Twelve months. Twelve unforgettable experiences.
Some call them gap years for grown-ups. Others say they're a break from the norm for burned-out executives. However you see them, sabbaticals are a growing travel trend. But they're far from being about dorm rooms, backpacks and complicated itineraries. Today's 'super sabbaticals' are more likely to feature boutique hotels as gateways to unique experiences, booked through travel companies who can arrange everything from visas to speedboat transfers.
With city breaks, beach escapes, wildlife encounters and cultural experiences all rolled into one, here's what makes the USA spot on for 12 months out.
1. Grape expectations in Napa Valley
Swap that Friday night Cabernet for a voyage into wine country. California's Napa Valley is renowned for vineyards, wine caves and tasting experiences. For total immersion in complete luxury, board the Napa Valley Wine Train's vintage Pullman carriages for a six-hour journey into sublime landscapes, stopping at the finest wineries.
2. The bear necessities
The USA is one of the few places in the world you can see bears in their natural habitats. Yellowstone and the Great Smoky Mountains National Parks are black and grizzly bear hubs – and witnessing Alaska's Kodiak bears leap from the river to catch a salmon supper is mesmerising. If you find yourself in Wyoming, make your way to Grand Teton National Park and the plains where bison and black bears roam.
3. Glide the Glades
Paddle your own canoe across the Everglades for a true back-to-nature experience. Staying close to the surface of these wild waterways gives you the best chance of seeing turtles, river otters, alligators and Florida's gentle manatees – or 'sea cows'. On land, if you're lucky, you might spy armadillos, flying squirrels and even the elusive panther. Take a guide with you through the mangrove forests and sawgrass banks for an Attenborough-esque journey across this unique eco-system.
4. A day at the races
Spend spring in Kentucky and you'll catch the Derby. Always held on the first Saturday in May, 20 horses line up for what's been dubbed the "most exciting two minutes in sport". And the stakes are high – the winning horse nets $2million. If speedway spectacles are more your thing, shift things up a gear with the Indy 500. 200 laps, 500 miles and a festival atmosphere – it's a cult classic. Join the roaring crowds and toast the winner with the traditional bottle... of milk.
5. Keep your eye on the ball(game)
For mixing down-time with adrenaline-spiking sports, there's nowhere like America. This is a country that loves a ball game – and watching slam dunks and home runs from the side lines is a rite of passage. Or switch balls for boards and discover the birthplace of surfing (Hawaii) and snowboarding that was made popular in Stratton, Vermont in the 70s by founding father Jake Burton.
6. 'Lightbulb moments' in Florida
Florida has produced more than its fair share of bright sparks, and you can pay homage to them across the state. See the brains behind ground-breaking inventions at the landmark Edison Botanic Research Laboratory. It's part of the Edison and Ford Winter Estates that includes the holiday home (turned museum) of motoring luminary Henry Ford. And that's all before you've even seen the Space Center...
7. To infinity, and beyond...
Take one giant leap into NASA's Kennedy Space Center for an interstellar journey into galaxies near and far. Time it right and you could even watch a rocket launch. Across the inspiring and interactive 'Mission Zones' you can visit the space shuttle Atlantis, take a guided walk through the 'Rocket Garden' and experience the force of a space launch for yourself.
8. New York, New York
There's New York – Broadway, world-famous sights, skyscrapers, neon, cheesecake and ear-splittingly loud delis. Then there's New York. Strike out from the Big Apple to get to the core of this alluring state, from artsy Hudson River Valley to the charisma of the Hamptons. Where else can you be in the beating heart of a buzzing city in the morning and on the ski slopes (see, Lake Placid) by the afternoon?
9. Dive into the Deep South
There's something spellbinding about New Orleans. This is a city that wears its heart on its sleeve, where Creole cuisine is served with soul and silhouettes of saxophone buskers are on almost every corner. It's also the place to experience jazz – blues, bebop, boogie-woogie and everything in between – at its most magical.
10. Life's a beach
Swap days in the office for weeks on the beach. The US has a staggering array of bays, from the sugary sands of Hawaii to the golden dunes of Maine; the spirit of Miami's South Beach to carefree and calm South Carolina. If you're in San Diego, cross the water to Coronado Island for old-world charm and California dreaming. It's a picture-perfect stretch for taking photos that'll make your colleagues jealous back in the office.
11. Experience Gatsby-era glamour
Miami's art deco architecture must be seen to be beloved. Beautifully preserved and restored buildings dominate the skyline, with curved edges, porthole windows and a powder blue palette lending the streets an ageless feel. Embark on a self-guided walking tour and you'll stumble across the backdrops to many motion pictures.
12. Hit the road
Covering vast distances and epic scenery, with filmset good looks and grand canyons, the USA is made for sabbaticals. And with a whole year to play with, it's ideal for road trips. If you've hired an SUV, head straight for the hills and into Arizona, where Monument Valley and Chiricahua National Monument fulfil all those wild west dreams. It would be rude to come here and not see the Grand Canyon. And if you need to stretch your legs after hours behind the wheel, lace up your hiking boots and head into the rust-red rocks and lunar landscape of Sedona.