Billionaires Taking Months-Long, Multi-Million Dollar Sabbaticals to Get 'Back to Basics'

The super-rich are organizing months-long, multi-million dollar vacations to see "how real people live," a profile in The Guardian of a travel agency for the ultra-wealthy reveals.

Tom Barber, founder of London-based travel agency Original Travel, organizes sabbatical-length vacations for ultra-wealthy clients, often involving multiple destinations around the world. According to Barber, longer vacations, many between a month and a year in length, are increasingly common with his billionaire clientele.

"It's a huge trend," Barber told The Guardian. "The wealthy are looking for an escape. Often they want to get some sense of a back-to-basics lifestyle and learn the skills of our ancestors, like how to hunt and cook their own food."

In this case, back-to-basics includes private jet trips to South Africa to dive with sharks and snow leopard watching in India, complete with a team of spotters and a helicopter so the vacationers can be assured of sighting the threatened species (the population worldwide is an estimated 4,000 to 9,000 cats). "They really wanted to see them, but didn't want to wait there for 10 days and not actually see a snow leopard," Barber said.

The top one percent have held more wealth than the rest of the world combined since 2015 and the disparity is only growing, with just nine billionaires now worth more than half the world's population. In 2017 alone, the wealth held by billionaires increased by more than 20 percent. With more than 700 billionaires over the age of 70, inheritances are expected to further solidify capital among the ultra-rich in the coming years. The question for young billionaires, then, is how to spend it?

In the past six years, Barber's company has organized 80 sabbatical-length trips and the category is becoming even more popular with clients, prompting other high-end travel agencies to launch sabbatical bookings.

"'Sabbaticals are such stuff as dreams are made on' – what Will Shakespeare would have said had he worked a 9-5," the Original Travel sabbatical page reads. "Want to spend six months following the sun around the globe, staying at the finest luxury hotels and becoming a bona fide beach bum? We've got you covered. What about road-tripping through Europe, picking up a new classic car in each country and driving some of the world's most iconic routes?"

Trips can run into the millions and involve teams of agents to arrange every particular, including visas, guides and even running a website on the family's behalf, to inform friends back home.

"They want to use their money to open doors that normal people can't and to tell their friends all about it," Barber said, describing "braggability" as part of the sabbatical appeal.

Particular attention is given to the families of billionaires hoping to bring kids along for a world-hopping adventure. An American agency specializing in multi-month vacations for the rich routinely pair vacationing families with attending teachers, which can add millions to the bottom line.

"They want their children to see some real life, but in a safe and secure way," Barber said, so that his clients can show their children "how real people live."