Yes, it’s Practical to Quit Your Job and Travel, and Here is Why
I’ve been traveling the world nonstop, without a permanent address nor a conventional career for the last three and a half years. (Read my full story: Why I Left My Fancy City Life to Become a Globetrotting Gypsy.)
To some of you, that might sound totally insane. Impossible. Certainly impractical. It might seem idealistic. Unrealistic. Something that you might like to do, but you could never do, because of this, that, and the other.
Most of us were raised to believe that we’re meant to follow a clear, conventional path and any deviations lead to bankruptcy and unhappiness. We’re meant to work hard in school, get good grades, go to a good college, get a good job, invest in a good house, find a viable partner, raise a family, and then, one day, when we’re 70, we can begin to think about what we actually WANT to do with our lives.
Except that by that point, we haven’t got a clue. Our health has suffered, we’ve grown jaded, and we’re too exhausted from working our whole lives to set off on some great adventure. We settle for mediocre comfort, rather than greatness.
I don’t know about you, but nothing about that model sounds practical to me. That model does not support my image of happiness nor freedom.
I want you to know, that if you want to, you can do something different. Anything different. Whatever it is that makes your heart flutter.
And maybe that something even looks like leaving your old life and setting off on an adventure around the world, And there’s nothing impractical nor insane about it. In fact I know thousands of people who are doing it right now.
Typically, I like to focus on what is possible rather than what is practical. It’s the romantic dreamer in me who wants to write you poetry instead of numbers and figures.
But I know that’s too idealistic for many people. I know it doesn’t soothe their worries about security, safety, and necessities. I know many people need something clear and specific. Many people need something practical.
So, today I’m answering your biggest questions, your biggest concerns, and your biggest roadblocks, to show you that quitting your job and traveling the world is more than possible. It’s a realistic goal that starts with one step: deciding to do it.
Boom, Bam, Boom. Here we go.
#1: How Do You Make Money?
Travel has a reputation for being either expensive or something for young people who don’t mind being completely poor. It can be both of those things, but it can be much more than that. It can actually be a sustainable lifestyle that supports you financially. Making a living while traveling the world takes work and it takes guts, but it’s entirely possible. There are plenty of ways to travel for free or work abroad (check out my post How to Travel the World When You’ve Got Absolutely No Money) however for freedom and sustainability, eventually you’ll need to create your own path.
My advice on getting started? Depending on your current career, ask your employer about options to work remotely online. I’ve met many people on the road who do this for extended periods of time. Whether that’s an option or not, take stock of your skills and consider how you can take them online to create your own freelance business. Can you do writing? Skype consultations? Social media? Get creative and take advantage of the amazing opportunities the digital age allows. Read my post How I Afford a Life of Constant Travel, And You Can Too for tons of actionable ideas and inspiration.
Most importantly, spend some time thinking about your long term goals and your dreams. What gifts do you want to share with the world? How do you want to improve people’s lives? Think about how you can turn that into a business. If you’re feeling lost and uncertain about your purpose, my post How to Figure Out What the F*&K You Should Be Doing With Your Life, will help you discover it.
#2: What About Paying Off Student Loans and Debt?
Last month while I was traveling in Morocco, I met a girl who worked in banking, but desperately wanted to move to Sri Lanka and volunteer at an elephant sanctuary. When I asked her why she didn’t just do it, she told me she was nearly a hundred thousand dollars in student loan debt and needed a high income job in order to make her monthly payments.
While debt can certainly make you feel less free, looking at it simply as a monthly expense, rather than an insurmountable sum, helps ease the pressure. If you think “Oh my God I’m 100k in debt!” that’s far more overwhelming than “Ok, I have an expense every month for $150 that I need to factor into my overall budget.” I too have student loan debt but brought my payment down the monthly minimum, which is now $70 a month, more than manageable.
Worst case scenario, you can always apply for a Student Loan Deferral or Forbearance while you figure out sustainable ways of making money on the road. Read more about these options here.
#3: Can You Save For Retirement?
Without a full time job, how are you supposed to save for retirement? No benefits? No 401K? No IRA?
Alright, I’ll be honest. I’m not a financial whiz, and while I do have a retirement fund, the thought of “retirement” doesn’t really concern me because, I already feel like I’m retired.
I’m already living the life of my dreams and I’m already living life on my own terms. Isn’t that the whole goal of retirement for most people? To finally be able to stop working for the man and start living for themselves? Right now I may not have a million in the bank, but I’m investing my time and energy into a business that I believe will continue to grow and sustain me for the rest of my life.
Perhaps this sounds irresponsible, but I’d rather live in the present moment than devote my life to a future that I’m not even sure if I want yet.
#4: What About Health Insurance?
Not having medical benefits concerns many people when considering quitting their day jobs. Paying your own medical insurance can be extremely expensive, with poor coverage and high co-pays. First let me say, this isn’t any more of a concern for a traveler than it is for any freelancer or independent business owner. Therefore it’s not a question of whether it’s impractical to travel the world, it’s a question of whether it’s impractical to not work for an employer.
That said, I personally don’t have health insurance, and I haven’t had it for about 3 years. Brace yourself, this might get a lil’ controversial.
I could write an entire blog post on why I don’t have health insurance, but the gist is that I generally find Western medicine to be extremely misguided and actually harmful. Rather than go to a doctor, I practice yoga regularly, eat a healthy organic vegetable rich diet, do regular cleansing rituals (I’ll be writing more about these soon), and consume probiotic foods daily. I know what you’re thinking, “what about emergencies?”
In the last year I haven’t been to any doctor at all, because I haven’t needed to. However, the year prior, while traveling in Southeast Asia I did need to go to the doctor because of a few emergencies. I paid everything out of pocket and it cost next to nothing. When a stray dog bit me in Thailand, I had an emergency hospital visit followed by six rounds of rabies vaccines. I paid $250 altogether. In Indonesia I stepped on a sea urchin and my foot got so infected I broke down and got antibiotics. The doctor’s visit along with medication cost $40. In Cambodia I went in for the best teeth cleaning of my life, for $20.
I realize that now the government is penalizing you on your taxes if you don’t have insurance. Which to me is freaking nuts. However, given my current income, the penalty is still much lower than the cost of insurance. In the end it’s still in my best interest not to have it.
If you’re already on lots of medications that you need insurance coverage to pay for, I highly recommend you gradually get yourself off of them. Medications come with all sorts of side effects and most are highly toxic for your liver. Cleaning up your diet is a good start. If that sounds overwhelming to you, consider working with a holistic health coach, I recommend my friend Carly Shankman.
#5: But Don’t You Get Sick All of the Time When Traveling?
I used to, then I discovered probiotics. Traveling can be very hard on your body, especially when traveling in parts of the world with poor sanitary conditions. Foreign bacteria can cause serious illness and digestive issues. That’s why I travel everywhere with my own water kefir, packed with thousands of strains of live probiotics, which I brew daily. Read my post How to Travel the World and Never Get Food Poisoning for more info.
#6: What Do You Do With Your Stuff Back Home?
When I first left to go traveling, I put all of my belongings in a storage unit for a few months. This gave me security in case I decided to come back. Though I quickly realized that freedom meant far more to me than any possessions. Since then I’ve downsized nearly everything I have, save for a few boxes of mementos and clothes. I keep them in a closet in my Mom’s house, and every time I come for a visit I downsize even further.
We need far less than we think that we do, and nothing makes that more apparent than travel. Read my post Less Stuff = More Happiness for some added insight.
#7: How Do You Live Out of a Backpack?
The key to traveling light is learning to be content with less stuff. I’ve found this happens naturally the more you connect with what’s really important to you. It also happens when you realize how easily your stuff gets lost or ruined on the road.
Traveling typically to warm, tropical places, it’s quite easy to fit everything that I need into my 46 liter bag along with a small day pack. In Southeast Asia, it’s cheap and easy to buy most things, so you can pack very light. Wondering what I bring with me to Costa Rica? Read my post What I Bring Beach Backpacking.
This past winter while traveling in the Arctic Circle and the Alps, I clearly needed much heavier clothing, so I used compression bags to fit everything into my small bag. Once I arrived in Spain for the warmer weather, I left the winter clothing behind to have a friend ship them back to the states. In Spain I bought a few simple outfits, which I took with me to Morocco.
#8: Can You Ever Have a Relationship?
In my recent post, Enough Bullsh*t, This is What Being a Nomad is Really Like, I wrote about my challenges finding a viable romantic partner. True, establishing and maintaining a relationship on the road comes with many unique challenges.
However, I believe that a lot of that comes from the fact that world travel cultivates independence and self-awareness that prevents us from investing in relationships that don’t serve us. Personally, I feel far more equipped to choose a healthy relationship now than I did when I lived back in the states.
I’ve also met many traveling couples and families who seem quite happy. I’m not sure what their secret is, but they all assure me that by following what I love, the right person will show up.
#9: Is This Something You Can Do With Kids?
I can’t speak from personal experience, but I’m connected with many traveling families and even single parents! Many travel much more slowly, homeschooling their children or staying long stints in different countries and traveling during the summers. Check out these blogs for inspiration:
#10: How Do You Take Your Pets With You?
Again, I don’t have pets, so I can’t speak from personal experience, but I do know people who have moved abroad with their animals. I don’t recommend traveling with a pet, and would suggest you instead leave it with a responsible friend or family member. If you’re hoping to travel for long stints or move abroad, check out this guide: 7 Practical Tips for Moving Overseas With a Pet.
#11: Is it Dangerous Out There?
Often the media likes to scare us into thinking the world is a bad place, while the more I travel the more I discover just the opposite.
In three and a half years of travel I’ve been mugged once in Costa Rica and nearly scammed once in Cambodia. Otherwise my experiences have been positive. I’ve been faced with kindness far more often than I’ve been faced with danger. I’ve been offered free transportation, been invited to share meals, and received genuine friendships all over the world.
That said, it’s important that you do your research on safety for the specific places you plan to travel in. I typically do this through Google and read safety recommendations in guide books. If you’re a woman traveling on your own, my post Why I Feel Safe Traveling Alone will give you some valuable insight. If you’re planning to travel in Latin American, read my posts Is Puerto Viejo Safe and How to Survive a Taxi Ride in Latin America.
No matter where you go, remember to always trust your instincts, carry yourself with confidence, and treat others with respect.
#12: How Do You Get Visas to Travel to All of These Places?
If you’re traveling consistently, and you hold a USA, EU, UK, Australian, or New Zealand passport, visas shouldn’t be an issue. Most countries offer free or cheap visas upon arrival, and the ones that don’t can usually be processed in about a month.
For everyone else, first off, I’m sorry that the world has a system that makes it challenging for you to travel. To me, it’s a horribly messed up travesty far beyond the scope of this post. However I want you to know that there are people from developing countries all over the world who are living this lifestyle. Read what they have to say in my post: You Don’t Have to be a Privileged White Girl to Travel.
#13: But How Do You Get Visas to Stay Longer Than a Few Months?
Alright, I’m going to let you in on a secret. Most people who “live” abroad, are doing so illegally. I’m not saying that I condone it, I’m just letting you know the reality. Most countries have a one month or three month visa on arrival, at which point you will need to leave the country.
In many countries you need only cross the border for a day in order to get your visa renewed. Tons of people living abroad do this regularly, and in Thailand there are even special transport options for people leaving the country specifically to renew their visas.
The Shengen Zone, however, is its own beast, and can be much more difficult to get around. Check out this post How to Legally Stay in Europe for More Than 90 Days for legal options for staying longer.
If you’re serious about relocating somewhere, getting a student visa, a work visa, or even residency is possible. It’s not easy and can be a lengthy process, but if it’s what you really want, it’s worth it.
#14: What About Security?
Raise your hand if you or someone you know has ever been laid off, lost their house, lost money on investments, or been divorced. Yep, every hand is up. Let’s face it, the job market, the housing market, and marriage, are just as unstable and unpredictable as anything else in life.
I’ve personally been laid off from one job, been fired from another, been broken up with multiple times, lost people I loved, and learned to let go of my obsession with feeling in control.
Stability as we know it is a complete and utter illusion. It does not exist no matter how much society tries to scare us into believing in it. The only constant in life is change. My security comes from knowing that I’m equipped to handle and respond to change with humility and grace.
If you want to live a life that involves excitement, passion, growth, and fulfillment, you’re going to have to learn to let go of your aversion to discomfort and lean into the unknown. You might wobble, you might fall, but once you find your footing, you will see how much you can fly.
#15: Aren’t You Wasting Your Potential?
I remember a time when the voiced concerns of family and friends left me questioning the responsibility of my lifestyle. Others when the voice in my own head stirred fears of what my future might hold. Giving myself the permission to pursue lifelong travel has been an ongoing process in deprogramming the paradigms instilled in me by my culture. It has required identifying which lifestyle choices are in my pursuit of happiness, and which, deep down, are about satisfying my ego.
During my first year of travel I went back and forth in my head about whether I should return to the US to go to graduate school. I wondered if I was wandering aimlessly and if I should go back down the traditional path of education and become “contributing member of society.”
But instead, I opened myself to the possibility that there were other ways to feel challenged, inspired, and alive, than those accepted by society. When I did, I began to see that the more I followed the path towards my own personal bliss, the more energy, ideas, and love I had to share with my family, my friends, and the world. Consequently, I began to connect with my true life’s calling.
Read more about this in my post Is Traveling a Waste of Your Potential.
#17: Do You Get Tired of Traveling Eventually?
Yes. And No. All of the time. Never.
I love travel more than most anything else on earth, and that’s why I keep doing it no matter what it puts me through. However travel burnout is inevitable. This is why if you’re living nomadically, it’s essential to find a place that you love, where you can spend time resting and recharge. Read more about that in my post Enough Bullsh*t, This is What Being a Nomad is Really Like.
Time will tell whether I choose to live this lifestyle forever. In the meantime, I’m enjoying the beautiful ride. Are you?