A Grand Adventure: Sabbatical Life

Those of you who followed our sabbatical journey will know that we spent most of 2018 living (and often working) abroad. I blogged throughout the year, with posts specifically about the sabbatical at the half-way mark, and then again on the home stretch.

We’ve been back in Australia about six weeks now, and have just moved into our new home in Docklands. As I interview for fulltime work, as I’m about to sign a publishing contract for my first book, and as I unpack and find new homes for our belongings, it’s a good time to reflect on our year of sabbatical life.

The days are long and the weeks go by fast

A dear friend we made in Bali, where we lived for two months, reflected that when she looked back, the weeks seemed to be flying by, but that each day felt full and long.

I can honestly say that this is how I felt for most of the year.

When I am present, when I live the breadth and depth of each day, they seem longer, fuller. I want to carry that feeling with me, to bottle that secret sauce, because it makes life feel more purposeful and I’m more content.

A sense of accomplishment

As well as consulting for clients (writing, editing, and review educational materials), I wrote and edited two books. TWO WHOLE BOOKS, each 100,000 words. I wrote 200,000 words – funny, heartfelt narratives set in beautiful locations. I made up people, their lives and their adventures. I created from nothing the things they said and did – well, I borrowed some anecdotes from loved ones, but for the most part, those fictional people came to life in my head.

I worked on building my author platform, engaging with readers and authors from around the world, learning from them, supporting them, befriending them. I’ve made some wonderful literary friends over the past year – people I can contact with questions and requests, people who can rely on me for support and help if they need it. I will champion them and their writing, and they will do the same for me.

I also queried publishers and agents, honing my messaging about me and my books. I am proud and excited to say that I recently got a big fat YES from a UK-based publisher, which I will announce officially once I’ve signed the contract. Because of this sabbatical, my first book is being traditionally published and I will get to hold my book in my hands. The others will hopefully follow (squee!).

Feeding my soul

We lived in and visited some beautiful, exciting, and vibrant places. Bali, Portugal, Scotland, Ireland, rural Minnesota, London, the British Midlands, Amsterdam, Seattle, LA, Wales, New Zealand and my home state of Western Australia. Natural beauty, architectural wonders, history, and wildlife in copious doses. Our everyday life was a wonderful cacophony of sights, sounds, smells and tastes that we happily steeped ourselves in.

Walking the streets of Ubud, the sun beating down, the humidity hanging heavy in the air, the heady scent of tropical flowers mixing with petrol fumes and Indonesian spices – this became my idea of heaven.

Spending time with loved ones also fed my soul. Catching up with family and friends in WA, LA, Seattle, Minnesota, the UK, Ireland, and Amsterdam was a highlight. Living with Ben’s family and mine for extended periods of time was something special. Cooking a mid-week meal for people I love is – and has long been – a great pleasure for me. Chatting over that meal, as we recount our days, our mini-triumphs and challenges, heightens that joy.

‘Quality time’ it’s called. We all need that type of time with our loved ones. Even though I’ve lived my adult life ‘away’ from most of my family, I long for those times when I can look across the dinner table and meet the eyes of someone I love dearly but don’t see in person very often. The thing about being a traveller, someone who lives ‘away’ – you always miss someone. It’s the curse of the ex-pat. I had a year of topping up my soul with quality loved-ones time.

And, wonderfully, we made some very dear new friends from across the world.

 
The things you miss

Things are just things, really. We attach meaning to them. As I unpack boxes and find places for our things in our new home, I know (deep down) they’re just things, but they make me feel at home. Books I’ve loved, souvenirs and artefacts from our travels, family photos, my good knives, my cannisters (yes, really) – these things ‘spark joy’ as Marie Kondo would say. It’s nice to rediscover these things. Do I need them? No, I don’t. I spent the year with my clothes, toiletries and a stack of rectangles (laptop, iPad, Kindle, phone). I can live without things. For now, though, I will especially enjoy them.

I did really missed drawers, though. Like, really, totally, absolutely, completely missed putting my clothes into drawers. Even when we stayed somewhere for weeks or months, we kept our clothes in our packing cubes. Drawers are luxurious. Next time you take an article of clothing out of a drawer, just savour that feeling.

The things you get used to

In Bali, we slathered ourselves in sunscreen and showered several times a day. It was hot and humid and 80% of our time was spent outdoors. My hair looked like wool. And even so, Bali was my favourite place we lived in. I’d live there again in a heartbeat.

I am a creative home cook. In Bali, I cooked with tempeh for the first time and it became a staple. At the lake cabin in Minnesota, I had an electric frying pan and a microwave – that’s it – and I cooked a variety of dishes. In Portugal, it was difficult to get good fresh food – produce, dairy and proteins – but I adapted. In the UK (before and after Portugal), I was cooking for five instead of two, and three of the adults were eating Keto. Spoiled for fresh produce, because you are in the UK, I made giant pots of Keto-friendly stews, red sauces and soups.

I can write anywhere – and did. A sunlounger, a beach, a cafe (many cafes), the kitchen table (in many different kitchens), on planes and trains, and even on a boat. The world was my writing room. I loved it.

My big takeaways

I love Australia. It’s home – Melbourne especially. It’s a terrific city and we have loved ones here. I was happy to come back and I am excited to start the next chapter here.

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Our new view

I would do a sabbatical year again – or create a life where we live abroad for several months every year. There was a time when that thought terrified me – now I think it will become essential to us.

Ben is an incredibly brave, wonderful, supportive, imaginative person. “Why don’t we trade a year of retirement for now,” he said a couple of years ago. I am so grateful he did, but even more so that he gently nudged me to make the commitment. He is my bestie, my partner-in-crime, my travel buddy, my champion, my love. Thank you, Ben, for being all those things and more.

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