Extended vacation

The company I work for provides a benefit in which after seven years of employment, the employee can take a two-month paid vacation (referred to as “the sabbatical”). I’ve now been working for the company for over seven years (over eight if you include my contracting time). I just 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 is good for work was more difficult than I expected. We juggled with several different date ranges. Some were not ideal for personal reasons, and some were not ideal for the company; mainly because 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 a time frame, the next challenge was in planning for things to do with my time while not working. 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 to the family. After a discussion with my wife, we decided to ask our daughter where she would like to go. Her response was “Florida”; she’s fancied Florida for colleges for quite a while. We decided to go with her suggestion… After all, she’s 17, and we felt lucky she wanted to travel with us still.

Trying to balance a “good experience” and a “financially conscious” experience, I spent more than a month hunting for a good Airbnb house, plane tickets, transportation, and activities to enjoy for a little over three weeks. We decided on spending over two weeks in Orlando and finishing off with a relaxing week-long cruise on the Caribbean, stopping at Labadee, Haiti, and Falmouth, 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 my time off, I spent a great deal of time writing down thoughts that I had throughout the day; somewhere the people that would be covering for me would be able to easily find the information. On the last day before my vacation started, I was amazed at how much information I keep in my head and took a mental note that in the future I should try to do a better of a job documenting my work as I do it.

My vacation started, and for the first week (the week before our planned travel) I spent a lot of time reading, cleaning house (in prep. for travel) and packing. We left for Orlando, FL the second week, and had an amazing experience! The three of us are already close to each other… We are all quite a bit of home-bodies, spending a lot of time together in the home; reading, having dinner parties (mainly with extended family), playing board/card games, playing video games, reading, and various other hobbies. This trip, however, brought us even closer together for those few weeks; and I would like to think beyond those few weeks as well.

We were out and about for all but three days while in Orlando, checking out the various activities that were available (which there were plenty of). This was a dramatic difference from our usual home-body habits. Here are some of our favorites activities (not necessarily in any specific order):

  • Universal Studios (two of the three parks)
    • Harry Potter World!
  • Kennedy Space Center
  • Sleuth’s Mystery Dinner and a Show
  • Orlando Eye
  • Alligator Land
  • iFly indoor sky-diving
  • WonderWorks
  • Ripley’s Believe It or Not

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 to book one and save a little money by selecting a cheaper “Ramada”. This was a big mistake. When we arrived at the hotel room, it wreaked of mold. We asked to move to a different room, but after several hours, we realized that they 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 a 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 involved was a “new experience”. Waiting in line with a thousand others was a little uncomfortable but went more quickly than I expected. Navigating the various decks was a challenge at first, but soon became natural/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 friends she met on the cruise (kids similar in age). We barely saw her the entire cruise, except for some shore excursions and dinner; and passing by her (and her friends) from time to time.

The shore excursions were amazing! We participated in three activities in total:

  • 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 others who attended the excursion as well.
  • Falmouth, Jamaica: A bus took us about 30 minutes into Jamaica to 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 pirate’s eye-patches weren’t 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.
  • Falmouth, Jamaica: The same bus took us further into Jamaica by another 30 minutes, to Dunn’s River Falls. Here we got to climb up the falls, completely soaking us from head to fit, in the most refreshing water I had ever been in. Here, 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 to the cruise from Dunn’s river falls, we were a bit alarmed that our bus was going to be late, and the cruise was planning to take off at 4 p.m. local time. We were fortunate that the cruise decided to stay long enough for us to arrive (though just long enough for us to arrive). Our daughter decided not to attend the excursions in Falmouth, and 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. On our trip back, we realized we were ready to be back home. We missed our dogs a lot.

The following month, a lot of time was spent doing a lot of activities I enjoy, and some that I didn’t enjoy as much, but were still necessary:

  • A fair amount time spent fixing up the house in preparation for marketing our house in 2018
  • Reloading ammunition (a past-time I enjoy, which saves a bit of money on the ammunition I shoot).
  • Shooting at the target range and at the skeet/trap club.
  • Reading books. The one I enjoyed the most was “Ready Player One”. I related to this one given that it includes a lot of references to 80’s video games, music, and TV; which I’m quite fond of.
  • Spending more time with extended family; dinners, hanging out, movies, etc. I appreciated being able to help my sister when she needed it, more than I usually have time to.
  • Playing video games.

About a week prior to returning to work, I began preparation. I started 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 realize I was back at my desk, yet, so I had plenty of down-time to get through all my emails and get caught up on where projects were at. Through-out the next two weeks, things slowly got busier and busier. By February, work was back to normal.

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