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Ask HN: What should I plan to do on a 6 month sabbatical?
83 points by fred_is_fred on Nov 13, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 70 comments
I will have 6 months off in the spring for a sabbatical. I've been working on a list of things to do during this time. I am constrained by a wife/kids so this won't include a 6 month trip to Thailand or anything. I've considered the obvious, work out more, hike/cycle more, etc. Any other suggestions/recommendations? I'm looking for tech stuff like projects/books/etc but also non-tech stuff as well. I don't want to spend 60+hrs/week at the laptop like I do now.

EDIT: here's my list so far: fishing and fishing knots (I have my grandfather's gear, but lack his skill), cooking more, learning to make great bread, raspberry pi projects with my son, reorganize/layout my garage, improve my golf skills, reading, explore trails I've never been on, visit friends & family (travel), camping/backpacking

I recently had a 2.5 month break between jobs. I, too, wanted to make the most of it. These opportunities don't come that often in life.

During my break: I learned squash (so much fun - can't get enough of it, and it's so good for you), studied Spanish (lovevto travel in Latin America), learned a bit of Scala (not really that much, to be honest), took some salsa dance classes (tough, but so much fun. Met lots of new friends), and did some Lynda courses on video editing (for making fun travel videos). I also spent a week and a half doing a road trip through southern France and Italy. Read a lot of books that were on my "someday" backlog - almost 0% TV!

As someone else mentioned, the quasi-unstructured time in the day was so refreshing. I loved just doing some random boring errands, bumming around the coffee shop talking to people, taking a long walk in the park with the dogs (I live in NYC)

I'll tell you: I'm 2 months i to my new job (technology job at a startup), and I really miss the feeling of this unstructured "regular life", or whatever you want to call it.

Cherish it, but don't overdo the planning, as it'll stress you out!

All the best!

Unstructured regular life? Do you mean retirement?

Pretty sure your best shot at happiness, true happiness, is to retire early. Not so you can be lazy, but so that you can freely pursue endeavors which inspire, and motivate you. That would be an amazing life.

As someone who has been living that life for 2 years, and can retire today, at 24, it isn't the utopia people think.

I imagine for 24 year olds it is hell. But for slightly older folk 30+ it would be more enjoyable. I'm generalizing of course.

At least you can go get a job. Choose based on interest not salary. Then try retirement again when you are older.

God... "Try retirement"... That must be nice.

Wait, seriously? I really, really struggle to believe that it isn't a MASSIVE increase in happiness and quality of life.

Personally, I have a huge list of projects, and things I want to do. Things that are absolutely achievable, if only I had the time. Since I work a 9-6, I spend what free time I have building things. That is what REALLY gets me excited, working on and building things that are personal and interesting to ME!

Sometimes though, I'd like to take a break from it all, and spend the weekend reading a book on history. I can't do that right now, because that means losing progress on my side projects and side goals.

I'd be really curious, honestly, if you could elaborate on why retiring at 24 isn't the life people think it would be?

At least you have the choice - if you so wish you can pretend you don't have money and go to work like mostly everyone else. I don't doubt it's not utopia, but having this retirement option at such an early age is an amazing opportunity.

What would you say the downsides are? Boredom? Too much choice?

How many other retired 24 year olds do you think there are? You may be free to travel with no notice or get in the car and come back in 4 days, but almost no one else you know will be. I had this same "problem" and just decided to go back to work.

I've got an idea... How about you and nish1500 tell me how you retired at 24, then I'll retire too, and we can all be retired below 30 friends!

Seriously though... So much to do, so little time. I'd love to be able to WORK on my own stuff.

I am about to embark on a 1.5 month sabbatical - not quite as long as you (I'm jealous!), but here's how I prepared it - perhaps it'll give you ideas.

Over the past few months, I've been keeping a list of things I'd want to focus on. Ultimately, I decided to trim this list to 5 things, because I don't think one can focus on more than 5 things at once. Here they are for me (unranked, equal importance to all):

- Working on my Japanese (I'll be in Japan)

- film photography

- sketching/drawing/painting

- reading

- programming

For the last two items, I've been keeping a list of books to read, and topics to investigate/projects to work on over the past few months as well. Then I trimmed theses lists to end with 1 book per week to read and 1 programming project per week to work on.

Of course, I'm likely to deviate from it, but having these lists and priorities as my guiding star will be helpful.

If I were to do this for 6 months, instead of 1.5 months, I'd probably break it down in 1 month chunks, with varying priorities per month, and a bit of loose time in between said chunks to account for unexpected things/rabbitholes to go down.

I also have a 5 day mountain hiking trip in the middle of it all, because in my experience there's nothing better for your brain than disconnecting absolutely from reality, and centering your days only around walking/eating/sleeping/looking at beautiful landscapes.

* Go to a pawn shop and buy a cheap electric guitar, then go to Amazon and buy a cheap USB audio interface, a classic Shure SM57 dynamic mic, a pop filter, and some cables.

* Learn how to play three open chords on the guitar. I would recommend E, A, and D.

* Watch this video[1] on how to write a song using GarageBand. It's easier than you might think, and a fun thing to do with kids.

Compose, record, and mix a song! Also learn about fun technical audio stuff like levels, EQ, compression, reverb and the like.

[1]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZNCAGYENNc8

- Learn a new skill/craft. If you are in tech, maybe something more physical, cooking, woodworking,etc. Six months is a good amount of time to build a base.

- Learn a foreign language, again 6 months is a perfect amount of time. Highly rewarding.

- Work on holes in knowledge, build a self-course around it. Algorithms, dbs, whatever.

- Pickup an new programming language.

- Build a side project, doesn't have to be commercially viable, could be open source or not. Build a redis replacement for no other reason than to understand it.

- Travel. I understand the constraint of wife/kids, but there are ways to fit it in. Don't have to live in Southeast Asia, but travel, I feel is a great brain boost. Awesome rush of new.

> If you are in tech, maybe something more physical, cooking, woodworking,etc.

Second this. Spend vast amounts of time in front of a screen, woodworking provides much stress relief, even when you screw things up.

I'd like to just be more handy in general, to be able to take a pile of wood and build something but it doesn't need to be some super complex 8 different types of hardwood kinda thing. Any recommendations on getting started?

I'm taking an introductory cabinetry class at my local community college and it was a good option for me. There was some hoops involved in getting signed up but once you take the first class others are easier. Here is a photo of the project everyone in the class builds over 12 weeks. http://i.imgur.com/2raCXzP.jpg

This is a key goal for me. Cooking more is on the list already as is something as mundane as fishing. Keep the ideas coming!

Rouxbe is a great resource for learning how to cook from first principles.

This looks very promising thanks!

The greatest part is doing whatever captures your imagination in the moment. Lists and project plans are important even for personal projects, but the freedom to follow my thoughts for days and weeks on end is amazing.

I'm wrapping up a self declared sabbatical right now. Most of it was traveling and reading history books on the country I was in. There were a couple career inspired prototypes (web and mobile). Now I'm on a a coursera and reading kick for stats, probability, and ml.

Enjoy the "break"!

Learn about practical paths to Financial Independence. Saving 25 times your annual spending would mean you could take a permanent sabbatical next time, if you wanted that. You can either increase your salary (harder) or increase your savings rate (easier) to get there. More: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2012/01/13/the-shockingly-sim...

Get involved with a local community organization, even if it's temporary. Whether it's the local homeless shelter, the local Rotary Club, or a religiously affiliated organization, the thing that recharged me the most during my brief 3-week break between jobs wasn't the hikes, the long drives, or extra gym time, it was spending time helping people who had a lot less than I did.

Now that I'm settled into my new job, it's the one thing that I'm still doing more regularly than going to the gym or going on hikes.

This question is eerily similar to my current situation: hoping to go on a 6 month sabbatical starting in 2017. My goal is to, basically, work on things that I've always dreamed of doing but haven't pursued because of the demands of everyday life.

See Jeff Bezos' regret minimization framework for inspiration: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jwG_qR6XmDQ. Imagine yourself at 80. What would you regret not doing?

Have you thought about picking up any hobbies? Six months would give you plenty of time to learn a hobby and really get into it; you have enough time to try a few. It might be nice to think back on your sabbatical while doing your new hobby in the future.

Hobbies and skill building are the way to go. I just finished a 12-month sabbatical during which I learned scuba, sailing, skiing, surfing, and the R programming language. I also read 40 non-fiction books.

Just lying on the beach gets boring.

Given that list I feel like you should have learned Scala instead.

Why is that? I think I'm ready for a new language.

Perhaps the alliteration.

Can I ask? How does one go on a 12-month sabbatical? Did you just save up a bunch of money at your day job, and then decide one day to take 12 months off and spend a chunk of your savings?

Worked for 10 years. Long distance girlfriend and I wanted to close the gap but didn't want stay in NYC or PHL. So we came up with Option C: sell everything and travel the world for a year. 1.5 years later it's worked out pretty well.

Wow... that takes some courage I would think. Nicely done.

Apply every 7 years for one ;-) (one of the perks of being in academia).

Any book recommendations?

My favorites were Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Taleb and Walden by Henry David Thoreau.

Consistent, frequent, long, unstructured thinking time. Enjoy listening to your thoughts.

I get the philosophy but it makes me nervous that I will just screw around, but I will go ahead and add "do nothing" to my evernote list of ideas ;)

That's exactly what I did and I appreciated it SO much. I think taking a break from everything is healthy.

Your list seems to be too simple for me. Do you really need a sabbatical for doing those things? Maybe I do not get it because I am not married and here in Germany we have more holidays, but for me life without such basic activities is not worth living.

Learn to meditate. Few activities, if any, offer greater rewards for such a minimal time investment.

Depends on what you are most hungry for. For me this past summer it was to have time off to study without interruption, I absolutely loved it. Also have a family, enjoyed having extra time and flexibility. Took a few vacations.


I recommend meditation in addition to your list. Developing a daily practice and perhaps an extended retreat.

I would recommend you focus on only 1 technology/software project to tackle. Spend the first 4 weeks doing no programming at all. Over the weeks 5-8, think about the project goals, what tools are best for it and do your research into project feasibility but don't actually dive into starting to do actual programming work. By the end of 2 months you should be pretty refreshed and rested, but you will have also done all the background/prep necessary to hit the ground running with your project. You may also want to limit your programming project to 3 of the 4 remaining months, however you divide your time so that your project doesn't consume your every waking moment.

I'm curious about how most folks get and/or negotiate a sabbatical? I'm getting to the point that I would really love something similar but would not want to derail my career in order to take one if possible.

I understand the family commitment, but could you travel for a shorter amount of time? Even spending one month somewhere else can have a profound affect.

Have you travelled much outside of your home country before?

Yes frequently and travel is certainly on the list. Probably some with family but also some ones by myself. I'm also a big fan of shorter 3-4 day trips to explore interesting stuff nearby.

Improve your health. I have never enough time for that while working.

I am in a similar situation. I am doing the following:

1. Finishing real estate course so that I have the license to pursue alternative career in free time/ weekends, etc.

2. Buying groupons for unlimited Yoga classes. Never been able to stick to a workout routine so hoping will get something from yoga (hot) to be in a little bit better shape before Jan/Feb comes and things get crowded.

3. Planning to travel for few weeks.

4. Talk to some startups (I have been in corporate world) that are really making a difference to just know about 'em!

Take a neat course! I have on my list of courses I want to take:

- Powerlifting (one session, teaches you good form for several lifts)

- Small diesel engine maintenance (6 weeks, evening)

- Professional bike mechanic certification (5 weeks, full time)

- Upholstery (workshop format, as many as you want, $100 per session)

- Cobblery (haven't found a course yet, just really want to learn how to make sweet shoes and bags)

- Linux sysadmin (online but with a human coach, costs a few grand)

- Welding C certificate (evenings, 3 weeks)

- Swing dancing (Monday and Friday nights before the mixer, 8 bucks/session!)

Are you American, or similarly to only have two and a half free days (yes, hyperbole) when you return to work? Then I'd recommend traveling anyway. I'd recommend either Europe or Southern Africa, three or four weeks if possible.

(if you're not essential for childcare or similar at home, and more important if you have not seen the world before).

I assume you don't have kids. My wife can certainly function without me for a month but can you imagine your partner sending pictures of their trip all over europe while you are cooking, cleaning, getting the kids to school, to bed, etc?

Depends on age & a bunch of other specifics, which is why I added the qualification. There are myriad ways to organize families and, while I don't have kids (yet), I have good friends who agreed that they would always want to retain can identity as an individual, as a couple, and as a family. They bought a rather large house with two similar-minded couples and share such burden amongst six instead of two. It seems to be going quite well, with the children having input from a diverse set of adults (woodworking with x / literature with y...) while actually reducing the workload (cooking for 11 is less than 3 x cooking for 3).

(note I don't disapprove of the more common modes, just saying that I can indeed imagine such things).

I'm curious why you recommend Europe or Southern Africa. I haven't been to Southern Africa so I can't comment on traveling there, but these seem somewhat arbitrary to me.

I'd say don't do any tech. Can you challenge to live a week like the 80s? No cell phone, no internet, etc.

I recently had one month and a half off between jobs. I had many things to do in mind. I started by tech stuff first, and well, tech eats your time.

I ended up doing way less than I expected. So my advice: leave behind everything connected with your job and focus on the unusual.

Brew beer. It is rewarding, (mostly) fun, non-trivial, and the result is surprisingly good.

I'm already a homebrewer although post kids not as often, getting back into it is a possibility.

Are you a homebrewer, or do you commercially produce?

Try to read 50 pages per day of something you want to read.

Learn new things you've wanted to learn. Master new skills. Take a few MOOCs.

Spend more time with your kids.

I recommend Josey Baker Bread for some good recipes. I make great bread by leaving the dough in the fridge for 4-5 days.

Are there any projects you've always wanted to accomplish but thought you'd never have the time?

Learn to Grow food.

Why, plan your sabbatical of course.

Nothing is something worth doing.



This is 30% related to the question, at best.

travel, read, and work!

Play Nethack.

I see your Nethack and raise you Dwarf Fortress.

Norhing. If you plan too much, it Will not be sabbatical.

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