How to Take a Sabbatical

My family sabbatical in 2011. Brittany, France.


A few professions understand the value of regular, extended time away.  Academic and clergy often have sabbaticals as an expected part of their contracts.  But even if you aren’t in one of those fields, you should think about making time for a sabbatical.


Types of Sabbatical

The term “sabbatical” means different things to different people.  As you think about Sabbatical, are you imagining taking time to work on some big project, or are you hoping for time off just to do and be and rejuvenate?  And are you imagining sabbatical as a solo adventure or a family affair?

Working Sabbaticals

 When academics take sabbatical, their proposals often must include a research or writing component.  These Working Sabbaticals allow for swaths of time to dig into a project that a person isn’t able to accomplish in the midst of their normal work life.  Whether it’s writing a new textbook or traveling around Asia researching handmade musical instruments, Working Sabbaticals can be a time to fall in love again with your chosen field.

Working Sabbaticals offer a different rhythm for a time.  And although most of them are intended to include a healthy dose of rest, most of the academic sabbaticals I have seen have very little rest involved.  If this is something you need, plan carefully so that your sabbatical can have both times of productivity and times of deep rest.

Resting Sabbatical

Resting Sabbaticals are more rare, but are incredibly life-giving and career-extending for those who can get them.  Clergy sometimes take rest sabbaticals, which help them recharge their own batteries so they can return to work and continue to provide meaningful pastoral care for so many.  The Lilly Endowment funds clergy sabbaticals that “make your heart sing”

If you’re not in a profession that provides resting sabbaticals, with some planning and discipline you can create your own.  Keep reading!

Family Sabbatical

If you have a family, an early decision you need to make is whether your sabbatical will be just for you or whether you will take a Family Sabbatical.  For me, there was no question: I wanted my family to be a part of it.  

If you have a partner who works outside of the home, your family should begin planning now about what to do.  Can she take a leave of absence?  Will he quit his job, and start a job search on return from sabbatical?  Is there a way for them to work remotely during your sabbatical?  

If you have school-aged children, start researching options for them.  Maybe you’ll just have a summer-long sabbatical.  We left before school got out, but were able to get special permission to miss the last 3 weeks of school.  Some school systems have a provision for learning outside of school, which you may qualify for if you are willing to do some more focused education as you travel or rest.  Or you may want to homeschool or unschool for the time you are on sabbatical.  

If you plan on taking your children, take time to help them choose a small item or two that represents “home” for them.  It’s hard to be away from everything familiar for so long.  Our kids’ stuffies and favorite game made so much difference!

How is a Sabbatical Personally Valuable?

Making time for a sabbatical can be a powerful commitment to your own health and longevity.  It allows for months of time unencumbered by work stress.  It gives you time to develop your passions.  It gives you the opportunity to deepen relationships.  Depending on what sort of sabbatical you choose, these could be family relationships, colleagues working on a similar project, or new friends interested in a similar hobby.  

The value of making extended time for yourself gives you the opportunity to be deeply renewed, to get a better sense of where you are in the world and in your own life, and to remind yourself of who you really are.

How is a Sabbatical Valuable to My Work?

Counterintuitively, employee sabbaticals can be a boon for companies.  Simply offering sabbaticals as part of a benefits package signals a commitment to new hires that your organization cares about them and their wellbeing.  Many companies have found that offering sabbaticals drastically lowers their turnover rate.  

Giving sabbaticals keeps teams limber as members flex in their roles to cover their teammates’ tasks while away.  Employees return refreshed, with new perspectives yet with all the skills of seasoned personnel. 

How Can I Make Sabbatical Happen?

It’s in your contract

If you already have sabbatical in your contract, begin working with management a year or more in advance to plan for a smooth sabbatical.  Be open to help and advice as you plan your time away.  Make sure you have clearly defined any work you need to hand off, and have spoken with the people who will cover for you.  Be transparent about if/how you wish to communicate with the office while you are on sabbatical.  Express your thanks and share with generosity when you return.

Making a case to your employer

Just because your company isn’t in the habit of providing sabbatical doesn’t mean you can’t take one.  Create a detailed plan about not only what you’ll be doing with your time away but also how your work will be taken care without overly burdening others.  Include specific information about how your time away will benefit the company, like increased productivity and creativity, a broader understanding of the world impacting your industry, and returning with a fresh perspective.  

If your company will not give you a sabbatical or leave of absence, you have a couple of other options.


One alternative is to telecommute from an exotic locale.  This option does not give you a complete break from work, but perhaps a few months living in a different climate or country is enough of a change-of-pace for now.


Consider renegotiating your contract with your employer.  Instead of a raise, ask for more time off.  Maybe instead of a one-time sabbatical, you’ll be able to get a month or 6 weeks off each year.  I was able to do this at a former job when I share salary comps.  They were quick to accept my suggestions of 2 extra weeks of vacation in lieu of a pay increase.

Making it happen without employer buy-in

If you’ve made your case to management but they will not approve your sabbatical plan, you can start planning to do it on your own.  This will likely delay your plans for a while, but working towards this goal will likely give you some increased determination and focus.  Here are four steps to get you started

1.  Make It Real

Be sure you have a rich, meaningful plan that is deeply compelling to you.  Get clear about your plan, and keep that goal in front of you. You need to be disciplined in order to self-fund a sabbatical, and the more real and amazing your plan is, the easier it will be for you to give up small luxuries now in order to attain that big goal later.

2. Create A Budget

Revamp your budget and start seriously saving for your time away.  Set a realistic figure for the amount of money you’ll need during your time off from work. You will need to self-fund not just the trip you want to take, but also your mortgage, utilities, and all your normal bills during your time away.  

If your company will not give you a leave of absence, you will need to build a nest egg and time for job searching when you return from sabbatical.  

3. Lower Your Cost

Things like house swapping can lower the cost of your time away.  And free or low-cost housing can be exchanged for work on farms through WWOOFing (I know a 70-something recent widower who ended up spending most of a year in Hawaii as a WWOOFer, beginning his day with a fresh coconut, working in the morning and having the rest of his day to himself.)

4. Set Your Date

Your total funds needed divided by how much you can save per month equals the date on which your sabbatical begins.  If your sabbatical will cost $15,000 and you are able to save $500/month, your sabbatical would start in about 2 ½ years.  If that feels too long, could you find a way to save $700? Or bring your cost down to $12,000?  

Get Set…Go!

Once you’ve calculated your start date for sabbatical, use a countdown timer to keep you focused on your goal.  Continue detailing your plans any time you sense your focus weakening.  Share with others your “big why” of planning this sabbatical, and ask for their encouragement and support.  You can do this!  

Working with a coach is a great way to get clear and keep focused about your goals–including sabbatical.  Contact me if you’d like help making your sabbatical happen.

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