Jack Scott was fed up with the way things were going with his career. Straight out of university with a degree in mechanical engineering, Scott, 24, had spent nine months working for a refrigeration company in a job he didn’t enjoy.
Feeling the need to make change, he quit.
Meanwhile, his college friend James Fleming, 25, was making good money as an office-based training organizer, but was growing weary of long hours at his laptop.
So when his latest contract ended he teamed up with Scott and the London-based pair decided to hit the road and go traveling – a decision that would take them on an epic overland odyssey and change their lives in unexpected ways.
“For me, there were a lot of late nights tapping away at a keyboard,” said Fleming. “Essentially, I was quite burned out at that point and this trip was the best thing for it.”
The pair are just one example of tired twentysomethings quitting the rat race to go traveling.
Nicole Hu, a 26-year-old blogger, ended up quitting her Chicago sales job during the pandemic before taking a short trip that became a very long international adventure.
“I could not do another day,” said Hu. “It was just so draining.”
Many Gen Z and millennials are reporting increased levels of burnout due to work-related pressures, according to a survey by consultancy Deloitte. The report said that the Covid pandemic had prompted legions of young workers to re-evaluate work-life balance.
Burnout is typically defined as chronic workplace stress, characterized by feelings like energy depletion and mental distance from one’s job.
Young people packing their bags and heading for the workplace exit isn’t necessarily a new phenomenon.
Content creator Preethi Parthasarathy quit her job in a bank in late 2017 when she was 26, questioning whether it was what she wanted to be doing for the next 35 years. Again, it was a decision with surprising and far-reaching consequences.
“Hustle culture is glorified,” she said. “I get it, but I’m not the kind of person who can put everything, especially my health, on the backburner to make money just so I can climb the corporate ladder.”
Once they were freed from the shackles of employment, Scott and Fleming set about getting as far away from the sources of their burnout as possible, hatching an eccentric plan to drive from the hometown of one friend to the other – a journey of 17,000 miles from Orkney, Scotland, to Harare, Zimbabwe.
“I suggested ‘how about we start from my house and go to your house,’” says Scott. “It was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.”
The pair bought a Land Cruiser advertised on Facebook and modified it with bull bars, a snorkel and a roof box before setting off on their voyage in 2022.
Despite the feeling of liberation from their unfulfilling jobs, they said it was hard going at times, waking before dawn to make the most of daylight and driving up to 14 hours a day on mountain dirt roads through Nigeria, Cameroon and the Congo.
At one point they found themselves stuck in mud for five hours in Lopé National Park, Gabon, waiting for a truck to pull them out.
“We essentially just had to drive almost every day for about three weeks,” said Fleming. “Luckily it was scenic.”
He joked: “The playlist got dry very quickly.”
After they made it to Zimbabwe, the pair were joined by more university friends for a two-week “victory lap” of the country.
But then the return to normality beckoned.
For Fleming, that was delayed a further six months after he found a job working in conservation in Zimbabwe.
“I was pretty fried mentally at the end of that trip, just blown away by it all. I wasn’t quite ready to leave that,” he said.
Scott, meanwhile, returned to his refrigeration job, but didn’t last long before being lured back out onto the road. “I had always been complaining before the trip to Fleming, and he’s heard a lot about how a fridge works, which he’ll be sick of,” he said.
Earlier this year Scott quit his job again and went backpacking around Guatemala, Belize and El Salvador. After returning to the UK, he switched his career and is now diving for scallops in Orkney.
A change of direction
Over in Chicago, Nicole Hu had been enjoying her sales job since landing it straight out of university in 2019. There wasn’t much to complain about. She liked her colleagues, had a supportive boss, and it was low stress – until the pandemic hit the US.
When she moved back home to Chicago and started working remotely, her plans to climb the corporate ladder crumbled away, as did her job satisfaction. So she began to formulate a plan.
As the pandemic rolled on, Hu saved up her salary and when travel restrictions started to ease up in 2021, she decided to quit her job and booked a ticket to Guatemala.
It was only supposed to be a two-week trip, but she spent the summer volunteering in Europe before landing in Mexico for a 10-day visit that ended up lasting three months.
With the uncertainties of the pandemic still lingering, she found herself with other travelers contemplating a future with no concrete plans.
“It was like, we’ll figure it out,” she said. “A lot of people were doing the ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do with my life, let me just travel for a year, 10 months, six months and then do whatever.’”
The unpredictability of travelling long-term appealed massively to Hu, who says she loved the spontaneity of catching overnight buses and turning up in new destinations with no idea where she was going to stay.
“Something like that is way more exciting than having to wake up at like 8:30 a.m., turn on your computer, and just have to be on a Zoom meeting right away,” she said. “You know, the same thing every day.”
Hu, who now blogs her travels, says friends and other people her age are also embarking on adventures after contemplating the fragility of their careers.
In the current US economic climate, she says it’s increasingly difficult for young people to keep up with inflation and maintain the standard of living needed to raise a family.
“You might as well enjoy your life while you can,” she added.
Hu now focuses on eking out her money to keep exploring for as long as possible. She says she has a packed travel schedule up to September, before hopefully moving to Madrid to work.
The road less travelled
When Preethi Parthasarathy told the people around her she was going to quit her stable bank job in India to go travel, the reactions were generationally split.
Her millennial peers were jubilant and said they were going to live vicariously through her.
Middle-aged acquaintances were cautious but ultimately supportive of her taking an opportunity they’d never had.
“The older ones lost it,” said Parthasarathy. She was bombarded with questions about her lack of a back-up plan and her financial future.
It has even led to a significant career change for Parthasarathy, she’s now a content creator, charting her adventures on social media and her own website, branded Peppy Travel Girl.
“I come from a very modest background, I’m not like loaded or anything,” she said. “I was very certain that if I was doing this, I was doing this on my terms.”
Parthasarathy says that while her family were stressed out at the decision to quit her job and go traveling, they had trust in her.
At the time in India, she said it was an unusual move. “It’s a much more common phenomenon now, I’m kind of glad that I was one of the earlier ones to do it,” she said.
It wasn’t an overnight decision for Parthasarathy, but she recognized that a change had to be made.
“My life had been relatively predictable. Suddenly, I was getting into complete uncertainty and unpredictability,” she said. However, on the first day she had an accident and ended up bedbound in a dorm for a whole week.
Initially, she thought the universe was sending a sign that she shouldn’t travel.
“Should I just go and ask for my job back? I’m not sure whether this was the right decision,” she joked.
Eventually, she found her travel mojo and managed her first proper post-job trip to Kashmir, the Himalayan region in India’s north. She describes it as a paradise. She saw snow for the first time in years, and tried out skiing.
With no job to return to at the end of her stay, she simply kept traveling – and hasn’t stopped since, clocking up endless miles of globetrotting with highlights including Sri Lanka, Maldives, and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
Parthasarathy said that the experiences she’s had, the places she’s been to, and risks she’s taken have shaped her into who she is today.
“I feel like had I continued in my corporate job, I would have been a very different person,” she adds. “I prefer being this person, there is so much more growth.”
She still gets burned out, just not as much as she did back when she was in her traditional nine to five.
Recently, Parthasarathy took a pause in her current career. During a trip to Australia, she was close to quitting after six months of nonstop travel and content creation across different time zones.
Her solution was another break, just minus the content creation.
“I just travelled for travel, and I kid you not I’ve come back with a renewed sense of energy,” she said. “I feel like breaks are so underrated and so important, no matter what you’re doing.
“Whatever your job, it’s so important to give your body that time to reset.”