I am not fireproof (and other things I learnt on my sabbatical)

It’s a chilly November morning and I’ve just walked back into the Octopus Group offices, fresh off the back of travelling round South America. I’m relaxed, revived and rejuvenated. I’m also a long way from the fresh-faced intern who started at Octopus six years ago, and who found out in his induction that the company offers a paid sabbatical after five years’ service. I’d never ever heard of a company doing that before, and it certainly motivated me to work hard (and play harder) during my time here.

For my sabbatical, I travelled to South America to take in six countries in just over a month. From hang gliding over the beautiful beaches of Rio de Janeiro, to off roading through the incredible salt flats in Bolivia (and most importantly making some great friends from across the globe), I had the time of my life. I also learnt a few things about travelling, along the way. So, here’s my sabbatical survival list.

Make sure you have a reliable car:

Moving house is always stressful. You’re packing up all your stuff, tidying the flat, sorting out your bills. And if you try to do all that mere days before you’re set to travel, you’re quite frankly asking for trouble.

For example, you could find that on your second to last trip out, and with a car full of stuff, the bloody thing decides to give up and leave you stranded in the middle of nowhere. If you don’t have a reliable car make sure you have reliable breakdown cover! Not a great start to my sabbatical.

Always have eyes on your passport:

It’s Friday night and you’re about to head across the road to have ‘just the one’ at the office local. You notice that you’ve still got your passport on you, and so come up with the smart idea to store it in your locker because you wouldn’t want to lose it a week before your epic journey, right?

Fast forward a week. It’s the night before you’re set to travel. You’re standing in front of your locker because you’ve just had to race across London back to the office, after having spent the last four hours turning your room upside down trying to find your passport. Clinging desperately to the vague memory from the week before, you tentatively turn the key and thank God that it’s there.

Avoid nightclubs that are only accessible via the sea:

When exploring exotic lands filled with tropical beaches all lined with sea front bars serving mind-blowingly delicious cocktails, just stay put and enjoy the views. Don’t walk over to the nightclub that’s only accessible because the tide is out and the path is therefore momentarily visible. You will get horrifically drunk, the tide will come back in, and you will have to wade through it waist deep in your ‘Saturday night pulling attire’ at 4am.

Wear a life vest when swimming in Lake Titicaca:

One of the things I was most looking forward to about my trip was a boat cruise down Lake Titicaca. Sounds great, right? And it was … mostly.

What I learnt was that if offered the opportunity to jump in and have a swim around in the world-famous lake, be sure to grab a life vest before you dive bomb off the edge. Lake Titicaca is 3812m above sea level. So breathing in general is somewhat difficult. And if you’re not the strongest swimmer you could find yourself gasping for air, as you try and swim against the tide, through the freezing cold water, to a boat which seems to be drifting further away from you with every passing moment. Or else that boat trip might end with four of your new-found friends and the fully-clothed tour guide having to jump in to save you.

You are not fireproof:

Should you find yourself in Peru on the Inca trail, trekking your way through the majestic hillsides and mountains in search of Machu Picchu, you will no doubt have to camp overnight along the way. My advice here is to keep an eye on the campfire. Because although it might be warm, cosy and comforting, should you accidently lean over it, you will catch fire, it will burn through your clothes and you might catch fire with it. Be careful, or at least familiarise yourself with the ‘stop, drop and roll’ technique.

Double check and then triple check travel details:

As the famous saying goes, ‘all good things must come to an end’. What it doesn’t tell you is exactly when that is. So, be sure to check your calendar. Otherwise you could find yourself in a last-minute scramble to re-order taxis and cancel hotel bookings, while frantically cramming all your belongings into your backpack because you were under the illusion you were leaving a whole day later than you thought you were.

Now I’m not saying that I’m speaking from experience and that all of the above happened to me… except that I am and it did.

Despite the fact that I am clearly something of a liability when on the road, I had an amazing time on my sabbatical. Six years at Octopus Group have seen me go through six Roctostocks, countless beer o’clocks, three annual table tennis tournaments (reigning doubles champion, if you don’t mind my saying) and hundreds of campaigns and projects. My time away felt like a great way to cap all that off. Now I’m glad to be back and out of trouble.

Check out our current vacancies if you want to go on a sabbatical! (After five years.)