Sarah Blinco and Cooper Dawson are Australian nationals living in London. By profession they are communications and digital media consultants who focus on travel and wellbeing content for small and medium-sized businesses. But in a new life twist, they have embarked on a nine-month break from their busy careers to travel.
In this interview, they talk about the decision to take a travel sabbatical, how house-sitting has made it possible, and their quest to use the time to build their dream lifestyle.
What jobs were you doing before you made the decision to take a travel career break?
I [Sarah] was working in communications (digital and employee engagement) at a professional organisation in London, and Cooper was a senior teacher and technology lead at a primary school in east London.
What inspired you to take extended time out to travel?
We had been living in London for five years and realised that what we’d moved to the UK to do – primarily travel and experience new things – wasn’t happening, because we were caught up in the corporate hamster wheel. We’d also found ourselves increasingly unhappy and knew we needed to make a change for our own mental wellbeing.
As with most things in life, the timing worked out for us to apply for sabbatical leave. This meant that we could apply to take a break from our workplaces to do something that would enrich our lives, and that the job was ‘held’ for our return.
For some, sabbatical leave might be for writing a book, for others it might be volunteering. For us it meant taking time to ‘slow travel’ and work on developing our own freelancing business.
What arrangements have you made with your workplaces?
Official sabbatical leave is offered in my corporate workplace in London. Cooper has taken his career break a little more unofficially, but as a teacher finds it pretty easy to get back into work.
Many businesses are offering sabbatical or career break options now, so it’s worth asking what the policy is where you work. For me, I had to have been at my workplace for three years; I needed to fill in an application form to state why I wanted to take leave and what I planned to do with my time.
For many businesses, allowing staff to take a break to develop life skills and other professional skills means they gain back a happier, more well-rounded professional employee. For the staff member, it allows time out to consider future options, with the benefit of your job being held for a set amount of time.
How did your friends and loved ones react to the decision?
Everyone’s been supportive, although I do think some people wonder what on earth we’re doing – why are we taking this “huge holiday”?
For us, each day has been really busy! We’ve been using the time to set up new businesses from scratch. This involves a lot of learning and time investment, so it’s hardly been a holiday.
“Saving money was important, so we implemented strict budget changes.”
We saved as much as we could do to this, and have utilised house-sitting services to offset some of the accommodation costs associated with travel (and a significant drop in income). As it turns out, many of our house-sitting gigs have been quite a bit of work in themselves, with hours per day dedicated to animal and property care – but it’s been a refreshing change too, as has the change in scenery every few weeks.
What were the biggest challenges in planning and preparing for the break?
We were renting a place in London, so we had to find somewhere to store our excess ‘stuff’. Figuring out what to take for over six months of travel across different time zones and climates (Europe in winter, Australia in summer) was a challenge too.
The usual admin associated with address changes is hard, especially when you’re a digital nomad. I’ve discovered the world is not yet set up for those of us who are location-independent!
Saving money was important, so we implemented strict budget changes and needed to adjust our way of life, even saying ‘no’ to things that we’d usually do. But, short term pain for long term gain.
Where has your travel sabbatical taken you so far?
For the most part we’ve been led by where our house-sits have taken us, which has meant we’ve seen places we never knew existed! We wanted to explore the UK outside of just London, and have ended up in Northampton, Witney on the edge of the Cotswolds, and Sharbrook, a little village in Bedfordshire. All beautiful spots with a chance to experience another side of England.
We’ve stayed in Balbriggan, a seaside town an hour outside of Dublin; Malta with nine dogs, and regional France about an hour from Bordeaux, where we take the dogs for walks through vineyards! We also popped into Ibiza in Spain for a filming project, and back to Australia for Christmas catch-ups with friends and family.
What do you hope to get out of the experience in the long term?
We’re using the time to set up our life the way we wish to live it in the future – to try and develop location-independent, remote work that we can do anywhere, whether we’re in Australia for family reasons, or living abroad experiencing new places.
Meeting so many great new people and hearing fresh perspectives inspires us every day too. Even if we’re not digital nomads ourselves in the future, we’d love to create something for that tribe, like a co-working space somewhere in the world.
How did you get into house-sitting, and has it been easy to find suitable placements?
We’d heard about house-sitting and thought it was a great idea, but never seriously considered it until we went to TBEX (a travel content and media conference) and met other younger digital nomads who were doing it for the reasons we are now. When we made the decision to take leave from ‘life as we knew it’, we applied for a house and pet sitting service straight away.
“If you’re unhappy with your current circumstances, there’s always a way to change them.”
Part of the trick to getting sits is to ensure you have reviews. So, while we were working for our last nine months in London, we put all our efforts into securing some short local sits there – for the practice, the opportunity to hang out with dogs, and to get our reviews up.
This strategy worked and helped us to secure longer term sits. Here’s a little more about that and our tips.
Have you seen any major personal benefits from taking extended time off work to travel?
Absolutely. We’ve had more space to realise what’s important to us. We have also come to discover there are many different ways we can all spend our time – ‘traditional’ ways of working are no more.
You have the power to create your own life and routine. If you’re unhappy with your current circumstances, there’s always a way to change them. But you have to be brave and take a step to try something new and be prepared to look at things differently.
Do you think the experience will change your approach to life in any way when you return to work?
It’s so important to remove yourself from situations that aren’t right for you – this could be a toxic work environment or people/situations that make you unhappy. Stepping away and looking back in, you can often make sense of what was going on in the first place and shake it off.
Start fresh. This is the approach I’d like to return to the ‘real world’ with… if we go back to that way of working at all.
What advice would you give to people who are considering taking a travel career break?
Find out what your options are. If you can apply for sabbatical leave and your job is saved for you, it’s a wonderful safety net that you have if you want to go back, run out of money or have any other fears associated with cutting the chord on that life entirely.
“You always learn, you always grow and you’re more adaptable, employable and resourceful than before.”
If you plan to work, write, blog or create along the way, spend as much time as you can in one place at a time. We’ve found that moving around frequently is extremely disruptive to a routine if you are trying to work. We suggest three to four weeks in a place if you’re trying to work – routine is really important. If you’re only travelling, this is less of a challenge.
Whether you can apply for sabbatical leave or not, we’ve discovered from moving and living abroad twice now, that you can never go wrong. You always learn, you always grow and you’re more adaptable, employable and resourceful than before.
You can always get work or create it. If you need a career break, take it. And if you want to travel, what are you waiting for?
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