Over the course of this past year, Jim and I have met many travelers just like us—those who quit their jobs and sold their things to travel the world.
Apparently, a lot of people are doing it, so now we don’t think it’s weird, or scary, or crazy. We’re just part of a growing population of people who are taking an extended period out of their “normal” lives to see the world.
I started writing this post back in November 2010 when I made the decision to quit my job with a Fortune 500 real estate brokerage company, get rid of my belongings, and move to Maui to learn organic gardening and spend more time in nature.
I called this post “Giving Up or Giving In” and explained I wasn’t “giving up,” rather; I was “giving in” to my greater calling. I now realize my decision, although difficult at the time, wasn’t so profound.
I’ve discovered I’m just a girl who decided to press the pause button, leave a declining real estate market, and change it up a bit.
My life has been an adventure these past 1.5 years. I’ve met new friends, experienced new cultures, and have seen some spectacular things, but I’ve also discovered this lifestyle is not for me in the long run.
It’s hard. It’s tiring. And it’s not often glamorous.
I often get emails from people who want to do what Jim and I did, but they don’t know how. They tell me they hate their jobs, or feel tied down because of their family, house, or because of a myriad of other obligations that hold them back.
A friend recently sent me an email and quoted one of her favorite professors: “The grass is always brown.”
The grass is always brown.
I liked this. I think he was saying that we see the things we don’t have as better, but there’s really no such thing as better, just as there’s no such thing as bad and worse—it’s all our perception. Everything is what it is, and if we think travel will solve our “problems,” then we’re in for a surprise when they pop out of our suitcases the minute we start to unpack.
But if you genuinely want to travel out of curiosity, an adventurous spirit, a thirst for the unknown, or to change it up like me, then I hope the following advice will help you make your decision the right one:
Can You Have the Tough Conversations?
Leaving your usual daily routine is a personal decision, but it also affects your job, friends and family. I feel blessed to have a family that supports my decision and friends who still care about me even though I’m not there to celebrate certain milestones.
It’s hard to leave those we love, and even those things we don’t love so much (like our jobs).
Telling my business partner and mentor I was leaving to go work in the dirt was difficult. I had many sleepless nights formulating how the conversation would go in my head. I didn’t want to disappoint him, and I wanted to leave on good terms. I thought he’d think I was crazy. But the conversation went fine. More than fine, in fact. He supported my decision and respected me for making such a bold move.
It’s important to prepare the people in our lives for the transition. How will you communicate while you’re gone? How will this decision affect your current relationship? Will they stay or travel with you?
Remember: Nothing is impossible. If you want to travel, the people who matter will understand.
How Do You Want to Travel?
Traveling long term is much cheaper than you think.
Let me clarify: If you don’t require turn down service, first class tickets, and gourmet meals, then traveling can actually be less expensive than staying put.
Jim did the math (because that’s what he does), and this year we’ve spent only what we would have paid in rent alone back in San Diego.
No cars. No mortgage. No cell phone bills. No cable. No longer having things saves us a lot of money.
We fall under the “Budget Traveler” category. That sometimes means sleeping on hard mattresses, taking third class trains, and enduring long layovers, but it helps sustain another day on the road.
Although budget travel can be tiring, it is the best way to experience culture. We travel, eat, and sometimes sleep with the local people (not in the same bed, but in their house or guesthouse, of course).
We keep our sanity by booking a nice hotel room when we’re feeling weary, pampering ourselves with a massage (less than $20 USD since we’ve been in Asia), or spending a few days on a beach.
How Much Can You Spend?
Travel costs money. If you don’t have debt, it doesn’t take much money to make a change.
After deciding on how you want to travel, run the numbers on how much your trip will cost.
Where do you want to go and for how long? Parts of Southeast Asia and India are inexpensive, whereas Europe, far off islands like the Maldives, and Africa can be expensive. Open up a travel book to get ideas and then search the Internet for general costs of different regions.
Consider your travel, accommodation, food, transport, entertainment, and miscellaneous costs. If you’re like Jim, you might even create a fancy Excel spreadsheet. Once you add it all up, give yourself a reasonable daily and/or weekly budget. Don’t stray. Don’t splurge. Don’t Stress… You will be fine.
Also, think about how much money you’ll need when you get back. Will you need a car? An apartment? Factor in at least three to six months of “buffer money” to give you a reasonable amount of time to establish a routine, find a job, or to rest before figuring out what’s next.
Lastly, be okay with the phrase “capital outlay” because it won’t be coming in for a while. It’s okay to spend without making money as long as you have a plan and stick to it.
Can You Give Up Your Stuff?
My Sealy Posturepedic California King Mattress felt like rubbing up against the Gerber baby. But I had to give it up. I also had a bay-front apartment, a nice car, and nice clothes. I did a major apartment overhaul, donated to charity and friends, and recycled other stuff.
I keep a few boxes at my parents’ house, and everything else I own is carried with me in my 55-liter pack.
Ask yourself if you’re comfortable with letting your things go. You won’t need them while traveling, and they could help finance your trip.
Consider a storage unit versus selling your things and buying them again at a later date. I lent my big furniture items to friends who are using them while I’m gone. Get creative and keep in mind that it’s just stuff and can always be replaced.
I feel so much lighter (figuratively and literally) after getting rid of my things—I have less responsibility and less stress.
Can You Handle the Unknown?
You learn a lot about yourself when you travel. Especially how you handle yourself when the unexpected happens, which is all the time, especially in the budget travel world.
Buses will break down, trains will run late, you’ll forget items you left in a hotel room, and someone will always try to cheat you.
The question is: How will you handle it?
Can You Give Up Your Routine?
This one was the toughest for me. I like my routine—taking a yoga class at the time I want, eating raw salads from my favorite salad bar, sleeping for at least eight hours every night in the same bed, and meeting up with familiar faces.
But it isn’t so easy to keep up a routine while traveling. Travel is about saying YES to opportunities, random invitations, and going with the flow.
Be prepared to roll out your yoga mat in an airport waiting terminal, or to eat something you don’t like because it’s the only thing available or because it’s respectful to the culture.
Most of all, don’t stress over falling out of your usual routine. It will be waiting for you when you get back.
Remember: Every uncomfortable moment will pass, just as every incredible experience passes too.
Long-term travel can be whatever you make of it. You don’t have to follow anyone’s itinerary but your own, and there’s no such thing as the right or wrong way to do it. If it isn’t working for you, know that it’s okay to make adjustments—Jim and I have had to compromise and make adjustments along the way.
So far, the #1 thing my travel experience has gifted me is perspective on life—the life I want to live, the life I am thankful to have, and the life I want to attract. I’ve seen so many ways of living and have a renewed gratitude for where I come from, for my friends and family, and for home.
I know this is not a lifestyle for me, but I’m glad to be doing it right now, just as I will be so happy to get home and hop in my big, fluffy comfortable bed.