I was speaking with a colleague who is planning a sabbatical for next year. With all the ink spilled about other aspects of an academic career, I am actually surprised by how few resources are available for sabbatical planning. After our discussion, I decided to post a quick list about 10 things I wish I knew ahead of time:
1. If you plan to take school aged children abroad, you need to start planning as early as possible. You will need to know what documents to bring and how to enroll your kids in school in sabbatical country (the ProdigalKids went to the local public school when we were abroad). ALSO you will need to make arrangements with your kids home school as to what the rules about about missing a year/part of a year and how to get them back in! If you need docs translated, the sabbatical country's embassy might have a list of local translators you can use.
2. Duolingo is an awesome app for language learning. It is good for kids too as long as they can read. We started the ProdigalKids on sabbatical language for 15-30 minutes a day 6-8 months before we left, and it made everything go much more smoothly.
3. A sabbatical abroad is freaking expensive. Double what you think you will spend. If you plan to apply for a fellowship, check the deadlines as soon as you have a target country.
4. The Internet is your friend. I had better luck with local online real estate sites than with my host University's international office (for housing--for everything else, they were awesome). Google translate works well enough to figure out apartment listings and communicate with landlords. Find out local norms about what is included in an apartment rental!
5. Health insurance is a bitch, Make sure you know what you need to do (local laws in sabbatical country may require additional insurance), even if your University/home country plan will cover you abroad.
6. Planning your sabbatical will take over your life. The logistics of taking a family along will make you want to stay home. Motor through--it is worth it in the end!
7. Time differences are more annoying than you think they will be, especially if it is 3 or more hours. You will need to plan carefully to talk to people, especially if you have to drop off/pick up kids. Make sure you've attempted whatever communication system you will use with your students ahead of time. I used Skype with my students, and had a scheduled weekly meeting with each one.
8. You might need a local bank account--start researching ahead of time to find one that will meet your needs when you have no local credit and no local income. Getting money out of the US sucks--the cheapest method for us was to take money out via ATM (no Forex or ATM fees from our US bank) and then deposit the cash into our local bank account. YMMV. Getting money into the US might be similarly difficult.
9. Look for conferences/meetings/workshops near sabbatical location that would otherwise be too expensive from home country. Keep looking periodically. Your schedule will full more rapidly than you think, and you may need to schedule around school requirements if you have kids.
10. If you are in the US, whereever you go, odds are that the local cellphone network will be better. Cancel your cell contract if you can and go local. In particular, pay as you go services are often much, much better outside the US. If you are doing a sabbatical in the US, mobile services are probably not as good as home, so be prepared!
Bonus tip: Everyone who says don't overplan the working part of your sabbatical is correct! Being crazy ambitious is not the point.