You all know the story: cubicle-dweller dreams of travel, saves up money, and eventually waves adios to desk job and embarks upon a global adventure.
It's a pretty standard story among long-term travelers — and especially amongst travel bloggers.
Go to many of the “big” travel blogs out there, and you'll probably find a post titled something along the lines of “I Quit My Job to Travel the World.” With so many travel bloggers being digital nomads and working as they hop from country to country, I feel like readers sometimes assume that this is the only way to do it; that the only way to travel the world is to quit your job, sell your stuff, and buy a laptop to take your show on the road.
Well guess what? You definitely don't have to quit your job in order to travel the world.
I've written before about the fact that you CAN, in fact, have your cake and eat it, too. You CAN fit travel into a more “normal” lifestyle — one that includes a job and a fixed address.
And so I'm here to tell you about why I DIDN'T quit my job to travel the world.
To be fair, I HAVE quit jobs before. I quit a waitressing job after college in order to take a “big kid job” at a newspaper in 2009. And I quit that newspaper job in 2011 in order to go back to school once I decided to get my master's degree. After I finished graduate school in 2013, I chose not to look for a new job right away. Instead, I decided to try my hand at blogging and freelancing full-time — so I could travel more, of course.
This might *sound* like quitting a job to travel the world — but in reality it was taking on a completely different form of employment.
Right after grad school, I took off on what was supposed to be a 7-month trip around the world. I was going to lay on beaches in Greece and play with elephants in Thailand and eat ALL the pasta in Italy. I was going to visit markets and soak up history and meet all sorts of cool people. I decided my blog was at a point where it could support me financially (as long as I picked up some freelance work along the way, too), and only saved up a small amount before flying to Europe.
You probably think this sounds awesome. And, in many ways, it WAS awesome. Traveling is the single best thing I've ever done in my life, and it's changed me in so many ways.
But, before you idealize it too much, let me tell you that this sort of lifestyle is HARD, guys. Like, really hard. Yes, I got to see some amazing places. And yes, it was nice being my own boss and making my own hours. But, in the end, I just couldn't hack it.
Flashback. It was the summer of 2013, a couple of months into my epic around-the-world trip. I was in a hostel bar in Florence at 1 p.m. on a Friday, ripping my hair out as I fought to connect to the hostel's woefully weak wifi signal. It only worked in the afternoons (when nobody else was trying to use it), and so naturally getting any work done meant skipping out on other things like art museums and walking tours. I cried myself to sleep one night because I was so stressed out about meeting my deadlines when I couldn't find a decent wifi signal — it almost ruined my week in Florence.
Flash forward a few weeks to me on a bus in Poland, close to tears once again because I was down to less than $100 in my bank account as I waited for nearly $2,000 in freelance invoices to be paid — of course they were ALL late.
Living this way was beyond stressful, and by the time I hit the 3-month mark of my trip, I realized that this sort of lifestyle wasn't really for me. I couldn't deal with hustling so much for work, and never knowing when I would get paid (and having to chase down money I was owed) gave me my first gray hairs.
I decided to go home early — mostly because I was broke, but also so I could spend some time re-evaluating things. For so long, I thought that the whole “I quit my job to travel the world” thing would become my story, too. But, as it turns out, my story was about to take on a slightly different plot.
I knew I didn't want to stop traveling, and I knew I didn't want to give up the freedom that goes along with being location-independent (i.e. not bound to an office). But I also knew that being permanently nomadic, jumping from city to city and freelance gig to freelance gig, wasn't going to work for me.
Yet, I knew I couldn't stop traveling, either. I've been bitten by the travel bug, and, as Michael Palin once said, “I know that I shall be happily infected until the end of my life.”
Giving up travel was not an option — so what was left to do?
Eventually, I decided to take a few months off from traveling and focus on finding work that I could do remotely but that would guarantee me a steady paycheck each month.
And that's exactly what I did. I GOT a job instead of quitting one.
Taking time to search for work that would still allow me a lot of flexibility paid off — I'm now working part-time for an awesome social media startup. The pay (coupled with the other freelance work I'm doing and the occasional blog ad or brand partnership) is enough for me to feel secure, and the fact that I work remotely means I can put in my hours from anywhere in the world.
GETTING a job instead of QUITTING one was actually the best thing to happen to me.
It means I have more balance; more stability. I don't have to rely on advertising on my site quite as much anymore to ensure that I can pay my rent (or my new health insurance bills — yuck). I can plan bigger and cooler trips. And I can be more selective about which companies I do and don't work with.
For me, it's the ideal situation. In 2015, I'll be visiting at least 2 new countries, and will be going back to about 4 more that I've visited and loved in the past. I know I won't have any of those crying-in-my-room-because-I'm-so-broke moments any more, which will mean I can tell even better stories than before.
I'm not saying you have to table your dream of ditching the cubicle to travel the world — feel free to keep that inspirational calendar on the wall and to keep squirreling away money in that piggy bank. I'm just saying that the travel lifestyle you've been dreaming of might not actually exist.
Instead of quitting your job and selling all your stuff to travel when you don't even know if you'll LIKE that lifestyle, find out how to pack more travel into the lifestyle you already have.
There are plenty of ways to travel a lot that don't necessarily require you to completely quit your job. The 9-5 doesn't HAVE to suck.
Here are 5 ways you can keep your job AND spend more of your time traveling:
- Maximize your paid vacation time — In the U.S., I know that our paid vacation time sucks. Companies aren't actually required to give you ANY, so most people are pretty happy to get 2 weeks of paid vacation per year. If this is all you get, try to maximize it by planning travel around other paid holidays and weekends. If you're able to work holidays and “bank” extra days off, do it and extend your travel time even more.
- Ask if you can do your job remotely — In a day and age where smartphones and wifi are the norm, many jobs can now be done from home — or remotely. Even if you've worked in an office all your life, that doesn't mean that your job HAS to be done from an office. If you have a good relationship with your boss, consider having a chat to see if your job might be able to be done remotely. You would still have to work, but this would give you a lot more flexibility when it comes to travel.
- Ask if you can work remotely for a few weeks out of the year — If working remotely permanently isn't an option, see if you can negotiate a few weeks per year. You could then pair this with your paid vacation time to go on longer trips abroad.
- Look for a job that requires you to travel — If you're not tied to your current job, consider looking for a new one that would require you to travel for work. A business trip on a Thursday or Friday could easily extend into a long weekend in a new city — and you could probably rack up a decent amount of frequent flyer miles, too.
- Consider if you have skills/knowledge you could leverage into a freelance position — Lastly, take stock of your skills. Do you have any specialized ones that you could take advantage of? Maybe start a part-time business on the side and, if it does well, do what I did and go freelance! Now, don't get me wrong — being a freelancer can be more work than a normal 9-5 job. But getting to be your own boss and travel whenever you want certainly makes up for the extra hours.
And, at the end of the day, just remember that you don't HAVE to quit your job in order to see the world. I didn't, and it's working out pretty well for me!
So what do you think? Have you ever considered quitting your job in order to travel?