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Adult gap years: Why taking a mini-sabbatical might be exactly what you need

Dubbed mini sabbaticals, adult gap years or gap months, these extended breaks range from quitting a job to taking leave to just working remotely from somewhere different.
Dubbed mini sabbaticals, adult gap years or gap months, these extended breaks range from quitting a job to taking leave to just working remotely from somewhere different. Copyright Artem Beliaikin
Copyright Artem Beliaikin
By Rebecca Ann Hughes with AP
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Cost is a common obstacle for people considering a break, but there are creative ways around it.

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If you daydream about getting a break from the stress of work, you might picture a restful week of holiday or a long weekend away.

But some people are opting for something more ambitious.

Dubbed mini sabbaticals, adult gap years or gap months, these extended breaks range from quitting a job to taking leave to just working remotely from somewhere different.

Although it’s not an entirely new concept, the pandemic's upheaval of work life has prompted a distinct rise in people questioning whether they really wanted to work the way they used to.

Why are workers taking mini-sabbaticals?

Barry Kluczyk, a public relations professional who lives in suburban Detroit, had long wanted to spend more time in Seattle.

But it wasn’t until COVID pushed him to fully remote work that he felt able to spend a month there, along with his wife and daughter.

“I wish we could have done it sooner,” he said.

The Kluczyks liked it so much that they went the opposite direction in 2022 for another mini-sabbatical to Portland, Maine.

More companies are offering breaks as a low-cost way to address employee exhaustion, says Kira Schrabram, assistant professor of management and organisation at the University of Washington.

She is among the leaders of the Sabbatical Project, which aims to create “a more humane relationship with work” by encouraging extended leaves.

“Companies are starting to realise burnout is an issue,” she says.

American attitudes toward taking time off are very different from European ones, which tend to put more value on vacation time and rest, says Schrabram, who is German.

Changing preconceptions around extended travel

Roshida Dowe took advantage of the time she suddenly had when she got laid off. She wanted a break before looking for her next position and was struck by how many people asked how she could take time away to travel.

So she decided to try her hand as a career-break coach.

Dowe partnered with Stephanie Perry - a specialist in helping black women take career breaks or move abroad - to launch ExodUS Summit, a virtual conference and community for black women “interested in developing your Location Freedom, Financial Freedom and/or Time Freedom plan.”

“When I coach women who are looking to take a sabbatical, the main thing they’re looking for is permission,” says Dowe, who moved to Mexico City as part of her reinvention.
“When I coach women who are looking to take a sabbatical, the main thing they’re looking for is permission,” says Dowe, who moved to Mexico City as part of her reinvention.Gabrielle Henderson

They bring in experts to talk about practical issues surrounding extended travel, like finances, safety and health care, and more philosophical topics like the value of rest and breaking free of intergenerational trauma.

“When I coach women who are looking to take a sabbatical, the main thing they’re looking for is permission,” says Dowe, who moved to Mexico City as part of her reinvention.

She says it’s powerful to showcase women taking extended travel because “A lot of us aren’t open to possibilities we haven’t been shown before.”

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Perry experienced that herself when she took a vacation to Brazil in 2014 and met people staying in her hostel who were travelling for months, not days.

“I thought for sure people who travelled long term were all trust fund babies,” Perry says. She researched budget travel and found people making it work on $40 (€37) a day.

How to take an adult gap year on a budget

Cost is a common obstacle for people considering a break but there are creative ways around that, Perry says.

“Housesitting is the reason I can work very little and travel a lot,” she says. She teaches an online class for travellers interested in getting started as a housesitter.

Alternatively, websites like HomeExchange, Homelink and Holiday Swap connect travellers who would like to trade homes.

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Ashley Graham took a break from her work at a non-profit in Washington, D.C., and planned a road trip through the South. She visited friends along the way who could give her a free place to stay.

“It was a great way to connect with my past life,” says Graham, who subsequently relocated to New Orleans after loving the city during her sabbatical tour.

When the mini-sabbatical becomes a way of life

Eric Rewitzer and Annie Galvin put two employees in charge of their San Francisco art gallery to spend the summer in France and Ireland.

“It was terrifying,” says Rewitzer, who describes himself as having been a workaholic and control freak. “It was a huge exercise in trust.”

When they returned to San Francisco, Rewitzer saw his hometown differently. He felt his life had been out of balance, too much work and too little time in nature.

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That shift in perspective led the couple to buy what they thought would be a weekend home in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

It turned into their full-time home when they shut down their gallery during the pandemic. Now they’re considering getting a studio space in San Francisco again.

“It all comes back to that same place of being willing to take chances,” Rewitzer says.

For Gregory Du Bois, one break from college to work as a ski bum in Vail, Colorado, set him on a path of taking mini sabbaticals throughout his corporate IT career.

Each time he took a new job, he negotiated for extended time off, explaining to his managers that to perform at his best, he needed breaks to recharge.

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“It’s such a way of life that I almost don’t think of it as sabbaticals,” says Du Bois, now retired from tech and working as a life coach based in Sedona, Arizona. “For me, it’s a spiritual regeneration.”

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