The Sabbatical is official!

Old Maps and Spyglass

Couple weeks ago, I’ve decided to share the Sabbatical plans with my employer.

That’s a significant milestone, and I have to admit I was dreading the moment, not sure what to expect. I had mixed feelings, knowing that if I am to ask for a leave of absence approval, I have to give my notice early enough to allow for a smooth transition. Waiting till the last moment would most likely cause more grief and hard feelings, making the Sabbatical scenario much less probable. On the other hand, keeping everyone in the dark felt so much safer and convenient. If anything was about to go wrong or we had a sudden change of hart, I wouldn’t have to back out with tail between my legs. I wrote the notice and suddenly everything changed.

To my surprise, both of my bosses turned out to be very supportive and their responses to my e-mail were prompt and felt really genuine. As a result, the head of human resources prepared a letter, in which the company commits to offer me a similar position upon our return from this mini-retirement. In reality, because of our soon to be re-acquired mobility, professional experience (self confidence?) and functional flexibility, I feel that finding an equivalent job will not be extremely difficult, but having this kind of “guarantee” helps ease the anxiety.

Even though I disclosed our plans only to few friends, family and handful of co-workers, the news spread out like wildfire. Some people were thrilled with the idea and admired our courage. Others shook their heads in disbelief, mostly behind my back. However, I’m not sure if any of them truly understood what we were about to do. Apparently, for most people the idea of voluntary unemployment is beyond comprehension, which leads to only one logical conclusion – we must be nuts. And I’m not about to argue that statement, for I’m convinced it’s true. But, if only a little, there is some reason to this madness.

So what is it exactly that we’re doing?

Most people see it as really long vacations, which to a certain extent is accurate. However, there is so much more to it. It starts with the sudden realization that unless the Buddhists are right, we’re not about to have another appearance here. Even if they are right, chances are our next reincarnation will be a bullfrog, horsefly or a skunk if we’re lucky. Obviously, if you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m going through a mid life crisis. Most normal people grind their teeth and keep pushing through. Nuts, on the other hand, come up with real crazy ideas, talk their normal spouses into them and then try to implement. Such is my story.

When I was younger and (just a bit) more naïve, I’ve been told that we get to choose what we want to do in life. I still believe that today. For quite some time – about 14 years or so – I’ve been convinced that my passion is crunching numbers and producing business presentations. Only recently, I’ve realized it’s nothing more then a lousy excuse for living a fat ass life! Unfortunately, I still don’t know what it is exactly that I’d like to be doing in life. Since I couldn’t figure it out in those 14 years, I concluded that I’m either not smart enough or my brain languishes in current environment. I’m too proud to admit the former, so I decided to change the later.

I’ve been flirting with the idea of changing employers, but decided against it. What are the chances of landing a dream job without knowing what it actually is? Instead, I want to take time to contemplate my passion. I know, it still sounds like a cheesy excuse for ditching work. Oh, well…

Think what you want, but I’ve managed to convince my wife to this crazy idea and in about five weeks, we’re about to start our extended vacation, eh… I mean pursuit of freedom, passion and happiness. Since we can’t really afford to do it at home, we will rent our house out and live for a year on the road, traveling around USA, Mexico and Central America.

We will sleep longer, walk slower and just enjoy the day…

 

Sabbatical Fund

Following on the post couple of days ago, I started the countdown. Sitting at my desk in my luxurious cubicle, I can’t concentrate on anything else. Today is Thursday and there will be only 14 more Thursday’s, 12 more Friday meetings (April 22nd and July 1st are holidays), 4 more monthly KPI’s, only three more Operations Reviews, one objectives setting and no more performance reviews! I just had my last one yesterday. During a phone conversation with my boss, who’s based in Spain, I was asked about my short and long term plans. Obviously I wasn’t ready to disclose all of them just yet. I’m afraid that an honest answer, at this stage could negatively impact my annual bonus payout calculation, or as I refer to it, the „Sabbatical fund”.

People often wonder, how is it possible to travel the World for extender periods of time. Most assume that it has to cost a lot of money and that you have to be born rich or acquire wealth before you can set of on an adventure like that. In fact, none of it is true. If you apply the right strategy, living on the road can be much cheaper then living in your own house. This however is a subject for a whole different post. Today, I’d like to discuss the savings we will accumulate to finance this trip.

My annual bonus is the single, most significant funding source for our big trip. Instead of putting it into savings or buying a new motorcycle, it will finance about six months on the road. Assuming we embrace the frugal way of living.

The second largest, or about four more months on the road will come from Uncle Sam. No, the government has not agreed to sponsor this extravaganza. The IRS is expected to return some of the monies, my Company has handed over on my behalf as income taxes. By the way, it’s a weird concept, isn’t it? You’re being taxed or penalized for working and earning a living. If you don’t, you don’t work and don’t earn anything, you don’t have to pay! I’ll join the ranks of non-paying citizens in about 14 weeks.

Coming back to our big trip funding, as I explained in some posts before, we’ll sell most of our possessions, and hope this will generate enough dough to stay on the road for another four of five months. First to go will be my motorcycle, followed closely by my car, then the big screen HDTV in our basement, lawn mower, snow blower (yippee!), all electronics, kitchen tools, furniture, etc. We’ll keep appliances and rent out them with the house.

I’m saving vacation days, so that I’m paid off for them, when we part our ways with the Company. Five weeks of pay can finance another three or four months on the go.

Finally, I have a little stocks portfolio, which is not doing so good right now, but it didn’t loose much value in the past year either. I’m hoping my fortune will turn while we’re on the road, so I treat that as an emergency fund or a home warming gift after we return.

All in all, we don’t have much, so being frugal on the road will be a must. At the same time however staying on the same continent, rather than circumnavigating the Globe will definitely help us keep our sanity in case anything bad (knock, knock) happens. Visiting places that are considerably cheaper then the USA is also going to help achieve that goal. The bottom line is, assuming our house stays rented thorough out the entire trip, we’ll be able to travel for about 18 months without having to work on the road. However, if we can find a supplementary source of funding, who knows where it will take us…? And I’m sure going to try to figure it out.

Trip Preparations

 

Now, that our grand tour is semi official, we need to kick our preparations into high gear. The “D” day is July 12 th 2011, which means we only have 105 days left until departure. To put it in perspective, it’s about how much time passed since last Christmas and I still have a bottle of unfinished holiday’s eggnog.

To get things started, Nadia helped me compile a list of CDs, DVDs, VCDs and other media with tons of music no one listens to and movies we don’t have the time to see. Actually, I was making the list, while she was learning how to use the camera. We ended up with a bunch of pictures and a list of almost 300 items that we need to get rid of. Granted, most of them are used and especially the cartoons are fairly beaten-up, but even if I was to sell it for a buck per CD and VCD and couple or three bucks per DVD, that’s still several hundred dollars which just may extend our trip by a few weeks. Without further delay, we’ve cleaned them all, matched with their sleeves and packed into 11 boxes. Instead of selling them one by one, which would take forever, I will put them up for sale on eBay in packages. I started with a collection of classic Polish cartoons on 21 VCDs. I put it up for auction with no reserve, starting at $0.99. Let’s see if there is any demand for Polish cartoons and how much are they really worth. Once that’s sold, I’ll list the other 10 boxes. In the meantime, we need to prepare all our books.

I hope to read a lot during the trip, but taking a lot of books is just not an option. The van is only so big anyway. We’ll take a Kindle and load it with electronic books. Apparently it holds up to 3,500 books which is much more then I’m capable of reading and definitely more then our entire collection gathered in the last nine years. If the experiment described above is successful, I’ll take similar approach with the reading materials and sell them in batches packaged thematically.

Some of our household items have found their new owners already at the party last Saturday. Apparently, our junk yard restored furniture has many fans and won’t go back to the dumpster. We’ll keep some things in storage, so that we don’t have to buy everything new upon return, others we’ll give to our friends for them to enjoy in our absence. I’m still freaking out though passing through our garage as I realize how many things we still need to get rid of, but Agnieszka keeps saying that a house Sale or two will do the trick. I certainly hope so, but I’m still skeptical.

In the same time, as we’re getting rid of stuff, we’re also acquiring new items. I mentioned the Kindle, but I’m also looking at headset monitors for the van, portable TV (well, maybe), car chargers, camping canopy, and many, many more. Which triggers another problem: how are we going to fit into our small van…? And how to organize all the smaller items to unloading and loading the car every time you need to find a clean towel or a new shirt…? I was thinking of plastic, transparent or clearly market containers stacked on top of each other, but that seems like a terrible waste of space. I’ll have to research that subject once we get closer to July.

On a related note, we plan to take Nadia’s keyboard and let her practice piano, as she really seems to enjoy it. I hope in larger cities we’ll be able to find inexpensive tutors, and who knows… maybe even pick up some Spanish in the process. As far as math, English, Polish and other second grade subjects, we’ll take the teaching responsibility upon ourselves. We have yet to talk to Nadia’s school principal and pick-up some materials. We plan to spend few hours everyday going through the material and maybe even adjust it to the places we’re about to visit. I hope we’ll be able to make it interesting for both our kids and no doubt learn something ourselves. Quite frankly, I’m already excited about the prospect!

Finally, we need to research insurance and immunization options. Actually, I think Agnieszka has it already well under control. She’s been contacting local health providers and institutions in Poland to figure out where would it be cheaper to get the shots and insurance.

Serge, our rental agent will take care of the house while we’re gone. He’s already seen it and is quite optimistic as far as our options. I hope he’s right, as being able to rent the house is the single biggest obstacle in our otherwise “perfect” plan. When we find renters for our house I’ll be able to share the news at work. I’m sure they’ll understand…

Announcing Sabbatical

Up until recently our trip didn’t have an official start date. Yes, we knew it will start probably some time in July or August, but we didn’t have a fix date. That has changed yesterday, when Agnieszka committed my hard earned 200,000 frequent traveler miles and USD $2,400.- (taxes and other fees) in exchange for a round trip to Katowice. Well, not exactly a round trip. We will departure from Rochester on Tuesday, July 12 th 2011 and return to Toronto on August 29 th 2011.

It means that our North American sabbatical year will start in Europe. We’ll spend that time with our friends and Family, show our kids where we grew up, travel around Europe. We’ll probably visit the Czech Republic, Germany and Norway, but those will be rather short trips. I’d like to use the time in Chorzów to better plan the details of our trip, get necessary insurance, immunization shots, etc.

We’d like to rent the house out mid July, right after our departure. Therefore we need to sell all the junk we’ve accumulated over the past nine years, put our valuables in storage, sell one car and motorcycle, pack our van and park it on our neighbors driveway for the summer.

Last Saturday at Alex’s third birthday party, we announced our plans to our friends. Most of them were surprised, some seemed shocked, but all congratulated our decision. I think we all agree that life’s too short to waste it in a cubicle cell, working long hours and weekends for a paycheck, with no satisfaction. Anyway, that’s not what this post is about…

Once back to upstate New York, we plan to pick up our car and drive down to Allegany State Park for the Labor Day weekend and a farewell party for our Rochester friends. Where will we go next? Well, that’s still to be decided. We know that the ultimate goal is Mexico and Central America, all the way down to Darien’s Gap. Rough budget shows that we might be able to support ourselves for 15 to 18 months on the road, maybe a little longer.

On that trip there will be a few points that we “must see” and a few things that we “ must do”, but overall it will be about going slow and enjoying the surroundings. Among the places that we absolutely have to visit is the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Parks in the US, Morelia and Yukatan in Mexico, the Panama Canal and a few other places. We all want to learn Spanish, Agnieszka wants to complete Yoga instructor course in Guatemala, I want to learn the ropes of DSLR photography and write, write, write. I hope Agnieszka and Nadia will help me with that task and that we’ll be posting here often.

The Sabbatical

I’d like to begin saying, that it all started one Valentine’s Day evening, when me and my wife were laying on the carpet, next to a gas fireplace, with lights off watching the imaginary stars on our living room ceiling. However plain and unromantic it sounds, it was the day when we decided we want to change something about our life. Not that we didn’t like the warmth of the fire safely enclosed in a metal box, not that we didn’t enjoy the comfy pillows supporting our heads or the quietness of our large house, with our kids sleeping soundly upstairs. We did appreciate all that a lot, and yet we decided to throw it all out…

We could afford our suburban house in safe neighborhood, good school, two IRA’s, two 529′s,  and occasional Caribbean vacations. All that  from just one paycheck. A really good paycheck, considering we lived in an inexpensive  part of country. My job, that provided this income wasn’t bad at all. Actually, at times, I think I even enjoyed what I was doing.

So, what exactly happened that Valentine’s Day night, under the living room stardom…? I’ll never know that for sure. Maybe it was the wine, or the “magic of the moment”, who knows…? Bottom line, we decided to trade all that safety and security of our Family for an open road and the thrill and danger of an unknown adventure. Nuts, obviously…

We couldn’t sleep that night, we couldn’t sleep for many more nights thereafter. It started with an idea of a short sabbatical trip to South America. By next morning, it evolved into a full fledged, multi-year trip around the World. Details, like trip funding yet to be defined.

Obviously, the economic aspect of that idea soon rose to be it’s greatest obstacle and it wasn’t until I’ve laid out a solid plan that convinced my wife to give it her blessing. The plan involved selling all our means of transportation, most household items, putting our retirement and kids education savings on hold, renting the house, anticipating tax returns and researching travel and accommodation options in various parts of the World. Turned out, living on the road was going to be much less expensive than staying in our own house. Or to be exact, staying in the house owned by our bank.

What happened next is an uncommon story of a very common Family, starring  Mommy and Daddy (a.k.a. The Nuts), a six years old girl and an almost three year old boy. The story is shared here with the rest of the World as we discover it.