29-year-old Karin Steyn quit her job to sail around the world with her boyfriend.
Their trip included 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).
While this type of sabbatical is fun to dream about most of us are inhibited by the expense and the financial risks.
However, 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,” she said.
“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 South Africa.
“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.”
Steyn added that when she quit her job she didn’t ask her company to keep her position for two reasons – she wasn’t sure how long the sabbatical was going to be, and because she didn’t want somewhere ‘safe’ and known to return to.
“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,” she said.
Below Steyn outlined her 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 – played a pivotal role.
- Save up and sell: 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: My priority was to ensure that I have some form of travel insurance covering large medical expenses. Madri 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.
Madri Jacobs, the senior financial planner at Sanlam who advised Steyn, said that 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,” she said.
Below she outlined the steps you should consider:
- 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.