The post-COVID 'Great Resignation': Why I quit my dream journalism job to travel the world

A parent's reaction is usually a good barometer of where your decision sits on the scale of sound logic to utter lunacy.

My dad and I had just ordered dinner on one of his rare visits to Melbourne from interstate when I brought him up to date on my plans.

"I think I'm going to to go on a big trip this year, to Europe then South America," I informed him.

"Cool, when will you come back?" he replied.

"I'm not sureā€¦ I don't know if I will."

"What will The Age say then?"

"I'm going to quit, I think."

There was no beer spluttering moment, no slapstick eruption of outrage.

No, his initial reaction was more a considered slouch into bemusement, a furrowed brow of uncertainty, definitely a sprinkling of disapproval. That's probably why it still resonates now.

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This was the moment it crystallised: I was quitting my dream job at a big newspaper, a position I'd worked for years to reach. And I was leaving with only a one-way ticket on a suspiciously priced budget airline.

My dad, 63 and only partially grey-haired, is far from a conservative boomer.

Rather, for his generation, leaving a job at the top of a field you studied for 3.5 years can appear a risk going on lunacy. [So that's where we originally sat on the "sound logic" scale.]

But, clearly, I'm not the only one. One in 5 people quit their job in 2021 and about 25 per cent were considering leaving at the start of this year, according to a survey by NAB.

Like many of them, the coronavirus pandemic was a huge factor in my decision to resign from The Age at 26 after the newspaper took me on as one of six cadets in 2018.

Having spent my 2014 post-high school gap year backpacking through Brazil and Europe, I always hoped to save up for one more gap year-style trip. I just needed a trigger.

Enter: lockdowns, which we endured more than 230 days of in Melbourne.

Work was going well. I was covering state politics through Victoria's lockdowns, when it garnered more attention than ever before.

Yet among the long, lonely work days and sad Zoom social events, it was impossible not to think I was missing out on golden years. My youth suddenly felt scarily finite. I was looking for a spark.

I believe that some things must be experienced while young. Before children and going deep into a career, but also while my back can handle the weight of an inexcusably full rucksack.

So I set my sights on fleeing the country once the pandemic had calmed down.

As we all re-assess our priorities and work-life balance, travelling feels like simultaneously pressing pause and fast-forward on life.

On the one hand, there's no steadfast commitment in packing my bags and setting off.

As much as we enjoyed a largely restriction-free summer, many young people in particular are still in a state of mental flux.

A handful of friends seeking that spark over the past two years moved into a new sector or started studying - re-routing their entire lives - only to regret it weeks later.

While overseas, it you don't like a city, you can move on. If you're sick of it all, you can head home.

At the same time, travelling allows you to sample all kinds of work and social experiences.

During the pandemic, many of us indulged in learning new skills that added value to those long, lonely days (I see you, Duolingo fanatics).

I'm looking forward to the possibility of working in a surf hostel on Brazil's Atlantic coast, volunteering on a farm in Andalusia or shaking cocktails at a Berlin bar.

[Worst case, it lasts a week and I've got a tale to tell. Best case, I've discovered a new passion that guides my future career choices.]

Of course, I'm lucky to have worked in an industry that remained stable during the pandemic and I was able to save money during lockdowns.

My plans include three months in Europe with friends followed by a stint backpacking through South America solo with no set end date.

I don't think the trip needed to be a long overseas jaunt to serve its purpose, though. I was just looking for some kind of circuit-breaker.

Not that we can erase all memory of coronavirus just yet. Masks are non-negotiable in most airports and flights amid an ongoing wariness. [In Italy, a gelato store will eject you if you aren't wearing an N95 mask.]

Oh my first day in Berlin, someone moved down the subway carriage when I coughed through my mask. The fact I hadn't showered since a 30-hour transit from Melbourne may have played a role too.

Despite all of that, this time doesn't feel as daunting as my previous gap year. Experience helps, as does the seal of approval from dad, who soon saw the merits of my trip.

Most of all, having endured the isolation of lockdowns, I know that we're only ever a video call away - if we want to be.

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