My experience with sabbaticals and spouses involves planning with a professor-spouse, so I don't have any personal advice for those with non-professor-spouses. I do know that my colleagues with non-professor-spouses have done one or more of the following: (1) not gone on sabbatical at all; (2) taken a sabbatical, but of the "staycation"/don't-leave-home sort; or (3) taken a sabbatical consisting of short trips or somewhat extended stays at other institutions, but not for a long time (max 3 months, typically less). One friend took the kids to Europe for a few months and left the lawyer spouse at home (though he visited).
Some of my colleagues with professor spouses in different fields or institutions have taken separate sabbaticals at different times or in different places, but few people I know have chosen to do this.
For 2-professor families who want to coordinate a sabbatical, there are some Issues that typically arise, such as:
- You have to coordinate things so that you both apply for, and are granted, sabbaticals at the same time.
- You both have to write grant proposals to raise $ for the missing 1/2 salaries you both won't be receiving.
- You have to agree on a place to go.
Each of these is a potential pitfall. For example, I had to wait more than 10 years for my first sabbatical because my husband was a few years behind me in seniority, and then we had to get our department chair to agree that we could both have a sabbatical in the same year.
The third item in the list, however, consumes most of our sabbatical discussions.
Agreeing on a place to go involves many complex factors. Although my husband and I are in the same general field, we are in different subfields, and different institutions may or may not have interesting (or any) colleagues in one of our subfields. So first we have to figure out all possible places that could conceivably host both of us, given our research interests.
Then we discuss which of those places we actually want to go. Although by this point the list of possible places has been significantly reduced, especially if we add the further constraint that we prefer to spend our sabbaticals outside the US, one or both of us may have different preferences and priorities.
For our last sabbatical, there was a very obvious place that had outstanding colleagues and facilities, was in an interesting place, and that had colleagues who wanted to host us. Also, the institution had money to pay visiting scholars, and that was quite a nice bonus to an already appealing option. So we went there.
That was great, but what about the next sabbatical? We have been discussing this and have pretty much settled on a place we think we would both like to be, and we have ascertained that there are colleagues there who would like to have us around for all or part of a year.
How did we ascertain that? For our last sabbatical, we both knew people at this institution, and it was not at all awkward to discuss our hopes for a visit. In fact, I think one or both of us may even have been invited. For the next sabbatical, one of us was approached by a professor at the university about visiting, and the other started e-mailing colleagues (some current collaborators, others known only from their research) to see what they thought of the idea. They liked the idea.
Although it is a bit disconcerting to cold-email someone and ask "Would you host me for my next sabbatical?", there's nothing too scary about asking someone if you can have a desk and be an interactive member of their research group for a while. Also, making these requests gets easier as you get older and more egotistical, and you count on the fact that people will either be enthusiastic or will at least make up something reasonably nice to discourage you if they don't want to be your host.
Of course our daughter has been an important element in our sabbatical planning as well. She loved the sabbatical we took when she was in elementary school. It was an adventure, she learned a new language, and we did a lot of traveling. She missed her friends and cats, but she made new friends and we figured out where all the cats in the neighborhood lived, and went on frequent cat safaris to visit friendly felines. Not long ago we returned to our sabbatical city and followed our old cat safari route, and there was our favorite cat, sitting in her usual spot, as if she hadn't moved in years.
Now our daughter is looking forward to our next sabbatical in a different place, despite the disruptions it will cause to her schooling. Whether such disruptions are significant (so the sabbatical is not a realistic option) or not a big deal (so the sabbatical is worth it for all) will of course vary from family to family.
I am a big fan of sabbaticals for their recharging effects and for the opportunities they provide to meet and work with new people, live in a different culture, travel, think, and have fun. Even if I couldn't get enough grant money to replace my missing 1/2 salary, I would try to go anyway.
6 years ago