Lantana provides a unique benefit to its employees: after seven years of employment, an employee can take a two-month paid vacation—the “sabbatical.” I’ve now been working for the company for over seven years (over eight if you include my contracting time), and I recently finished my sabbatical, and it was amazing! Here are my thoughts on what it was like—from planning the time off, to taking the time off, and returning to work.
Planning the time off was a challenge. Finding a two-month window that would not adversely impact my co-workers and projects was more difficult than expected. We juggled several different date ranges. Some were not ideal for personal reasons, and some were not ideal for the company; we had determined that the company retreat would fall right in the middle of my sabbatical and it is important to both the company and myself that I attend the retreat. Once we established dates, the next challenge was to plan how to use the time. My family is not very good at planning vacations in the first place, but to plan for two months was a little anxiety-inducing. I wanted to plan a vacation excursion that was unique for my family. My wife and I decided to ask our daughter where she would like to go. Her response was, “Florida!” Since she’s fancied Florida for college for quite a while, we decided to go with her suggestion. After all, she’s 17 and we felt lucky she still wanted to travel with us.
Trying to balance a “good experience” and a “financially conscious” experience, I spent more than a month hunting for good deals on an Airbnb house, plane tickets, transportation, and activities to enjoy for a little over three weeks. We settled on spending over two weeks in Orlando and finishing off with a relaxing week-long cruise to the Caribbean, stopping at Haiti and Jamaica. I decided that in the future, for a large vacation like this, I will likely use a travel expert; there is quite a bit of juggling in purchasing the many travel-related items (lodging, transportation, cruises, activities, etc.) and ensuring the dates all line-up. The week before the start of my sabbatical, I spent a great deal of time writing down work-related thoughts and suggestions and stashing them somewhere my colleagues would be able to easily find. I was amazed at how much information I store only in my head and made a mental note that I should try to do a better of a job documenting my work as I do it. My vacation started with a week of reading, cleaning house, and packing.
We left for Orlando the second week and had an amazing experience! The three of us are already close to each other, but this trip brought us even closer, and I’d like to think this will continue beyond those few vacation weeks. We were out and about for all but three days while in Orlando, checking out the many available activities. This was a dramatic difference from our usual homebody lifestyle. When we get back home, I think we will have to find a middle ground between doing very little and doing a whole lot. We enjoyed all the things we did, it was also quite exhausting. Here are some of our favorites:
- Universal Studios and Harry Potter World
- Kennedy Space Center
- Sleuth’s Mystery Dinner and Show
- Orlando Eye
- Alligator Land
- iFly indoor sky-diving
- Ripley’s Believe-It-or-Not
The week prior to our cruise, I realized we’d never checked if our vaccinations were up-to-date! Panic set in… I called our doctor to find out if my wife and I needed to do anything, but were completely let down to learn there was nothing in our charts at all. Neither my wife nor I could remember the last time we’d been vaccinated for anything. Our daughter was good to go, but we weren’t. Our doctor’s office referred us to the CDC to find more information on recommended vaccinations for the countries we’d be visiting. So, I called the CDC. They recommended about four vaccinations for each of us. The next challenge was finding a place to get these vaccinations while out of state. We ended up at Walgreens. Although they had all the vaccinations we needed, insurance would cover only two, and it ended up costing us each about $400 out-of-pocket. Apparently, even our expensive insurance plan did not cover all vaccinations needed for a trip out of the country. Now that that nightmare was over, we felt a little more prepared.
A day before the cruise took off, we traveled south to Fort Lauderdale. I had forgotten to book a hotel for the night before the cruise. I decided save a little money by booking at a Ramada motel. This was a big mistake: our room reeked of mold. We asked to move to a different room, but after several hours, we realized that they’d only masked the awful smell with equally intense-smelling incense and air fresheners. After a heated discussion over getting my money back (and failing to do so), we ended up going to the Hilton hotel next door. The room there was positively amazing—though, after the previous hotel, just about anything could have been better.
This was our family’s first-time cruising, and everything was a “new experience.” Waiting in line with a thousand others was a little uncomfortable but went more quickly than I expected. Navigating the decks was a challenge at first, but soon became easy. My wife and I used the cruise as a way to relax after a very busy two-and-a-half weeks. Our daughter used it to hang out with friends she met on the cruise—we saw her only for some shore excursions and at dinner, or passing by from time to time with her new friends.
The shore excursions were amazing! Our first was at Labadee, Haiti. We traveled to a sandbar way out in the middle of the ocean. The sandbar was two inches of sand sticking out of the water. For about two hours, we floated around the sandbar, had drinks, and chatted with ship-mates. The second excursion was to Falmouth, Jamaica, where a 30-minute bus ride brought us to the above-ground caves called the Green Grottos. These caves were cool, and it was neat seeing how clear the water was at the bottom of the caves. When the lights were turned out, it was as dark as I’ve ever seen. I learned that pirates’ eye-patches weren’t worn necessarily because they liked to initiate each other by stabbing out an eye. The eye-patch acclimated one eye to the dark so that they could see better when entering caves like the Green Grottos. Then, back on the bus for another 30-minute ride to Dunn’s River Falls. Here we climbed up the falls, getting completely soaked, head to foot, in the most refreshing water I’ve ever been in. I learned that my Galaxy S8+ phone really is water-resistant; I used it to take pictures the whole way up.
On our way back from the falls, we were a bit alarmed to learn that our bus was going to be late for the ship’s planned 4 p.m. departure. We were fortunate that the ship waited just long enough for us to arrive. Since our daughter wasn’t with us— she’d decided not to attend the excursions in Falmouth—we had terrible thoughts of her being stuck on the ship while we were stuck in Jamaica for who knows how long… AND my wife and I had all three of our passports with us!
We finished the cruise, stayed a night in Fort Lauderdale, and flew back the following day. We were ready to be home—we missed our dogs! The following month, I spent a lot of time doing activities I enjoy, and some that were necessary that I didn’t enjoy as much:
- Fixing up the house in preparation for marketing it in 2018.
- Reloading ammunition—I enjoy the hobby, and it saves money!
- Shooting at the target range and at the skeet/trap club.
- Reading books, especially Ready Player One—lots of references to 80’s video games, music, and TV, all of which I’m quite fond of.
- Spending more time with extended family—dinners, movies, and just hanging out—and the chance to help out my sister take care of her six kids!
- Playing video games.
About a week prior to returning to work, I began preparation: loading my laptop, sifting through some emails (at least weeding out SPAM that got through) and updating all my software (Windows, OxygenXML, Visual Studio, etc.) to the latest versions. Returning to work was a smooth experience. A lot of people didn’t at first realize I was back at my desk, so I had plenty of down-time to get through emails and catch up on the status of projects. Throughout the next two weeks, things slowly got busier and busier. By February, work was back to normal. Here are some key points that I took away from our “extreme vacation”:
- A travel planner could make vacation much more relaxing.
- Don’t rely on doctors to remind you about vaccinations.
- If you don’t have a passport, get one; if it’s expired or is close to expiring, renew it.
- Document your work—often.
- When cruising, attend the “what to expect” sessions.
- Go somewhere new at least once a year.
- Personal note: I’m not as spontaneous as I’d like to be.