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Behind the Scenes of our Annual Sabbatical - Ashlyn Writes


last updated:
September 11, 2018


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Reading time: 11 min.

Well, we did it: we took our THIRD sabbatical together in our marriage and in my business, which is almost the same age. 😉

I’m unpacking a bit on how I go about planning for a sabbatical, but the big reason for this post was to get our pics up and have somewhere to you guys as you’ve asked for a copy of our itinerary as you plan your own trip to Madrid, Barcelona, Toulouse, or Amsterdam.

I sure hope this helps get you started, whether it’s taking time off in your creative business, dreaming about what you could do with extended leave, or just snagging a done-for-you trip starter for a few European gems.

Let’s go!

Behind the Scenes of our Annual Sabbatical

Plus, I’ve got ya a freebie, because I could NOT do this without automating and outsourcing a few things in my business.

We work incredibly hard to build a business, and then need to stay in that sweet-spot zone of creative genius as often as possible—sabbatical is one way that I can stay refreshed and creatively ready to get back to hard work.

In this freebie are five ideas of things you can outsource as you get going!

Why I Believe in Sabbaticals


First things first: I’ve blogged before (below!) about HOW to take one, and I hope it helps get you started if you’re thinking about taking one.

RELATED: How to Take a Sabbatical From Your Creative Business

I first heard the word when I worked in a full-service communications firm, and after 10 years, you were given time for a sabbatical. I instantly loved the idea: sure, I was a workaholic in those days, but time away to think and be creative? That sounded like dessert!

When I started my business, that was one of my first non-negotiables: I would financially make sure I could take off a month.

The first year I took unpaid leave, but the past two sabbaticals, I’ve also been able to pay myself, which I owe a lot to the Blueprint Model financial planning system.

To be honest, I’d be more comfortable continuing to work—I’d feel more in control of things.

Sabbatical always feels like a trust fall.

Stepping away from work for longer than one week or one weekend reminds me I’m set free to ENJOY working. Sabbatical is a declaration of freedom: I’m not a slave to my business, money, expectations, Instagram 🙂 , or even the things that make me so insecure as an entrepreneur.

“In the long run, of course, a deeply rested people are far more productive,” Tim Keller says in Every Good Endeavor.


Sabbatical ran RIGHT into the launch of my new The Art of Efficiency™ program, which made me nervous.

Verdict? It ended up being great: I got to see first hand that if you work at it, you CAN build a business that runs (and even flourishes) when you walk away from it to come up for air.

All in all, we took about 3-3.5 weeks off (heyo maternity leave … can’t QUITE take my usual 4 weeks off with 3 months of maternity leave coming up so soon!).

So if 2/3 of our sabbatical went to this trip (details below!), where did the other week-and-a-half-ish go?

I read a TON …

… I slept like crazy …

… I had mini-writing retreats for fun …

… I worked on my garden! …

… I watercolored with my friend Simply Jessica Marie’s SJM Art School classes …

… and I went to the beach with my family!

RELATED: How to Become a Better Reader: Tips for Creative Entrepreneurs

RELATED: Must-Read Books Every Creative Entrepreneur Should Read

Where We Went: Spain, Toulouse, and Amsterdam in 2 Weeks

Okay, NOT a travel blogger, but I’ve gotten asked about a dozen times on Instagram for our travel itinerary, so here you go!

To plan these, I followed a few rules:

  • We do one s-l-o-w day (marked ???? on the itinerary!) followed by one walking day (????) when we do a trip like Europe.
  • We also alternate years of beach/lay around & walking/touring—for example, we were in St. Lucia last year, did Paris & London the year prior. Wes and I have different travel interests, so this helps us both!
  • I always read up on the Rick Steves travel book before we go somewhere!
  • We do a mix of exploring and planned activities. I plan the activities, Wes is in charge of the flights & accommodations.
  • I always make a printed itinerary and—yes—print it. I learned this back in my days planning events for Delta Air Lines. All it takes is one annoying WiFi connection when you’re at the airport and can’t find the hotel address, and you realize having paper as a back-up is a great idea! I’ve made a template over the years, and so I just copy/paste in this.

Try to include: flight info/#s, addresses & phone numbers, how long it takes to get from place to place, etc.

Okay, that said, here’s where we went!

How to Spend 3 Days in Madrid

How to Spend 3 Days in Madrid_Ashlyn Writes_Sabbatical

????Day 1 in Madrid

We decided a lot of people would hate traveling with us … we nap a TON! The minute we landed at our ADORABLE hotel in Madrid, we passed out to catch up on sleep from the flight.

How to Spend 3 Days in Madrid_Ashlyn Writes_Sabbatical

Then, we worked east along Gran Via towards the Plaza del Sol & Plaza Mayor. We stopped for lunch in the Plaza Mayor to just rest and people watch in our new new city for a few days! It’s beautiful.

How to Spend 3 Days in Madrid_Ashlyn Writes_Sabbatical

Toured the Royal Palace, which is kinda Spain’s answer to Versailles. Worth it, even though there’s not *too* too much to see inside, except dazzling room, after dazzling room, after dazzling room …

How to Spend 3 Days in Madrid_Ashlyn Writes_Sabbatical How to Spend 3 Days in Madrid_Ashlyn Writes_Sabbatical

We meandered (read: we got sore ankles from the hilly streets of Madrid!) back to our hotel, stopped for gelato, got back to our hotel for a little cat nap, got ready for dinner.

Celso y Manolo made for the BEST dinner! It’s tiny, but the servers were just so helpful—let them lead you. We tried cheese plates, chicken, tomatoes, olives, good bread, and more at the tapas-style restaurant!

How to Spend 3 Days in Madrid_Ashlyn Writes_Sabbatical

????Day 2 in Madrid

Wes and I are big fans of a bike tour!  Bravo Bike Tour didn’t disappoint through the athletic/hilly terrain, and I was so glad I wore pants over my preggo bump. We stopped for churros (moi) and coffee/beer (the boys), which has kinda fun!

“They” say to see the Crystal Palace and rent a rowboat on Retiro Lake, but we saw all of this on our bike tour and were exhausted. All-American to our core, we ended up getting Five Guys on the Gran Via (HA!), and heading back around 3 p.m. for a 2-hour siesta to read, nap, and relax! I told you we nap a lot …

For dinner, we grabbed drinks at the top of the Veraccio The Mint swanky hotel. Expensive, but beautiful view of the city, and fab mocktails if you’re bumpin’. We did a tapas tour with a group in the evening—we NEVER would have tried these foods or found the places we went to. It was such a motley crew, but we made some funny friends. Education about Manchego cheese, Iberian pigs, and Rioja wine? Check.

????Day 3 in Madrid

We slept in and toured the Prado Museum—think old world art from the “greats.” Wes hung in like a champ.

Then …

How to Spend 4 Days in Barcelona

????Day 1 in Barcelona

Travel day to Barcelona! Take ze train. 😉

Overall, we thought Barcelona was kinda gritty and dirty, but we’re glad we tried it. Madrid was just tough to beat! We stayed at The Corner Hotel, and after we threw our bags in the room, we headed to our bike tour with Fat Tire Bikes (typically our fave in other cities!). It was SO crowded but a flatter tour than Madrid, again, just our fave way to get our bearings.

Even though we had a million dinner recommendations … after we got back around 8 p.m., and just ordered room service & watched American TV on our devices! HA. Sabbatical indeed!

????Day 2 in Barcelona

Never have we ever taken a cooking class, so we gave it a whirl—so fun! It was also kinda nice to talk to people and make some friends after a few days of being with your ride-or-die. 😉 It took up most the day, but was so fun.

How to Spend 4 Days in Barcelona_Ashlyn Writes_Sabbatical

We wandered the stalls of the  Bouqueria Market, got juice (me) and cheese & ham (Wes) for later, and I hit the rooftop pool at our hotel.

Dinner at Paco Meralgo in Eixample neighborhood was fab, grabbed gelato after as we wandered home!

????Day 3 in Barcelona

Okay, fave art museum of the trip goes to the Picasso Museum—it was SO amazing! I just used the great signage & Rick Steves’ book to navigate (we didn’t need audioguides like we tried at the Prado in Madrid). The Picasso Museum is beautifully done with an incredible gift shop. Afterwards, we walked the Gothic Quarter/The Born/Barcelona Cathedral on Pla de la Seu.

How to Spend 4 Days in Barcelona_Ashlyn Writes_Sabbatical

Wandered the great architecture of the Gothic Quarter … heard there are good eats Formatgeria La Seu (3 local cheeses + mini wine for 3 euros). Tried to go to pastry/coffee spot, Caelum, but like pretty much every 3rd shop in Europe in August, it was closed for summer break! So …

… we cabbed & got lunch at Five Guys! Yes. Again. ‘Merica.

And a week is a long time to eat tapas.

We paid for and hopped in a tour at the Sagrada Familia, but ditched them once inside. We’ve done this before, ha. Sometimes you can only listen to someone explain something so many times, and we’d learned a lot about it on our bike tour—we just wanted to get access inside before our afternoon siesta!

How to Spend 4 Days in Barcelona_Ashlyn Writes_Sabbatical

Right before dinner, we hitched a ride up to tour Park Guell, and see Gaudi’s designs. Verdict? I hope the internets don’t throw rocks at me, but it’s not that great. You see the two cool houses, but it’s a let-down besides that!

How to Spend 4 Days in Barcelona_Ashlyn Writes_Sabbatical

For din, we went to another spot near our hotel, the Restaurant Palermo.

????Day 4 in Barcelona

Soooooo … confession. We had tickets for a tour of Montserrat but SKIPPED IT to sleep. 🙂 We rested, shopped (aka I shopped, Wes went to the food court) at the big department store, El Corte Inglés), and hopped on the train bound for France!

How to Spend 36 Hours in Toulouse, France

The CUTEST little essentially-a-bed-and-breakfast in Toulouse, Hotel Albert 1er, was our welcome mat, and we walked around the rose-colored city for dinner at dinner at M. Georges on the CUTEST little square. It was hopping!

And thus began my love affair with Toulouse.

Toulouse, France_Ashlyn Writes_Sabbatical

????1 Full Day in Toulouse

I popped up to go see St. Sernin to explore/take pics. 🙂 Aaaand just wander the streets of my happy place.

Toulouse, France_Ashlyn Writes_Sabbatical

After I went and got Wes from the hotel, and we walked around until we found a little shop with croissants and coffee, sat in the Jardin Pierre Goudouli and people watched while we ate! NOTE: We WOULD have walked around the Marche Victor Hugo, but it was closed.

The rest of the morning, we walked around town just exploring!

  • Saw the Place du Capitole & looked at violet things at Delices Lamarque (63 Rue de la Pomme)

  • Wandered past the Notre Dame du Taur/went inside

  • Wandered down the Rue Pargaminieres to Place Saint Pierre for a photo

  • Wander the Promenade Henri Martin beside the River Garonne, and saw the Pont Neuf & Musees de la Medecine across the river

We grabbed lunch at a cafe (Pêcheurs de Sable or Cafe des Artistes are around, but we just walked down Rue Peyrolières until we found a cafe we wanted.

Toulouse, France_Ashlyn Writes_Sabbatical Toulouse, France_Ashlyn Writes_Sabbatical

Definitely see the Hotel d’Assezat Fondation Bemberg. It’s gorgeous! Wes took my photo here and then went back to nap …

… which meant …


Ring the alarms!

There were so many good stores, like Longchamp, Hermes, Yves Rocher, Ma Jolie Bougie, Galeries Lafayette, Sephora, La Maison de la Violette, La Bonbonnière for macarons, Graine de Pastel for pastel souvenirs, and Le Petit Bateau, my go-to for Breton striped shirts (and baby clothes!).

But, I was saving my pennis for Parapharmacie Lafayette—ALL THE FRENCH makeup goods!

I got about 12 things off my list (naturally, I have one) and was so happy.

We hit up No. 5 Wine Bar (it continues to win best wine bar in Europe) pre-din. It’s so good—you just put an amount of euros on a card, swipe it, and get to fill up your wine glass. I just had sips of 3 wines, but Wes got to taste half pours of a lot of fun wines.

Toulouse, France_Ashlyn Writes_Sabbatical

To wrap up, we ate dinner on the top floor of the Galeries Lafayette—best view of the city! Got sorbet on the way home. 🙂

Just fabulous.

In the morning, I ran to grab pain au chocolat before we hopped on a plane to the Netherlands!

How to Spend 3 Days in Amsterdam

????Day 1 in Amsterdam

In the morning, I ran to grab pain au chocolat before we hopped on a plane to the Netherlands!

We didn’t do all that much after checking in at Hotel V Nesplein (um, literally the coolest/most modern/art deco-ish style place) besides grab din at Proeflokaal A. van Wees.

????day, what can I say?

How to Spend 3 Days in Amsterdam_Ashlyn Writes_Sabbatical

????Day 2 in Amsterdam

Another bike tour! We hit up We Bike Amsterdam, avoided approximately 124,412 other bikes on the roads, and it was SO FUN! We loved it.

How to Spend 3 Days in Amsterdam_Ashlyn Writes_Sabbatical

We changed at hotel and grabbed lunch at The Seafood Bar—it was amazing! There are a few around town. A lot of folks recommended it, and it was one of our favorite meals!

An afternoon at the Rijksmuseum right before they closed was Incredible. Absolutely beautiful—even Wes was blown away, and he’s not as much of an art nerd as I am. We skipped by the flower market on the way to our hotel, so I could get some bulbs.

How to Spend 3 Days in Amsterdam_Ashlyn Writes_Sabbatical

For dinner, we snacked on a boat tour through the canals with Pure Boats. It was so cute and well done, with the preppiest, kindest Englishman who restores old boats leading the way. He’s an entrepreneur, and Pure Boats has quickly risen the ranks in Amsterdam. We loved getting to know him!

How to Spend 3 Days in Amsterdam_Ashlyn Writes_Sabbatical

????Day 3 in Amsterdam

For our last day, we’d snagged tickets to the Anne Frank House the day prior (20% released the day before around 5-5:30 p.m. … remember this if it’s sold out when you’re looking to go!). It was VERY moving, and while it’s small, it makes a big impact.

We walked around Pijp neighborhood and Albert Cuyp Market, ate stroopwaffl, and I bought 2 new Caran d’Ache (my favorite!) pens at STORE.

After we napped and rested, we went to a fancy dinner at Restaurant Daalder! It was tiny food, but we survived.

How to Spend 3 Days in Amsterdam_Ashlyn Writes_Sabbatical

So grateful to my friend Shanna Skidmore, because without The Blueprint Model, this words-loving girl wouldn’t be able to plot the finances of taking extended leave like this AND pay myself as a business owner.

Click here to be first to know when doors open for my Market Sustainably Track, which coincides with walking you through The Blueprint Model!

Also big ups? TO MY TEAM!

Seriously. This was the first sabbatical I’ve taken with a few more crew members, and—while, I learned some ways to do this better!—I learned a lot about how they make it possible for me to walk away for a bit. Outsourcing was something I did *way* earlier than I imagined in my business, and I created a freebie to help you get things together before you take that step.

Grab it below!

Have you ever taken a sabbatical?? I’d love to hear some of your dreams you have for extended time away!

Reading Time: 11 Minutes Reading time: 11 min. Well, we did it: we took our THIRD sabbatical together in our marriage and in my business, which is almost the same age. 😉 I’m unpacking a bit on how I go about planning for a sabbatical, but the big reason for this post was to get our pics up and […]


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