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An SEO sabbatical: A specialist’s guide to travelling the world

Personal development is an important aspect of any career journey, and at Hallam, we value it just as much as professional results. With an official Employee Wellbeing Committee and ongoing mental health initiatives, we’re committed to ensuring our team members feel supported and encouraged to meet their individual goals. So when our SEO specialist Stanley Dunthorne expressed a desire to do some personal development of his own, we were ready to make it happen.

Stan joined us straight out of university, fast-tracking his career to become one of the region’s most promising SEO stars. It had always been a dream of his to travel the world, and we were keen to help him fulfil that dream - so he set off around the globe for eight months, and we backed him every step of the way.

We’re proud to have a sabbatical policy for all of our employees; we firmly believe that it brings a wealth of benefits to both the individual and the business. While Stanley is the first Hallam team member to have taken the opportunity, a second member of staff is now making plans to do the same, and we look forward to continuing to help our employees develop and grow.

Now back on UK soil and back to delivering brilliant results for his clients, Stanley shares his sabbatical experience.

Why I decided to take time off:

I never went travelling at the more traditional times of before or just after university, and the way I saw it, the longer I left it, the harder it would be to pack it all in and gallivant around the world.

How Hallam supported me:

Although going away was something I’d always wanted to do, I’d been working at Hallam for two years after graduating and loved it, so ideally wanted to come back when I returned. Once I knew for sure I was going, I had a chat with my manager about three months before I left to give plenty of time to sort things out. I stayed in touch while I was away, so when an opening in the SEO team cropped up a month or two before I was back in England, I was really pleased to be offered the position.

How I decided what to do during the time:

A few friends had done similar trips before, so we got as many first-hand recommendations as possible and did a lot of research beforehand. With a general idea of what we wanted to do, we found that travel books and maps were really useful in helping us plan routes that made sense geographically.

My biggest worry:

My girlfriend and I were both very comfortable in Nottingham - we enjoyed our jobs and loved the flat we’d been renting for the previous three years. It was tough to leave all that behind and not really know what we were coming back to, but I’m glad we did!

How I managed my money:

Day to day, several apps were very useful. I used a Starling card which helped me keep an eye on transactions, allowing me to easily split payments and take cash out abroad without a fee.

In countries that mostly used cash (Japan, surprisingly), I used a basic money management app, and just entered my spending manually. Splitwise was really useful for splitting payments between me and my girlfriend, and probably helped us avoid lots of petty arguments about small change.

My best experience during my time off:

In Tokyo, we used Couchsurfing, where you meet and stay with local people. Rather than just a free room, the idea is that you hang out with your hosts - it’s about connecting people from all over the world.

We stayed with several different hosts in Tokyo in all sorts of neighbourhoods, ranging from a diplomat in the Korean embassy to a ‘salaryman’ office worker. From boozing in late night karaoke bars in Shinjuku to going to cheer on our host in a Yokohama running race, living with locals in Tokyo for a week was definitely a memorable experience.

And the worst…:

A particular low point was the minibus from Chiang Mai to Pai. This is a notoriously treacherous and winding mountain road, with over 700 turns on the three or so hour journey.

Of course, the morning of this journey was one of the few times in the seven months I had rather bad food poisoning. And of course, as a rather tall man, I was sat right on the back of the minibus with other peoples’ luggage all around me. No, there wasn’t any air conditioning. Our rather reckless driver did the drive in about two hours. I was very glad to get off.

What I learned about myself:

I can manage just fine with a few shirts, one pair of shorts and one pair of shoes. I also became bizarrely addicted to leaving Google reviews, which continues to this day. 

Other than those significant learnings, I didn’t have any epiphanies on mountaintops alerting me to a new calling in life, but I didn’t see that lack as a bad thing. I was happy before I left in what I was doing... but it was good to get back.

What it’s like being back:

It was strange to walk back into the same office after so long, but it was great to see everyone again. I’d been a bit worried before I came back that I would have forgotten everything, but I was surprised at how quickly it all came back to me - I hit the ground running and picked up the usual amount of work within a few days.

What's next:

I’ve got straight back into delivering wicked results for clients, and am looking forward to continuing developing my skills and honing in on a specialism. Outside of work, my girlfriend and I have only recently moved into a new house, so I’m looking forward to eventually being able to stop living out of a backpack. Oh, and getting a big dog at some point.

Stanley joined Hallam in 2016, having graduated with a masters in History from the University of Nottingham. He now specialises in SEO and works with clients ranging from local lead gen companies to large ecommerce and international websites. respected author, Stanley has written for industry publications including Wordstream.

Stanley Dunthorne, SEO and content consultant at Hallam.

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