Even though I travel pretty often, I’ve never taken a year off to travel. I was excited to sit down with someone two weeks into her sabbatical year off to find out all the details of her planned trip. So while we shared a bottle of port wine, she filled me in on what it’s like to quit your job and take off with the intention of traveling for a full year.
GnomeTrotting: So how did you get this idea to do a sabbatical year?
Sabbatical year traveler (SYT): I had to think about the answer to this because people keep asking me “What made you do this?” So I went to Costa Rica and met a guy that was doing the same thing. My mentality was like, must be nice. But it was never a realistic idea for me to be able to do it. But then I went to New Zealand, and I thought about how nice it would be to stay for two weeks or a month and actually see how people live there.
GT: How did you make this dream a reality?
SYT: I decided to move out by myself and I was spending $1,600 on rent. So I thought I could take $1600 a month and live outside the US and experience other things instead. So I moved back in with my parents for a year and started saving and I’ve saved enough to do 12 months if I stick to my budget.
GT: Did you quit your job? Sell your car?
SYT: I quit my job, though my boss is counting on me coming back eventually. And if I don’t go back to work there, I can always move back in with my parents. My car lease was coming to an end anyway, so it was the perfect opportunity. I don’t have any recurring payments except for my phone. I can spend all my money on travel.
GT: How much is your budget per month?
SYT: $2000 a month. And I think I’ll go way below the budget by staying in hostels instead of Airbnb.
GT: Is sacrificing the comfort of privacy wearing on you or is it worth it?
SYT: I thought about staying on my own because I have so many electronics on me… a laptop, a camera. But then last minute, I booked a hostel in Iceland at the airport. I don’t regret it because I met people. If I had stayed in an Airbnb, I probably wouldn’t have gone to a bar by myself. I probably would have just gone home early. But I think there will be times when I need a break from the hostels.
GT: Most definitely. Other people are the worst. What do your friends and family think about you taking a year off to travel?
SYT: People didn’t really believe me when I said it. When I said I was moving back home to save for travel, people thought I just didn’t want to live alone. But it became a solid plan in August because I had all this money from real estate sales, and then everyone started to take it more seriously.
With regards to safety, my mom was worried, but not anymore. Everyone thinks I’m gonna fall in love. They’re hoping for an Eat Pray Love situation.
GT: I think that story is bullshit, and people who claim to find themselves while traveling are douchebags. But does any part of you want that, too? To find yourself? To find love?
SYT: I guess. I was just tired of the same routine at home. I don’t know if leaving is a solution but it might be. I was nervous though. I thought, what if I leave and it doesn’t make me happy? I do feel like I need to be different when I come back. But I just needed a change of pace.
GT: Do you have any concerns about missing home? Would you cut the trip short if you were too homesick?
SYT: When I said I’d do a year, I thought I’d be in places longer, but starting in Iceland, between the expense and the weather, I thought, “Shit, I don’t know if I can do this for a year.” So we’ll see. Homesick as in friends and family? I don’t think so. With social media and texting, it’s the same thing as home. I like my quiet time, so I think I’ll be fine. But the comfort of having my room and my car, I guess that bugs me. But I wouldn’t do anything at home. I would just go to work and be at home. It’s comfortable, but you’re fucking wasting away.
GT: Where are you planning to go exactly?
SYT: I started in Iceland. London wasn’t planned, just a quick stop. Prague was always going to be a stop, but I stopped here now because I needed to see familiar faces. Then Dubai, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Spain, maybe France, Spain, maybe Portugal… I’m not sure. I don’t want to make this huge list and not be able to make it if I run out of money. But I want to finish off in Indonesia and Australia. Then if I still have money, I’d go to Fiji, Hawaii, and then go home. I haven’t been to Bolivia in 10 years, so I also plan to go back to visit family for at least a month.
GT: So your travel year isn’t meticulously planned?
SYT: No, I haven’t planned anything. It’s funny because every other vacation I’ve taken, I’ve looked up everything and booked everything in advance. But on the biggest trip of my life, I haven’t done anything. I just figure on my downtime in one city, I can research the next place.
GT: You mentioned potentially not making it as long as a year. On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely is it you’ll bail on your extended vacation early?
SYT: We’re at a 9 I think. Just because thinking about where I want to go, I’m moving really fast. I’m not even a month in, and it feels like it’s been so long. Right now, I don’t think I’ll do the year.
GT: So you’re a liar. What am I even interviewing you for?
SYT: I just like the sound of a year. It can’t be 8 ½ months… just make it a solid year. It’s just a weird experience you can’t really plan for, so right now I’m just winging it and we’ll see. I’m not sure how long I’ll want to stay anywhere, and I don’t want to get excited about different places and then not make it there.
GT: So your three giant bags you had to haul up our four flights of stairs are obviously a disaster. Is there anything else aside from luggage that you know now that you wish you had realized before?
SYT: The bags have been my biggest issue. I’m paying more on flights. Norwegian made me pay $200 for my luggage on my flight to Iceland. I could have gone to London for $50, but I paid $100-something to pay for the extra bags. I could maybe drop one bag but if I’m really gonna do a year, I don’t think I could minimize more than that. I also packed last minute. I’m the biggest procrastinator.
Aside from that, I had mapped it starting in Iceland and circling the globe in a cost efficient way. But when I realized how cold I was in Iceland and how cold Europe would be, I changed my route. So initially, I wanted to start cold so I end up in the places I really like where it’s warm, like Bali. But I regret not realizing that Iceland…
GT: …was going to be icy.
SYT: I regret Iceland being first. But on the first day, I met this awesome gentleman from Latvia so it was still worth it because he felt like a friend already.
GT: That you’re in love with.
SYT: Yeah kinda.
GT: So on a scale of 1 to 10, how likely is it that your sabbatical year will end in marriage in Latvia?
GT: Fine. So if you could give any advice to someone hoping to take a year off to travel, what would you say?
SYT: Don’t fucking fly Norwegian.