My partner Cooper and I are Aussie expats living in England. Our time in London has been amazing. But big city opportunities come with big pressures. I don’t remember jumping on the hamster wheel, but sure knew when we were caught on it! We’d lost sight of our goals, and the situation was taking a toll on our wellbeing.
Mental health is something we’re talking more about these days, and for good reason. According to the World Health Organization, depression and anxiety alone cost the global economy $1 trillion in lost productivity every year. With one in four of us in the UK experiencing a mental illness in any one year, it’s getting tougher for employers to retain talent, and is obviously a struggle for us as a workforce.
We wanted to rediscover our own health and happiness, and decided on a change. My employer offers (unpaid) sabbatical leave for anyone with who’s been there three years. I applied, citing the desire to travel and developing my personal and professional skillset as key reasons for the time off.
We put a realistic time frame on the plan, which gave us nine months to tie-up commitments and save money (about £5,000 each) and we set off in August 2019.
Research published by Lonely Planet found that 92% of us see travel as an opportunity to make a positive change. We agree that it’s possible. After six months on the road, here are four great reasons that might inspire you to pursue a similar path.
Travel changes your perspective
The first months of our time away included visits to Ireland, Spain, Malta, and France. As time passed, we shook off negative feelings from the past year and focused on the “now.” We ended up on all sorts of foreign adventures: a clifftop paella cooking class in Spain, sunrise yoga on a secret beach in Ibiza, and lining up with locals to collect freshly baked bread each morning in a tiny French village.
These happenings are blessings, daily reminders that there is life outside of what we’re told we “should” be doing. Through the experience of language, culture, and a shaken-up routine, what was previously stressful had simply become stuff that happened. All part of “life’s rich tapestry,” as my father would say.
Fascinating new friends will inspire you
Our dream was to travel more and slower. Saving money alone wouldn’t cover us, which is when we turned to house-sitting.
To succeed on a competitive house-sitting site, you need experience and reviews (it works like Airbnb). I developed a strategy and an effective application process, and successfully filled our blocks of travel time. We’ve subsequently been asked by colleagues and friends for advice on how to make this lifestyle a reality and have created guides to help others.
So far, we’ve cared for over 20 dogs, two horses, and a cat — a dream for animal lovers. Benefits we had not anticipated included discovering places we would never have otherwise known about (like beautiful Balbriggan by the sea an hour outside of Dublin, or small villages like Duras in France), and meeting an array of people who have renewed our faith in humanity.
We’ve received so much kindness and hospitality. Then, there’s the stories: Fellow travelers who share relics, memories, and lessons on whiskey! Our English and Canadian expat friends, who pass on their passion for what it means to “be French.” In Malta we stayed with an ex-British Airways flight captain and his wife, an international squash champion, plus their nine dogs! This pair have created a Facebook community, “Adopt a Sicilian Stray,” through which they’ve re-homed hundreds of rescue dogs from terrible circumstances.
To walk in local shoes on their home turf is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and one that has inspired us to look at our lives differently.
You are forced to adopt and adapt to new routines
At first, we attempted to fill our digital nomad calendars (we’re freelancing as multimedia content producers while we travel) in the same way as a “normal” 9-5 workday.
However, between pet care requirements and short winter days with fewer hours of light, this didn’t work. We’ve learned to schedule tasks or deadlines around travel between house sits, and realized that we can design our day according to our needs.
To me, this is an important lesson. Condé Nast Traveller reported in 2019 that, by 2020, roughly 50% of the UK and USA’s workforce would be freelance. It’s a staggering figure, but it represents larger societal changes that are prompting more people to adopt a fresh approach to life and work.
Your values become clear, and so does your path
If you’re unhappy with your situation, stepping away can be the best way to clear your head and gain perspective. And it is possible to achieve. Over the past six months we’ve enjoyed the freedom to exist in new places, get curious and motivated, and clear out brain clutter. It’s not come without challenges though — we’re still asking, “What’s next?”
Pre-sabbatical, that question was tainted with anxiety and fear. This year, it’s full of opportunity. We’ll make our decisions based on what we value, and now we can see those things more clearly.
In any case, the benefits of pausing to take a travel sabbatical completely outweigh the risks we all worry about.
Cooper and I always wanted to travel beyond a week here or there, but were stopped by the usual fears. What if the work world changed while we’re gone, or we ran out of money? But now we’re making it happen — and we’ve never been happier.
Originally published on Business Insider.
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