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Sabbaticals: what the people say

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By Ros Walford
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In the fourth and final part of this series and to finally cement the idea of taking a sabbatical firmly in your head, find out what the experts say about taking a sabbatical. Here are six individuals who have taken sabbaticals and loved it:

AlexandraAlexandra, British, former travel editor

What did you do with your time off?
My husband and I had always dreamt of going abroad for a prolonged period of time, and because he is part German, we decided a trip to the Motherland was in order – to meet distant relations, to get to know the place and also, mainly, to learn the language. We went to language school for 10 weeks in Freiburg im Breisgau, a beautiful university town in the heart of the Black Forest. Weekdays were taken up with our studies, so at weekends we explored the area in all its jaw-dropping glory.
How did you persuade your boss?
I had to make a strong case for the sabbatical to persuade my superiors it would be a win-win situation. I firmly believed that my time away would benefit the company as well as me – after all, they were set to have a much-refreshed, German-speaking employee in a matter of months. I think my argument was even more convincing because I worked for a Travel publisher, which meant that any experience abroad would be a boon for the business.Would you recommend a sabbatical to others? 
I’m a big fan of career-breaks, especially if you’ve been in full-time employment for a long time. Not only is it incredibly exciting to escape the constraints of the nine-to-five, but getting away like this also comes with a huge dose of perspective. And the idea that you can go off travelling and come back to a secure job… Well, it’s the best set-up imaginable!

AntonioAntonio, Italian, Video Editor

What did you do with your time off?
I spent 9 months traveling in Peru, Bolivia, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Eastern Island, Australia and Tasmania, Indonesia and Nepal.
How did you persuade your boss?
I’ve got a friendly boss so it was very easy to persuade him – especially as took 6 months away from the office leaving all the responsibility on me. He promised he would pay me back for that sacrifice. Four years later, when I asked him for a sabbatical year, he just said: If you really want do it, it’s fine by me.
Would you recommend a sabbatical to others?
For sure. It was the best experience of my life, so far. Time is the real “gold” that you discover in a sabbatical period. I would say that since my trip I’m better in my job, calmer and more focused. So my advice is: if you really need to do it, don’t be afraid to ask your boss. To ask costs nothing.

JP and SirliJean-Phillip & Sirli, Belgian & Estonian, Product Manager & Civil Servant

What did you do with your time off?
After respectively twelve and seven years of quiet comfortable professional life in Luxembourg, we wanted a change, to take some risks and have new experiences. We travelled for 11 months. Among the highlights were an orphanage in Tanzania, Georgia, Bolivia, Easter Island, Tahiti, New Zealand and Vietnam.
How did you persuade your boss?It was easier than we thought: we asked for a one-year sabbatical and they accepted. After twelve months, we came back to the same position with the same conditions as before.
Would you recommend a sabbatical to others?
Definitely. Just do it, jump and if you have problems, solutions will come to you naturally. It is a fantastic experience that we recommend to everybody.

LeilaLeila Anderson, British, Human Resources Specialist

What did you do with your time off?
After six years of working and absolutely no ties it felt like a good time to venture out into the world. I started in Argentina and then travelled up through Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
How did you persuade your boss?
Within my company there isn’t a sabbatical policy so I got my rationale down on paper and highlighted all the benefits to the company that I could think of and stated why I personally wanted to go. I emailed this to my boss in advance and arranged a time to discuss. Luckily, he was really supportive and agreed that I could take six months off.
Would you recommend a sabbatical to others?
Absolutely. The people and the places that I encountered in Latin America exceeded my expectations and changing my routine and scenery so fundamentally was a precious experience. Like anything, travelling around Latin America came with its challenges but I remember reading a quote while I was away that read “life is at its best at the end of your comfort zone” and I can think of no better way to summarise my sabbatical.

WhitakerDavid Whitaker, British, Civil Servant

What did you do with your time off?
I wanted to take a sabbatical to refresh my skills and knowledge in economics, having forgotten a good deal of what I learnt when I was an undergraduate. I also wanted to use the acquired skills to seek promotion and generally improve my career. I’m currently studying for a Master’s degree in Economics, at University College London. The course is full-time and lasts for one year, from September 2013 to September 2014.

How did you persuade your boss?
It was a fairly straightforward process ­– I initiated a special year of unpaid leave application with my employer, which I completed and agreed with my work line manager. This form was sent to my employer’s HR department who ratified my sabbatical application within one month. My employers have for several years accommodated a small number of one-year educational sabbaticals. I am self-funded, so I am not obliged to stay with my employer after the Master’s is completed, but if nothing changes I expect to rejoin them in September 2014.

Would you recommend taking a sabbatical?
I would definitely recommend a sabbatical if you’ve got a clear idea of what you want to achieve from it, and know how you’re going to slot back into your regular life afterwards. I think it’s a great way of rediscovering yourself and achieving some of those lofty life goals, which may not present themselves easily in the future.

Kathrin Buchwald

Kathrin, German, Occupational Therapist

What did you do with your time off?
I was feeling frustrated with life and felt that I wasn’t doing my best socially and at work. I decided that I needed to walk away from everything, learn new skills and get inspired again. I wanted to travel and have fun, but also do something meaningful with my time so I signed up for two volunteer projects before I left the UK. Apart from that I made no further plans as I wanted to be open to the things that might come my way. My journey took me to Belize, Mexico, California, Arizona, Ecuador and Guatemala. I met the most interesting and inspiring people and made friends for life. I learnt some new and wonderful skills, like cheese making, roasting coffee, making jewellery, milking goats and the art of happiness. I slept in hostels, beach huts, hammocks, tents, shacks and got invited into peoples homes.

How did you persuade your boss?
I explained the situation to my manager and he offered me the chance to take a one-year career break. What worked in my favour was that I had signed up to do some voluntary work.

Would you recommend a sabbatical to others?
Totally. You get a different perspective on what is really important in life and reflect on your own values and beliefs. Yes it will take you out of your comfort zone, but the rewards are limitless, especially if you stop for a while in one place and really get to know the culture, local people and their communities. You get to see places you would never see as a tourist.

First time guideFor more information, also see:
Sabbaticals: why take a career break? >
Sabbaticals: the logistics >
Sabbaticals: the options >
For more help on planning your trip, use the Rough Guide to First-Time Around the World.

Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.
Browse the Rough Guides ebook shop for guides to help you plan for trip.