Feeling stuck or burnt out? This is how adventure can reframe your career

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Few people make it to their 30s or 40s without experiencing some kind of career jolt along the way. This might look like mild frustration; a kind of background soundtrack you get used to over time. Or it may take shape as a full-blown burnout – or that moment when you wake (usually at 3am) in a cold sweat, thinking, “What the hell am I doing with my life?”

However it manifests, this type of work-related crisis is not necessarily a bad thing. Rather, it’s a call to action – a sign that something needs to change. Often, we’re so busy ticking off actually getting a job, or pursuing some pre-set career path, that we forget to look up now and again to check it’s what we actually want. So when that awareness does surface – often unexpectedly, and uncomfortably – it’s also an invitation to shake things up. 

What it doesn’t mean is that you have to press the eject button on your career; or book a sabbatical; or take radical action of some form. You might choose to do any of these things, but first things first: you need headspace to reflect. And for those lucky enough to be able to pursue travel, adventure can be a powerful way of doing exactly that. Here’s how:

Permission to be carefree

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Many travelers on Flash Pack trips love their careers but they’ve also reached a turning point of exhaustion. They’ve worked so hard, for so long, that they’ve forgotten the parts of themselves that aren’t about their careers.

This was the case for Kim Walker, a family medicine doctor from Illinois, who chose to travel to Jordan after a gruelling few years working on the frontline of the pandemic. “When you are so engrossed in your patients, you struggle to go home and carve out time for yourself; to take care of yourself,” Kim says. “You tend to shut off other parts of your personality so that you can focus on one thing. It’s a habit that many healthcare workers fall into. 

I was ready to have fun, to dream again and to allow my mind to relax

“So, when I got on the plane to the Jordanian capital, Amman, I felt instant relief,” she continues. “From day one, I was ready to have fun, to dream again and to allow my mind to relax. It was like being given permission to be a carefree kid once more […] Taking time out from constant care decisions and triaging meant I was able to rest my brain and let loose the more creative side of my personality.”

The chance to relax and unplug

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Adventure travel also offers those in high-intensity jobs the chance to unwind, away from all the cues they normally associate with stress. Being somewhere completely new means you can tap into less familiar sides of your identity – and remember what the freer, less wired you looks like. And the effect of that can be difficult to convey without experiencing it first-hand. 

JoAnn DiLernia, a child welfare worker from Florida, describes her getaway to Morocco as “the mind break I needed” after becoming drained and unhappy in an overstretched job. “It was two weeks of solid, relaxing fun that was neither stressful nor boring,” she says. “To the contrary, it was rejuvenating and reviving in all the ways you can imagine a trip to be. I felt so much better returning to my life on the other side of it; it’s hard to describe the difference. I even forgot my password the first day back, which is a sign of how far I was able to unplug from my work life.” 

Though JoAnn loves working in social services, the adventure made her rethink how she prioritizes her time. “I used to hop around the world a lot in my previous roles in international development, and I realized I miss that; it really helps me to reset,” she says. “So next time, I won’t wait as long – in fact, I’m already planning my next trip.”

New people, fresh perspectives

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Another advantage of adventure – especially if shared with a group of like-minded strangers – is that you get a first-hand view of the many different ways in which people choose to live life. When you’re back at home surrounded by colleagues or peers in a given industry, it’s hard not to fall into a set of given expectations. Your routine, or perspective, may get a little stale without you even knowing it.

Yet by the simple act of traveling, you almost immediately begin to appreciate that life is very rarely linear. There are professionals out there, just like you, who are finding freedom in the unexpected. And this realization can be massively inspiring. 

Quite a few of my fellow travellers were on a career break

For example, Flashpacker Andrew Flower enjoys his job as a chartered surveyor, but was left reeling after a breakup last year. It was on a group trip to Bali that he recognised that taking a sabbatical might offer an opportunity to recharge. 

“Quite a few of my fellow travelers were on a career break,” he says. “At least three of us were in the process of transitioning from comfortable or high-flying jobs in pursuit of something different. They didn’t have any pressure to get back home. 

“It got me thinking. For me, even a fortnight away was a long time for a holiday – but what if I could extend it further? There was nothing holding me back, after all. Within two weeks of returning to Bristol from Bali, I put in a request for a sabbatical. My company has a policy of allowing career breaks after five years of service, and my boss was very supportive of the idea.”

Living in the moment

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This broader lens on life is complemented by the fact that adventure travel really forces you to be present in the moment. Your brain doesn’t have time to dwell on all the usual cacophony that accompanies an average person’s work-life – because you’re so busy focusing on the people, landscapes or activities taking place around you. 

It had been so long since I’d experienced the sensation of my shoulders coming down, my neck not hurting and my brain not having 20 tabs open,” says Kirstye Todd, who traveled with Flash Pack to Vietnam amid a stressful job working as a dispensary manager for Britain’s NHS. “I almost forgot what it felt like to be relaxed and engaged; to just have a conversation with someone that centered literally around what we were going to eat next, or the scenery in front of us. And that ability to unwind was beautiful; I had the time of my life.

“Returning from the trip, I realize how powerful it is to step away from the roles and labels we’re given in life,” Kirstye goes on. “From now on, I want to avoid saying ‘yes’ to every commitment, and instead focus more on what lights me up within. On the trip, everyone knew me as the easygoing one who was forever laughing and joking. Yet, that isn’t how I see myself ordinarily. I’m curious to get to know that version of me some more.”

Sparking energy and joy

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Perhaps most importantly, adventure travel is a conduit to unscripted moments of joy. By being open to new experiences, you’re better able to access the kind of awe and connection that is hard to bring about when you’re stuck in the same-old. And that capacity alone may be enough to jolt you out of whatever career inertia you find yourself in. Think of it as a playful transition from one stepping stone in life and the next.

“Amid all the preparations for resigning, I wanted to plan something that would allow me to ground myself before jumping into a new phase,” says Olga Petrova, who quit her high-flying career as a tech expert just weeks before joining a group trip to Bali. “As it turned out, the adventure was life-changing in terms of my mindset and how I chose to move forward in the next chapter of my life.

I can’t remember when I last felt as open to other people

“It has been proven that social connection and meaningful connections is one of the defining criteria for happiness,” she says. “Going to Bali with people I connected with – rather than alone – was crucial to me feeling alive again. I am a different person now than I was before my trip […] I can’t remember when I last felt as open to other people – and to the world.” 

Flash Pack is a group travel company that specializes in small group adventures for solo travelers in their 30s and 40s. Find out more about how we work, and our mission to build a global community of friendships

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