Have you considered taking a mini-retirement? Whether you feel burnt out and need some time away from your full-time career, want to travel, start a business, or refocus and plan out your future – a mini-retirement or sabbatical might be an ideal break for you.
Mr. Flamingo and I have taken several mini-retirements (some of them even before we knew what a mini-retirement was!) and are big fans.
We live in a hustle culture that glorifies busyness, looking successful and climbing the ladder. In some corners of the financial independence community, success means racing to the finish line, building several side hustles and having the highest possible savings rate. All of this can be pretty toxic and lead to burnout and anxiety. A mini-retirement can be a great way to take a break, focus on your priorities and make changes in your life.
But be warned: in my experience, mini-retirements are addictive. They might become a regular feature in your life and journey to financial independence.
In this article, I’ll talk you through
- What a mini-retirement is and isn’t
- Why you might consider a taking one
- How to decide if a mini-retirement is right for you
- The ideal timing and length
This article is part 1 of a 2-part mini-retirement special. The second part discusses how to prepare financially for your mini-retirement or sabbatical.
What Is a Mini-Retirement?
A mini-retirement is an intentionally planned, extended period away from work, usually several months up to two years.
The term “mini-retirement” was first coined by Tim Ferris in his controversial book “The 4-Hour Work Week”.
A mini-retirement, like a sabbatical, is not just a long holiday. Mini-retirements allow us to step away from work and our everyday routine for a significant amount of time. They are often self-reflective and an opportunity to rest, take stock and plan for the future.
An ordinary holiday serves as a quick break from work to de-stress for a few days or weeks. A mini-retirement goes far beyond this. It’s an opportunity to decompress and re-evaluate your life priorities.
Planning and intentionality are essential factors for a successful mini-retirement.
Mini-retirements often involve travel and exploration. They provide the time and the mental space to broaden our horizons and experience something new. However, there is no reason you couldn’t spend the bulk of your time off at home.
After a mini-retirement, people usually return to work – either to their old job or a new one. Many also use mini-retirements to pivot into a new career or start a business.
We are Mini-Retirement-Aholics!
Ok, I know this is not a word, but what I’m trying to say is: We LOVE mini-retirements. So much that even though we are semi-retired, we are planning another break in 2023.
Here is a quick rundown of our mini-retirement history:
Right after high school and before starting university, I took a gap year and backpacked solo around Australia for 12 months. It was a fantastic year that taught me a lot about myself.
Around the same time Mr. Flamingo took a 1-year career break after he left the military to go sailing, travel and simply enjoy life for a while.
During my uni years, I studied abroad in Spain for six months. I must admit that I spent more time at the beach and enjoying cervezas with my new friends than at uni, but I had a blast, and it was a very memorable time.
Throughout my 20s, I also took several breaks to enjoy the European summers in different countries (France, Belgium and the UK to be exact). I would find accommodation for the duration of my break and live like a local for 3-4 months. Sometimes I’d take a course at a local language school or adult education centre for a few weeks, but most of the time, I would walk around the city for hours each day, try new foods, meet new people and soak up the atmosphere. It’s the best way to explore a new place in my opinion.
In 2012 Mr. Flamingo had already lived in Europe for several years and missed his family back in Australia. So he arranged a sabbatical with his employer and spent six months in Australia visiting family, surfing and fishing.
In 2014 I quit my corporate job and took a 1-year career break to start a freelance business. This one was a disaster (more on this below) but taught me a lot about my relationship with work in general.
Then, when we relocated to Australia in 2015, we purposely allowed about six months for the transition. We spent a month with family and friends in Europe before we left. After that, we travelled for two months (including an epic 29-night cruise from Vancouver to Sydney) and then spent three months exploring Sydney before we started our new jobs.
Then there is, of course, my maternity leave after our kids were born. Both times we managed to take 3-4 months off together at the same time to spend time as a family before Mr. Flamingo went back to work and I stayed home with the babies. I wouldn’t really call these mini-retirements, but some people would disagree.
There is something magical about taking an extended period off. For us, mini-retirements are part of our lives now. In 2023 we want to take 3-6 months off to travel as a family before Baby Flamingo #1 starts school. This mini-retirement will be completely different from all the other ones we’ve taken so far, and we are super excited about it.
Why take a Mini-Retirement?
There are so many reasons depending on your situation and stage of life.
A mini-retirement is a chance to properly disconnect from work and refocus your attention on the things that really count.
Many people take mini-retirements to deal with burnout and look after their mental health.
A mini-retirement can also be an excellent opportunity to test drive your post-FI / early retirement plans. Alternatively, you can use your break to start a new business or take a course to change careers.
If you are used to delaying gratification and happiness to get to financial independence, a mini-retirement might be an excellent way to add a little YOLO to your life without giving up on your financial goals.
Another option is to tick off some of your bucket list items that don’t fit into a typical annual holiday and that you likely won’t want to or be able to do during traditional retirement – like crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a sailboat.
If you take a sabbatical, this arrangement might benefit both you and your employer. You might have come to hate your job, feel burnt out, and be ready to quit. An extended period away from work might provide the break you need, allow you to recharge and return to work energised, motivated and productive.
Personally, I have always found mini-retirements the perfect way to make the most of life transitions (like our move from Europe to Australia).
I’ve had several clients who chose mini-retirements to transition out of their corporate careers and into a part-time or self-employment setup. It allowed them to properly unwind and take a well-deserved break to design their future work-life blend.
Lastly, none of us knows how long we’ll live and stay healthy. So, a few mini-retirements throughout our working lives allow us to enjoy life along the way.
Mini-Retirement vs Sabbatical vs Career Break vs Gap Year
The terms mini-retirement, sabbatical, career break and gap year are often used interchangeably. They are all extremely similar, but there are some differences.
The term mini-retirement is very broad and encompasses gap years, career breaks and sabbaticals. It’s a catch-all phrase.
Taking a sabbatical usually means taking time off work, often in the form of unpaid leave. It’s an agreed period away from your job. After this break, you would usually return to the same employer in the same or a different role.
When you take a career break, you typically quit your job. Many professionals use career breaks to retrain and change careers. Others take career breaks to work in a different field for a few years(often in the non-profit sector).
The term gap year usually refers to taking time off before, during or after university.
At the end of the day, the terminology is irrelevant. How you spend your mini-retirement is much more important than what you call it.
Is a Mini-Retirement Right For You?
While I believe mini-retirements can be great for many people, they are definitely not for everyone at all times.
Here is the number one question you should ask yourself to determine if a mini-retirement is right for you: Are you clear on why you want to take a mini-retirement?
If you are unsure why you want to take a mini-retirement, you should probably hold off. I genuinely feel that the why is much more important than the what and how when it comes to mini-retirements.
If you know your why you will be able to build a plan to make your time off a success.
Here is a little cautionary tale that illustrates why I believe the why question is so important:
When I quit my job in 2014, I was fortunate enough to be approved for a government grant for aspiring entrepreneurs. The government would pay me 65% of my previous full-time salary for 12 months so I could start a freelance business. This is what mini-retirement dreams are made of. It truly was a financial independence and retirement test run for me. There was no pressure to do anything or deliver any results. I could have spent those 12 months at the beach, and no one would have cared. However, what I thought would be one of the best years of my life turned into one of the worst. I embarked on this break to escape from the job I hated, not because I wanted to start a business. My mindset was all wrong. I felt aimless and got depressed. The moral of the story: don’t use a mini-retirement to run away from something (at least not without having something to run toward).
If you know why you want to take a mini-retirement and how you will fill your time, then go for it. Like I said above, intentionality and planning are key to making your time away from work a success.
A mini-retirement might be right for you if…
… you want to go travelling for an extended period or tick off one of your bucket list items
… want to start a business, take a course to change careers or test-drive your post-FI / retirement plans
… need some time off to focus on your health and/or family
… want to take a break to figure out your priorities and make changes in your life
… have a life transition ahead of you and want to utilise this opportunity to take some time off
Timing and Length
The ideal timing for your mini-retirement depends on the reasons you want to take it and your situation.
As I mentioned above, I have found that life transitions like career changes, international moves or semi-retirement are ideal times to take a mini-retirement.
You could also sprinkle mini-retirements throughout your working life, like a one-year break every 5-10 years.
If you have kids, it makes sense to consider their schooling. This is why we plan a career break in 2023 before our oldest child starts school.
It is crucial to be mentally and financially ready for your mini-retirement. Periods of financial stress or higher than usual expenses are definitely not the right time (unless you are able to budget accordingly, of course).
Like the timing, the ideal length of your mini-retirement depends on the purpose. I have found that around three months is a good minimum length. It’s enough time to properly disconnect from work (which can take a few weeks) and really get into the mini-retirement groove. While three months is a good amount of time for an extended trip, you might want to allow at least nine months to a year if you want to start a business.
Once you have decided why you want to take a break and what you want to do during this time, it will be easy to figure out the when and how long.
A mini-retirement is an intentional extended break from work. Whether you use this time to travel, start a business, or de-stress or transition to semi-retirement, there are many potential benefits. Mini-retirements are a great way to re-evaluate your priorities and break out of your everyday routine for a while. One of the best things is that you don’t have to be financially independent to enjoy a mini-retirement.
The second article in this series discusses how to prepare financially for your mini-retirement and how you can use mini-retirements to mix things up along the path to FIRE.
Have you taken a mini-retirement before? Is this something you are planning to do along the path to financial independence?