Prepare for long term sabbatical leave from India

How to prepare for long term sabbatical travel

So, in July 2019, I embarked on a 3 months sabbatical leave, granted (quite kindly) by my workplace. I can tell you I had butterflies from the moment I even started thinking about it.

The first question I had: How was I to prepare for such a long time-off away from everything that was comfortable?

Pray, where does one start? Do I take along my entire wardrobe, my medicine chest, my nutritional supplements, my shoes, all my books, my favorite bags, my jewelry? What about the face, body, and hair creams? The shampoos? Oh, my gosh, where does one even begin?

You get a general idea. 😊

After my initial panic attack, I took a step back.

I had to reassess my plan.

And do you know what I realized?

I needed to plan less. 😏

I needed to do everything lesser than what I would have otherwise done for a normal, shorter holiday.

How come?

Here’s why. A longer holiday means you can plan on-the-go. You can make allowances for your mistakes. You don’t need to pack it in. You could launder your clothes. You could linger in a place, wondering what to do next. You could buy anything you might miss, and feel less guilty doing so. Also, there’s no longer the pressure (because it’s simply not possible) to look good in every photo, dress up for them.

Long term travel is almost like living your usual life, albeit in a different country. It’s calming. Forces minimalism. And you learn to wing it, even though you might be averse to it otherwise.

This is how I planned for it, step by step. There were a few hits and misses, and I hope to update this list as time goes by, as I learn from my mistakes.

How to prepare for a sabbatical abroad: What I did…

3 months before

1. I broke the news to my loved ones

This was hard. Because they did not understand at first why I needed to do it. What was going to happen to my job while I was away? Why now? Was I going to be safe? Did I have enough saved for this mad gamble?

I didn’t have the answers to all of them. I pretended to be more confident than I felt. Eventually, and chiefly spurred by my well-practiced-put-on-self-belief, they accepted it.

Gently break the news. Wait patiently until you’ve convinced the ones that really matter. It’s important for them to be on-board with your decision because long-term solo travel can be lonely and not without its dangers. You will need friends and family looking out for you and occasionally keeping you virtual-company.

2. I planned my broad itinerary

I had three rules for myself when I began planning my trip

  • Stay longer in a place; no rushing about
  • Plan the beginning and the end; don’t bother with the middle
  • Choose inexpensive places to stay in, run by locals

I kept an excel sheet to catalog my day-wise plan because obviously, I was at risk to forget a few things, such as city-connections or hotels I’d booked a long time ago. I am a planner, not a winger, but even if you are the latter, some sort of plan rough plan is good to have unless you can rough it out or have plenty of money to make up for the fall-outs of an unplanned itinerary.

3. I purchased my flight tickets

Any tickets purchased much in advance is usually cheaper. You also get the dates and times you want. But it’s too much planning, right? That’s not what I wanted to do. Make this a stress-fest.

So I bought only a few of the important tickets. The flight to-and-from the main destination was the first.

I got flexi-tickets, ’cause while I knew where I was going to land (sort of), I didn’t know where I might be returning from. What if a place caught my fancy and I wanted to stay there longer and return from there? Also, I used the accumulated points on my credit card to get an airline upgrade. Nothing like stretching your sore legs during the long hours on a full recliner. Sighhhh.

4. I got travel insurance

Most visa applications mandate the purchase of travel insurance. Even if it does not, or you do not require a visa (Sighhhh, times when I wish I wasn’t Indian), make sure to purchase a good travel and medical insurance before you leave.

5. I applied for my visa

I favor and recommend applying for a travel visa as early as possible. Most countries allow visa application at a minimum 3 months before the travel date; so that’s what I did to get my Schengen visa to Europe.

How to prepare for a sabbatical abroad: What I did…

2 months before

1. I sharpened my itinerary

I’d saved a few locations in my head but hadn’t booked them yet. So I did that. I wasn’t traveling off-season (summer in Europe), so I had to book at least a few of the ones I really wanted in advance because, in touristy cities, all good, cheap places tend to get booked faster than you can open TripAdvisor. I used booking.com to book my hotels because it has a flexible cancellation policy.

2. I looked for volunteering opportunities

Workaway is a brilliant place to start. I found three awesome opportunities through them (cost me $42 to enroll and contact hosts). There are scores of interesting options to choose from: vineyards, horse stables, cafes, organic farms, schools, and house/pet sitting. Zero in on your preferred location, evaluate how you’d prefer to spend 5 hours daily, read the host reviews, and contact them. Couchsurfing is another option to meet and stay with locals.

3. I assessed my money situation and prepared it to take the hit

Obviously, I needed to have sufficient money to cover the months away. It needed some thinking. I was not going to be paid for the three months, so, to fund them, was I to un-bundle my fixed deposit savings or redeem my investment funds? Or start to keep aside a part of my salary, a few months in advance? Or beg my parents to lend me some? Argh!!😌

Look up and plan for your finances early on. Depending on where you are going and what your current monetary situation is like, estimate the spend per day, multiply it with the number of days, and guesstimate the money you will need for your vacation.

How to prepare for a sabbatical abroad: What I did…

1 month before

1. Home Essentials

I spruced up my home and made all pending repairs: the leaking faucets, the peeling walls, the threadbare carpets, them all. I wanted to come back to a sparkly, well-kept home.

2. I informed my landlord

(or renters/ roommates as the case may be for you) that I was going to be away.

3. I purchased travel essentials

Things like (1) a theft proof backpack (2) a waterproof cross body bag, (3) a concealed wallet holder (4) a mobile phone screen protector (5) personal skin care must-haves (6) gifts and trinkets to distribute to my new friends I hope to make along my travels. As you can see, I gave Amazon a lot of business 😀Make a list of travel essentials, things you can’t do without, and stock up early on.

4. I canceled my monthly subscriptions

…and set up auto-pay for those I could not. Subscriptions could include Netflix, your mobile operator, any local service that cannot be used when you’re traveling. If you really want to continue using streaming services when traveling abroad, consider looking up how to use a VPN and sign up for one. NordVPN has served me well.

5. I completed all my pending errands

Were you planning to visit a friend for a year and never managed to do so? Were you planning to go to the museum but never had the time before? I took this long leave as a fresh new turn in my life. There was going to be a ‘before-break’ and ‘after-break’. The after-break was going to be a freshly-minted-new-me. Therefore, the old-me was going to do what the old-me wanted before she left for her new adventure.

How to prepare for a sabbatical abroad: What I did…

The week before

1. I printed important documents; emailed myself the rest

It is not essential to print stuff you can carry and show from your mobile phone. But there are a few places where carrying a printout is handy. For example, for bus journeys in Croatia. Or a DB Bahn ticket (on selected routes). Or a printout for the hostel accommodation in Bern to get a free ride from the airport until you get hold of the Bern ticket. I like keeping printouts handy, worried that the phone might conk off when I need it the most.

2. I packed

I hope you are traveling to Europe in the summer as I did. It gets extra painful to carry winter clothes, especially for people not used to it: I never know what to carry and always overpack.

Since I traveled during the summer season → tending to autumn, my packing list was as follows:

a. Clothes-top: 3 summer tops, 2 long sleeve tops, 2 fleece lined long sleeve tops.

b. Clothes-bottom: One pair of jeans, One pair of black pants, one pair of black tights, one pair of shorts.

c. Clothes-fancy: 2 dresses, 2 stockings.

d. Clothes-inner: 3 bras, 1 sports bra, 5 underpants.

e. Clothes-nightwear: 2 pajamas (I traveled wearing one), 2 t-shirts (cotton or dry-fit depending on where you are traveling).

f. Woolens: Climate fluctuation was my biggest fear since I tend to experience the cold worse than normal people. I carried a leather jacket, a woolen cap, a muffler, and a pair of gloves to take care of that problem. You might also need to carry a water-resistant jacket or overalls depending on where you are traveling to. As for me, I don’t mind some rain on my skin.

g. Swimwear

h. Shoes: One pair of white sneakers, a pair of waterproof ballet flats, 2 pairs of socks. Add hiking shoes if that’s what you’re gonna be doing. Wear them on the flight to save some luggage space.

i. Electronics: A laptop and its charger, two multi-country converters, a fast charging phone charger, an unlocked phone capable of holding multiple sims, a power bank, power bank cord, earphones, my kindle. A camera, if applicable, but I’ve stopped carrying one.

j. Cosmetics: Sunscreen, eyeliner, mascara, foundation, blush, hair serum.

k. Toiletries: Toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant, sanitary napkins/ menstrual cup/tampon, nail clipper, trimmer or razor (for men). Shampoo and conditioner sachets/mini-bottles; these will double as body soap on days when the hotel you checked into doesn’t have them. A pee-safe spray, if picky. Remember don’t overdo on these. You can always stock up at the local pharmacy.

l. An empty bag: to carry essentials for small side trips.

mMedicines: For stomach, headaches, nausea, muscle pain, allergies, and supplements you cannot do without.

nOthers: Sunglasses, lip balm, hand sanitizer.

Use Amazon Basic’s packing cubes. Space and lifesavers. And always, always, roll every piece of your garment before packing it in.

Some travelers I know carry old clothes for long trips and discard them as they travel. Replenish locally so you can take back memories.

Photo by Arnel Hasanovic on Unsplash

3. I checked-in to my flight

Pay for and get your favorite seats. Do not skimp on this one thing, which I’ve realized over the years, is so so important. Use credit card points to upgrade, if you can. Traveling in comfort sets the mood for the rest of your trip.

4. Home Essentials

  • I planned to empty the fridge, which meant eating up what remained and not stocking more.
  • I told my neighbors I was going to be away and requested them to keep watch.

5. I added emergency contacts

I added emergency contacts to my phone and told those contacts I might need to get in touch. These included friends who lived in the countries I was going to. Use Facebook to find them.

6. I got forex cards and currency

While most countries these days accept cards, I find it hard to let go of old habits: so, I carry some cash with me always, kept at 2–3 different locations in my luggage. Most prepaid travel cards/ credit cards incur transaction charges when swiping at a foreign location, therefore, it is advisable to use them at Point of Sales only. Or withdraw a lot of money at one time. The charges on credit cards are more than what is levied on a travel card. On a travel card conversion charges range from 3% to 5% and for credit cards a foreign currency withdrawal from an ATM abroad may incur an additional withdrawal charge of 2% to 5%.

Also, I didn’t load my card all at once for the three months. I was going to do a reload every month, and I took all the necessary forms with me. I also got a zero balance backup forex card in case I lost my primary one.

Keep helpline numbers handy.

How to prepare for a sabbatical abroad: What I did…

The day before: The closing tasks

  • I emptied the fridge, cleaned its insides, and unplugged it. I left the doors open
  • I rolled up my mattresses and covered all surfaces I would want clean once back
  • I locked my cupboards
  • If you have a friend you can trust, hand over a few belongings you are specifically scared of losing, such as a laptop or gold jewelry. Hand over a copy of your house key to him/ her. For longer periods, you should consider a bank’s safe deposit box
  • I stopped the newspaper delivery
  • I put an out-of-office alert on my email
  • I informed my neighbor and the building’s security I was going to be away
  • I turned off the main water line
  • I unplugged all the electronics: the refrigerator, the computer, the television, everything
  • I turned off the gas
  • I closed the curtains and shut the windows tight
  • I locked all the doors

And now it was time to go.

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