Adriana Barton is in the middle of a yearlong sabbatical from her job as a Vancouver-based reporter for Canada’s national newspaper, the Globe and Mail. She and her husband, Scott Sinclair, as well as their 11-year-old son, have made a small French city, Aix-en-Provence, their home base. They hope to spend a minimum of 12 weeks traveling elsewhere in the world, too.

“I was initially unwilling to get on board with the family ‘gap year’ plan because I did not want to jeopardize my job, that we love,” says Barton, 48. But her husband, founder and CEO of the energy-efficiency engineering company, eventually won her over. “He'd traveled extensively for two years earlier in adulthood and felt very strongly it would enrich our family life. He wanted to focus on spending concentrated time with me and our son while he was still young.”

The Globe and Mail rarely offers sabbaticals, so Barton proposed combining a book leave, which the company does offer, with a family gap year. She’s earning no salary and has elected to jettison her benefits package rather than pay for it out of pocket. So far, she's zero regrets about stepping away.

In 2021, 17 percent of American companies offered sabbaticals (12 % unpaid; 5 percent paid). Unlike “jobbaticals” along with other work-while-away trends, a sabbatical offers the chance to completely disconnect from a job in order to rest and explore or accomplish personal and career goals. Because it often involves travel, learning, and volunteering, it takes some planning.

“The most valuable sabbaticals are the type in which you immerse yourself in something different,” says Clive Prout, a Seattle-based executive coach.

With today’s low unemployment rate, these getaways are a beautiful addition to company benefit packages. People working at companies that don’t offer sabbaticals sometimes quit their jobs, take a moment away, and return to work for a new employer. When employees return from sabbaticals, they’re refreshed and energized — and often display a renewed commitment to their work.

Family Bonding + Road Trip

A store manager for outdoor retailer REI in Madison, Wis., Wendy Crabb, 51, recalls her excitement when she’d hear stories from coworkers returning from monthlong sabbaticals. “Almost every employee I had would come back saying, ‘I rode my bike across the country!’ or ‘I traveled across South America!’”

Those stories aren’t surprising in a company that encourages outdoor adventure and values work–life balance. REI offers all employees — part-time and full-time — four weeks of paid sabbatical in addition to their vacation time after 15 years with the company. After that, workers get a four-week sabbatical every five years.

Crabb’s initial sabbatical coincided with the birth of her first child, so she tried on the extender to extend her maternity leave. Her second sabbatical included a road trip with her husband and two young children.

The family spent the very first week with the kids’ grandparents in Eugene, Ore., before starting an epic three-week road trip around the Great Lakes. They stayed in state, national, and provincial parks, visited with Crabb’s grandmother in Vermont, and associated with family friends at a cabin on Lake Huron. “The strength of a sabbatical with your family is memories,” says Crabb. “We wanted our youngsters to know their family members, especially their grandparents.”

During her 22 years at REI, she says, her time away “gave other employees an opportunity to step up and for the team to grow.” Because the Madison store was in the middle of a remodel during Crabb’s second sabbatical, executives deployed managers using their company stores to cover for her while she was away. “The company had a commitment to me, and I felt really, really good about committing to them.”

Crabb’s Sabbatical Advice: “If you can, include being outside or perhaps in nature as part of a sabbatical. Smelling pine needles, smelling dirt — those things have benefits you don’t even know you’re getting, but you are.”

Following a Passion + Exploring Heritage

During the eight years Sandy Lurins, 61, worked within the customer-experience department for Autodesk, a San Rafael, Calif., software company, she made the most of her sabbaticals.

“During the first sabbatical, I started a newspaper about dogs,” she recalls. The chance to create a publication that melded her passion for animals with her advocacy for pet shelters, rescue, and adoption was so meaningful that she didn’t take a day off. “It was so invigorating for me. It was about my dreams and my visions. I worked harder on my sabbatical than most people do in their full-time job!”

Downtime is essential for people working 50 to 60 hours a week in the demanding world of hi-tech. So Lurins appreciated that her employer offered a six-week paid sabbatical every four years that employees could match vacation time. “That sabbatical — that was the golden sun coming,” she says. “It was time to unplug.”

When she earned her second sabbatical 4 years later, Lurins decided to travel. She spent a week in Kauai, Hawaii, having a friend before traveling to Europe with another companion. She visited her mother’s hometown in Latvia and done a family-heritage project. From there, she went to Stockholm and Amsterdam.

Lurins is glad she spent those six weeks doing what was most important to her. “It seems like the older I get, the greater I appreciate time.”

Lurins’s Sabbatical Advice: “Allow it to be about your dreams and what you would like. Give yourself the gift of time, and make a move that will rejuvenate and keep you going.”

A Solo Pilgrimage + Time With Teenagers

Jennifer Schuster Jaeger, 52, includes a demanding job as deputy director of administration in a county corrections office in Minnesota. When her kids were about to become teenagers — and her role being a parent was about to change — she knew she needed time for you to establish even stronger relationships with them.

“The idea of a sabbatical appeared full blown in the course of an hourlong conversation with my spiritual director,” says Schuster Jaeger. “It was obvious that’s what I needed to do.”

So she began negotiating together with her employer — in a field not known for offering sabbaticals — and made her desires clear. “If I didn’t get the sabbatical, I was likely to quit,” she recalls. The result: nine months off, unpaid.

Schuster Jaeger traveled to Spain and spent four weeks walking the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. She was on her own for the first three weeks, appreciating the rare period of solitude, before a friend joined her for the final week. Her husband watched the kids while she was away. “I had been free to be present,” she says.

During her children’s summer break, they enjoyed a bike trip and some time in Holland, where they explored their loved ones history.

“I thought I would be bored,” Schuster Jaeger says. “However it was a lot easier to get used to than I’d thought it might be. Maybe because

I started by slowing down so much on my walk.”

And she loved time she spent with her children, now teenagers. “Personally i think like I strengthened and established my relationship with my children. They know me and I know them.”

Schuster Jaeger’s Sabbatical Advice: “Think about what’s possible. Don’t assume you can’t do something.”

A Couple’s Yearlong Sabbatical

At 27, Walter Guillioli thought he’d found his dream job: an advertising and marketing position at Microsoft. But he eventually felt bored and unchallenged. “I had achieved what I wanted, however i didn’t feel fulfilled,” says Guillioli, now 40.

Based in Redmond, Wash., he and the wife, Alejandra Lucero, 39, a consultant in social-media analytics, decided they wanted to take a sabbatical. Guillioli knew he would need a minimum of six months to a year to get it done well. Microsoft offers leave of absences for employees, but Guillioli wanted more time than 3 to three months. So he quit his job, as did Lucero. For, this move seemed enormously risky.

“We originate from very conservative families,” says Lucero. “My mother worked at the same company for 45 years; my aunt for 50 years. Just to think of quitting and not working for a year was crazy. But Walter and that i wanted to do something different with our lives. We wanted to take a rest and see what other things life had that people could enjoy.”

They spent the first several months taking short trips. They particularly enjoyed exploring the Canadian Rockies with their dogs in a rented motor home.

About halfway through the year, concerned that he hadn’t done much more than rest, Guillioli contacted executive coach Clive Prout for sabbatical coaching. During their work together, he started meditating and identifying his values. Also, he took a hard look at his career, discovered his “geeky side,” and began studying coding, data analysis, and statistics. “I realized I was in the wrong discipline,” he recalls.

Despite concerns that his former employer would view him as irresponsible for having taken a year off work, Guillioli eventually returned to Microsoft in marketing and today works as a data scientist. Lucero could reclaim her old job.

Looking back, both Lucero and Guillioli — who are now raising a 2-year-old son — say their year off was life-changing.

“Society informs us every time that we need to acquire material stuff to be successful and happy,” says Lucero. “Once you get away from all that and start enjoying small, simple moments, you understand you don’t need everything stuff. As long as you have the members of your family you love and you spend time doing the things you like doing, you don’t require more.”

What was most life-changing for Guillioli, a Guatemala native, was the month he spent volunteering in an animal shelter in his home country. “I had been picking up poop from homeless dogs, and I never felt I had done something as useful,” he says. That experience inspired him to start a nonprofit, People Saving Animals, that raises money through social networking for animal shelters in Guatemala.

“I’m most proud of getting the courage to do a sabbatical,” Guillioli says. “It gave me more confidence. Honestly, it’s among the best things I have done with my life.”

Guillioli’s Sabbatical Advice: “As long as you have the financial means, don’t be afraid and go do it. If anything, you’re going to come back a far more mature person.”

Lucero’s Sabbatical Advice: “Think about all the activities you are interested in and make a list. Open your mind for new adventures, for meeting people, for experiencing life to the fullest.”

How to Take a Sabbatical

  • “Get absolutely clear on your judgments about productivity,” suggests Jungian analyst Katherine Olivetti, MSSW, noting that doing less can actually lead to doing more. “It's often hard for people to slow down and stop working,” she says, but her very own experience suggests that it may be key to sustaining a productive career.
    Every summer for several years, Olivetti has taken six weeks off for deep rest and rejuvenation. As a result, she's never felt burned on the job. “Being physical and spending some time in nature helps.”
  • “In general, slower is preferable to faster,” says Tsh Oxenreider, author of At Home in the World: Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the Globe. “Unless you know that being on the go all the time is restful for you, go fewer places and obtain to know them more slowly and deeply.”
  • “Go to a different country and seek transformative experiences,” says executive coach Clive Prout. “Immersing in another culture is one of the most powerful things we can do for the own development.”
  • “Balance making a plan with keeping things open-ended,” says Oxenreider, who suggests planning only the first three months of a yearlong adventure. This can encourage more spontaneity. Also, practice using public transportation so you will feel comfortable using it where you go.
  • “Reverse engineer it,” Oxenreider advises. Say your oldest child is a few years from graduating and also you want meaningful time together. “Plan activities that cultivate conversations as opposed to epic adventures,” she suggests. “Or do the opposite! Sometimes choosing things that get you out of your comfort zone, that stretch you, provides you with more to talk about.” (For more tips from Oxenreider, read”The Best of All Worlds.”)
  • “Set some goals or outcomes,” says Prout. “The further you get into the exploration of what you want inside your sabbatical, the better you'll make use of your time.”