You may have heard of the term “wellness sabbatical” but are not quite sure what the fuss is about. Believe me, the concept is groundbreaking!

What is a wellness sabbatical?

Think three weeks (or longer) of focusing on your health and wellness—enough time to make lasting lifestyle changes. But (wait for it!), there is one significant differentiator from the usual wellness offerings: You will take along your smartphone or laptop to stay connected with your work—in fact, devices will be welcomed!

Unwind but don’t unplug

At times, people who have taken (or used) their devices on vacation have been shamed, but for many, disconnecting is just not possible—and it would contribute to their already high stress levels. The advice to disconnect from technology has long been trumpeted by doctors, parents and well-meaning people in the wellness space, but the reality is that for many this is no longer viable.

The term “sabbatical” can be traced back to the biblical term for a day of rest—the Sabbath. In years past, it was often teachers and academics who took a year off to spend time researching, writing or traveling. More recently, the term has been used to describe any time away from the traditional work environment that is used to recharge and to pursue personal passions.

The term “sabbatical” works well with “wellness”—it communicates enough seriousness to describe the time away from the daily work environment as meaningful and yet includes a sense of freedom and self-directedness. If sabbaticals are time away to focus on a project, then this time the project is an immersion into our own personal health and wellbeing.

Wherever you go, there you are

The ability to work from home and the emergence of digital office rental services such as WeWork are changing how we think about work, travel and wellness.

The travel world has already taken note and is offering up some unique options where co-working meets co-living: Roam, Outsite, Behere, The Remote Experience, Unsettled, The Nomad House and CoWoLi are examples. Gather, a new venture launching from Tel Aviv, is a monthlong program for those who want to work remotely in Israel while experiencing the communal Kibbutz lifestyle.

The most successful wellness sabbaticals will be those where the work and wellness programming is flexible but specific to each person’s unique needs. The design of the programs will be according to the best evidence-based science. Ideally, these programs will be conducted in beautiful natural settings. Movement and exercise options will abound. Healthy food will be the only option on the menu, and stress-reducing treatments, meditation and healthy sleep will be high on the priority list.

Balance, not retreat

Most importantly, attention will be given to finding the ideal personal balance of work and wellness pursuits. Conventional wisdom points to a minimum of 21 days to make lasting lifestyle changes—exactly what we see as ideal for a wellness sabbatical. Guests need to experience and to internalize how it feels to attain the level of clear thinking and creativity that is present when one is relaxed. This can then be sustained beyond the three-week program.

The positive news is that CEOs of workplaces are becoming more cognizant of their workers’ health and wellness. Many companies are starting their own programs—or bringing in the professionals— and others are committing to becoming a company with a wellbeing culture. The wellness sabbatical will become another tool in the company toolkit. It has been reported that 25 percent of Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work, For now offer sabbaticals to their employees. Employers need to look after their employees who make them big bucks!

Self-care that’s affordable

We are seeing increased offerings for affordable wellness getaways, often driven by millennials, the digital nomads. We expect some smart wellness destinations to use their off-seasons to make wellness sabbaticals truly cost-effective—not everyone can afford three weeks or longer in a luxury wellness resort.

We even envision the possibility of people creating their own wellness sabbaticals—in places where they can stay for six months to a year. And with some expert coaching and smart planning, staying at home on a wellness sabbatical is also a possibility.


Susie Ellis is chairman and CEO of the Global Wellness Institute (GWI), and heads up the organization’s annual Global Wellness Summit and Global Wellness Tourism Congress. She also spearheaded the GWI initiative,, the first online portal that provides easy access to the universe of medical evidence that exists for the most common wellness approaches. Susie is also president of Spafinder Wellness, Inc.® and a member of the International Advisory Board of the Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne; a member of the Spa Advisory Board for the University of California, Irvine, Spa and Hospitality Management Program; and on the Aspen Brain Forum Board of Advisors.

Twitter – @susieellis
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