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Published Veröffentlicht 15/05/2023

Sunsets, Salt Flats, Cenotes and Volcanos – reflections from my Sabbatical

By Sarah Johns

2023 marked my five-year anniversary at Allison+Partners, and I was fortunate enough to take a month-long paid sabbatical. 

As an avid traveller who likes to make the most of every moment, deciding what to do and where to go was difficult. But knowing I wanted to visit somewhere totally new, I opted for South and Central America. 

I went on two tours, both with groups of 20-somethings from all around the world – one with Intrepid Travel to Bolivia, Chile and Argentina, and the other with G-Adventures to Mexico, Belize and Guatemala. Throughout the month, I learned so many things I’ll take forward in both my career and home life – too many to fit in this blog but read on for the ones that stuck out to me most! 

SOUTH AMERICA 

Bolivia – it’s OK to pause, even if you have FOMO 

La Paz, Chacaltaya, Potosi, Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivian Altiplano 

Having travelled for nearly 24 hours straight, I arrived at La Paz airport raring to go. But with the city situated at 3,600 meters (about 11,800 feet) above sea level, I was of course not immune to altitude sickness and had to spend my whole first day and night of the trip in bed. My roommate who had also flown in earlier that day from Germany experienced the same thing, and we agreed sometimes the best thing to do is to take a pause and come back refreshed, even if you do fear missing out! 

Chile – we are just one dot in the universe 

San Pedro de Atacama, Atacama Desert, Valley of the Moon, Rainbow Valley 

In Chile, I was lucky enough to visit the Atacama Desert, which I was told is one of the best places on earth to stargaze, due to its clear, dry and light-pollution-free skies. Being in the Southern Hemisphere, it was cool to see constellations I recognised like The Plough and Orion “upside down,” and how looking through a powerful telescope at what I thought was just one bright star was actually a cluster of them. It served as a powerful reminder that what you perceive is valid, but also that other perspectives are too, even if they appear to contradict yours. It also made me realise how important it is not to sweat the small stuff – we are just one dot in the universe, so it is better to let things go that don’t matter – you can go a few days without internet! 

Argentina – savour the good moments 

Salta and Buenos Aires 

Reaching the Argentinian capital of Buenos Aires was bittersweet, as I knew it was the last stop on this tour. I’d have to say goodbye to my wonderful roommate and the good friends I had made, many of whom were carrying on to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. Knowing I didn’t have time to fit a trip to Rio in as well as my tour of Central America, I regrettably hadn’t booked that portion. But I kept in my mind how the trip only lasting for a limited time is what made it so special.

I decided I was not going to spend time being sad it was over. Instead, I would look back on the happy memories I’d made, a sentiment reinforced by little visible reminders dotted around the city of how proud the local people were to have won the World Cup – flags, posters and Messi football shirts, even five months on. 

CENTRAL AMERICA 

Mexico – there are so many things you don’t know, that you don’t know 

Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Chichen Itza, Chicimila Cenote, Tekom 

One of the tours I booked in Mexico was a trip to one of the seven wonders of the world, Chichen Itza – a Mayan archaeological site in Yucatan and a stunning place to see. But what I found especially exciting was the other parts of the tour on the way there – a visit to a 60-meter (197-foot) deep Cenote – a large naturally formed sinkhole you could swim in – as well as a visit to a Mayan shaman who could give you your Mayan birth chart and insights about your personality based on the day you were born.

I am aware I have no way of proving or disproving what mine said, but I did think it was so cool that it said I have been reincarnated eight times! It really made me consider all the things in the world I don’t know and made me want to learn more about how other people make sense of the world. 

Belize – responsible travel is so important 

Caye Caulker, Hol Chan Marine Reserve, San Ignacio, Xunantunich Mayan Ruins  

Belize had so many incredible places and I learned how important it is to be a responsible tourist helping to protect the natural and historic environments while travelling.  

At the Xunantunich Mayan Ruins, I was sad to learn early British archaeologists used dynamite to try and uncover the sites.  

At Crystal Cave, I learned if you touch the stalactite crystals, the natural oils on your hands can cause the formations to stop growing.  

And when I asked the guide at the Hol Chan Marine Reserve if the nurse sharks we’d swim with were dangerous, I found out humans are far more of a threat to them than they are to us.  

I also learned it’s best not to touch trees and plants you aren’t familiar with to keep yourself safe too. Having avoided serious injury to date, I learned the branch by me was from a black poisonwood tree, the sap of which can cause second-degree burns. While another species which produces the ingredients for the antidote happens to grow next to it, I wasn’t too keen to take a chance. 

Guatemala – make time for your family and friends 

Flores, Tikal, Pacaya Volcano, Panajachel, San Juan La Laguna, Antigua Guatemala 

One of the experiences I was most grateful for was the opportunity to participate in a Mayan homestay with a local family – an initiative run by Planeterra, a non-profit organisation supporting local people to benefit directly from tourism. My host family didn’t speak any English, but I really enjoyed giving Spanish a go to learn more about their day-to-day lives – I realised how fortunate I am to have been able to travel and experience so much, and it also made me feel so thankful for my own family and friends back at home who I’d soon be reunited with.  

The next day, we discovered one of the girls on our tour saw her sister’s name in the visitor’s book of the house she had stayed in eight years earlier which made her feel really connected to her – it’s a small world! 

And I felt part of something bigger myself too on the plane home when I happened to sit next to another backpacker beginning his travel across Europe – it was great to be able to give someone else recommendations of where to go when so many people had helped me along the way.  

My sabbatical experience is one I’ll never forget – it has made me want to travel more in the future. But for now, I’m super happy to be back home, to see friends and family again and to keep progressing in my career at an agency that cares about seeing its colleagues thrive in their personal and professional lives. 

I want to say a huge thank you everyone at Allison who made it possible for me to take on this opportunity – I feel like I have grown hugely throughout my time away and feel so happy that I was able to go on this adventure. Thank you. 

Sarah Johns is an account director in the London office working across consumer, corporate and B2B PR and communications. 

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