From the road to the cabin

Returning to the professional world after a travel sabbatical isn’t always easy. Here’s what you can do


Gaurabh Mathure with a Pikkabox in Slovenia. Photo: Anuja Joshi
Gaurabh Mathure with a Pikkabox in Slovenia. Photo: Anuja Joshi

Having worked for seven years as a financial analyst with Bajaj Allianz, Dilip Baba was itching to travel and try out things, like month-long skiing and mountaineering courses. But it was challenging to find the time. After chewing over the idea for some time, he quit his job and decided to take a year-long sabbatical to travel the country with a friend. Baba, 35, is now back in the corporate fold, working as an insurance consultant with Infosys.

“Coming from an adventurous break and settling in the job takes time. But thanks to my year of travel, the fear of losing my job has decreased,” says Baba.

Sabbaticals are a little more common today than they used to be, but long-term travel, romantic though it may sound, is certainly no child’s play. It requires planning and savings, the ability to use networking skills, being able to acclimatize to almost all kinds of situations—and, of course, being prepared for the possibility of having to scout for a job on your return.

“For an average, working-class Indian, it may not be such a good idea professionally to quit his/her job to travel. However, it largely depends on the individual and his/her risk appetite and ability to sustain financially for longer durations,” says Rituparna Chakraborty, executive vice-president at Teamlease, a human resource (HR) services provider.

We spoke to some people who had been bitten by the travel bug. While a few had returned to full-time jobs, some went on to pursue their passion. They speak about how they prepared to return to the professional world after their travel break.

Hedge your bets

Baba and his friend, Abhinav Kandarp, 31, set up a travel blog, Potliwalas, in December 2012 as they travelled through Lakshadweep, Rajasthan and Ladakh. After their road trip ended in June 2013, neither of the two friends rushed to find a job. Instead, Baba tried his hand at farming—using family funds and his corporate job savings—and built a home-stay in Wayanad, Kerala, hoping to stay in touch with a more “natural and rustic sort of life”. “This way, I knew that even if I wanted to quit my job again, I did have this to fall back on,” he says.

Kandarp, who worked as a business analyst at the Cognizant Technology Solutions in Pune, now heads Breakfast@Cinema, a start-up that trains students and mid-managers in behavorial leadership, and freelances as an assistant director in films.

While Baba’s home-stay, Kabani Riverside, gained popularity through word of mouth, he needed a steadier source of income. So he returned to the corporate fold. His family now manages the home-stay. Potliwalas is still active, although it doesn’t have regular posts.

It’s easiest to quit your job and start something new if you’re in the first decade of your career, believes Shailja Dutt, founder and chairperson of Stellar Search, an executive search firm. “Most senior-level executives have both personal and professional responsibilities and often cannot put their own passion ahead of the company’s interests,” says Dutt, adding that people in the early stages of their careers are also less likely to be judged for taking a break to discover themselves.

Stay updated

Revati Victor left her advertising job in 2013 to focus on her travel blog, Different Doors, which she had set up with husband Charles Victor. “There were opportunities that we wanted to seek in the travel industry, but both of us quitting our steady jobs to travel would have been a risky bet to take. So I decided to quit and travel while Victor would join me on his vacations,” says Revati.

She travelled alone across the world for two years, picking up several freelance writing projects, such as travel articles and hotel reviews, for brands like the Jordan Tourism Board, Hyatt Group of Hotels and Lonely Planet magazine, but made sure she got regular updates about the advertising industry from her peers. This is what probably helped her return to the industry in 2015. “I had no intentions of giving up on a career that I had built over the years,” she says, adding: “Whatever you do, don’t burn bridges. These people will probably be your way back if you ever plan to return to the same industry.”

There can be another challenge when you return: Your colleagues would probably have moved ahead in terms of designations and salary packages. According to Visty Banaji, founder and chief executive officer of Banner Global Consulting, an HR consultancy firm, a former employee returning to a company could either get the position he would have held otherwise, had he continued in the job, or a role that is more suited for him after his travel. “Most managerial positions are likely to get filled up in a few months. Finding a new role in that company depends on how big the company is and how high is the attrition,” he says.

Anuja Joshi at a café in Kyoto, Japan. Photo: Gaurabh Mathure
Anuja Joshi at a café in Kyoto, Japan. Photo: Gaurabh Mathure

Merge your passions

Gaurabh Mathure and Anuja Joshi met for the first time in New York in 2010. A few years later, they decided to travel together. Joshi, then a design strategist at material consultancy Material ConneXion, quit her job, while Mathure, creative director at design consultancy R/GA, took a sabbatical. The couple applied to Remote Year, a year-long programme that offers 75 professionals the opportunity to travel to 12 cities around the world. While exploring countries like the Czech Republic, Croatia and Turkey, they did freelance work for various companies. Upon returning to New York in June 2015, the duo started Pikkabox, a monthly box where subscribers can receive products locally sourced from the countries the duo visit, such as trinkets, postcards and confectionery. “For us, it wasn’t ‘Eat, pray, love’ or ‘finding your soul’ kind of a year. We still worked while we travelled, and took the opportunity to build our personal brand and grow as individuals,” says Joshi, who now works full-time on Pikkabox. Mathure, however, has returned to his job.

Travel helps you learn and meet new people, says Teamlease’s Chakraborty. “Hence the benefits of travelling are many. If one can channelize that to become an entrepreneur, one should grab it with both hands.”

Deal with the résumé gap

A travel sabbatical, as opposed to maternity or study leave, is a relatively new phenomenon in India, but corporate policies usually do not distinguish between the nature of sabbaticals. “What matters more is the sequence of events that led to someone taking the sabbatical. Was he let go of? Did he leave on an amicable or neutral note?” says Praful Nangia, a partner at leadership talent advisory firm Hunt Partners.

At any cost, keeping it off the résumé or trying to cover it up would be a bad idea. “You need to be honest and upfront about it. No company will look at it negatively as long as you can explain it. Nangia advises you to prepare answers to questions like, ‘What did it teach you?’ or ‘What have you learnt in this one year that will benefit you in this job?’

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