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Modern Sabbaticals – 17+ Ways How to Take a Remote Year

by | Last updated Sep 22, 2023

Later could mean you are less physically able. Later could mean you don’t have money anymore or need to take care of loved ones. Later could mean never.

More and more people have realized that waiting for retirement to do all the fun things they’ve always wanted to do might not be the best approach. So they are looking for ways to combine job and personal life; to have a career but still enough time for dreams and passions. This is where modern sabbaticals come into play.

In this article, I want to look at more than 17 ways how to take a remote year, the differences between the terms, and important aspects you need to take into consideration when taking a modern sabbatical.

What is a Modern Sabbatical?

A sabbatical is an extended period away from work. This is usually somewhere between 3 and 12 months but can be shorter or longer as well. Whether you travel or stay at home is up to you. During this time, an employee keeps the job and may still get paid (see more on this below).

But you can also take a sabbatical if you are currently in between two jobs or are self-employed. There are many different words for it, too, like career break or lifestyle break.

Some people also refer to it as remote year whereas others use remote year strictly for so-called workations. I wrote an extensive guide on workations so I don’t want to go into detail about it now.

The short version: It’s when you work remotely from a different place for a certain period of time, e.g. you actually live in France but work online from Costa Rica for 6 months.

Since many people combine their sabbatical with remote work, the boundaries between the terms can overlap.

How to Finance a Modern Sabbatical?

There are different ways to finance a modern sabbatical or a remote year. Here are the most common options:

  • You save up enough money to live off comfortably during your sabbatical.
  • You find an agreement with your employer to pay you while you are away, for example, you get paid only 2/3 of your normal salary for 6 months, and afterward, you can leave for a 6-month sabbatical and get paid the other 1/3 during that time.
  • You work remotely while you are away either part-time or full-time (this is why many people also refer to the sabbatical as a remote year because you can combine them).
  • You have created ways to make passive income and can live off that while being away.


Ways How to Take a Modern Sabbatical

Now let’s jump into the fun part: the different ways how to take a modern sabbatical. Most of you may already have a few ideas in mind about what to do with a couple of months’ spare time. But in case you still need some inspiration, here you go:


1. Travel

The most obvious choice. How about surfing in Australia, hiking in Peru, yoga in Thailand, safari in Tanzania, or city hopping in Europe? The opportunities are endless and a two-week vacation usually doesn’t cut it. But with several months off work, you can finally do those long-distance trips you’ve always dreamed about.

Modern Sabbatical - how to Take a Remote Year - Travel

2. Personal Development

It’s hard to find enough time for yourself with a busy full-time job. A sabbatical gives you the chance to read books on self-development, participate in workshops, do online courses, or maybe even get professional help – may it be in the form of a life coach or therapist.

This is your time to slow down and work on things from your past that are holding you back or focus on your current habits and lifestyle choices to become the best version of yourself.


3. Start a Business

A leave of work can also be a great time to start a business or a side hustle. There are many ideas for online businesses you can start from home on a tight budget, for example:

And who knows, maybe your business takes off immediately and you don’t want to (or need to) go back to work but want to continue working on your business.


4. Learn a New Skill

Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn a new skill but never found the time? A modern sabbatical is just perfect for it! Here are a few ideas that you might enjoy:

  • Learn how to ride horses
  • Take dancing lessons
  • Become a certified scuba diver
  • Learn a new language
  • Take cooking classes
  • Learn more about gardening
  • Practice rock climbing
  • Do free online courses in many different industries e.g., real estate, marketing, finance, psychology, or astrology


5. Work on the House

If you own a house, you know that there is ALWAYS something to work on. May it be:

  • Improving the garden,
  • Reconstructing the basement,
  • Cleaning out the attic,
  • Fixing the roof or front,
  • Remodel the kitchen, or
  • Updating the kid’s rooms.

Having a few weeks or even months in a row should give you plenty of time to finally do all of the maintenance or construction work.

And in case you don’t have a house but planning on buying or building one, a few months off work are perfect for all the planning, designing, legal work, or even the building process.

Modern Sabbatical - Buy a House

6. Join a Remote Year Program

There are many organized remote work programs out there (also called digital nomad programs), that you can join to travel the world with like-minded people and work online at the same time.

These programs usually run somewhere between 2 weeks and 12 months and bring you to places all around the world. Some take place in one location only, while others move countries every 4 weeks.

Most of those remote year programs don’t have a specific focus or emphasis, while others are specialized in certain topics. For example:

  • Venture with Impact combines remote work and volunteering in different countries.
  • CoworkParadise is a remote work program that brings together business owners with a turnover of 100k in a mastermind retreat to bring their business to the next level.
  • Unsettled brings together people in numerous places around the world to unstructure from their daily routines and help them get new inspirations.


7. Move to a Different City (Temporarily or Permanently)

Have you always wanted to live in a different city? Maybe dive into New York City for a bit, check out Paris, and head over to Seoul. There are so many great places in the world that are worth checking out for more than just a few days on vacation.

A sabbatical allows you to live somewhere for a few weeks or even months and soak up the local mentality.

In case you want to move somewhere permanently, a modern sabbatical is also a great opportunity to take care of all the paperwork, find a new place to live, sell your house, move your stuff, and potentially find a new local job if you want to.


8. Work on Your Health

A busy job oftentimes doesn’t allow any time to take proper care of our physical and mental health. Taking a longer break can sometimes even be necessary.

Maybe you are close to burnout and need a break. Maybe you’ve been diagnosed with a disease and now need all of your energy to overcome it. Or maybe you’ve had an accident or have an injury that needs physiotherapy or intensive treatments to recover.

Whatever the reasons, a sabbatical can be a great time to work on your health.


9. Take Care of Family Members

Yes, a sabbatical can also be used to be there for others.

  • That could be elderly parents who need support throughout the day.
  • A family member who just recovers from an injury or disease.
  • Your own child suffers from a chronic condition and needs treatment at a medical resort.
  • Or your sister who just gave birth to twins and needs help with the babies during the first few weeks or months.

Being able to take a career break can be a true gift in those situations.


10. Visit Friends all Over the World

If you know people who live in different countries (or just very far away), you may consider taking a remote year to visit them.

Maybe you are familiar with situations like a friend moving away and in the beginning, you say “Of course, I definitely come and visit you and we’re going to have such a great time” but in the end, it never happens because life gets in the way.

A sabbatical is a great way to visit those friends and take your time exploring new places.

Modern Sabbatical - Visiting Friends

11. Get Further Education

Your boss will probably like this way of spending your remote year the most: You could use your time off work to get advanced training. No work means you can fully focus and use all of your energy on your education.

You could go back to university or do online courses to expand your current level of expertise. You could even get an advanced degree in your field.

If that training helps you be better at your current job, then your employer could take on some (or all) of the costs.  


12. Go on a Retreat

It’s time to take care of yourself. There are tons of options for interesting retreats out there today that you could do during a sabbatical. Here are a few ideas:

  • Yoga retreat,
  • Couples retreat,
  • Fitness retreat,
  • Spa retreat,
  • Nature retreat,
  • Digital detox retreat,
  • Meditation retreat,
  • Juice fast retreat, or
  • Tantric retreat.

Pick whatever sounds interesting to you and treat yourself!


13. Volunteer

A modern sabbatical is also a great opportunity to help others. Again, it is completely up to you who you want to help, where, and for how long. Here are a few ideas:

  • La Tortuga Feliz – a turtle conservation program in Costa Rica (I volunteered there about 15 years ago and loved the experience!)
  • Chumkriel Language School – an NGO in Cambodia that brings education to children (same, I volunteered there briefly many years ago and fell in love with the kids)
  • Sea Shepard – conservation society that protects the world’s oceans and marine wildlife (I have been a donator for years but have not volunteered yet)

There are a gazillion more organizations that are worth supporting. If you use Google, you can find many projects where you have to pay a lot of money to join.

If the money is used for your accommodation or food or if most of it goes to the charity itself, there is surely nothing wrong with it. Just be careful that you don’t spend hundreds or thousands of dollars that end up at the organization and are not used towards a good cause.


14. Soul Searching

The job and lifestyle that was right for you when you were 20 doesn’t necessarily has the be the best choice 10, 20, or 30 years later. Many people feel like something is missing in their life.

Maybe it’s the job that doesn’t fulfill you, maybe a relationship that doesn’t work anymore, or a city you’ve grown tired of.

A couple of months out of your daily routine could help you see the bigger picture and find out what really matters to you and how you want to continue your life.


15. Become Creative

Creativity needs space. During a busy work week, we oftentimes find it harder to be creative. So a remote year can be the perfect opportunity to work on projects you’ve always had in mind. Here are a few ideas:

  • Write a book,
  • Write a blog,
  • Start a YouTube channel,
  • Start a podcast,
  • Start painting, or
  • Do different types of DIY projects.

Whatever makes your soul happy, go for it!

Modern Sabbatical - Become Creative

16. Meet New People

If you enjoy meeting new people and making friends from all over the world, use your sabbatical to do exactly that!

You could go to parties or festivals, go on speed dating nights, or join guided group travel tours.

If you want to make a bit of money while doing so, I suggest you do jobs like bartending, working in a hostel, or becoming a tour guide. (If you are looking for more fun travel jobs, check out the linked post!)


17. Miscellaneous Ideas

Here are a few additional ideas, that might be very specific but maybe they give you some more inspiration:

  • Book a surf camp,
  • Become a yoga teacher,
  • Do an internship,
  • Become a mentor and teach others your expertise,
  • Do absolutely nothing,
  • Fulfill your dreams,
  • Make a list of things to do before you die.


Modern Sabbatical Preparation: Important Aspects to Consider

Before you can start your sabbatical or remote year, you need to organize and prepare a few things:

  1. Make a contract with your employer on all the conditions involving the sabbatical (payments, first day back at work again, the tasks you do when you get back, working hours, etc.)
  2. Clarify if you are allowed to work remotely or start a side hustle and earn additional money
  3. Does your current health care insurance cover you when you are traveling or do you need an international health care plan or travel insurance, e.g. with SafetyWing?
  4. If you want to travel, who takes care of your house, your plans, or your pets? (consider housesitting, e.g. with Trusted House Sitters.)
  5. Find a way to manage your mail while you are away.
  6. If you want to do the sabbatical with someone else, for example, your partner or a friend, make sure you are both on the same page regarding what to expect, budget, what you are going to do, etc.
  7. Reverse culture shock is real. Prepare yourself for when to get back from your remote year or when you need to go back to your job and daily routines.

Modern Sabbatical - Travel

Remote Year or Modern Sabbatical: Whatever Makes You Happy

As you can see, there are many things that you can do while on a career break. No matter if you want to go traveling, take care of yourself, learn a new skill, volunteer, or do a project you’ve always wanted to do – the opportunities are endless.

And it doesn’t matter how you call it – a modern sabbatical, remote year, career break. What’s important is that you make time for yourself while you are still able to. Don’t wait for the perfect time. Your life is happening right now. Not sometime later. So whatever makes you happy, do it now.

Denise Mai

Denise Mai

Founder of Digital Nomad Soul

Hi everyone, thanks for stopping by! My name is Denise and I have been working online for more than 10 years. In the past, I worked as a remote employee and freelancer & managed to build a six-figure online business. I know that many others would love to work from home or work while traveling, too. That’s why I want to share my experience and help you on your way to your remote career!

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  1. Thanks, Anukrati! :)

  2. These are some great ideas! I would have chosen to work on my physical and mental health if I was not a full-time travel blogger.

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