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In our fast-paced world, trends in travel seem to change almost as quickly as those in fashion and technology. So we checked in with a few experts on the vacation vanguard to find out what’s new and what’s next when it comes to our travel tastes. 

About a year ago, Chicago education reformer Sheryl Curcio found herself on safari in the middle of South Africa’s Phinda Private Game Reserve, looking on with her husband and two teenage sons as a pair of female lions frolicked with four toddler cubs. “We sat for hours watching,” she recalls. “The mother and her sister kind of protected and played with the young ones. It was spectacular, watching these little cubs nipping at each other’s tails, climbing all over the adults’ faces — basically, just being kids.” 

Eventually, though, they realized this was only part of the show: The cubs’ dad was just off in the distance, the Curcios learned from their guides, but the females wouldn’t let him get within 30 yards of them. As the safari vehicle began to back away, however, the male approached the group, only to climb a nearby tree when the lionesses chased him away. “One guide said, ‘I’ve never seen this — a fully grown male lion scaling a tree!’ ” Curcio’s voice is still filled with wonder as she tells the story. “And then he got stuck there. You saw fear on his face. He’s like, ‘How am I going to get myself out of here?’ It was one of those moments where you think: Does it get any better than this?”

That’s something many of us have wondered while on vacation. But in Curcio’s case, this wasn’t the highlight of a typical 10-day or two-week trip. Instead, it was just one of many such revelatory moments she and her family experienced while spending nearly eight months on the road, flying more than 65,000 miles and stopping in some 23 different countries along the way.

The Curcios aren’t alone. More and more travelers are finding ways to take just this sort of family sabbatical-style trip. (In this case, the journey coincided with the retirement of Curcio’s husband, Dominic, and their elder son’s gap year between high school and college; their younger son kept up with his classes via Skype and parent-led tutoring.) Crisscrossing continents and communing with countless cultures, these intrepid families get to spend some serious quality time together, journeying further and connecting more deeply — not just with the places they visit, but with each other too.

“The family sabbatical is the first thing that comes to mind when it comes to trends I’m seeing right now,” says Melissa Biggs Bradley, whose New York City-based bespoke luxury-travel company, Indagare, helped plan the Curcios’ adventure. Bradley reports that Indagare is seeing an ever-greater number of families taking extended trips like this, ranging in length from four months to a year. They plan them, she says, with global education and intense family bonding as their main purpose, frequently including philanthropic activities as well, and they keep in touch with folks back home through blogs and online photo diaries.