Who in their right minds would quit well-paying jobs to go vagabonding around the world? Quite a few people, actually, including:

Warren and Betsy Talbot, a 40-something couple from Seattle who describe themselves as former "Type A corporate worker bees" and who are now in the midst of a five-year trip around the world.

Lisa Lubin, an Emmy-winning television producer, who quit at age 34 to travel for what turned out to be three and a half years before returning to Chicago to launch a video consulting business.

Doris Gallan and her husband, Jacob Frank, Los Angeles residents who left corporate jobs in communications and energy, respectively, for a two-year round-the-world trip that stretched into five years. And they're about to head out again, at ages 52 and 57, for a long-term stay in Vietnam.

Sherry Ott, who was 36 when she bailed on an information-technology job with a luxury retailer to travel for 16 months, visiting 23 countries. She returned to New York City for five months -- long enough to sell her furniture, get rid of her apartment and line up a teaching gig overseas. What started as a career break is now her life, as she travels, freelances and runs a website to help others plan their escapes from the corporate world.

Ott didn't discover international travel until she was 30 and got her first passport. Not long after that, the corporate ladder climbing that had once been fun started to chafe. Ott's employer was reluctant to let her take more than a week of vacation at a time, and that wasn't nearly enough for the sort of deep-dive travelling she longed for.

"I had all these things I wanted to do, and I didn't know if I could wait until retirement to do them," Ott told me via Skype from Berlin. She worried that if she waited, she might not have the strength or good health to do things like climb Mount Kilimanjaro.

Taking time off in midcareer isn't new. Universities have long offered sabbaticals to academics, and some companies provide leaves of absence to employees who want to travel, study or pursue other interests.

What's changed in recent years is the growing number of websites and other resources for people who are ready for career breaks but don't have formal, employer-provided paths for taking them.

When Ott started planning her trip in 2005, she found one book, Gap Years for Grown Ups by Susan Griffith and a website called BootsnAll, which specializes in "indie" (independent) travel.

Now a plethora of sites and books offer advice about planning and executing career breaks, including:

  • Meet, Plan, Go, a site founded by Ott and two other career breakers, Michaela Potter and Michael Bontempi.
  • Career Break Secrets, run by Jeff Jung, a former marketing director from Texas who now lives in Bogotá, Colombia.
  • Plan Your Escape, a site and book by Wayne and Pat Dunlap, a former economics professor and entrepreneur, respectively.
  • Baby Boomers Traveling, Gallan's site and book culled from two trips around the world as well as longer stays in Mexico, Costa Rica and China.

The notion of the "gap year" also has been popularized by the success of Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir Eat, Pray, Love," and the movie with Julia Roberts that it inspired.

Of course, the idea of "retiring" now and returning to work later may seem crazy to a lot of people, Ott said. It's not for everyone or even for most people, but those inspired by the idea need all the help they can get, she said.