Explore now, work later: why autumn and winter will be defined by ‘revenge travel’

·5-min read
Some revenge travellers are going as far as Antarctica to decompress after the pandemic (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Some revenge travellers are going as far as Antarctica to decompress after the pandemic (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

“I was planning on buying a house, but I feel my money will be better spent taking this trip.”

In a few months, Claire Truman* is planning to quit her job at a publishing company and jet off to Southeast Asia for a six-month adventure, where she’ll weave a leisurely trail around Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos.

Handing in your notice and putting off your house purchase for a holiday might seem extreme, but it’s the sharp end of a new post-pandemic trend: “revenge travel”. After months or even years spent largely at home, professionals across the UK are marking their calendars, totting up their savings, and extricating themselves from work commitments in order to explore the world.

“I feel overworked and mentally checked-out from what the typical 9-5 lifestyle offers,” explains Truman, 29. “With the understanding that I’ll be working into my 60s, why not take a few career breaks along the way?”

Many Millennial and Gen Z travellers are eyeing Southeast Asian countries such as Cambodia (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Many Millennial and Gen Z travellers are eyeing Southeast Asian countries such as Cambodia (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Biomedical laboratory manager Mollie Millington is getting her revenge with a once-in-a-lifetime, three-week trip to Antarctica, set for February.

She, too, cites Covid “burnout”, caused by scarce time off during the pandemic and being in the lab the majority of the time while others worked from home. During the lockdowns and periods of travel restrictions, Millington had multiple trips cancelled, including two weeks in Japan where she’d planned to go skiing and run a marathon.

Now Mollie’s ready to stretch her legs - at any price. Her Antarctic cruise has a price tag of £7,000 (“at 40 per cent off the normal price”), an unheard-of splurge for pre-pandemic Mollie.

Handing in your notice and putting off your house purchase for a holiday might seem extreme, but it’s the sharp end of a new post-pandemic trend: “revenge travel”

“This is the biggest trip I have ever booked,” she says. “The only big trip I did before the pandemic was climbing Kilimanjaro, but it cost under £1,000 and I took two weeks off work.”

Revenge travel began as an American trend. With foreign countries opening quicker to the US than to the UK earlier this summer, travellers from the States visibly shrugged off formerly conscientious work ethics or frugal principles and started booking bigger, better, longer trips.

“Americans are hitting the roads and skies in droves,” reported Forbes in June. It defined the trend as a perfect storm of pent-up demand, stored-up annual leave, saved-up cash and fully-vaxxed confidence.

“Revenge travellers can be more likely to try a more exotic location, spend more money to travel, or a combination of both,” wrote Geoff Whitmore at the time.

Professionals who might formerly have squeezed in short city breaks or spent long weekends just outside of town splashed hundreds on flights to Europe. People cashed in sabbaticals and quit their jobs. Conde Nast Traveler US heralded the rise of the “adult gap year”.

Now that destinations are opening up to the UK in earnest, Brits are ready for their own taste of revenge.

A Eurofins survey of 2,000 UK residents last week found that more than half are saving all of their spare cash for their next adventure, with an average travel fund of £2,543 already squirrelled away.

Moreover, 36 per cent have been putting off other big spends, such as home improvements, in order to funnel maximum cash into the revenge travel pot.

We’re evening the score with Covid-19 - that dampener of hopes, dreams and air miles - as well as sticking it to employers, traditional office culture, and a feeling of stifled work-life balance

All of this is helping to cook up our travel revenge. But who exactly are we taking revenge on?

The trend goes beyond the practicalities of stored-up cash and time off work. We’re also, in a way, evening the score with Covid-19 - that dampener of hopes, dreams and air miles - as well as sticking it to employers, traditional office culture, and an overall feeling of stifled work-life balance. In short: all work and no play makes Jack an itchy-footed boy.

“People are ‘taking revenge’ on Covid and the journeys they missed out on during 2020,” says Tom Marchant, founder of high-end adventure travel company Black Tomato. “For many, that means going big and booking a bucket list trip, or planning something indulgent and meaningful. There’s a strong desire to make up for lost time and compensate for lost trips.”

The operator has seen a surge of long-lead bookings for 2022 and 2023 - mostly to safari destinations such as Botswana, Uganda or Rwanda, but also to Chile, Japan, New Zealand and Southeast Asia.

TripAdvisor’s Travel Index report for autumn, released today, found that Millennial and Gen Z travellers are most committed to vengeful travels.

Italian spots such as Cinque Terre are a short-haul option while farther-flung destinations are off limits (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Italian spots such as Cinque Terre are a short-haul option while farther-flung destinations are off limits (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Over a third (36 per cent) of Gen Z Brits surveyed said they plan to take three or more trips this autumn, while around a third of both Millennials and Gen Z-ers (33 per cent and 36 per cent respectively) said they expect to spend more on their biggest trip than they did pre-pandemic in 2019.

For HR advisor Emily Ellwood, 29, revenge meant booking two honeymoons. Having lovingly planned three weeks off in September 2021 to explore Sri Lanka and the Maldives, she and husband Alex were able to get married, after two postponements - but the red list kept them away from the Indian Ocean.

The couple’s higher-than-usual pandemic savings meant the original trip was quickly paid off, and once it became clear that it wouldn’t happen in 2021, they moved it back by a year - an indulgent first anniversary trip to look forward to.

But Ellwood wasn’t giving up those hard-negotiated three weeks off to be employee of the year.

Covid, she says, has given her a new perspective: “You don’t know what time you will be given, so I want to enjoy the time I know I have - which is right now.”

Instead, she and Alex are spending those weeks on a grand Italian tour, hitting up 11 swish stops including Venice, Cinque Terre, Florence and Positano.

“It’s important to keep refreshed by taking time away from work,” agrees Alex. “The only time off we’ve had this year is when we had Covid, so we needed time to unwind. And we still have next year’s holiday to look forward to!”

*Names have been changed.

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