top of page
  • ninawohlleben

What I learned from 6 months sabbatical

Updated: Oct 17, 2021

This year I made a dream come true for myself and took a 6 month Sabbatical from work, to travel and simply enjoy life. In autumn 2020 my boyfriend and I bought a van, renovated it during winter (perfect Covid lockdown activity btw.) and set off in spring 2021. The initial route took us through Austria and Slovakia to Croatia, where we spent some weeks enjoying beautiful coasts, islands, truffles, surreal lakes and seemingly countless Unesco World Heritage sights. We travelled on through Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Northern Macedonia. The Balkans where an amazing mixture of stunning nature, incredibly warm-hearted people, too much meat, Rakija, intense history and interesting bureaucratic procedures. In June we arrived in Greece, touring the main land with all its rich history, hiked Mount Olympus, hopped various beautiful peninsulas and finally set over to Ancona (Italy) by ferry. We proceeded up through Italy, enjoying Verona and some lovely agriturismos on the way, copious amounts of Italian food and wine and arrived to the Dolomites, for some stunning hikes. Next stop were the French Alpes for more hiking in Chamonix, after which we headed to the Basque Atlantic coast, where we spent the rest of the summer between Lacanau, Biarritz, San Sebastián and Bilbao. Awesome beaches, great times with friends, surfing, crazy amounts of Pintxos (Basque tapas) made this time truly unforgettable and we finally arrived back home end of September.

The time was incredible as you can imagine - I warmly recommend road tripping for extended periods of time!! Getting out of the hamster wheel brought me a lot of clarity and some subtle realisations. None of them are rocket science, nor truly new to me, but somehow they really hit home. Moving forward they are important reminders for me in creating the life I want to live. Maybe there is something in it for you too. So here they are.

Life is short

We all know this, but in the daily rush we rarely grasp it fully. Two things really cleared my vision on this one.

Travelling through amazing places, beautiful nature, meeting great people, made it almost painfully clear to me what a precious gift life is. I mean come on, of all the freaking coincidences - we are born onto this piece of rock whizzing around in some galaxy, somewhere in the universe, at this point in time. And now we get to do this thing called life, full of incredible stuff to see, do, experience. On the timeline of the universe, our life is less than a hiccup, and yet to us it’s all. That’s an interesting perspective.

The other eye-opener came during the time in the Balkans. Growing up in the early 1990’s, I was aware of the Yugoslav war. However, meeting and talking to people who actually experienced the horrors of that time, gave me a very new perspective all together. We take our daily life for granted (and are even annoyed about it a lot of the time), but for so many people it’s not at the end of our days, it won’t be for us either.

Make every day count

So, understanding how short and precious life is, it comes as lunacy to live for the weekends and vacations only. Which is precisely what I had been doing most of the time prior. Rushing from day to day, always pushing things off to some future point in time, living in the mindset “when I achieve xyz, when so and so happens, THEN I’ll be happy….”. Well truth bomb hello - that day may never even come. And if it does, then the time up to then was what, wasted? That’s insane.

Of course it’s not always easy to see that. Deadlines, stress, making ends meet, juggling all areas of daily life - it’s a lot and it can be tough. But we need to find, see and appreciate the good stuff in all that nevertheless. And we need to work at creating the kind of life that uplifts and fulfils us. In baby steps, within what’s possible, but continuously. Otherwise, what’s this all about?

Time in nature is key

The most powerful enabler I found to gain that clarity and get new perspectives, hands down, is time in nature. We spent most of the trip somewhere in the outdoors - hiking through stunning mountains, lush woods, chilling on awesome beaches, swimming in lakes, rivers, the ocean, camping under the stars. The effect is really incomparable to anything else. It’s healing, calming, restorative, relaxing, clearing, soothing, joyful. I was feeling pretty stressed out at the beginning of the Sabbatical, sufficient levels of cortisol lets say. Spending time in nature totally helped me reset and get back to myself. Reconnecting with nature helps us to find a kind of meta perspective and get things back in proportion. It’s just the biggest (and easiest) life hack and we need to do it daily.

Change is good

The big constant on a road trip is change. You never really know what’s coming, what the next destination will be (like), unforeseen things happen, you need to adapt to different rules / regulations / cultures, you don’t have a routine, etc. The list is endless. In the beginning I found that quite unnerving at times. Just when I started getting accustomed to a place, we moved on. And then crazy stuff on the road happened, plans changed - and repeat. As humans, we like routines and the known and I found myself struggling in the absence of both. It took time and a number of bad tempers until a shift in perspective started setting in. I suddenly realised that there would be no end to the changes (duuuhh it’s a road trip..!!) and expecting anything else was a total waste of time. Instead, I relaxed and started to expect the unexpected and even to welcome it, as I noticed how every time crazy stuff happened it broadened my experience and helped me grow. What I found most helpful, was switching fear of the unknown for curiosity. Road tripping is clearly also a great metaphor for life and the mindset of embracing change is helpful also during “normal life”.

Find new perspectives

In case you hadn’t noticed - yes, changing perspectives is a constant theme in this article. Because it simply is the most powerful game changer. Period. Travelling helps us with that like nothing else. Meeting other people, in other circumstances, other places, cultural settings, history, understanding, programming. Getting out of our daily routines and habits, having new experiences, trying new things. Travelling is the boot camp of new perspectives.

I was really deep in the tunnel of the reality I had created for myself and my understanding of how things are. But turns out, there are so many different versions of reality for different people in different places. And it’s just the greatest opportunity to look at things from a new point of view.

Bottomline? Stepping out of our day-to-day life to take a break and travel for a while, is one of the most valuable gifts we can give ourselves. The memories are invaluable and chances are it may trigger some important changes in your life, which you may not manage to make otherwise. You should give it a try, I dare you :-)

403 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page