tl;dr (Too Long; Didn’t Read): Things can work out if you work for it.
I had not planned on writing one of these “How to Quit Your Job and Travel” posts because my story isn’t nearly as dramatic as many other travel bloggers. I wasn’t “tired of the 9-5 grind”, I didn’t have any major problems with my life, and to be honest, I loved the place I was in. But I’ve now been asked many times about how I’m managing this “travel lifestyle”, so maybe it’s time.
The easiest way to quit your job to travel, like many things in life, is to be very rich. If you have a lot of money — or have someone in your life ready to give you a lot of money — and you want to travel, you can skip the rest of this post. Quit whatever you’re doing now and buy all the tickets.
If you’re not so rich, there are still things that will help. Instead of telling you what you should or should not do — which I don’t really know — I’ll list out the factors that, looking back, had the most influence on the decision. Whether you actually can do the same or not will depend on your circumstances, and how passionate about the idea you are.
Things in my favour
- I had no debts: I was lucky with finding research and teaching jobs in graduate school, so I had managed to stay debt-free. This gave me a lot of financial freedom, because all the money I didn’t spend was simply sitting around in my bank account instead of going towards an EMI.
Counterpoint: One of India’s premier travel bloggers, Shivya Nath has written very honestly and usefully about how she kept traveling the world while simultaneously paying off her debts.
- People close to me were healthy, and didn’t depend on me: I think doing the travelling thing would have been a lot harder if there was someone who depended on me, either for money or for time.
Counterpoint: Now, having travelled on-and-off for three years, I understand that time is more easily available while travelling. I can stay longer with family when I see them, unconstrained by vacation days.
- I was comfortable financially (you might even say well-off): I read a lot of travel advice on the internet, and there was a general consensus around the number US$20,000 (a number that is on the higher side if you travel cheap, and on the lower side otherwise) for a year of round-the-world travel. I did have this amount (or a little less) when I started travelling, and that made all my decisions both easier for myself, and easier to explain to others who cared.
Counterpoint One: Now I realize that you need US$20,000 only if you are travelling around the world. For example, in India, less than $10000 (INR 5-7 lakhs) is easily enough for a year. My country is just as diverse as the rest of the world. If you can reframe your idea of travel from visiting the whole world, to spending more time in fewer places, you’ll spend less money.
Counterpoint Two: As I travelled, I met many, many people who had nowhere close to $20,000 in savings. There were people who worked on farms, in hostels, at wineries, as kayaking guides, as English teachers,…. They had made it work. Even in India, where I had always assumed these choices was harder, I met a guy in Bir who opened a café in the mountains, and a few guys who left their cities to become hiking guides so that they could explore the Himalayas.
- Many, many people had done this before me: No counterpoint here. If you start reading travel blogs and start going down the rabbit hole of finding travellers, you’ll find a lot of inspiration online.
- I wasn’t extremely passionate about my job: I see a lot of people complaining about the grind of a 9-5 job, but I didn’t really mind it. I didn’t like the routine, but I liked the people I worked with (Kevin, I miss you!). I didn’t like that it got very busy at times, but those were usually the interesting times as well. I did like very much that they paid me.
Counterpoint: This is not a real counterpoint, but you don’t really have to quit your job. If you can, do what I did and talk to your boss and take extended, unpaid leave. That will give you some buffer time to reevaluate your decision if it seems too big.
- I’m a man: I’ve met enough girl travellers, especially in India, who have talked about how they’ve been stared at, groped, catcalled, and so on. I have faced none of these things, and didn’t even have to think of these things when I started.
Counterpoint: While I can’t really speak about whether there were more or fewer women than men on the road (seemed about equal?), the travel blogging industry no-doubt has good participation by women. So if you’re female, you will find a lot of information on how to deal with the world during your travels. Two Indian travel bloggers I follow Shivya Nath, and Sharanya Iyer, both seem to living the solo-female-travel life pretty happily and writing about it!
- I’m single: I didn’t have to worry about leaving someone behind when I left, and no one had to make a decision just because I was making one. I’ve met travellers who broke up with their partner to set out on the road, but I’m certain I would not have been strong enough for that decision.
Counterpoint: Yes, there are couples who break up just so they can travel, but on the flip side, I’ve actually met many couples (and even families!) on the road who have happily “settled” into the life of long-term travel. They decided together — some even met on the road — and they are making a life for themselves around travel.
Things that made it hard for me, or rather, things that I thought would make it hard for me
- I was afraid for the future, and people close to me were afraid too: Ah, the most common reason. Fear. I had a few days where I imagined myself on the streets of India, living without money, wasting all my education and bringing dishonour upon my name. I imagined not being able to get a job, recruiters contemptuously looking at the travel gap in my résumé before tossing it into the trash.
Reality: It turns out spending many years in college gives you many layers of cushioning. I have friends doing amazing things and they have needed developers with skills that I had or that I could learn. I was a reviewer for an online course for a long time, and that was an easy source of money. I have kept taking online classes so that I am always learning something. On top of all of this, I have the privilege of having a place in Bangalore to go back to when I feel like it.
- I’m lazy aka I don’t like to plan aka What Will I do every day?: I’m not your usual travel blogger, or even traveller. As anyone who knows me will tell you, I am not always brimming over with enthusiasm and I spend a lot of time obsessing over TV shows and their online reviews. Other travel bloggers write posts about how it’s okay to take a day off to watch Netflix, but I would say that I take time from Netflix to go see the sights in a city.
Reality:Here I am, three years into this life, and I’m still enjoying it. It took me a few months to understand that I was not the traveller I expected to be, but once I did things fell into place nicely. There are a few days even now when I feel like I’m not meant for this life (or any life), but I’ve learned to be comfortable with this unease.
- I liked where I was: Even though I had many days of cloudy weather in Seattle (both literally and metaphorically), I loved the city. The mountains were close by. I had good friends. I went on a great hike with a great group almost every weekend. I ran around Green Lake in the rain. I baked bread and made coffee. The even-cooler Portland was nearby.
Reality: This one’s a hard one. You just have to decide for yourself what it is that you want. Travel is nice, but staying in one place and building a nice life can be nice too.
- I have an Indian passport: Ah, the travails of the Indian traveler. I had to stay behind at the Chile-Bolivia border while my co-travellers went ahead because I didn’t have a visa for Bolivia. I spent two weeks fulfilling ridiculous requirements in Santiago for the Argentina visa. When my passport was stolen in Buenos Aires, I had to wait an extra ten days because the Indian embassy was not equipped to an emergency passport and didn’t have a passport printer available.
In addition to externalities, I am really bad at dealing with bureaucracy and am even worse at getting all my documents in order while applying for visas. It’s caused me a lot of headaches.
Reality: This part was actually worse than I expected it to be, but over the years, I’ve realized this is more because of me than the process. Travellers like Shivya Nath, and Bruised Passports have travelled all over the world, carefully working with the visa requirements. Backpack me tried and wrote about navigating the South American visa maze long before I was there.
Recently, I was trying to ride my motorcycle to Europe from India, and gave up on the idea even before I started working on it because the logistics seemed so long and cumbersome. But, with some grit, Misfit Magellan had managed it three (?) years ago. Even whole families had driven from Bangalore to London while I was complaining and watching Netflix!
The decision to quit your job and travel is a trade off between passion and privilege. I say “passion and privilege” because there’s some nice alliteration there, but passion is just shorthand for how much you want it (and how brave and strong-willed you are), while privilege is just shorthand for all the things that are already in your favour.
If you’re really passionate about travel, I can confidently tell you that you can make it work irrespective of your current lot . If you’re not really passionate, but are really privileged in the sense that you have no worries about money or dependencies, you can make it work.
If you’re somewhere in between the two extremes, as most of us are, you’ll just have to evaluate your current situation in life, how easy it is for you to change it, and how important the idea of travel is to you. Don’t worry too much about the future; things will work out.
The real reward here is not a checklist with lots of ticks, but a sense of place, presence, and freedom.