How I took one month off work to travel - and how you can too

In October this year, I took one month off work to go to New York. I spent the month gallivanting around New York City, Brooklyn, and the Hamptons (and part of it sick in bed, but that's another story).

how to take one month off work to travel and not get fired sabbatical leave

Now, some of you might be thinking that one month off work is not that impressive - but keep in mind that I had just started my new job one month before. So I worked for a month - and then I left to travel for a month (and although it was unpaid, none of that time was deducted from my precious annual leave). Not many new employees can say that!

Here are my top tips on how to get one month off work to do the things you love - whether it be travel, finding some new hobby, or renovating your apartment.

1. Know your worth

This might sound a little harsh, but before you go barging into your boss's room to demand that he let you go stay on a beach in the Maldives for a month, you need to know exactly how much you are worth to him and your company.

how to take one month off work to travel and not get fired sabbatical leave

It was pretty clear to me that when my boss quit to go to another law firm, his new firm was interested in bringing me over as well. I knew that I had some bargaining power with the new company because of my boss's glowing commendation - and I made use of that strong position to ask for one month off.

This was also strengthened by the fact that I was working on a case at my old firm that was about to go to trial - but with the departure of my boss (and later me), there was no one left to handle it at the old firm. The case ended up coming over with me to the new firm (just in time for the trial), so it helped enormously that I was bringing in business for the firm.

If you don't think that you're worth that much to the company that they would let you take an extended holiday, then make yourself worth it. Spend the next few months making yourself incredibly useful and indispensable - and don't worry, if you think that will make the company more reluctant to let you go, check out tip #3 below.

2. Get your timing right

This is key. Asking for a mini-sabbatical (or a full length one) when your employer needs you most is not going to fly - nor is asking when your boss is in the middle of a crisis, or your colleague is about to go on maternity leave. Make sure you've tested the waters and done your due diligence on whether the time you're proposing to go will be a busy one, and whether other colleagues are also planning long holidays at that time.

Also keep in mind that your best chances of getting time off are once you've achieved a solid milestone or gotten a stellar performance review, which also ties into tip #1 about making sure you're considered valuable to your employer.

how to take one month off work to travel and not get fired sabbatical leave

I actually messed this part up. I knew that my boss had a three month notice period (whereas I only had a one month notice period), so when he put in his resignation notice, I neatly counted out the months until I could submit my resignation. I figured that I could take my one month break in his last month at our then-firm, so that we would start together at the new place at the same time.

It all fell apart, when (in classic law firm style) he was not required to sit out his three months' notice, and instead left about three weeks after giving his notice. I had already booked my trip to New York though - so when the new firm asked me to start sooner, I had to politely explain to them that I had already made travel plans, and used my bargaining power (see tip #1) to get the one month off anyway.

Obviously, the best time to take a sabbatical is in between jobs - so if you have been interviewing for a new job and get the offer, try to ask that you start a month (or two) after you've actually left your old job. This can be tricky, because most employers will want you to start straight away. While I don't endorse this, I've known people to lie about their notice period, claiming they have to give three months' notice to their current employer when it is really only one, and then they go travelling for two months. If you are going to lie (again, not recommended!) - make sure you don't have any of your soon-to-be-colleagues on Facebook where they can see that you're sitting under a waterfall in Brazil when you're supposed to be serving out your notice period.

Instead of lying, consider telling your new employer that you'd like to take a bit of time off between jobs to re-energise and recharge your batteries, or even to visit family if they live overseas.

3. Frame your request

Think long and hard about what you are going to say to your supervisor(s) when you ask for time off. I would recommend priming them for the request a few weeks (or even months) in advance - perhaps casually mention over the water cooler or at Friday night drinks that you are hoping to take a bit of a break, so they're not stunned when you finally do speak up. Make sure you drop in good reasons for why you want to go - whether it's to prepare for your wedding, or to visit your family - make it clear that this isn't just you having a bad case of random wanderlust (even if it is!).

how to take one month off work to travel and not get fired sabbatical leave

My boss always knew that it had been my long-held dream to work in New York. He also knew that my boyfriend was there until the end of this year on exchange at NYU Stern, so it didn't come as a huge shock to him when I asked him if it was okay that I took a month off to spend some time with The Boy.

Note the key word: asked. I didn't inform him that I was going (bosses never like that!), but I was fairly careful with how I framed my request. You must give your supervisor incentive to let you go. Something along the lines of, "I've been working quite hard lately on Project X, and now that it is winding down, I was just wondering if it would be possible to take some unpaid time off to recharge my batteries and get re-invigorated again before the next project starts? It's always been my dream to [insert what you want to do here], and I would really appreciate it if I could just have [a few months] to do this. Of course, I don't want to do it on the company's dime, so unpaid leave is totally fine - [insert colleague's name that has agreed to cover for you] is well equipped to cover most of my role while I'm gone, and if you need me, of course you can reach out to me on my mobile or via email."

Keep in mind that assuring your boss that you are still accessible will definitely help encourage him to let you go (particularly if you're going on unpaid leave because it's free labour you're offering), but if you are going to be hiking in the mountains of Bhutan without satellite reception (as I've done before), do not promise this, because it will just serve to infuriate him when he can't get hold of you. 

If you think extended leave is going to be hard to get, try to settle on working remotely (i.e. away from the office) for a period of time, but be clear about how many hours are expected of you (otherwise you may end up working as much or more than you would at home, and with time zone differences too).

how to take one month off work to travel and not get fired sabbatical leave

4. Think of the long-term

Generation Y isn't known for its long term planning skills (#YOLO) - but always remember that this request could come back to haunt you. If handled poorly, it may stop you from getting a promotion or a pay raise (because the firm thinks you lack commitment and dedication), or reflect badly on your manager/boss (because the firm thinks they shouldn't have let you go, and that it sets a bad precedent). You don't want to jeopardise your future prospects with your employer - unless you're planning on leaving them anyway (and even then, burnt bridges are not a good idea).

Also remember to consider how your leave should be handled while you are gone. Check with your boss about whether it can become public news to your colleagues - some might not be happy that your peers know about it, because it may open the floodgates for similar requests. On the other hand, some people like your secretary, colleagues who will be expected to help cover your role, and HR should definitely be informed.

how to take one month off work to travel and not get fired sabbatical leave

I informed everyone at my new office of my one month off (which did result in some surprised stares), but when a big boss from another office visited recently, he casually asked my boss why I had done no billable hours during October. This is a reminder that there are long-term implications of cavorting around the world willy nilly - so you need to be willing (and able) to pay the price.

The other thing is that you do run the risk that the company thinks, "if I can do without you for three months, then I probably don't need you at all," and you may end up coming back to find all your belongings have been packed up, and you're out of the job.

Has anyone else taken extended leave? Let us know in the comments section if you have any other tips!

xx Carmen

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