Sabbaticals: the options

Ros Walford

written by
Ros Walford

updated 21.07.2021

Taking a sabbatical often requires meticulous planning and a little bit of courage. In the third of this four-part series, Ros Walford provides a little inspiration by giving the lowdown on just some of the many things you could do during a career break.

What would you do if you had the opportunity to take a career break? Learn to hang-glide or speak Russian? Write a bestseller? Travel the world by boat? There are as many options as there are fish in the sea and deciding on an itinerary is all part of the fun. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Study abroad

Imagine swanning from lecture hall to classroom in a baroque centre of learning in Rome, notebook tucked under one arm. Each day after your Italian class, you hop onto your moped and scoot off. You meet your friends, Luigi and Maria, in a tiny trattoria around the corner from the Fontana di Trevi where you dine and parlare Italiano the whole night long before returning to your rooftop apartment. You have not a care in the world except for which form of subjunctive to use.

Night view over fountain di Trevi in Rome ©  trabantos/Shutterstock

Night view over fountain di Trevi in Rome © trabantos/Shutterstock

Ok, so this may be a romanticized picture of life as a foreign student, but it could be close to reality if you make the right choice. If enrolling at a university is too much commitment, check out study holidays run by tour companies. They offer everything from cooking classes in Thailand to jazz workshops in the south of France, photography courses in Kenya or art classes in northern Spain. Be sure to find out if the course is suitable before you book – for example, is it aimed at beginners? How big is the group? What is the ratio of students to teachers? You can search for holiday courses around the world on

Achieve a long-held ambition

Sabbatical leave could be your chance to put the skills you already have to good use. How wonderful to have the time to write that novel that you’ve had burning inside you for years! Take yourself off to a remote Greek island, where the only distractions are the azure Mediterranean Sea and the lure of a local taverna.

Relaxing on a hammock ©  soft_light/Shutterstock

Relaxing on a hammock © soft_light/Shutterstock

For academic types, this is the opportunity to carry out a research project, such as examining family genealogy or carrying out scientific fieldwork (see the Royal Geographical Society vacancies bulletin for fieldwork opportunities).

Adventure challenge

If you’re seeking adrenalin, take an adventure challenge. Perhaps you have always wanted to climb Everest, join a polar expedition, or circumnavigate the globe by unicycle. Whatever challenge you aim for can be done, if you’ve got the determination to see through your convictions. Help others at the same time by raising money for charity. Check out for some inspiration.


The easy one: make a destination wish-list, buy your tickets, pack your bags – and go! Choosing where to go may be your only dilemma, but what a delightful problem that is. Should it be the clamouring souks of Marrakesh or a tranquil teahouse trail in the Himalayas? How about a steamy boat trip along the Amazon delta? Once you’ve figured out your itinerary, you could be wending your way slowly overland through Asia, following the backpacker trail around Australia and New Zealand, or embracing lively Latino culture in Central America.

Grand Canyon from Desert View Point, South Rim with the Colorado © Josemaria Toscano/Shutterstock

Grand Canyon from Desert View Point, South Rim with the Colorado River © Josemaria Toscano/Shutterstock

Buying plane tickets will give a structure to your trip but don’t be afraid of keeping your options open. There’s nothing quite like choosing your next destination on a whim. Don’t be put off if you have to travel alone – you’ll meet far more people and feel a huge sense of freedom.


Giving something back to the world can be immensely satisfying. There are thousands of volunteering opportunities available, from development to conservation programs. It’s an exciting way to see the world, meet new people and to live among cultures that are different to your own. You might find yourself caring for orphans in Calcutta, helping to build a new school or hospital in Bolivia, providing IT training in Uganda, or monitoring Orang Utan populations of Borneo.

Orangutan in the jungle of Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia ©  jaiman taip/Shutterstock

Orangutan in the jungle of Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia © jaiman taip/Shutterstock

Long-term programs such as those run by the international development organisation VSO seek volunteers with professional skills and qualifications to work on projects for up to two years. There are also numerous organizations seeking short-term volunteering positions. Check the website of the charity that you are interested in for details of their own scheme, sign up to an agency such as Cross-Cultural Solutions or Projects Abroad, or browse the internet for independent projects.

Work abroad

If you plan to work abroad, you might find a professional placement before you go, perhaps in another of your company’s offices or partner organisation. Medical, engineering and IT professionals are in demand globally and anyone with a skilled trade, such as hairdressing or carpentry, shouldn’t have any trouble finding opportunities for work. Otherwise, depending on where you go, there are usually casual jobs to be found, such as bar or restaurant work, working in a hostel or other tourism-related jobs, such as on cruise ships or in ski resorts.

Coronavirus protection at school © Sirisak_baokaew/Shutterstock

© Sirisak_baokaew/Shutterstock

Many people use teaching as a means to travel and live abroad. It’s possible to get casual posts for just a few months (with or without a teaching qualification depending on the location), although most teaching posts require a commitment of a year or more. There is a massive demand for English teachers in China and South Korea, where the pay is fairly good. If you don’t have a teaching qualification, it is wise to obtain a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate, either in the UK or at a language school abroad. This intensive crash course (one-month full time or three-months part-time) will train you in the basics of teaching English. The most globally respected qualifications are the Cambridge Celta and Trinity CertTesol. See the British Council website for a list of accredited colleges and certificates.

First time guide

Top image © Pattakorn Uttarasak/Shutterstock

Ros Walford

written by
Ros Walford

updated 21.07.2021

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