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10 Lessons Learned on a 6-month Sabbatical

10 Lessons Learned on a 6-month Sabbatical

The rumors have not been exaggerated. Taking a sabbatical is an amazing, rejuvenating and life-changing experience. Spending time in a new place or country away from the daily grind can help you see life in a completely new way.

I’ve been back in the U.S. for about two weeks following a 6-month sabbatical in Mexico. After much reflection (and readjusting to life stateside), here are 10 lessons I learned from taking a sabbatical:

  1. A sabbatical can be much cheaper than you might think.

    My wife and I lived on one-third to one-half of what we typically spend in the U.S., including all travel expenses. We met people living in Mexico for less than $1000 per month.

  2. Lots of people are living interesting and unconventional lifestyles.

    It’s shocking when you realize how many people are living well outside of the status quo. Plenty of people have created awesome unconventional lifestyles for themselves, and they’re easy to meet once you have something in common.

  3. Friends come easy when you’re happy and free.

    We’ve never made so many great new friends as we did during our sabbatical. I attribute that to the fact that we were happy and free, with time for new interactions and interesting things to talk about. The best part is that making new friends just leads to a cycle of being even happier and meeting even more new people.

  4. Geography matters.

    There are lots of important geographical decisions to make when planning a sabbatical. Ocean vs. mountains, warm vs. cold and city vs. small town are just a few choices. We decided to try a few different locations and found that being in a small town next to the tropical ocean was best for us. Your favorite place might be different.

  5. Driving in Mexico isn’t as scary as people say.

    And while we’re on the subject, Swine Flu, the Drug Wars and economic woes have been blown way out of proportion too. Just be cautious and use common sense and you’ll be fine.

  6. Learning a second language is possible (but hard work).

    Like most Americans, I had spent a few years in high school and college “learning” a language (German), only to end up with nearly nothing to show for it. It’s much easier to learn a language when you have a reason to, and are surrounded by native speakers. It takes real work, but it can be done.

  7. Those things you stress over now aren’t that important.

    Once you’re away from your old job for a while, you’ll start to see clearly again. Eventually you’ll barely remember details of things that once seemed life-or-death important. You will start to understand that the truly important things in life exist outside of work – and you might begin to wonder how you ignored them for so long.

  8. You will find inspiration on a sabbatical.

    I left for the sabbatical hoping that I would be inspired to start working on some new projects by the time we returned. That happened in a big way. I started this blog and have dozens of ideas for things I want to work on. During the sabbatical, creativity seemed to flow like water.

  9. The world will still be there when you return.

    We came back to the U.S. and it seemed as though nothing had changed. We could jump back into our old life exactly as we left it, if we wanted to. Instead, we intend to keep the parts we really love and replace the rest.

  10. Location dependence is for the birds.

    Taking advantage of climate and currency differences around the world at different times of the year is a magical thing. Add to that the ability to visit friends and family in different parts of the country when desired and it’s easy to understand why location independence is such a hot topic lately.

photo by adactio

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  • http://www.seanogle.com Sean

    As I prepare for a transition of some kind at the end of the year, each of these 10 lessons provide encouragement for the things I want to do. Sometimes when you are surrounded by a world of conventional thinkers, it can be difficult to picture a different kind of lifestyle. This post reminded me not only that you can be different, but that you SHOULD be.

    Glad to hear the trip was everything you were hoping for.

    • http://fizzle.co Corbett Barr

      That’s definitely true. It’s hard to think about exciting creative lifestyles when you’re surrounded by societal pressures to fit in. You have a lot to look forward to with your planned transition!

  • http://wageslaverebel.com JD Bentley

    I am so ready for a sabbatical. I dream of it daily. Right now I’m just trying to build up some steady income and some passive income. This post was really motivating.

    I’m also really interested in learning a language. I have your language post open in another tab waiting to be read after I finish commenting.

    Great post!

    • http://fizzle.co Corbett Barr

      I hear you. I was ready for a sabbatical too. Instead of waiting to have a location independent income, I took the trip on savings. I’m glad I did, but I know it’s not an option for everybody.

  • http://www.thewaythatyouwander.com Nate

    This is a very inspiring post. I’m hoping to do a sabbatical of my own in about a year and a half and reading this just go me so excited!

  • http://www.dutyfreeliving.com Tresna

    Nice post! I’m days away from being “officially” retired and some of the points you mention – being inspired, having time to make friends and finding that things don’t “matter” etc – are the ones I am looking forward to the most! I am really looking forward to disconnecting from my current lifestyle and pursuing the one I’ve always dreamed of….you know, all those things that we think we’ll do “one day” but never really get around to.

    It’s great to read about people like you who have taken the risks and have found out that’s it’s totally worth it. Keep the posts coming!

  • http://www.davidturnbull.com David Turnbull

    Can’t wait till I reach my location independence. I have enough savings to leave now, but I’m still getting some things sorted out. Should be traveling within 6-8 months though. :-)

  • http://www.jetsetcitizen.com John Bardos

    Awesome Corbett!

    Most people don’t have connections to people living alternative lifestyles so they don’t really believe it is possible. Sure they can rationalize it and imagine that it exists but it isn’t until you really start traveling and seeing with your own eyes that it really becomes fact.

    Thousands, maybe millions of people have been living off the grid for years. It is great to read examples like yours that make the possibility all the more tangible.

    Thanks for sharing your story!

    • http://fizzle.co Corbett Barr

      That’s a great point, John. I wasn’t really aware that so many people were living outside of conventional society until we took the sabbatical. Once you’re out of the country and away from the daily grind, you find that there are countless alternative lifestyles that people have dreamed up and are living.

  • http://www.marriedwithluggage.com Warren Talbot

    Corbett,
    This is outstanding advice and thank you so much for sharing. My wife and I are getting ready to leave on a multi-year trip around the world and I will be quitting my job. Obviously, this comes with a lot of trepidation but your tips are a perfect summary for why it is important. I will refer to these often on those “tough days”.

    We would love to hear about your re-entry to the US in future blog posts. How have you adjusted? Do you find that coming back is hard?

    We are looking forward to reading all your archives and looking forward to learning in the future from your trail blazing. Thank you for the insights to your life.

    • http://fizzle.co Corbett Barr

      Hi Warren. Nice to meet you. Congratulations on your upcoming multi-year trip! I’m sure the thought of your adventure is both scary and exciting. I’m glad you found these lessons useful. I’ll try to write more about our reentry to the US later. We haven’t found it difficult at all, but we were gone for just six months. It might be a little different if you were gone for years.

  • http://andyhayes.com Andy Hayes

    Gorgeous post. (Yes, I just said gorgeous.) I’ve got a couple of ideas I’m noodling for a sabbatical – top secret, of course – so thanks for the reminder to finalise these plans.

  • http://exilelifestyle.com Colin Wright

    I’m glad your sabbatical was everything you hoped for, and am psyched that the rest of us can benefit from your experience!

    Reading this kind of post makes me even more excited for my own upcoming sabbatical (and those of many of the people who commented before me!)…keep them coming!

  • http://presentdaynomads.com Rasheed Hooda

    This is an awesome post. It came through on my RSS reader as I was writing my post on the 10 Awesome posts I read recently, so I included it in the list. I hope you don’t mind.

    Rasheed

    • http://fizzle.co Corbett Barr

      Thanks for including me in your post, Rasheed. Of course I don’t mind! Glad you liked the article enough to write about it.

  • http://www.improveyourview.com Thom

    Glad it went so well for you, that’s great. Liked the point about the world still being there when you get back, too. Tim Ferriss often talks about his low information diet and, whilst for some information acts as a form of entertainment and they’d rather not sacrifice it, it is amazing how much absence changes your priorities with regard to what you ‘need to know’.

    There’s nothing wrong with taking a mini-sabbatical at home either, if you have the self-discipline to turn off the computers and change your attitude. We all know people (or are people) who live in great places but never explore them; I lived in London for 2 years and barely saw any of the sights because I was in a working mindset and sightseeing was such a ‘tourist thing’.

    • http://fizzle.co Corbett Barr

      I like that idea of an in-town sabbatical. It’s fun to be a tourist in your own town sometimes, and it can probably be a refreshing experience if you do it as if you were actually on vacation.

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  • http://www.itinerantlifestyle.com/blog/ Roy

    Congratulations on finishing your successful 6 month sabbatical! I especially agree with number 7, those little things we stress about now aren’t half as important when we sit back and take stock of the big picture.

    Any plans for the next excursion?

    • http://fizzle.co Corbett Barr

      Thanks for the comment, Roy. As for our next excursion, my wife and I are working on becoming location independent so we can spend at least a few months away from home each year. We’re planning to head back to Mexico and try working remotely for a couple of months next January.

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  • http://rowdykittens.com/ RowdyKittens

    Thank you for writing this inspiring post. It’s given me some great ideas. I’m so excited about your blog too. I just added it to my reader. Thank you! :)

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  • http://thejcconline.com Laura Cococcia | The Journal of Cultural Conversation

    Just came upon your blog via Zen Habits – SO glad I’ve found it. I’ve been involved in a number of “Design Thinking” projects for work, but am spending 9-7 at work doing that – so time to apply some design to life as well. I love the way your site is structured – so many useful articles. New follower here. Thanks Corbett!

    • http://fizzle.co Corbett Barr

      Fantastic, Laura. I’m glad you found me via ZH! Welcome, and don’t be shy.

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  • KY Lim

    A really interesting read! I’m planning well ahead to do this in about 5-6 years. Should a 6-month period be spent covering a number of cities or is staying put in just one or two locations best? Depends on one’s aims for the sabbatical, I guess. But what was your experience?

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  • Vinayak

    Thanks it was inspiring, here in India it very difficult but have done it let c how it goes.

  • http://drtori.com Ed

    Thanks for this post. I’m glad I found it when I did. It turns out that I’m starting a 6-month sabbatical in 19 days (but, hey… I’m not counting). Most people I work with look at me like I have 3 heads when I tell them.

    Although I am not traveling much on mine, I am spending it with my family. (& I’m teaching my 6 kids entrepreneurship & turning those lessons into EntrepreneurHomeschool.com.

    I thought you & your readers might benefit from what is driving me to take this sabbatical… I am a physician. And I happen to take care of thousands of people before & after heart surgery. Well, doing that, I get to see thousands of people right at the moment where they think there’s a real possibility of dying. 99% of them do fine, but they don’t know for sure. In those intense moments of reflection, they often share with me their thoughts…

    And always, universally, across cultures, across religions, across ethnicities, & regardless of their gender, all of them are concerned with the same 3 things… (1) God, (2) family, & (3) regrets for how they treated someone.

    Seeing that day in & day out made me think… Who says we have to wait until we’re 65?! Who made up that rule? My kids are young now. My parents are healthy now. Why should I wait until my kids are grown & my parents are elderly or gone?

    So, heck yeah… If you even have an inkling to try a sabbatical, I say go for it & use it wisely.

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  • Paula

    Hi there,

    read your post having spoken to my boss and getting the ok on a sebbatical for next year – 2013. might only be a couple of months, but I’m so ready to do it – never had a ‘gap’ year or a break to have kids, so feel its my turn now to do this for ME!!
    so breaking out of the UK to who knows where at the moment!….

  • mat teo

    hey… I m a swiss 30 years old guy and I have always dreamed to take a sabbatical. I never did it. Most of my friends had the experience and did encourage me to take some time off to travel. In March I quit my job which I really loved.

    Now I have been leaving here in San Fransisco for 12 weeks and I have taken an Eglish language curse. Next week I’ m flying to Hawaii and I’ll spend two weeks there. My girlfriend is joining me on the 2 of July here in San Fransisco and we are going to travel around Calfornia until the 9 of August before we are flying to Lima in Peru. Finally at the end of September we are flying back to Switzerland from Buenos Aires in Argentina.

    I totally agree with your statement that having some time for yourself is a really important step in our life. I feel free, relaxed, happy and satisfied and I met a lot of interesting people on my way. Even missing my girlfriend let me understand how much I love her. I would reccomend everybody to have a similar experience. Not only you discover a lot about yourself but it also improve your tolerance to other cultures, teach you how to be flexible and patient, helps you to develop your language skills and at the same time you also have a lot of fun. So now I ‘m looking forward to having new experiences.

  • http://www.shannalehr.wordpress.com Shanna Lehr

    This is so great! Thanks for sharing your ideas and experiences.

  • Mary Jean Inman

    Thanks for this post! It was very encouraging as my husband and I along with our 3 small children are about to set out on a 8-12 month sabbatical in the next couple of months. I have been researching small beach towns along the Pacific coast of Mexico and wanted to ask if you would be willing to share the location you guys stayed and any other helpful information you can give about how to find the right place to settle in and rest. I have done some reading about San Pancho which is looking promising.

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How to Live a Part-Time Location Independent Lifestyle

I'm writing this from our apartment in the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco, but the truth is I could be writing it from anywhere in the world. My business and life are location independent. That means I can live and work from anywhere, as long as I have a laptop and an Internet connection.

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