Paris was always my backup plan. The idea of quitting everything and moving to Paris to write felt like more of a “when” than an “if.”
Then, one day, I found myself with a career I like at a company I love and no plans to leave. My writer’s residency in the City of Lights was in danger of becoming “that thing I told my children I’d wished I had done when I was young.” I felt it slipping through my fingers.
You’ve probably heard the expression “perfect is the enemy of good.” This applies to dreams too. I wanted to have the perfect idea for a book, so I’d never started one. I had always pictured my solo sojourn in Paris as an adventure several months long, so I didn’t think I could do it and keep my job. Finally, I decided that writing for one real-life month in Paris was far better than a fantasy of doing it for a year. I was right.
Whether you’ve always dreamed of painting in Paris or photographing South America, here’s how to make it a reality:
1. Figure out your finances.
Maybe you’re a saver and you’ve got a chunk of change you’ve been waiting for a rainy day to use. If not, you’ll need to figure out how long it will take you to save enough for you to feel comfortable traveling for an extended period of time. Consider how much you want to spend on accommodations on your sabbatical and price out airbnbs, hostels and hotels in your destination. Consider subletting or Airbnbing your own place if your lease allows. If you’re a salary employee, look at how much PTO and remote work time you have available and how much time you’d need to request unpaid.
2. Make a realistic timeline.
Take into account when the busiest time of year is for your company and when people usually take their vacations. If your heart is set on a specific city like Paris, do some research into when the best months to visit are. Personally, I prefer to travel during the off-season because it’s cheaper and less crowded but if you’re going to a place where off-season means torrential downpours every day, then that may not be the best strategy.
3. Talk to your boss.
Present your boss with a plan proposing when and for how long you would like to take a sabbatical. Get personal with them about how important this is to you. Creatives have a soft spot for dreamers and no boss wants to permanently lose a valuable employee to a painting studio in Prague.
Make it clear that you’re going to come back. Be prepared that she or he might be resistant initially or require some compromise. Let them know your flexibility in terms of duration, timing and ability to work remotely and tell them they can take some time to think about it. I came to my boss asking for the month of September. We compromised on three weeks over the span of August and September.
I decided that writing for one real-life month in Paris was far better than a fantasy of doing it for a year. I was right.
4. Do some research.
Start reading books and watching movies about the city that you’re going to stay in. Dig deeper into your role models’ stories for inspiration. If you’re a writer, pick up a copy of “A Writer’s Paris” by Eric Maisel. It will help you with the planning and encourage you to get excited about chasing a dream that will feel scary and silly more than a few times before it’s through.
I also recommend downloading the Elizabeth Gilbert episode of the podcast On Being and the Cheryl Strayed episode of The Tim Ferriss Show. They will both help you remind you that creating is both magical and really hard work. For everyone.
5. Book the flight.
You’ve been looking at them for months anyway. Even if you haven’t done the research or found accommodations or learned the language, just book it — even if you’re not sure you’re the type of person who can go on a creative sabbatical alone. Once you book the flight, you are officially that person.
Have you ever taken a creative sabbatical? Where would you want to take one?
First published in Darling magazine.