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I’m taking a 6-month sabbatical! Here’s Why, What I’ll Be Doing and Where I’ll Be Going

Marrakech Saadian Tombs

Upon reading about my news in this blog post, I’m slightly worried that all my friends will disown and de-friend me for the next six months, but… I’m taking a sabbatical from work!

Why

         I’ve been back in London for 15 months now and I’ve been suffering from wanderlust for about 11 of those months. I even wrote about it back in March when I realised I’d spent almost 4 whole months without leaving the UK. Yes, I agree that that’s a massive #firstworldproblem and that there are plenty of people who’d kill to live in London and travel once every 4 months. But I’ve been outside, I’ve lived and travelled elsewhere and no matter how much I try, these itchy feet of mine just won’t pitter patter off and leave me in peace. And these itchy feet really do have a major influence on my happiness and satisfaction with life, and each time I’ve been abroad this year, I have seriously questioned my purpose in London, my direction and my future intentions. It’s exhausting.

         This might sound familiar to some. There comes a time in every twenty-something’s life where you begin to question the meaning of life, the world and the universe… Well documented and debated as the “quarter-life crisis”, this is a modern phenomenon that seems to be plaguing more and more young people, and I believe it’s closely linked to the ridiculously high expectations we’ve grown up with. Having high expectations is a good thing, in that they inspire you to aim higher and look to the future, but high expectations also come with a sizeable dose of disappointment and dissatisfaction with the here and now. Hence my dissatisfaction with London over the last 11 months. My brain is hard-wired to want to speak other languages, to live in new environments and to learn about different cultures. I blame my gap year and my degree in Modern Languages for this. My sister for example, did neither of those two things and she is happy as Larry living in London. Oh how much simpler it seems for her!

        However I simply cannot see myself in one place for the next 5 years, let alone 10 or 20 years. And as 2015 has gone by, the realisation has dawned on me that I cannot just wait for the right opportunity to simply present itself, as it has up until now in my life. Reaching my mid-twenties, having left the comfort zone of university and my 2-year graduate scheme, the onus is now 100% on me to make the things I want to happen a reality. I wasted 3 months of this year stupidly waiting in limbo for something, or rather someone, and those 3 months taught me to stop waiting and just get on with life. Those who wait miss out on all the fun, and my family will tell you that I’ve always had a very impatient character anyway… Patience is not a virtue for a twenty-something with dreams.

         So why am I taking a 6-month sabbatical? I need a change of scenery and I need to gain a new perspective. I need to use my brain in new ways, I need to actively learn again and I need to challenge myself. But I’m also pragmatic and I realise that I have responsibilities (my mortgage) and other life goals (a meaningful career) to take into consideration and I’m not about to throw in the towel on everything I’ve worked for, simply to satisfy a whim to travel. So I am not quitting my job, I’m instead taking 6 months of unpaid leave, after which I’ll return to work again, back to the security of a stable salary. I count myself incredibly lucky to be employed at a company with a wonderfully flexible culture, and to have a brilliant and very understanding manager, who gets why I want to take 6 months unpaid leave and is happy to support me, even though that means losing a team member for 6 months. And in no way do I take this for granted! A smaller or more old-fashioned company would never offer this sort of opportunity, so I am very, very fortunate.

Camels in the Sahara near Merzouga

What

I’ve been plotting for a little while now and the next six months will be exceptionally varied:

  1. I’ll be travelling (of course!)
  2. I’ll be studying (something I’ve missed since uni)
  3. I’ll be spending valuable time with family
  4. I’ll be visiting friends
  5. I’ll be volunteering (something which has become increasingly important to me and features on my pre-30 wishlist)
  6. I’ll be developing new skills to improve my career prospects

         And I’ll be doing all of this abroad! One thing I won’t be doing is earning a monthly salary, something I haven’t had to worry about for the last three years of employment. Here’s where a few years of financial prudence come in handy, as I will be supporting myself on my savings. For anyone who may think I’m funding this with handouts from my parents, I’d like to dispel that myth and state that this is an entirely independent venture.

        With a bit more free time I hope to catch up on my blogging too, as I owe you readers blog posts from Iceland in March, Tanzania in April, Antigua in May, Sweden in August, and Morocco and Lake Como in October! I’ve had so much to write about this year but nowhere near enough time, and that’s something I deeply regret. I’ve a long list of books I’d like to read as well and I want to master the basics of a language that I’ll be needing in the latter part of my sabbatical. I’d also like to be a better daughter, sister, niece and friend to those around me. The hectic “always on” nature of London doesn’t allow nearly enough time to be spent with the people who matter and I’d like to be more available. While I shall be abroad for a large chunk of these 6 months, when I am in the UK I want to use my time wisely and focus on the very most important things.

IllustratedWorldMapFull

Where

So, onto the juicy details! So far I’ve got 8 destinations confirmed and one trip is still TBC. Here goes!

  • 5th-9th November: Athens Marathon. I’m thrilled to say I’ve already reached my fundraising target of £1,000 and I’m just under a week away from running the Athens Marathon for the children’s charity Plan UK. Please do sponsor me on JustGiving here! https://www.justgiving.com/Virginia-Stuart-Taylor. Read about the marathon here.
  • 13th November: Last day of work.
  • 13th-15th November: Paris. The very same day I turn on my Out of Office message for the next 6 months, I’ll jump on the Eurostar to Paris with a friend, Simon, to visit our friend Mel in Paris! I’m being treated to a stay and a dinner at the luxurious 5-star Hotel de Tremoille in the 8th arrondissement, so look out for a review of that stunning hotel soon: read about Paris here.
  • 16th-18th November: Reykjavik, Iceland. This will be my second visit to Iceland this year as I take part in the #KAYAKHacksIceland blogger campaign for the travel search engine KAYAK. Keep an eye out for photos of that particular challenge! Read about Iceland here.
  • 19th-23rd November: At home in Hampshire & the Live Below the Line challenge. After 4 months without returning home, I’m dying to spend a weekend relaxing in the countryside with my dear mother. Together with my mother I’ll be doing the Live Below The Line challenge, attempting to live off just £5 food and drink over 5 days, to experience first-hand what it’s like to live below the poverty line. I’m doing this to fundraise for an exciting project that will be kicking off in January (scroll down to find out about that!) and you’ll find my second JustGiving page specifically for that here: https://www.justgiving.com/Virginia-Stuart-Taylor1 NB: To everyone who’s already donated to my marathon, please don’t feel obliged to also donate to my Live Below the Line challenge as well. I’m so, so grateful for all your donations and I certainly don’t expect anyone to donate twice!
  • 23rd-25th November: The Cotswolds. After being invited to try out the newly renovated boutique hotel, the Old Stocks Inn, in Stow-on-the-Wold, I decided to take with me my favourite walker, my father. I’ll also be trying out the Sprayway Willow Parka, which is available to buy at Blacks and which I think is set to be my favourite coat this winter. Read about the Cotswolds here.
  • 5th-19th December: Berlin. I’ll be taking a 2-week course in Cultural Diplomacy & International Relations at the Institute of Cultural Diplomacy in Berlin and also visiting a city I’ve never been to before. Luckily my good uni friend Jonny will be in Berlin, which he knows like the back of his hand, at the same time as me, so he’s promised to show me around. This course is something I’ve been attempting to do for almost 2 years. There is a month-long online version of it, but I’ve struggled to find a month with enough free time to dedicate to it, so I’m very excited to be taking the course in person. Read about the course here.
  • 19th-29th December: Skiing in Tignes, the French Alps. I’m hugely looking forward to a snowy Christmas this year in Tignes with my whole family (all 5 of us – we’re a small family!) where we’ll be staying in a catered chalet run by some friends of my aunt, who are running the Old Post Office as a chalet this season. Read about our skiing trip here.
  • January: who knows? Before starting my big trip to Nepal, I’ll have 3 weeks in January to spend as I choose. Current ideas include Sri Lanka, either by myself or with my uni friend Georgie who might be around those parts. Central America is also calling! Suggestions welcome please: where is good to go in January? Alternatively I might look into doing another short course or going sailing. Read about my trip to Sri Lanka here.
  • 24th January – 8th May: Volunteering in Nepal. Here’s the biggie. 15 weeks in Nepal as a Team Leader for the Raleigh ICS Entrepreneur programme, leading a team of UK volunteers aged 18-25 and helping to rebuild livelihoods after the earthquake in April and support women and young people to develop their own businesses. I’ve heard incredible reports about Raleigh from a cousin who went to Tanzania, and this programme in particular appeals to me because it’s funded by DFID, the Department for International Development, so it has gone through rigorous checks and is delivering real benefit in the communities it works with. More info on that soon! Read my post about Nepal here.

Raleigh ICS

And then I’m back! Read my summary post of the whole sabbatical here.

What do you think of my plans? What do you think I should do for 3 weeks in January?

31 Comments »

  1. Fantastic news! I’m so pleased for you and delighted that you are working in a company which can be so flexible. The course in Berlin sound particularly fantastic, but I think you’ll have a great 6 months with everything you have planned!

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    • Thank you John! I’m in Berlin now and so far really like the city, except for how saddening most of the tourist sites are. It’s certainly a fascinating place context-wise to be studying cultural diplomacy though! I liked your recent blog post on the museum in Cologne, I read it literally the same day as I visited the Holocaust museum and Topography of Terror, so it was very well-timed.

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      • Oh thanks, I’m glad to hear it 🙂 And glad you are making the most of your time in Berlin. If you make it out west to Cologne, let me know!

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  2. Amazing news. Sounds like a brilliant varied way to spend a sabbatical. I’ve been tempted to apply for the ICS team leader programme myself. I look forward to reading all about it.

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  3. This is so inspiring, Virginia! I can’t wait to follow along with your upcoming adventures 🙂 And I must say I’m quite jealous of the Cultural Diplomacy course – my degree was in International Relations, and I miss learning about it. I’ll have to check out their online course!

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  4. Virginia! I think the plans are awesome, I did a 3 months of volunteering also with ICS (Progressio) to El Salvador and I loved it. The opportunity to connect with the community and live life like the locals (no electricity, no running water) was amazing and I loved learning Spanish, which I’m still continuing! I would say for variety, visit Mexico. 3 weeks is the perfect amount of time to spend there and you’ll get to practice your Spanish again! I wrote a guest post for you a year ago or so, but if you have any questions about volunteering let me know, as Raleigh is also under the ICS branch right. In fact I’ve been thinking of going back and becoming a group leader, but in Latin America. Good luck!

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    • Yes of course I remember you, and I remember being impressed by your experience in San Salvador, but I hadn’t put two and two together to realise that that was ICS! Did you write any posts about your experience on ICS? I’d definitely be interested to hear about that. What are you upto now, are you somewhere exotic?

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  5. Hello Virginia, you should come and visit me in January on the beautiful tropical island of Curacao which is part of the Dutch Caribbean. Here, i’m working for half a year as a waiter in a restaurant and in the mean time i’m finishing my book about the last 10 years of my wanderlust life. I’ve been travelling all over the world and you can help me translate my story in English while we explore all the nice beaches of this tropical island. You can stay in my home which i chair with a another girl. Let me know what you think…Cheers Roel from Holland

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  6. I love these plans. Well done you. I hope all plans go to plan. 3 weeks in January? Sri Lanka is a good shout or somewhere else in Asia. I would leave South America for another time as I think you’ll need a lot longer than 3 weeks. I camt wait to read all about your travels

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    • Thank you! In the end I’ve decided to get out of Europe as I’ve already spent a lot of time here over the years, so in January I’m going to Sri Lanka for 2 weeks instead!

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  7. Seems like it would be an interesting trip and definitely a real time away from London. You’re the first young person I’m meeting who is taking sabbatical and it’s great to see how you’ll be spending it. I didn’t even know this opportunity was available in certain companies

    http://www.tunrayosthoughts.com

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    • Thank you Tunrayo, it’s certainly exciting and I’m so happy to be out of London. More and more companies seem to be offering this option now, and I hope it will also pay off for the company too as I’ll be gaining new skills while I’m away.

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  8. This is just so inspiring! I wish I had the guts to leave everything and just go travel and explore… Being 34, with a girlfriend and a mortgage it seems very unlikely but it’s always such a nice feeling to see others realise their dreams. Hope you’re having the best of times. According to your schedule you should today be in Reykjavik. So very jealous, I LOVE this country! Enjoy and keep travelling

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    • Thank you Stof! It actually turned out to be easier than I expected! I found someone to move in and cover the mortgage, and perhaps your girlfriend would want to come with you too? In some ways it would be more reassuring to take 6 months with another person, but I decided the time was now and I didn’t want to wait around to find someone to travel with. And I had a fantastic time in Reykjavik thank you and I’m now in Berlin, another great European city!

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