How much does a gap year cost?: The full finances of a sabbatical.

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By Karan Bajaj

Budget Planning For a Sabbatical

As many of you know, Kerry & I took a one-year around-the-world sabbatical from our lives in New York. Here is a step-by-step account of how much it cost to help you plan a similar trip. Note, the #1 variable in projecting your costs is to be crystal clear on your goals for the sabbatical. In our case, we had two goals for our trip:

1. Deepen our yoga and meditation practice.

2. Write our novels (this goal also involved some rugged backpacking to “inspire the muse”).

Our costs would have been different if our goals were different. For instance, we could’ve saved a LOT more money by staying in cheap hostels while traveling in Goa and Portugal but we wanted a reasonably comfortable writing environment. On the other hand, we’d have spent more money if we’d seen more stuff in Europe but we didn’t spend a dime on museums, cathedrals etc. since neither of us were interested in traveling for traveling’s sake. So here goes our cost summary, inclusive of travel, lodging, food, everything, for two people of reasonably modest tastes:

1. Backpacking through Europe (includes flight from US)= $130/day for 6 weeks= $5500 Total

This was the most expensive leg of our trip largely because we made a few missteps. We had this notion that to truly evolve creatively and write great books, we needed to become more intuitive and less rational. As a result, we decided to plan nothing at all and let each day be a new day, operating completely out of instinct. So, in Scotland, we suddenly decided to drive across the whole country. Bad decision. Car rental costs=$110/day—sinful for any respectable backpacker. Similarly, while in Italy, we met a bunch of folks who were crossing over by ferry to Greece. We liked their company and decided to join them instinctively. The “instinct” was expensive= $130/person for ferry. After a few fits and starts though, our instincts fell more in line with our budgets. We lived for a week for $30/day in a villa in Greece where the economic crisis had dramatically reduced rentals, then did a ten-day free vipassana meditation course in Italy, and spent a couple of weeks in grungy hostels in Bulgaria and Turkey. Along the way, we hiked and camped, slept in train stations, and ate copious free bread-and-jam breakfasts in hostels, learning our lesson that the key to our creativity and intuition was more in not stressing about money than in seeing lambs in the Scottish highlands!

2. Yoga Teacher’s Training in India= 6 weeks= $2800/person= $5600 Total

Even with the excellent instruction in yoga theory and practice and the delicious two meals daily, Yoga Teacher’s Training at Sivananda Madurai feels a bit steep at $1800 per person. The ashram is in the middle of a forest and living conditions are sparse with four shared bathrooms between fifty people (and as many monkeys!) and intermittent water and electricity. On the upside, the $1800 includes everything—room, board, meals, instructions etc. The $1000 extra/person I’ve tagged on above is for flights from Turkey to Madurai (Cheapoair=$450 only!), the once-a-week excursions from the ashram, and ten days off we took after the course to spend in Kerala.

3. Writing in Aranya Writer’s Retreat in Goa= 3 months= $1600/month= $4800 Total

A villa in this remote, majestic spot was available for rent for just $700/month. We had a full-time caretaker/cook devoted to our needs ($300/month). The rest of the budget is for food, travel, cafes, renting a scooter, etc. in lovely Goa which we explored with great abandon. I’d have paid double for this extremely creative, productive experience.

4. Minor Backpacking across India= 1 month= $50/day= $1500 Total

This included another ten day Vipassana meditation course in Kolhapur, staying with friends in Delhi and Bombay, doing more yoga stuff in Rishikesh, visiting the Osho ashram in Pune etc.

5. Living in the heart of the Indian Himalayas= 1 month= $60/day= $1800 Total

Both our books had major portions set in the Himalayas so we spent a month living in Monal, a strikingly pretty guesthouse high in the mountains in Uttarkashi ($30/day), hiking extensively, interviewing yogis, and enjoying delicious, inexpensive food.

6. Completing my novel in Obras Artist Residency in Portugal= 2 months= $1600/month= $3200 Total

While Kerry returned to her job in New York, I completed THE SEEKER in this incredibly inexpensive ($700/month) yet comfortable artist’s colony in a rural village in Central Portugal. The rest of the costs above are mainly for travel from India to Portugal ($700) and a short stay in Lisbon. I cooked my own food and groceries were a fraction of US prices.

Net, total costs for ten months in Europe and India for two people=$22,400. Add another 10% for things I may have missed or if you can’t haggle like an Indian (!), and you’d be very comfortable with $25,000. If you have that saved up, leave today—you’ll never regret it for a moment.

P.S. The story didn’t quite end here for me. I came back and spent another two months in New York (horrendously expensive at $5000/month=$10,000 total) completing my novel. THE SEEKER sold to Penguin Random House World for an advance of $85,000, making my net income from the 12-month sabbatical=$50,000. Yes, I actually made some money while bumming for a year and though I don’t want you to rely on something as unpredictable as a book advance, I know you will too. At some point, this year of tremendous adventure, personal growth, and exploring your full potential as a human will eventually lead to some form of material return. Set forth!


Interested in what we learned in our sabbatical? Don’t forget to sign up for my free meditation video course, Kerry’s nutrition guide, and a free preview of three chapters of The Yoga of Max’s Discontent. Yes, they’re free!

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