“There is no ‘right time’ to take a break. I think opportunities sometimes present themselves in the strangest ways and at seemingly inconvenient times and it takes courage to take that leap of faith to step out of your comfort zone and just do it!”

29-year-old Karin Steyn quit her job to sail around the world with her boyfriend, Matthew. Highlights of their trip so far include climbing an active volcano in Vanuatu, diving with 20 reef sharks and Manta rays in the Society Islands, watching whales in Tonga, and sailing into the Tuamutos to explore uninhabited atolls (ring-shaped coral reefs). Steyn says the experience has helped her realise “how small we are in this massive world” and that life is too short to dwell on the negative, mundane or routine.

For many, the inhibiting factor to taking a sabbatical (traditionally, a 12-month career break, or more untraditionally, any significant hiatus from daily routine, such as a gap year or world travel in between jobs) is the expense and the financial risks. The thought of quitting your job or taking unpaid leave is daunting. But Steyn says it is possible to make it work, with the help of a savvy financial adviser. “Don’t plan forever as there’ll always be some unknowns. At some point, just take that leap of faith and step out of your comfort zone! You’ll be surprised at the amount of adjusting and tailoring of your finances you can do while travelling on a budget.

Steyn left her full-time job and pulled in the help of a trusted financial adviser and came up with a plan to manage and mitigate some of the financial worries she had.

She describes herself on Instagram as ‘an unemployed nomad on a journey to explore the world’. Here, she shares her experience for other sabbatical-seekers wishing to do the same:

How did you decide where to go?

My boyfriend Matthew took three years off work to conquer his dream to circumnavigate the world on a yacht and fate had us meet just a few months before he set sail from SA. I have always wanted to see the Pacific Ocean, so joining him just seemed very natural. Initially, I visited for a month in the Caribbean and loved it! So, after finishing the ABSA Cape Epic, I joined him on a more permanent basis.

Why did you quit your job?

I didn’t ask my company to keep my position for two reasons: I wasn’t sure how long my sabbatical was going to be, and because I didn’t want somewhere ‘safe’ and known to return to – seeing that it would probably have been tempting to go back to it. By resigning, I forced myself to keep my options open should the opportunity to work overseas arise. But it did mean that I had to give some thought to my finances and my relationship with my financial adviser was a saving grace.

What are your top tips for others wanting to plan a sabbatical?

PLAN: Plan what you want to do while on a sabbatical, and, based on that, determine the duration of your time off. Then plan your finances accordingly. In my case, my financial adviser - Madri Jacobs, a Senior Financial Planner at Sanlam - played a pivotal role.

SAVE UP & SELL UP: Given that my sabbatical was quite ‘spontaneous’, I did not have a lot of time to save up, but I knew I might want to use this opportunity to spread my wings and consider working overseas. So, the day I resigned, I started selling all my household furniture and appliances, as well as my car, which essentially funded my one-year sabbatical across six countries in the Pacific region.

COVER UP: My priority was to ensure that I have some form of travel insurance covering large medical expenses. My financial adviser was such a great help! She confirmed with the Sanlam product actuary that my income protection policy would cover me for the first six months of sabbatical, and again explained the conditions of my disability and critical illness cover. I was also able to make changes to my existing retirement annuity contributions in line with my changing circumstances.

Has your sabbatical been beneficial?

For sure! Taking this time off during my young career was so fulfilling. I feel by being more relaxed and more self-aware, I can focus on other business opportunities, broaden my horizon and recognise opportunity more easily, compared to when I was doing my nine to five job.

Sidebar: Madri Jacobs, Steyn’s financial adviser, adds a few extra pointers on setting forth on sabbatical:

  • A sabbatical can be a pretty life-changing decision and may not be right for everyone. Once you are convinced that you would like to take a sabbatical, you need to think very carefully about the pros and cons, and the short and long term implications of the decision. Involve your financial advisor to make informed decisions about your finances and insurance.
  • Make sure you save sufficiently for a sabbatical of 8-12 months, and for a few extra months after you return home. Save enough for unforeseen and emergency expenses. Rework your budget and try to save in a way which has minimal impact on your existing investment planning.
  • Keep in mind that some medical aids impose waiting periods and penalties if you’re not on the scheme for a certain period. Look for alternatives and ensure your travel insurance is up-to-date. Alert your short-term insurer of any relevant changes.
  • Make sure you’ve got income protection and lump sum disability cover.
  • Consider moving back in with your parents in the lead up to the sabbatical to save on rent.
  • Cancel or pause any memberships or subscriptions you won’t need while away.
  • Leave plenty of time to apply for a visa and other travel documents. Remember to budget for these.
  • Give a close family member Power of Attorney to act on your behalf, so he or she can deal, inter alia, with your banking, insurance and other matters while you’re away, should the need arise.
  • Have a valid will in place. Discuss with your next of kin what should happen in an emergency if you need medical assistance, or even if you pass away in another country.

Sidebar: Don’t want to quit? Three ways to convince your employer to get on board with your sabbatical:

  • This is the year of ‘self-care’. More awareness of wellness in the workplace has meant an increase in sabbaticals, especially in the States. Competition for high-performing talent is pushing pressure on businesses to ‘get on board’ with the sabbatical trend.
  • Harvard Business Review (HBR) calls the effects of self-care profound and found sabbaticals ramp up productivity.
  • Additionally, HBR says the upward surge in sabbaticals enables companies to stress-test their organisational systems and promote people into interim roles that stretch them. This helps take away ‘key person risk’.