Picking a Sabbatical Location

by Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical on October 14, 2010

Bandung City, IndonesiaWhy Indonesia?

One question that I get asked a lot is why we chose Indonesia as our country of destination.  It’s a great question because if you are going to live overseas for an extended period of time there are lots of factors that you should be taking into consideration when it comes to choosing a location.

For us Indonesia was the obvious choice because it is my wife’s home country.  She is an Indonesian citizen and now our kids hold dual citizenship with the United States and Indonesia.  Going to a place where we have family and can avoid complex visa issues will allow us to concentrate on other aspects of our sabbatical. 

My wife also obviously speaks the local language (I’m embarrassed to say that after 9 years of marriage I still struggle with it) which is a huge benefit in a country where English is not necessarily a language that many people can speak.  I still remember my first time going into a pharmacy by myself to buy some cough medicine and trying to communicate in the native language what it was I wanted to purchase.  After several minutes of strained conversation, Pictionary-like hand gestures and awkward moments of silence, another patron walked in and was able to speak a bit of English to help me out.  I’m optimistic that after a year or more of being immersed in the language on a daily basis both my kids and I will be fluent in bahasa Indonesia.

We are also afforded the luxury of living with family while we are there so our living expenses will be significantly reduced from what we could expect if we were to go it on our own.  Of course living with your in-laws may also interject some interesting family dynamics so we’ll see if this ends up being a good idea or not.  But there is nothing that says we have to stay the whole time in one location.  We may hop around to different areas of Indonesia and experience the changes in culture from one area to another.  Personally I think that would be interesting to compare and experience various locales especially on a culinary level.

So our path and final destination was pretty much picked for us.  The combination of family, a place to stay and reduced visa issues are all benefits that will hopefully make the transition easier.

Choosing Your Own Location

So how do you select a destination if you are just starting out and don’t have family to help you on your quest as we do?  Well, first and foremost you should only consider places you are really interested in seeing and spending time in.  But I think that goes without saying but I’ll say it anyway because sometimes what we think we want isn’t really what we want.

If I were just starting out on this quest I would first make a list of all the destinations that interested me.  For me that list would include places like Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Indonesia, France, Germany and China.  I’d love to spend some time in all of these locations and hopefully one day I will.  Obviously for the reasons stated above Indonesia is top on my list.

Next I would list out all my requirements for the final destination.  What are the things that I absolutely need to have?  What are the things that I would like to have but don’t necessarily have to have.  Some of the must have things might be:

  • Affordable housing options conducive to raising kids
  • Reliable Internet access (preferably faster than dial-up speeds)
  • Warm tropical climate
  • Quality medical facilities
  • Good schooling options for the kids
  • Transportation (how will we get around)

These are the things that will require a bit of research.  Take a long hard look at the reasons you are taking a sabbatical.  Do your destinations of choice fit into what it is you are looking for?  Things to consider might be how you envision your lifestyle while on sabbatical.  Will you be renting a fancy house or going cheap and living in a bungalow?  If you doing this with a family there are obviously many more things to consider in this realm than if you are single.  Try and envision your life during your sabbatical and write down things that you would need in order to meet those lifestyle demands.

Do you want to experience life in a big city or a more intimate rural environment?  Maybe you can do both.  Will your kids be attending a local school, International school or will you home school them?  What if you or a family member gets ill or has an accident?  Where would you take them for treatment?  How would you get them there?

The biggest consideration will probably be budget.  How much money will it take to live in your destination of choice?  Obviously it will take less money to live in SE Asia than it will in many European countries.  The cost to live 6 months in Europe may allow you to live a year or more in Asia.  More than anything, money will decide where you go and for how long you can stay there.

The final step would be to compare your destinations and see how well they fit your requirements.  Spend time doing your research.  Ask friends and family.  Get online and find people familiar with each location and get all the information you can from them.  Use the Internet to your advantage.  But above all you have to feel comfortable and secure with your decision.  There are many factors to consider but realize that there will be things that come up that you will not have been able to foresee or imagine.  It’s important to be able to adapt to situations as they arise and just enjoy the adventure.

Even though we seem to have a good jump start on our sabbatical planning thanks to a welcoming family and visas I know there will be plenty of things come up that we would never have anticipated.  I don’t think anyone has all the answers on how to do these things.  There is no magic formula or step by step blueprint for taking a sabbatical because each and every one is going to be different and unique.  And I think to some extent that is what makes it exciting and exotic.  It’s the idea that there is this unknown factor that could pop up at any minute that offers up the best learning experiences and adventures.

What Are Your Requirements?

I definitely will be writing in much more detail regarding sabbatical planning but for now I turn it over to you.  What would be some of your considerations and requirements for your sabbatical location?  I’d love to hear your thoughts so share them in the comments below.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary R October 18, 2010 at 3:06 am

From living in Okinawa for the past two years, I’d have to say I would want to live in a place where I respect the local commitment to healthy lifestyle and conservation. This tiny island is certainly very progressive in their approach to recycling, preserving natural environment, etc…

Off the topic Matt, would you see any reason not to travel to Bali while pregnant? Just curious about you and your wife’s views on that…
Mary R recently posted..Why Locals Make Travel Special

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matt October 18, 2010 at 10:29 am

Thanks Mary. I agree that conservation and sustainability should be a big part of our lives regardless of where we live or what we do. In terms of traveling to Bali while pregnant I don’t see any reasons not to. Of course I am not a doctor so I would encourage physician advice. I suppose it would depend on what stage of pregnancy. My wife was about 2 months pregnant when we went to Bali for 2 weeks and despite some morning sickness we had a fantastic time. In terms of medical care I’ve heard that SOS International is a good clinic in Bali but again, I don’t have any personal experience there.

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maha mustafa eltahir October 22, 2011 at 12:30 pm

i do like to make a sabbatical in construction mangement of bridges iam from sudan i work in a highway coorporation i have phd in phlo.of structurture i do lke my hasbund to be with he is an electrical engineer he like to find experience through work in this time he work in traffic department

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Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical November 12, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Good luck to you with your sabbatical. Where would you like to travel to and what would you like to do?

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