.

    Props to traveling RTW with your hubby! What fun experiences you guys must share! I long for that!

    Cheers and good luck with all of your adventures!

    • Thank you, Jill! Good luck with your decision – I find something worthwhile in every place I visit. =)

  5. I loved reading this as a counterpoint to my recent post – clearly you and I are on the same wavelength, albeit different sides! And the time to think does sound appealing, I have to admit.

    • I couldn’t remember the date that this guest post was coming out in all our recent moving drama but your post did jog my brain into thinking about it again the other day. I really enjoyed reading yours and am so glad they published at the same time! =)

  6. We’re in the same boat and I couldn’t agree more! I do wonder if we’ll regret the lack of kids later in life, but very happy right now.

  7. jamie - cloud people adventures

    i like how you mentioned that it gave you a perspective on the things you weren’t happy about with yourself. i think long-term travel is definitely a great way to identify strengths and weaknesses. its also gives plenty of opportunity to tackle those weaknesses.
    after several gaps, im still finding plenty!

    • Such a great example of the ways a gap year can lead to self-improvement, Jamie. I hope we get to do another one at some stage in the future.

  8. you’ve reinforced what i have been lobbying to the fiance lately. i am getting married this year and i’ve been worrying that marriage would put my travels on restraint.

    but sharing this post to my fiance would probably open his mind without me delivering a full on speech of whys and hows <3

    thank you!

    • Such an exciting time in your life, Rain! Glad you enjoyed the post and good luck with your wedding and plans =)

  9. I wish more people had the opportunity to do this. I know there are some companies in the US that give their employees a sabbatical. Aside from getting a better employee who is more focused when they come back, I think you get a better, stronger person – for all the reasons you mentioned. I am sure there were lots of challenges along the way and some days that weren’t fun. However, this has made you better people as a result.

    Could everyone do a sabbatical? No, probably not. However, I wish companies gave people more opportunities to do so. I think everyone who takes one comes back a changed person.

    • It would be really wonderful if more companies recognized the value of a sabbatical as you say, Jeremy.

  10. It’s great to hear about how this experience actually brought you guys closer together and strengthened your relationship. I think this world would be such a better place if more people had the opportunity to do what you all did — how much better would we understand and respect other cultures? Also good to hear that the experience helped you become more focused.

  11. “Life was somehow simple again.” This is such a great quote as to one of the true joys of traveling. It’s possible to have very few “real world” distractions. Perhaps that’s what makes traveling such a huge impact on ones life.

    And I’m so glad to hear that it made your relationship stronger! Enjoy your forthcoming adventures!

    • Thanks so much, Aaron. I can still feel that desire for simplicity even now that we aren’t on the road full-time.

  12. Great post, Andrea! Extended travel does different things for different people, so it’s always nice to hear someone else’s perspective.

  13. Travelling with your kids (in a few years) will be different, but just as wonderful!

  14. I”m sure taking off work for that long wasn’t easy but how you guys have grown and came to many realizations about yourselves makes everything worth it. Great post.

  15. Thank you Andrea for writing this post! Every time I leave home with my backpack my belief “the more I travel, the less I need” is reinforced. And for me its a sign that you are the second person to write about taking a full year off & traveling. My husband & me (newbie travelers with a bottomless wanderlust) are hooked on the ‘travel, work, enjoy & still support yourself on long travels’ theory… Great job. Wishing your lots more travel & wonderful experiences to share.


    • So glad you enjoyed it, Nayana – wishing you and your husband lots of magical travels as well =)

  16. Great post! I love that you guys came back with a new outlook and are happier for it.

  17. “We prefer to immerse ourselves into one culture and location and take shorter trips from a home base.” This is really interesting! Great post!

    • Thanks, Sharon – it’s true! We’re looking forward to being expats again in the coming weeks.

  18. Wow. Great post guys. Inspiring post really. Honesty and reflection is always inspirational for one’s soul.

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  20. Andrea, the two of you are so amazing! I feel so fortunate to have met both you and John. Can’t wait to start reading about your new adventures in Norway and am very excited when you make it back to Berlin. :)

    This is a really great article. I hope to find someone as special someday to share my travels with …

    • Hi Cheryl – sorry for the late reply, I just saw this. We were so happy to meet you in Budapest and to spend time again in Berlin. Do come visit us in Norway this summer if you can – it’s always fun hanging out! I’m sure you will find that person in time… =)

  21. [...] And right now I’m being completely greedy and protective of my time. If there’s one thing I learned on our sabbatical last year, it’s that I love the refreshing freedom of that lifestyle. People who know me might have an [...]

  22. This post was exactly what the doctor ordered! It so resonates with me at this point. We are a couple in our thirties and are preparing for our plan to travel for a year at least. One of the biggest reasons we want to travel is to figure out what we want to do next with our lives, and we are hoping that stepping away from our daily lives and traveling the world will enable us to do that. Your post makes me believe that it’s not just our naive notion but a definite possibility that we will find our answers. Thanks for your post!!
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