The rise of super sabbaticals

Discover how millionaires are taking a timeout in style.

Many are ditching luxury sabbaticals to go out and explore the world and themselves. Image credit: stockstudioX/iStock
Many are ditching luxury holidays in favor of going out and exploring the world and themselves. Image credit: stockstudioX/iStock

If you thought a gap year involved bedraggled teenagers in tie-dyed t-shirts, think again. Start-up millionaires fresh from selling their businesses have embraced the philosophy and given gap years an upgrade. Their super sabbatical features a bucket-list of out-of-this-world adventures, from learning how to perfect a triathlon technique with the Tarahumara tribe in Mexico, famed for long-distance running, to diving with a champion freediver in South Africa.

These extended holidays can last from a month to one or more years. The trend is becoming so prolific, U.S. concierge travel companies such as Embark and Epic Road have launched specific mindfulness-driven trips and UK luxury travel company Original Travel has created a super sabbatical department to cope with the demand.  

Tom Barber, co-founder of Original Travel, said super sabbatical seekers were usually high-net-worth individuals choosing to take a sabbatical out of a desire for self-improvement; who either want to see the world while they are still fit enough to do so or because they are burnt-out and want to reconnect with what is truly important in life. 

“All in all, they are looking for personal enrichment,” Barber said.

The longest trip Original Travel created for one client lasted for two years and included more than 60 countries, 90 itineraries and at a cost of more than 1 million pounds, ($1.2 million) Barber said. 

“The aim of the trip centered around learning and being immersed in local culture,” Barber said.

“Highlights from the trip included arranging for him (the client) to dive the sardine run with an Emmy award-winning camera crew, who helped him capture the footage and taught him how to edit it to documentary standards. 

“We also built our client a dedicated website that allowed him to share his journey with friends.”

Super sabbaticals have come to include unique experiences, including filming sardine runs. Image credit: Maurizio Lanini/iStock
Super sabbaticals have come to include unique experiences, including filming sardine runs. Image credit: Maurizio Lanini/iStock

While sabbaticals may have once been the domain of stressed-out executives, the focus on bonding and connection has become a major theme, making it no surprise that families are also now following the trend, Barber said. 

“Historically, people taking a sabbatical were…individuals usually between careers, roles, or the sale of a business,” he said.

“But we are starting to see bookings from families and older couples too.”,

While some sabbaticals feature adventure, others focus on a philanthropic element or personal discovery – from retracing an individual’s heritage to distributing solar lights to the Himba people in Namibia, to learning the art of stick fighting with the Suri people in Ethiopia. A super sabbatical is often initiated by a milestone, which could be an important birthday or a business sale, which means these holidaymakers not only have the money but more importantly, the time to travel.

Jack Ezon, founder of US travel concierge company Embark said there was often a stage when those missing balance in their lives wanted to hit a reset button. 

“They want to explore their passions and challenge their values,” he said. 

“The sabbatical is a time where people take charge of their lives and learn how to add meaning and purpose towards mindful decision making in the future.”

New York-based media executive Michaela Guzy was one such person who chose to take a super sabbatical after the realization she didn’t feel fulfilled in her role as VP at a large publishing house in the U.S. She decided to take a three-and-a-half-month break from her career and follow her childhood dream of going on safari in Africa. During her super sabbatical, she visited seven African countries, took part in volunteer work, went on safari, and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.

Michaela Guzy. Image credit: Supplied
Michaela Guzy. Image credit: Supplied

“If I had limited myself to a two-week vacation with all my activities planned out, I wouldn’t have had the room or the time to be open to the unexpected adventures that presented themselves along the way,” Guzy said. 

“I wouldn’t have been able to dedicate the quality time I did to learning other people’s stories, their challenges, or what makes them happy. 

“This journey was a total system reset, which taught me to be present and to question everything.”

The sabbatical proved to be a sea change for Guzy. She returned and launched her own publishing house OhThePeopleYouMeet in 2012, which focused on socially-conscious content. Guzy has since become one of the most sought-after speakers in the travel industry.

It’s not just individuals who are recognizing how powerful it is to recharge the battery. Companies are also becoming aware of how effective sabbaticals are in terms of benefits and for staff retention, with twenty-five percent of Fortune’s 100 Best Companies To Work For offer sabbaticals to their team members.


Claire Turrell

Freelance journalist Claire Turrell has lived and worked in London, Dubai, and Singapore. When she’s not busy writing, she is riding motorbikes off-road in Cambodia, diving in Oman or learning Muay Thai in Thailand.