• Dr Jess Klain

A Life Sabbatical in Thailand

Updated: May 12



Have you ever dreamed of taking a life sabbatical? My dream (and planning) started in 2016 when I was at a surf camp in Punta Hermosa, Peru. The waves were good, the sunsets were picture perfect, and the Pisco Sours were delicious. In between the surfing and drinking, I met a young American couple who was in the middle of a year long, world-wide travel adventure. They shared pictures and stories of their recent adventures visiting the salt flats in Bolivia, touring the unique architecture of Eastern Europe, and their animal safari fun in Africa. My group (me, my husband, and two friends) had just arrived in Peru for a whirlwind three week vacation that took nearly a year to plan - the complete opposite from my new, round-the-world friends. Three weeks touring Peru was not nearly enough time, but we made the most of it. We enjoyed city life in Lima, the coast of Paracas, the culture of Cusco, and hiked the historic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. The trip was amazing but I left wanting more.

After returning from Peru, I immediately started investigating everything about life sabbaticals. I polled friends and colleagues about the concept and received a combination of polite smiles, full-on laughter, and dismissive shrugs. But I was on a mission. As any good healthcare provider would do, I turned to the research. Surprisingly, I found a lot of information to support my idea: the mental and physical benefits of time off, exposure to new culture and experience, the need for work-life balance, and the negative role of burn-out in health care professions. One of the most concise resources I found was The Sabbatical Project (www.thesabbaticalproject.com). Their research concludes: "We found that sabbaticals can have profound implications for individuals’ personal and work-related identities which, in turn, may have profound implications for their wellbeing at work, and in life. Sabbaticals are a “peak life experience” that provide an identity workspace for transitions, healing, discovery and growth." I was 100% sold, but my husband was not on board (yet).

Fast forward a few years and, after a combination of casual talks and serious talks, I finally convinced my husband a life sabbatical was a necessity! We had fairly traditional jobs and career paths where we worked hard and saved some money but felt exhausted at the end of each week. We lived for the weekends and vacations. I felt balanced and satisfied for a while, but ultimately, I was starting to feel burned out. It was time for a change.

First item of change: we decided it was time to return to Colorado after 7 years in Alaska. Second item of change: take advantage of this transitional time to travel before settling back in Denver. Third item of change: go big! After months of discussions, we 100% committed to move, quit our jobs, sell 90% of our belongings, and start an open ended trip through Southeast Asia. It was finally time for a life sabbatical!

And then, just like that, the pandemic was wrecking havoc in China, and then in Europe, and quickly turned the US upside down. Everyone has a pandemic story - that moment when things got real serious and decisions had to be made. For me, that moment was in early March when the US implemented European travel restrictions. We were less than a week away from being homeless, car-less and job-less. But we did have one way tickets booked to Southeast Asia! There were a few days in early March that were spent worrying, wondering and endlessly researching options. I eventually came to a conclusion: we were going to Thailand! If we were going to be homeless, job-less, car-less, and without health care, Thailand seemed like the place to do it in.

My husband likes to think it was luck that got us to Thailand in March 2020. In reality, it was a lot of research, a calculated risk-reward decision, and some luck too. My research indicated that Thailand has some of the best healthcare (accessibility and affordability) in the world, has a lower cost of living than most Western countries, and the people are kind and welcoming. (The beaches are pretty great too!) At the time, it was unclear how the pandemic would ultimately effect Thailand but on the day we departed the US, Covid numbers in Thailand were very low (and remain relatively low). One reason numbers stayed low was the strict lockdown that occurred 2 weeks after we arrived: mask mandate, everything but convenient stores and grocery stores were closed (including parks and beaches), 9pm curfew, and no travel between towns/neighborhoods in Phuket. We were bored. Really, really bored.

After 6 weeks of strict lockdown, Covid numbers were under control and things were allowed to open back up. 8-10 weeks after lockdown started, we were able to travel freely, go to the bar, socialize, and travel to other parts of the country. Although Phuket was quiet due to lack of tourism, life was pretty "normal" and just generally, great. Over the course of 14 months, we traveled all over the country, made friends, hiked, surfed, ran, ate, and just took the time to immerse ourselves and really enjoy Thailand.

There are moments when I feel sad that the world-wind, backpacking, travel adventure type of life sabbatical that I dreamed of won't happen. But in reality, spending the year in Thailand was a better learning and life sabbatical opportunity. Instead of rushing around being a tourist, I feel like I've truly lived in, and experienced, Thailand. I became part of the community, got a dentist and a hairdresser, my barista knows my coffee order, and we get mail at our apartment.

I also had the luxury of time to consider what led to me feeling "burned out" in my career and what I can do to change that moving forward. My plan was initially formulated while I was meditating on Koh Phangan, a small island in the Gulf of Thailand. It was time to open my own physical therapy and wellness practice and provide care in the best possible way - without insurance restrictions, whole body and mind care, and treatment based on patient driven goals. When considering opening my own practice, I don't anticipate that I will have more time, or less work, but I do anticipate providing higher quality and more holistic care to help people on their health journey.

The life sabbatical that I dreamed and planned for was interrupted by the pandemic, but in a lot of ways I think it was a better experience. I had more time to think, consider, and figure out what matters most to me. And isn't that was a life sabbatical should be?

If you want to hear more about living and traveling in Thailand - stay tuned for my next Blog!

Physio, Yoga & Wellness is open for business for virtual appointments for: physical therapy, injury prevention, nutrition counseling, exercise programs, and private yoga sessions. My focus is on developing personalized programs specific to you to improve quality of life now, and into the future.

Mobile services in central Denver starting June 2021. Clinic opening in central Denver in July 2021.

For comments or questions email: Jessica@physioyogaandwellness.com