The old myth that you should travel exclusively between college and starting work is finally dying out. Many people are waking up to the fact that waiting until you have established yourself in your career can give you the security and freedom you need to achieve your travel dreams. The travel sabbatical is on the rise – and about time, too. Here are a few tips to help you arrange yours with as little fuss as possible.
Check Your Contract
Companies often have policies regarding sabbaticals, and the more familiar you are with these, the better. You might be required to give a certain amount of notice, or to put in a request with a certain department, or write a formal letter. Sticking to the rules gives you the best chance of getting what you want.
There may be requirements that you have to fulfil first. Often, you will only be allowed to take a sabbatical after you have worked for a particular amount of time for the company. But once you know this, you can work towards it (“Six more months until I’m eligible”).
It is also a good thing to know your rights before going into negotiations. Most companies should be aware of the benefits of sabbaticals – and as mentioned, they are increasing in popularity. However, you never know when you’re going to catch someone on a bad day and have them dismiss your request. If you can counter by quoting your employee contract, you can get around this quickly and with minimal fuss. Also you might feel like you’re in the last scene of a courtroom drama. (“No, you’re out of order, Karen!”)
When making arrangements like this, timing is key. This is true in two different ways. Firstly, if you are going to have a “so I’ve been thinking of taking a sabbatical” conversation with someone, you’ll want to time it right. If they’ve just finished complaining about having to come in on their day off and how their babysitter just bailed on them… maybe wait until later.
Timing is also crucial when it comes to planning the sabbatical itself. If you work for an accounting firm, make sure that you are not asking for time off during tax season. If you work for a event or catering company, probably don’t plan on being away over Christmas. And so on.
Plan First, Ask Later
By which I mean… have some idea of what you want before you ask. Don’t book six months’ worth of travel and then make an appointment with HR. You may need to compromise your plan to keep your employer happy. But it can help to know exactly what you are asking for.
You may want to test the waters in a general way first. Mention that you’re thinking about taking time off. But if you are asked for something more concrete, you’re going to want to have an answer ready, even if it’s just hypothetical.
Also, if you have something really specific, you can make a special effort to achieve it. Say you want to go to the Japanese Cherry Blossom Festival as part of your travels. You’ll need to make sure that you will be free during April and May.
Two things here. First of all, if you are going to get your company on board with you leaving and coming back – with them keeping your job ready for you, essentially – you need to make sure that they value you. That they are going to want you back. This is something to consider in terms of the previous point on timing. Try upping your game in the few weeks or months before you make your request. When they go over your records to evaluate you, you want them to be saying “what, her? The one with the amazingly high sales numbers? Yes, good grief, give her six months. And also a raise. And a car.”
Value as an employee can also be something to mention in terms of incentive. Travel has so many benefits in terms of experience and worldview. You can focus on the potential your sabbatical has to make you a better employee. You could mention that you plan on learning a new language while you are away, or new cooking skills, or anything else that the company could benefit from.
Keep it Friendly
If you do end up having to take a hard line in terms of asserting your rights as an employee, make sure that you remain friendly. If there is someone causing problems for you, it is likely that they are simply on edge at the idea of covering the work you were doing before. You can calm them by helping to arrange that cover, maybe volunteering to train anyone that will need to do work you will be leaving behind.
And… well, let’s be honest. A travel sabbatical is the dream for a lot of people, and there may be someone with a “why her and not me” attitude (Yeah, I see you, Karen). We’ve all felt that way about someone at some point. But if you’re open about why you’re doing it, and keep a friendly demeanor no matter what, you can get people on board with your plans.
Have a Goal
These arrangements aren’t the most difficult in the world. But they do take effort, and there may be obstacles that must be overcome. In order to remind yourself of what you are trying to do, it can be a great idea to have your goals set beforehand.
Maybe start a scrapbook, with pictures from all the places you want to visit. Or a set of pinterest boards, one for each destination. You could start learning a language that you’re going to need on your travels. Perhaps you could delve into some research for the histories and cultures that you will be encountering. Or you could read other people’s travel blogs and journals, or watch video travel diaries to get you excited.
Keep the dreams in sight, and you’ll know what you’re chasing. Suddenly, even the paperwork can seem exciting.