Career Break Interview Series
As part of the Career Break Interview Series, I will be interviewing individuals who have taken a career break or sabbatical. When I was considering taking a career break, reading about other peoples experiences inspired me to hand in my notice and book my plane ticket to India. I hope reading other peoples stories will not only inspire you but also provide first-hand advice and helpful travel tips.
For this interview, I talked to Lucy who worked at the Royal Bank of Scotland. Lucy was ready to hand in her notice so she could take some time out to go travelling but then found out her company had a sabbatical policy.
So onto the interview:
What were you doing before your sabbatical?
I was working for RBS in a finance office.
What made you decide to take a career break?
I felt that the time was right. I’ve always wanted to travel but financially and life wise it was just the right time.
Did you approach your employer to ask to take a sabbatical or did you want to quit your job?
I didn’t know that I could have a break from work and take a sabbatical. I spoke to my line manager and explained what my plans were and that I wanted to go travelling and I told her I would have to hand my notice in. She then told me about the sabbatical scheme that RBS runs and sent me the sabbatical policy and helpful information about it. After reading the policy documents I made the decision that I wanted to apply for a sabbatical, rather than quitting my job. I had to fill some forms in and meet certain criteria and this then had to be signed off by a senior manager.
Where your employers supportive of the idea of you taking a sabbatical?
They were really supportive and I actually didn’t meet the criteria to take a sabbatical but they wanted me to come back to the business, so they bent the rules in effect. Leading up to it and during my time off they kept in touch and printed a map off so they could follow my journey. It was nice to know that I had the freedom to travel but with the security of a job to return to.
Did RBS dictate how long you could have off and what you were and weren't permitted to do during your break?
The rules for my place of work were that the sabbatical had to be between 2 months and 2 years. I was not allowed to do any other paid work during my time off, which is understandable. I didn't have any intention to work while I was away but it is definitely something to consider if you do want to work while travelling to get some extra cash. I believe both of these conditions are standard terms in a sabbatical policy.
How long did you decide to take off for your career break?
I took 5 months off, as this gave me time to see the places I wanted to see.
Were your work colleagues, friends and family supportive?
Yes extremely supportive. My family and friends were excited about it and maybe a little apprehensive about me being away for that length of time. It was a positive experience and it helped that my employers had a sabbatical policy/scheme as it showed they were open to talking about career breaks and understood the positives of taking some 'time out'.
How did you organise your career break?
Lots of planning. I started with a world map and put pins in all of the countries we wanted to see. Then using a large roll of lining paper, I created spider diagrams of the places we wanted to see in each country. After we narrowed down the places we wanted to see I worked out a realistic time frame for each place. We watched hours of YouTube videos of places we wanted to see and I spent hours researching on Pinterest. I made lists of things we wanted to see in each place and narrowed the list down to the top things we wanted to do.
How did you budget for your career break?
We researched living costs for each country for a budget to mid-range price experience. When we agreed on a budget we used an app and kept a record of EVERYTHING we spent everyday. This helped us keep track if we were over or under budget each day and for each country. I think it would have been hard to keep track of the budget without noting exactly what we were spending.
Where did you travel to?
We travelled to Dubai, India, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines.
Do you have a favourite country?
Everywhere had highlights but I would say overall Vietnam was my favourite.
What were the best and worst things about your career break?
Best: seeing all the places I’d dreamt of! I loved meeting locals and other travellers and hearing their stories. I enjoyed not having a specific plan so we could stay longer if we liked somewhere or move on if we didn’t.
Worst: packing and unpacking!!
What is the plan now you are back home?
I have returned to the same job at the RBS and it feels like I’d never been away.
What did you learn from taking a sabbatical? Have you learnt any skills which you can transfer to the workplace?
I learnt how few material possessions I need and I can travel light. I also learnt how nice and friendly people are and how grateful some people are for you visiting their country and admiring their way of life. I can now see how far a smile can go in making you more approachable.
I think my patience has grown from forever waiting to go through security lines and passport control. And it shows that everyone deep down is the same. Everyone is just trying to get by in their own way.
Do you have any money saving tips or travel hacks when travelling long term?
Budget!! When you are saving for travelling, have a tin and each week maybe have a bottle of wine less or a coffee and put that money away. It soon adds up and your money will go a lot further in South East Asia than at home.
When you are travelling eat local food in local restaurants or street food. It’s always cheaper.
If you had to give one piece of advice to somebody considering taking a sabbatical or career break, what would it be?
Do it. You won’t regret it. Work and money will always be there. Experiences last a lifetime.
Thank you Lucy for talking to Career Break Kate about your experience of taking a sabbatical and I hope that you are settling back into 'normality' after your amazing experience.
As Lucy says work will always be there when you get home and you can always earn more money. Time is valuable and if you feel that now is the right time, then go for it! I also agree with Lucy's money saving tip about keeping a note of every penny you spend. I did this for 9 months and I think it was the only way to truly keep track of your budget, without doing this I think I would have run out of money a lot sooner.
If you have taken a career break or sabbatical and have a story to tell, drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to be a part of the interview series.