When Solo Travel Met the ‘Great Resign’: Meet the Workers Who Quit and Hit the Road
In the new from The Independent travel trends column, Trendwatch, we dig into types of travel, modes of transport and the top buzzwords to watch.
It was perhaps inevitable that the events of the past two years would upset our career plans.
In a phenomenon of “mass resignation” – dubbed “the big resignation” last spring – established professionals have quit and prioritized their personal lives, be it family, personal development or travel.
It’s particularly profound in the United States, where American workers routinely receive as little as 10 days of annual leave. According to statistics from the US Department of Labor, in January nearly 4.3 million Americans quit their jobs.
In the UK, according to the Office of National Statistics, resignations increased sharply from the end of 2020 to the following six months, and significantly exceeded their pre-pandemic levels in the last quarter of 2021.
Meanwhile, a Randstad UK survey of 6,000 workers in November found that 24% expected a change or move in the next three to six months.
Some quit to pursue new jobs or make a career change, of course. But many ditch the nine-to-five to go on an adventure – a large percentage of which fly solo. Our feet itch, and for good reason.
Last month, hostel booking website Hostelworld conducted a poll in which one in five respondents (21%) said they would give their review before going on a solo trip. In the same survey, 55% of people who hoped to travel said they crave the freedom of a solo adventure in 2022.
Part of a trend coined last year as ‘Revenge Travel’, it’s part of a larger wave of major life changes that combines burnout, the Great Resignation and a rise to more long term in the number of people traveling alone.
A recent study by Condor Ferries revealed that between 2016 and 2019, Google searches for “solo travel” increased by 131%, with a 42% increase in solo traveler bookings over the past two years. .
Aisha Springer is a millennial who quit her job last year to travel alone. After nearly a decade in the nonprofit fundraising business, she had grown frustrated with what she saw as a restrictive work culture, low pay, and bad vacations. She felt exhausted.
“I was having a really hard time worrying about my job or feeling motivated. I wanted to retrain, but also travel more. And it’s really hard to do that with a maximum of two weeks vacation per year ! she tells me.
“I was fed up with the American culture of living to work instead of working to live, especially since I worked hard but made very little money – even with a master’s degree.”
After researching English teaching opportunities in Korea and Japan, Aisha moved to Spain. She had been there before, had a few friends in the countryside and spoke Spanish.
In September, she flew to Alicante on the east coast and rented an apartment. She teaches English part-time and uses her days off to explore other areas like Barcelona, Granada and Valencia, as well as to improve her language skills.
“I told myself that I would rather do what I love – traveling – even if I have to struggle a bit financially, instead of struggling to pay my bills while staying in one place. Also, the money I ai goes much further in Spain and many other places than it would in the United States.
“Gap years” are not a common thing for young people in the United States, and Aisha is one of many solo travelers who tells me that taking a break from a career and going on a trip is considered an unusual thing to do. the House. But she feels she gets more out of the experience than she could have at a younger age.
“I’m in my 30s, but some people in this education program are straight out of college or university and aren’t always mentally prepared. I think it is important to know yourself and know what you can manage.
She felt more inspired to write a blog while in Europe and plans to move to Germany afterwards.
Natalie Greene* was in her early thirties when the pandemic hit and she had a dramatic career breakdown, in a field she had worked in since college. When her team was forced to work remotely, she says, her sanity took a nosedive. Living alone, she felt completely isolated and requested a special waiver to be allowed to return to the workplace.
“Something short-circuits in my brain when I’m not around other people — even without the general trauma we were going through. So in the summer, the exhaustion and frustration was extreme,” she says .
Things got so bad that she was fired for health reasons and started to wonder if this career path was right for her. By the time the world began to open up last summer, she had had plenty of time to think about expanding her horizons.
“The pandemic really made me rethink the notion of time. All those things that I said I was going to do – I didn’t do them. I was not going to Athens to see my friend who lived there. I had not visited the pyramids.
“Suddenly, I couldn’t do these things anymore even if I wanted to. When we could go places again, I had this attitude of suddenly wanting to do those things.
Natalie flew to Greece solo, just on holiday initially, staying with the friend in Athens and visiting idyllic Greek islands off to the side.
Then she made the biggest decision to quit her job and visit Egypt, to fulfill her dream of seeing the pyramids, then Cyprus, Turkey and Chile. Having found the adventure on its own restorative and stimulating, she was away on and off for about nine months before seeking a new job in the United States.
“I think part of it was escaping what I was dealing with in New York. But also, I may never again have the chance to take a one-way trip, go alone and come home when I feel like it.
Unlike some lone travelers in her age group, she doesn’t consider it an eternal thing. She plans to return to New York for a new job after her last trip. She says she sees her self-imposed sabbatical as reconnecting her with “a world I felt disconnected from for so long.”
“I hope in the future, if I’m ever between jobs again, to do something similar – take a month or something.”
For Heather Markel, the idea of stopping and hitting the road isn’t the new trend – it’s the thing her friends (and if she’s being honest, her) thought she was crazy for doing in 2017 .
After working in the corporate sector for 25 years, Heather knew she was good at her job. But she felt it was going nowhere – she craved a deeper ‘meaning and purpose’. Thinking about it for two years, she saved up a stash of money and decided to travel alone – first for a few weeks.
“I started with Costa Rica because I had to come back after six weeks to be a juror. It wasn’t too far and I knew I could come back. Heather was committed to the practice of “slow travel – take local buses, chat with locals and get tips for quirky places rather than following the tourist trail.
“There are places I’ve been where I haven’t been in the main tourist spots. I like talking to the locals, finding out how they live, what food they eat,” she explains. She likes to book a flight, the first nights of accommodation, and then trust local recommendations and advice from new acquaintances afterwards.
She has now visited 27 countries on six continents in this style – despite being stuck in a ‘beautiful and largely Covid-free’ New Zealand for the best part of two years during the pandemic. His highlights include an extended stay in Colombia (“beautiful country, amazing food – a real shift in perceptions”), four months in Argentina and a Portuguese road trip.
Arrival in New Zealand in February 2020 (yes, that February 2020), Heather suddenly realized what her purpose in life was. “I was going to be the inspiration for anyone who wanted to quit mid-career and travel,” she laughs now. But just when she was starting to plan how she would do it – well, no one was going anywhere for a while.
Now that the travel shutdown has passed, she’s written a book and started a life coaching business where she helps people like Aisha and Natalie – often in their thirties, often from traditional, highly structured workplaces – to figure out how to “make a Heather”.
Rather than pedaling on daydreams and romance about the prospect of ditching your job and catching a flight, she focuses on the practicalities: what she calls “money, mindset, and planning “. Basically, how to budget for it, how to change your outlook so you can live on less and experience more, and how to factor in the boring stuff – from selling apartments and putting belongings in storage to sorting tricky visas or dealing with foreign bureaucracy.
Even before the “Great Resignation” headlines started rolling in, Heather knew that this kind of travel fairy godmother might be in high demand.
“When I heard all the thought processes coming out of the pandemic – I had already been through all of that. I went through it even being cleared out into the world.
“So I can see that after being stuck in a box for almost two years, you’ll start to wonder if this box is right for you.”
She’s delighted that it’s becoming increasingly common to consider broadening your horizons, thinking about what you need – in terms of experience rather than consumer goods – and taking time if you need it.
“Now I realize that I was just ahead of the curve and there’s going to be a big, big wave of people wanting to do this. I felt like I was crazy when I did, so I feel so touched that other people want to do it,” she told me.
“It’s already started. It’s nice. It’s wonderful that people now feel like it’s something they can do.
*This is not his real name.