It’s been a while since I last posted (again), and a lot has changed since then! The biggest thing is…I left my old job! I quit so I could help take over my parents’ business because they’re ready to retire.
This was a big decision that I struggled to make. I loved my old job and I was in graduate school to continue pursuing a career in the field. I was good at what I did and I found it fulfilling.
Ultimately though, what I wanted for my life in the long term was greater flexibility, more time with my family, larger earning potential, and to have more control over future places we live. My previous job just wasn’t very compatible with those desires.
As I wrestled with this decision, I also considered the fact that this change would give me the opportunity to plan my transition so that I could have a chunk of time off work between when I left my old role and started my new one. I spent a few months daydreaming about what this gap could look like and I played around with a lot of different ideas, always referring affectionately to the plan as my “sabbatical.”
Deciding What to Do
I contemplated a big cross-country road trip, backpacking in Southeast Asia, exploring the Canadian national parks, staying home to experience a “mini-retirement”, and many other possible scenarios.
Ultimately, I decided to take a three-month gap and split my time up into three distinct chunks. I would spend one month at home, one month traveling with my two younger brothers around Peru, and one month traveling with Cassie throughout Ecuador. This plan let me get a taste of my many different ideas (and also didn’t require Cassie to also take three months away from work, which was a big factor).
The first month at home would give me a chance to rest and decompress after feeling burnt out. A month traveling with my brothers would let me take advantage of this unique time when none of us had obligations that would keep us from being able to take a trip like this (plus, they are some of my favorite people to spend time with). And then Cassie and I would get time to travel and spend time together before her busy fall season.
Saving Up for My Sabbatical
Preparing to take three months off without income while traveling a lot took a decent amount of planning and saving.
The first thing I did was calculate a ballpark figure that I would need to fund this plan. I took a look at my previous six months of spending to figure out an average baseline of spending per month. I decided that $3,000 per month felt like a fair starting point and then I added $1,500 for each of my travel months. This brought my savings target to $12,000.
Since we chose less expensive destinations, it meant my monthly spending probably wouldn’t be much higher in the months I was traveling (in fact, there was potential for it to even be lower). Yes, I still had to pay my bills back home, but all of my normal grocery, dining out, gas, and other spending for those months would instead be able to be used on the trips.
I also knew I would be paying for portions of the travel ahead of time, well before I would be without income. We bought our plane tickets ahead of time, and covering that big expense while I still had income eased my mind.
One thing that helped was that I knew I’d be getting paid out for my unused vacation days once I left. I had accrued about $5,000 in unused PTO (I know, I know) so I needed a minimum of $7,000 saved in additional liquid cash.
Once I had this target amount set, I sent every extra dollar to the “sabbatical” line in my budget. Having this concrete experience that I knew I was saving for helped me avoid spending money on other things I didn’t really care about.
On my last day working at my old job, I had $7,150 in the “Sabbatical” line of my budget and around $13,000 in liquid cash total (the difference was allocated to other budget lines and sinking funds).
So, how’d it go?
Month 1: Home
June was my month to do nothing and hang out. I thought I would spend the month doing projects around the house, volunteering, and hanging out at the beach. Instead, I spent a lot of time getting ahead and finishing up my summer graduate semester early so that I wouldn’t need to do homework when I was traveling (I graduated in August, by the way!).
I also ended up working a few hours each week for my previous employer to help with the transition period, and that meant I ended up having some unexpected income during the first month of my sabbatical. This actually worked out great because it ended up being a more expensive month than anticipated, due to some doctors bills, pre-paying for portions of July’s travel plans, and repairing our leaking roof.
Honestly, I kept thinking to myself, how did I keep up with everything when I was working full time? Between grad school, working a few hours, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, and planning some fun, my days felt full and busy.
Though it may not have been as chill and carefree as I had initially planned, I was able to keep up with household chores more than usual, read for pleasure, take long walks almost every day, paint our hallway, build a good sleep schedule, and use the time to reset and relax a bit.
Total Spent: $5,168
Month 2: Peru
I spent July traveling around Peru with my two younger brothers. You can read more about the details of that trip in this post if you’re interested! But long story short, we had an incredible time! We stayed in Lima, Huacachina, Arequipa, Cusco, and hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
A month may seem like a long time, but Peru is a huge country, so we really only scratched the surface. Since we didn’t have a ton of time, we chose to spend more money traveling within Peru by air instead of by bus — a 50-minute flight compared to a 17-hour bus ride. We did stay in shared hostels pretty much the entire time, but I also didn’t plan this to be a low-budget trip, so we didn’t shy away from spending more on nice restaurants and activities.
This trip was so fun and made me extra grateful for the relationship I have with my brothers and the humans that they have grown into.
You can read more about that trip, including where we stayed and what we did, here!
Total Spent: $3,248
Month 3: Ecuador
The original plan was to spend all of August traveling around Ecuador with Cassie. We were going to spend two weeks on the coast and two weeks up in the mountains. Sadly, Cassie’s grandma passed away a few days before we were meant to leave, so we traded the first part of our trip on the coast to drive up to Pennsylvania and be with family instead.
We contemplated canceling the trip entirely, instead doing an extended road trip to visit friends on the drive back down to Florida from Pennsylvania. Ultimately, we decided to rejoin our original travel plans about halfway through — that meant we stayed in Quito, Cotopaxi, Isinilivi, and Baños.
Because of everything that happened before the trip, we made the decision to make this trip as relaxing and luxurious as possible. We stayed in really nice places, we took it easy, booked massages, and did way less hiking than we originally had planned.
You can read more about that trip, including where we stayed and what we did, here!
By the end of this second month of traveling I was actually looking forward to getting home, getting back into a routine, sleeping in my own bed, cooking my own food, and snuggling our pup. So, it seems like this three month sabbatical was almost the perfect amount of time (that being said, I’m already itching for another trip, haha).
Total Spent: $6,004
Between the house repairs, medical bills, covering some of my youngest brother’s trip, and the unexpected travel to Pennsylvania, my expenses during my time off ended up being more than my $12,000 estimate.
Total Spent: $14,420
However, when I was planning time off, I planned it with the idea that I would have zero income during those months, and that ended up not being true at all.
Because of the delay between my last day of work and my last paycheck, I ended up having a normal paycheck in June. I also ended up staying on in a “consultant” role with my previous employer to help a bit with the transition and answer questions as they came up. This only took a few hours a week, but brought in a decent hourly rate. I also got my vacation payout in July (which I had planned for, but it was a bit bigger than I was expecting), and we had the rental income coming in as well.
All told, I actually had $15,765 in inflows during these three months, meaning I was able to replenish my savings as fast as I was spending it, so that was unexpected and exciting.
I feel so grateful and privileged to have been able to have this experience these past few months. I was able to reset my rhythm after feeling burnt out. I got to strengthen my relationships with my brothers. And I was able to respond in the aftermath of losing my wife’s grandmother in the ways that felt right to us, without having to think about work. And I got to create a ton of memories.
I know taking a multi-month gap from work isn’t normal in the United States, but it really should be. Every American I talked to about my plans thought it was crazy and asked me how I was doing it, while nearly every European I met was traveling for much longer than me (and most of their friends had done the same at some point). There are a lot of cultural and political reasons for this, however, if you live in the US and are privileged enough to be in a position where you have the possibility of creating space for an opportunity like this, I highly encourage you to.
In fact, I encourage you to start saving for it now, even if it feels like it’s not a possibility yet — because creating even just a little bit of cushion creates more opportunities than you think.
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