Mini-retirements grow in popularity

Instead of waiting until traditional retirement age, some workers are taking mini-retirements to recharge and pursue interests.

By MSN Money producer Aug 20, 2014 1:44PM

Woman holding a suitcase at the beach (© Gary S Chapman/Getty Images)By Susan Johnston, U.S. News & World Report


Ten years ago, when Tim Justice, then in his mid-40s, suggested to his wife Doreen Orion that they leave their jobs as psychiatrists and travel the country in an RV, she wasn't thrilled. "Why can't you be like a normal husband in a midlife crisis and have an affair or buy a Corvette?" she asked.


But the idea grew on her, and Orion eventually published a memoir called "Queen of the Road: The True Tale of 47 States, 22,000 Miles, 200 Shoes, 2 Cats, 1 Poodle, a Husband, and a Bus with a Will of Its Own" about the experience. They've since taken several shorter mini-retirements and sold their house so they can live in their RV full time. 


"What finally convinced me," she says, "was that we had both seen so many people in our practices who put off doing things they love or spending more time with their spouses until they retired. But then something terrible happened -- the spouse died or one of them became ill. I decided that I wanted to have this experience with the person I love now and not wait."


Instead of waiting until their golden years to retire, some Americans are now embracing the concept of mini-retirements: periods of work alternated with shorter periods of reflection, travel or activities otherwise curtailed by full-time work.


Tara Russell, a life sabbatical and long-term travel coach based in San Francisco, says the concept goes by different names in different circles: gap years for young people; mini-retirements for those inching toward traditional retirement age; sabbaticals for academics and professionals. It's gaining more awareness as people share their experiences through blogs and social media, she adds. A 2009 TED talk by Stefan Sagmeister, for instance, explores how the graphic designer closes his New York studio for a full year every seven years and how this helps fuel his creativity.


"I think people are starting to ask the question about traditional retirement," Russell says. "You front-load all of your work experience and make it to 65 and hopefully you get time off."


Russell advises clients on how to prepare logistically and financially for these career breaks. Travelers sometimes joke that you should "pack half as much stuff and twice as much money" for a trip -- advice Russell says could also apply to mini-retirements. "It's always better to get to the end of your experience and have extra money for your re-entry or your nest egg," she says, adding that the exact amount of money you need varies depending on whether you plan to travel or stay planted in one location, what activities you plan to do and whether you have a job waiting for you at the other end.


Some of Russell's clients negotiate sabbaticals through their employer, while others make a clean break, using the time for self-reflection to determine a new career path. Many choose to start a business or become freelancers or consultants. Regardless, Russell says it's important to exit gracefully and update your résumé before you leave in case you stumble on a great new opportunity during your mini-retirement.


"You can network while you're on the road and look for ways to enhance your professional experience while you're traveling," she says. "Are there volunteer experiences or possibly work experiences that will enhance your résumé?" Also think about how you'll discuss the experience with prospective employers or clients. Russell points to one of her clients who alerted her network about a month before her mini-retirement ended and began fielding job phone calls almost as soon as she stepped off the plane.


Amad Ebrahimi, now 34 of Orange, California, began pondering mini-retirements in his early 20s. "I've never really had the energy levels to endure long work hours for months or years at a time, so I needed an alternative," he says. Ebrahimi started an online review comparison website,, in 2009, with the goal of eventually taking mini-retirements. It took several years for him to ramp up the business, but he managed to unplug for a few months in Europe earlier this year, fielding few emails from his team stateside. While he enjoyed the time off, Ebrahimi always knew he'd return to his business.


"Whenever I take a break from my business, I eventually get the itch to come back to it, and there's no better feeling than returning to work with that new sense of motivation," he says.


To make their own mini-retirements possible, Orion and Justice transitioned their professional work from patients to more administrative work. Orion says doing insurance reviews "is much easier to plug in and out of."


Based on her psychology background and personal experience, Orion recommends test-driving mini-retirement activities before you commit to them full time. "It can be very daunting to change a lifestyle, especially when that involves work, which so many of us define ourselves by," she says. "If possible, start doing some of the things you anticipate doing in the mini-retirement before it starts. See how you like them, and if they are things you now want to do more of. If there are aspects of your current life that you'll miss and don't necessarily want a break from, think of ways to maintain connections with those people or things."


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Aug 20, 2014 6:35PM
the ones I know that take mini retirement call it unemployed
Aug 20, 2014 5:55PM
The idea is wonderful. But beware...I found out the hard way that a woman over 50 can forget about finding a job, especially one like the one she will be leaving for that mini-retirement. Unless you are guaranteed your job back after your adventure, I would not recommend it.
Aug 20, 2014 6:09PM
When I was much younger, I had a friend that worked the Alaskan pipeline.  He'd make 6 months wages in a couple of months and take 4 off to play and then go back.  The problem with this article is that it implies that folks have that much money lying around that they can "take a break". 
Aug 20, 2014 5:48PM
it's not wise for most people to leave a career at 45 or so because when you want to come back and work no one's going to hire you.
Aug 20, 2014 6:32PM
Easier to do when you both earn 6 figures as psychiatrists.  Unfortunately at the rate I'm going, I have to work for 40 years straight to even have a shot at retirement.
Aug 20, 2014 7:33PM
Aug 20, 2014 7:14PM

Susan Johnson is a great spin-doctor.

Millions of people unemployed due to a bad economy and down-sizing?

Unemployed because your job was sent to China or India?

 No problem!

Just call several years of unemployment a Mini-retirement!!!!!

Lets just spin a problem in to a feature!

Whats next Susan? will you write an article spinning the high cost of

food into an opportunity and incentive to diet?

Aug 20, 2014 5:32PM
While these guys are taking mini retirements and going back to work I will be on full time retirement mode. I like the young guy who cant work a year at a time. What a joke

I think that realistically the only ones who can pull this off are those who are independent contractors.  Do this a few times to a regular employer, and you can forget finding another job when you get back.  They don't want to invest the time into you when you are going to leave them in a lurch because you want a sabbatical.


Plus if you are over 50 you'd better hang on to your job, if you have a decent one.


I do however have a coworker whose younger sister and her husband lived this lifestyle for a decade or more.  They'd live like paupers and work for a year or two, then leave their jobs (or not renew their contracts) and use their savings to  travel the world.  Of course they had no mortgage or kids to be worried about.  Their lifestyles changed once they had a kid.  I did kind of envy their boldness in following their dreams and having all those adventures.  I'll have to wait until age 60 to do that, and won't be in top physical shape like they were.

Aug 20, 2014 6:50PM
Can't help noticing that the persons used as examples in this article are either self-employed or work in a consulting capacity. The reason being, that if your work history is full of gaps — and especially if you take one of these sabbaticals past a certain age — you can forget about getting hired in a new job.
Aug 20, 2014 7:41PM
Some of us just work until we die.  Vacations... what are they other than time spent waiting for repair men?
Aug 20, 2014 11:21PM
My parents said they would wait until they retired to travel, they both became sick and could not.
My sister decided her and her husband would travel and did  but she died at 62.
My husband and I decided to travel and do a lot of mini trips.  We did and I am glad we did.
He died 9 months ago today of a massive heart attack.  He was 53.
Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today.  
Enjoy life and your family each and everyday.
Aug 20, 2014 8:22PM
I'm doing this.  Of course, I had to take a lower paying position, but it's worth it.  

I took a temp position in customer service.   These assignments typically take a few months, then you're off to do whatever.  I supplement with retirement money, but my husband passed in his 50s, mom in her 60s-- sick for over ten years.  I want to enjoy life now.
Aug 20, 2014 6:24PM
I love this idea and have been contemplating it for a while.  I want to go out and see things now, while I have the desire and the energy.  Selling your life hours to some big corporation should not be someone's goal in life, but the means through which you can reach those life goals.  Live a little!
Aug 20, 2014 5:52PM
Sounds like a growth in the "want it now" culture of our nation.
Aug 20, 2014 7:15PM

I've always admired people who did just this I would not be able to do this myself but one thing for sure we don't know what's going to happened once we retire will it be good or bad?


Champagne wishes and caviar dreams!!

Aug 20, 2014 7:42PM
What a great idea! It seems like this is something to plan for when younger to have the right type of job  and to save to do this. It would be nice to have some retirement time earlier in life, like was said, in case life doesn't work out like you hope.
Aug 20, 2014 6:10PM
What a great ideal. The point of this article is to take a chance, spend quality time with each other and explore new things and adventures, together, while we can. We all chose to spend our income on various things. I agree it can be uneasy for a lot of middle class Americans to just leave a job and go travel. My gut feeling is that a lot of us listen to much to bean counters and financial advisers and to others whom say it is a crazy ideal, but what is really crazy; working until your in 60's and failing health, or taking time to spend a summer with people you love? BTW my spouse and I worked hard for 25 years, saved, left jobs, decent middle class jobs early, 7 years ago, @ 47yrs. old and have traveled the country every summer since, 5 to 6 weeks, with our teens. We found flexible work as apartment managers, that allow this. 
Aug 20, 2014 8:08PM
Mini retirements are definitely fun if you have the income. Life is a barrel of fun and if you don't like the place - drivers start your engines. Nothing like being young and dropping out of the rat race. Boats & fishing and fishing & boats. Corporate America likes you when you go back - fresh & ready - and stories to tell. Drudgery can be a drag and shorten lives. Life is short enough and finding fun is fun.
Aug 20, 2014 6:32PM
don't count on getting that job, or any job back. if you want to retire early, start planning your own business early, and if you can make it pay, then maybe the early retirement.
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