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The DIY Sabbatical

Alana Jenkins

How I turned the idea of an adult gap year into a reality. 

Most of us have had moments in the middle of the workday when we think “what if I just quit my job and travelled?” This might be followed by a few blissfully distracted minutes of daydreaming and teasing the idea with a Google Flights search before returning to work.

When I turned 25 my goal was to get a “real job.” When I turned 26 my goal was to get away from that “real job” as quickly as possible. The security of a full-time gig with health insurance and a retirement account was enticing, but I couldn't shake the feeling that it would consume me. Goals are important, but it’s equally valuable to reach your goals, try them on and decide to do something different.

The DIY sabbatical

Maybe it was the seemingly endless Minnesota winter, maybe it was falling for someone who was equally hungry for adventure, or maybe it was me finally believing it was an attainable goal. Whatever the true catalyst, a distant office daydream became a reality when I turned in my three weeks' notice and booked a one-way ticket to Southeast Asia.

When I turned 25 my goal was to get a “real job.” When I turned 26 my goal was to get away from that “real job” as quickly as possible.

I’ve always struggled with the need to know that what I’m doing is meaningful. Whether it was choosing a degree in college or the type of work I sought after graduation, tangible purpose has always been important. Is what I’m doing helping someone? Is it improving the world? Am I making a difference? The need to feel purpose did not change with my decision to travel.

I’m almost three months into a yearlong adventure beginning in Southeast Asia and ending in Europe, where I'm volunteering through Workaway programs. Right now, I’m finishing two weeks of teaching English in Vietnam. I previously spent two weeks at a Buddhist nunnery and three weeks at a dog sanctuary. I dubbed my trip DIY Sabbatical, because it is a self-funded, self-selected pursuit of education through travel and volunteering.

My goal is to provide a personal perspective on traveling with purpose. If you’re reading this post, you’re already drawn to travel. Maybe you’re a seasoned adventurer, maybe you’re eager to become one, or maybe you’re looking for a reason for that first trip. I want to be transparent about my experiences. I want to share the wonderful and fantastic moments with the challenging and exhausting ones.

Like all facets of life, travel is multidimensional

On the other side of the world, my friends are getting married, my parents are retiring, and the holidays are approaching. When I video chat my mom, she presses the phone to the window to show me the changing leaves and the first dusting of snow. This is the longest I’ve been away from home and the first time I’ve evaded the imminent arrival of snowstorms and sub-zero temperatures.

I keep waiting to get homesick, but it hasn’t happened in the big, dramatic way I expected. Sometimes when I see pictures of my friends together, it dawns on me that I would be in the shot if I was back home. Sure, it makes me hope that at least one of them noticed my absence, but it mostly makes me appreciate the social acceptance that the picture represents.

We all desire acceptance. The second stage of homesickness (the “Frustration Stage”) is a perfect example of this. If you take someone out of their normal environment, they inevitably start to long for the things that make them feel in sync with their surroundings and become frustrated with the things that make them feel alienated.

Maybe my big, dramatic display of homesickness is yet to come, but I would be surprised. I look forward to the day when I reappear in the pictures with my friends, but there is an intuitive understanding that when this happens my mind will drift to these moments spent on the other side of the world; these moments when acceptance and purpose came from unfamiliar, unexpected places. 

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Alana Jenkins

Alana Jenkins quit her job as an Office Manager for a mental health agency in Saint Paul, Minnesota to travel and volunteer in Southeast Asia and Europe. She is volunteering through Workaway and seeking immersive local experiences.

Website: www.instagram.com/diysabbatical/

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