Freedom and flexibility: why more companies are letting people take time off to travel

Jessica Furseth

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When Lucy took a break from work to go travelling, she got more than she bargained for. During a one-month sabbatical from her job at a public relations company in London, Lucy joined the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race where she got to know Danny, one of the trainers. The month at sea came to a very happy ending for them both: three years later, Lucy and Danny got married.

While meeting your future husband or wife isn’t the goal for everyone who travels solo, your 30s and 40s are certainly prime time for seeking out personal growth through amazing experiences around the world. But for many, this is also when you’re coming into your career peak – so how do you combine the urge to take time for time to travel with the need to stay put and work?

Changing attitudes

Walking into your boss’s office to ask not just for two weeks to take that trip to Latin America, but for the full month you actually want, is daunting. And you know that what you really wish you could ask for is more like two months, to have proper time to explore.

It’s certainly been the norm for companies to say no to this kind of extended travel request, and for many, it still is. When Trish, a 30-something working in publishing in London, asked for three weeks off to spend in Los Angeles, she was told that two weeks was the max she could possibly have, “unless it’s your honeymoon”. Trish shrugged it off – she was being a bit of a chancer by asking, right?

Read more: How to start conversations with strangers abroad

But the policy at Trish’s company is no longer the default stance among forward-looking businesses. Lucy’s employer understood that giving her the opportunity to travel would make her a happier, more productive employee when she came back to work.

“It’s an incredible chance to truly have a break from work and come back fresh and enthused,” says Nick Clark, managing director at London-based PR agency Nelson Bostock Unlimited – the company that let Lucy go travelling that time and where she still works, eight years later.

Freedom and flexibility

Nelson Bostock Unlimited’s sabbatical programme allows staff to take a month off after they’ve worked at the company for five years, either as a single chunk or split into smaller segments. There are no restrictions on how they use their time, but employees often choose to spend it on travel.

One reason why the company started this policy was to reward staff who stayed. This is because for many, the only way to get take some proper time off is to quit, and take that trip before starting the next job.

Read more: The freedom of being single in your 40s

“[Our sabbatical policy] creates loyalty within our team because they feel the company understand their needs,” says Clark. It helps prevents burnout too: “Staff come back refreshed and ready to start work again, with the feeling that they’ve achieved something great with their life and time off.”

In industries where there’s a lot of competition for talent, this non-monetary perk makes them a more competitive employer, says Clark – it means people want to join the company, and once they’re in, staff want to stay.

Businesses are starting to get to grips with the fact that the workforce increasingly values freedom and flexibility; and many value this as much as money.

PwC’s large NextGen study found that unlike their parents, millennials (the oldest of whom are now 38) are not convinced that work is worth sacrificing their personal lives. Nearly 20% of the 44,000 people polled by PwC said they would forego some of their pay, and slow the pace of promotion, if they could work fewer hours.

A talent strategy

Forward-looking companies understand that letting staff take time off to travel is something that will attract the best talent.

Glassdoor recently published a list of nine companies that won’t just allow their staff to take time off to travel the world – they will actually pay them to do so. Glassdoor’s list featured large corporations like Delta Air, Bain & Co, and WeWork, but such an approach is by no means limited to big companies.

Read more: The magic of meeting new people

Health and lifestyle brand Gear Hungry encourages its small team to maintain their independence, funding staff travel on the condition that they take the lessons and inspiration from their trips with them back into the office when they return. Construction and fit-out contractor ISG lets staff take sabbaticals for the purpose of travel, and after a certain period of service, so does advertising agency St Luke’s.

Bamboo toothbrush subscription service BlueRock will also allow staff this perk, although as their entire workforce is actually remote, people also have the choice to continuously travel while working.

According to the PwC study, this is the kind of practice that makes a popular employer: nearly 70% of millennials said they would like to shift their work hours, plus occasionally work from home, and 37% of millennials are interested in working abroad.

Read more: Tackling the mid-30s blues

Taking extended holidays, sabbaticals or entire gap years is no longer considered something people do only if they’re in between jobs, or when they’re not serious about their careers.

Wanting to have better work-life balance is only half the equation.

Companies understand that happy workers make for better workers, and having rewarding life experiences while on the road means people are more fulfilled and creative in their jobs when they come back.

It’s a win-win.

Three trips to make the most of your time off

Climb Rainbow Mountain in Peru

Hike to the multi-coloured peak of Rainbow Mountain in the heart of the Peruvian Andes, take a twilight sail down the Amazon and learn to mix up Pisco Sours in Peru.

Take me there

Hit your bucket list in Borneo

Melinau River

Escape into the heart of the lush Borneo rainforest to hang out with the orangutans and stay at a unique jungle lodge. Plus, river safaris, adventure caving and a luxury finale on a powdery white beach.

Yes please

Smash your South African comfort zone

tablemountain abseling

Abseil down Table Mountain in Cape Town, go swimming with seals, learn how to surf and spot out the big 5 on a mesmerising Eastern Cape safari.

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Images: Shutterstock, Flash Pack, Unsplash

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