Planning family sabbaticals, a high-dollar niche: Travel Weekly

Planning family sabbaticals, a high-dollar niche: Travel Weekly

Prioritizing speed and space

“It’s complicated,” said George Morgan-Grenville, founder and CEO of Red Savannah, a luxury tour operator and villa- and yacht-rental specialist that began helping advisors plan sabbatical travel about six years ago. “It’s not like organizing a holiday at all. The biggest challenge we have is getting people to understand they need to go half the distance and take double the time.”

Morgan-Grenville focuses on the planning process.

“You can do two weeks traveling Egypt and Jordan or Thailand, and you can spend a couple nights here and three nights there and have an amazing experience,” he said. “But you can’t do that for six months. So speed and pace is an important component.”

Of course, speed and pace vary by family. So the up-front planning process is key, and it can take as long — or even longer — than the actual sabbatical.

White, who has put together a dozen around-the-world itineraries for clients over the past six years, said, “It can take anywhere from three months to 12 months of planning.”

She called the work “a big puzzle,” adding, “It’s putting together the places they want to go,” and there are a number of questions to be answered: “What’s their definition of success? What’s their vision for time? What’s their idea of pace? What areas in the world are most important to them? Sometimes there is a family background or an area of the world they have studied, a language they want to work on. Then it’s putting all the pieces together based on time of year and efficiency of travel.”

Red Savannah travel-planning specialist Melissa Matthews said the process starts with calls to find out as much as possible about the family, including ages and everyone’s likes and dislikes.

“Then we go away and work as a team and put together an outline for an itinerary,” Matthews said. “It’s still very much a skeleton at this point.”

After that, she said, comes the real planning, with calls and consultations and the swapping of proposed itineraries.

Simon Greer, who took a four-month sabbatical to Asia with his wife and two kids last year, said his advisor at Valerie Wilson Travel referred him to Gerald Hatherly, head of Abercrombie & Kent’s Hong Kong office, who spent an hour a week for six months on the phone with Greer to plan the trip.

Greer said they chose an ambitious pace, booking 27 cities in 128 days, something he couldn’t imagine doing on his own.

“All the internal planes and trains, I wouldn’t have known how to book all of those,” Greer said. “And he found us more local hotels. Maybe the most important thing was having someone to call if we needed. We didn’t have any problems, but there were protests in Hong Kong on our way. It was nice to be able to call and say, ‘How disruptive is this? Should we still go?’ And we got tired in China, so we called to change up the itinerary. With young kids, I don’t know how we would have done it without the support.”

White said that when her family traveled in 2011, they also chose a relatively fast pace.

“We were in each country on average 10 days. But even at that pace, we tried to plan rests along the way where we could have some down time, catch up on schooling, do laundry,” she said. “But I’ve planned everything. … I have one family on the road right now that has purposely chosen a number of cities for three to four weeks at a time, with shorter travel in between, because that was right for their family.”

Another family, she said, did six months in Paris on a language immersion, then six months of travel.

White said that part of her job is encouraging clients “to take things out.”

“A family can’t go from 8 to 5 every day for 180 days,” she said. “You just can’t. It’s trying to balance the family experiences with the travel experiences.”

Indeed, making sure there is plenty of time for “serendipity” is key, said Red Savannah’s Matthews.

Having the support of good on-the-ground regional partners, such as her preferred Asia partner, Remote Lands, is also crucial, White said. 

“Remote Lands has planned many trips for me,” she said. “Those guys are able to make changes on the fly. Things change. Things go wrong. Someone’s sick. Someone wants to sleep in. A good partner’s ability to make those game time decisions helps immensely on the trip.”

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