Fancy a career break to go travelling? Taking a sabbatical is no longer the domain of the feckless. Instead, it’s a powerful strategy for getting ahead. With a growing body of research pointing to the relationship between wellbeing and productivity, we know that happier people perform better at work. Here are four major ways that taking a break could be the savviest career move you pull:
It helps you to pivot
By the time you hit your thirties or forties, you may have been in your current role for a number of years. Maybe you like the company and the working culture, but the job itself is becoming stale. You crave new projects, different responsibilities, a fresh outlook.
Taking a break to travel can be a great way of cleverly forcing through this change of scene. Just by putting in a request for a sabbatical, you’re giving your boss an amber warning light that all is not as it should be. Those shake-ups that they’ve been promising for years – they need to happen. And if your company value you at all, they’ll take heed (if not, that’s a prompt to think about leaving).
HR executive Kelley McVay, who worked for a respected medical college in New York City, found herself in exactly this situation.
“I was starting to get frustrated at work because, while I was still fulfilled in my role, it was obvious that there weren’t any further growth opportunities for me,” she explains. “I raised this with my leadership team, and we discussed other opportunities but nothing panned out. In late 2015 I came up with the idea to plan a Round the World trip for my 45th birthday.”
The getaway, which spanned from Athens to Cairo and Beijing, started McVay along a path which would ultimately lead to her leaving her job.
Taking a break not only lends perspective and preps the ground for a role change, it’s also a great way to transition if you’ve already got a move on the horizon.
“If you’re ready for a career pivot – a real change in your work – it’s a great opportunity for a sabbatical,” says Philip Storey, founder of digital marketing consultancy Enchant, which employs mostly digital nomads. “This is a good time to step back. As much as you can try and do this whilst still in your current job role, it’s more effective if you can create space between the two, with some time out.
“If you can afford to, take a good chunk of time out, Airbnb your house and go on sabbatical. Try and get away from your usual surroundings and broaden your mind. Travel is the perfect way to do this.”
You stop being the person who does everything
Are you the kind of person who frequently takes on far more than you can handle? Maybe you stay late to cover other people’s mistakes, or forever feel frustrated by others not pulling their weight.
If this sounds familiar, a shift is critical. By taking a break to travel, you allow yourself room to shrug the weight off. And more importantly, once you’re physically out of the office, things *have* to operate without you. Your colleagues can cope, and they will.
Yes, this means you’re dispensable – and that’s a good thing. When you return, you’ll have the space to carve out the role that you want, without taking on extra baggage. You and others will learn that you can take time out without the world falling apart, and that’s a huge burden to be released from.
It’s also a very effective way of pushing through a new way of working, without continually sounding off to HR.
You blast through brain fog
If overloading is a problem for you, taking a career break can help to ease the strain. The fact that you’re not working (or working less) helps, but the routine of travelling also eliminates a vast decision process and shows just how simple life can be.
“I believe a lot of our own energy goes into thinking too much,” says jewellery designer Arabel Lebrusan (pictured below), who decided to run her business part-time last year, in order to fulfill her dream of travelling the world.
“Travelling is like going back right to basics: where am I going to sleep tonight? where can I find food? And do we still have clean clothes?”
“In my day-to-day life running a business, creativity is almost shadowed by office work, emails and meeting customers,” Lebrusan adds. “At the beginning of our trip, I wasn’t that creative but then after a few months, I had this incredible burst of creativity. I couldn’t stop myself from weaving palm trees leaves, making sand sculptures or drawing everywhere I went.
“By the end of the trip I had designed so much new jewellery for my brand, that I now have to stop myself from making it all in one go.”
Storey agrees that travelling is a brilliant conduit for head space and ideas.
“I suggest trying to have a year away from the norm,” he says. “You’ll likely find that in just a few weeks, ideas will come along. They will form projects and you’ll start to imagine a different future. Just make sure you’re not going to be counting down the days until you have to go back to work – create the space you need.”
You develop the confidence to forge your own path
Taking a career break to travel is not the easiest thing in the world to do. By successfully engineering the move, you prove to yourself and others that you have control of your own destiny.
For many people, a sabbatical is a milestone. It may well represent the first time in your life that you go against the grain and do something unexpected – a decision that’s just about you. Think of it as your Eat, Pray, Love moment.
Your team might not like it. Your boss could get difficult. Some people will paint it as a means of shirking responsibilities and escaping “real life”.
But, all of that is really background noise. This is about you stepping up to take control of your life’s script. Instead of letting your job wander into unfulfillment, you’re being an agent of your own happiness.
Just by asking for a career break, you develop confidence to put yourself first and break the mould. And this is an invaluable skill, no matter where you’re at in your career.
Read more: Five signs you urgently need an adventure
Just one last thing: however empowering a career break may be, you need to nail down the detail of it before disappearing off into the sunset.
“Make sure you get your agreement to return in writing, and get a solicitor to check it,” says Storey. “This will only cost you £100 or so to have it checked, but it’s really important and will give you the peace of mind to get the most from your sabbatical.”