WHY I QUIT MY JOB TO TRAVEL AROUND the WORLD
I set the goal of traveling the world long before I decided to quit work and travel. I picked the nice even number of 100 months (yes 8+ years) before my 55th birthday. I never wanted to work again and wanted to save enough money to ensure that I wouldn’t have to return to work. Besides medicine is too difficult a job to return to after a very long absence. It requires constant reading and attending courses just to keep minimally current when you are working. To work as a physician in Canada after a few years away justifiably requires a significant period of retraining, and I wasn’t too interested in that. When one retires, you relinquish your License to Practice. As it stands now, after 10 years away and no license, I could not work as a physician anywhere in the world. That is one reason I don’t volunteer in medical fields – I couldn’t function like I would like to be able to, or in any way for that matter except maybe as a receptionist. Canada does not provide good pension benefits, certainly not what I would need to travel. So everything had to come from what I could personally save.
I had divorced my wife and left the relationship with very little material wealth to show for 17 years as a medical doctor. And I was still responsible for alimony and the education of my three children. But I had a good job with the opportunity to make a lot of money. And I had a lifestyle to change. Following the adage “it is not what you make, but what you spend”, I unconsciously followed a very austere lifestyle: rented simple accommodation, bought second-hand vehicles, took cheap holidays (30+ trips to the Colorado Plateau and the desert southwest of the US) and saved every penny I could. I was 47 then and quit work when I was 53, almost two years before my initial goal.
To see the world was something I did not expect to turn into anything more. I did not do this to try and “find myself”, nor to check off a bucket list of destinations from a list, but to experience everywhere and everything. I actually truly love what I am doing and couldn’t be happier. I don’t know what I would be doing if not traveling. Of all the wonderful consequences of my adventure, my joy at the privilege of this lifestyle choice is the best of all. It has been extremely satisfying to have embarked on a voyage of this magnitude and to have been spot on about what I thought would drive me to continue traveling. But throughout, I have not lost sight of how lucky I am to simply have the opportunity to try. I think I am the luckiest person in the world. But luck is really the consequence of dotting all the i’s and crossing all the t’s, of doing the hard work. I don’t believe in luck.
So why did I give it all up to travel around the world. What prompted my departure? Was this a last-ditch attempt to avoid responsibility? Wasn’t vacation, something normal people take to escape, sufficient to satiate my vagabonding dreams? I still go home for a few months every year, more to recover from my intense traveling style – to have a vacation.
When I am travelling, the people I meet ask whether I plan on going home permanently, and if so, why? They want to understand the density of purposes that keeps me moving from one place to the next and the abiding longing for somewhere else that I just cannot shake.
What catalyzed the decision to take that first step? Most make the natural assumption that, weighed down by a contract-filled existence, I got burned out and finally left to travel. But no, I had a completely fulfilling job. Working in a small rural town with no specialists had allowed me to pursue any interest I wanted. Even as a general practitioner, I had developed a referral based dermatology practice, I had worked in the Canadian Arctic five times doing dermatology, I had my own operating day in the nearby referral hospital doing therapeutic abortions and tubal ligations and I had a strong interest in addiction medicine running a methadone program, all in addition to most of a normal general practice in one of the best medical systems in the world, Canada’s. I lived in arguably the best place in the world, the West Kootenay of southern British Columbia. It offered everything I wanted. So it was the opposite of what happened: I left because travelling around the world was something I dreamed of doing for years, and with the passage of time the trip had morphed from a want into a need.
Maybe somewhere totally captures your imagination. Once you’ve seen that, then why stop there? Why not travel the world?
Almost 7 years after making the decision to quit work and travel, I had saved enough to quit for an indefinite period, setting aside what I felt comfortable spending without a real timeline in place. And that was almost 10 years ago. How the time has flown.
Was Quitting to Travel Worth It?
It is now almost 10 years of travel later. I am a happier, more relaxed person with thousands of stories and experiences from some of the more fascinating places on earth. I have met many other wonderful travellers, all with great stories to tell. And many have become friends who I know I will see again. Vacations are insufficient to sustain my travel needs; I need to immerse myself more thoroughly to satisfy my desire to learn about a new place. I also consciously travel alone. I have complete freedom to go and do anything I want. I meet more people as a solo traveller. And I talk to EVERYONE. Its amazing the interactions you can have waiting in a queue at the airline check-in, having a smoke outside the airport or riding on a public bus. I have traveled most of the Americas, New Zealand and most of Asia. And I have come to love Asia more than I ever expected, from the street food to the people, to the millions of small, quirky things that make each and every day a smile-inducing adventure. The overriding feeling is that all of this just feels right.
Unlike many younger travellers who usually need to work (and often find a totally new career) to continue their travels, money is not an issue for me. I travel on the cheap because that is what I want to do. I stay in hostels and CouchSurf because those are the best ways to meet people. I walk, hitchhike and take buses and trains because they give the best travel experiences – to see the local culture up close. And it only makes sense to spend my money wisely for it would not last forever if I traveled as if on one big business expense account. But I can still do anything I want. Going on a week live-aboard dive trip is not cheap (Palau cost US5.000$ for the week but was one of the outstanding experiences of all my travels). Bhutan and North Korea are the most expensive countries to visit in the world. And seeing all the best places in any country takes money: the Galapagos, Inca Trail, Easter Island, Unesco World Heritage Sites, National Parks – these are the most expensive things to do in any country – and the ones I see many younger people missing out on.
My website has become a major life force, a true passion to provide the best travel information possible. I have done everything on the site myself without any formal instruction or help – that is why it looks amateurish. I don’t carry a camera for many reasons, so that is why I have no pictures. But when I look at other travel websites, the pictures make them more attractive and break up the spaces, but most do not really add anything to the conversation. I look at everything for visual memory. And I gain 1-2 hours per day by not viewing, discarding, editing and emailing photos.
I have not seen anything as complete as my Travel page for the sheer volume and completeness of every post. I rewrite and add continuously as I find new sources of information. I don’t need to make money from it so don’t advertise. I have no conflicts that promote anything or anywhere. And I average almost a hundred visits a day.
I also leave no space for comments. I simply did not find the comments often added something to the conversation. They were more often “how did you do this website”. I am not especially interested to taking the time to respond to comments either. I can’t be contacted through the web site either. I will also give my email address here (for the first and probably last time ever in any post – if you are still reading this post, maybe you might want to have some meaningful interaction with me): firstname.lastname@example.org.
For the young traveller, quitting work to travel is not so simple or easy especially if they want to make it permanent. It is one thing to save to travel, then return to work. But to morph into a new career, one where money is uncertain, is not as simple as a sabbatical. Regardless of your chosen work, if it challenges you in important ways, ways that force you to grow not just by putting pen to paper, but by confronting the things that scare you, then you are doing something right. One smiles when they know how it is to feel free and happy. Traveling is a fantastic experience that everyone should try. It’s an eye-opening experience. And extended traveling changes the way you will think about life.
Travel can crystallize your perceptions, sentiments become belief and help keep life in perspective. You can become the person you strive to be. When returning home from a long time away, it is difficult to be empathetic to your friends’ complaints about the weather or traffic. They call you irritable; you call them snobby and tell them they lack perspective. Your friends did have perspective – it just wasn’t along the lines of what you are prepared to digest. It was embodied differently: less stark, less earnest, but nonetheless present. You lack some perspective too; in straddling the world between Africa or Asia and the West, you often can’t relate to them either. There is frustration in knowing that your mental state doesn’t jive whatsoever with those around you. But as you slowly seep back into the world you used to know, those ragged edges smooth and conversations became easier.
What Travel Won’t Fix
There are things that travel won’t fix. Inherent in any conversation about taking off to explore the world is a vague accusation that one is running away from something by doing so. But in planning to travel – saving money to pursue that dream, packing all the right stuff and doing the research involves time and many difficulties. You have to make hard choices about what to give up, the concessions you have to make. No one travels to be fixed by your adventures. You can dream of being fearless, of never worrying about anything again, having a calmer brain.
Learning to not sweat the small stuff is a difficult skill to unlearn. In balancing one’s fears and dreams, it helps to remember that the small things in life are not necessarily those worth throwing a temper tantrum about. After several years on the road, you will have learned to prioritize what really does matter in life, make you less of a procrastinator; you will have learned that addressing your worries head-on is the best and most effective way to get past them.
Despite not having a clear path for the future, you will feel fortunate to have met an incredible cross-section of people and experienced a wide variety of adventures. Do you have a plan is everyone’s favourite question? No, I do not have a plan, just a vague idea of new places I know I want to go.
You will find strengths you never knew you had and things you never thought you could do, be braver than you thought possible. You continue the adventure even when things have gone awry. I find it easy to talk to people I don’t know I’ve learned (and I truly believe) that everyone has a story to tell, and if you listen properly it will help you with your own trajectory. I have learned how to listen, to really listen. I realized that you really can do what you set your mind to, if only you are brave enough to try.
I need to know and want to share as much as possible about the history of a new place, about the possible experiences available. Despite years of travel, there is so much more to look forward to, to keep exploring and learning as much as possible. That travel is itself an instruction is undeniable, but the depth of learning is contingent upon how much a traveler wants to soak in.
Travel is one of the most intense, effective ways to educate yourself. Read the history of a place before you arrive and do the utmost to understand the culture, people and food after arriving. I feel very fortunate to have crafted a life where I can pursue the dreams that invigorate me, and part of what makes that pursuit so fulfilling is sharing the resulting stories and thoughts with the readers on my website. I’m never certain what the next year will hold, but I’m excited to find out.
Follow Your Dreams Instead Of The Crowd
Maybe you have just finished university and need to decide if you want the “typical” life of getting a job, getting married, buying a house and all that comes with that: furniture, renovating, redecorating, 2 cars, toys and many possessions. But if you’re not like everyone else, and instead choose to follow your passions and that passion is travel, how can you turn it into a career?
You may know or hear of a few people who had started travel blogs and made income from them and that is the path you decide to take. In the beginning you may have to be a waiter on the side, but with persistence and talent, you may be able to live full-time off travel writing. Sounds like a dream job, literally getting paid to travel the world, right?
Although it may be your dream job — albeit a very demanding one — close friends and family will keep hoping it is a phase you will grow out of. Your parents won’t think it is a steady source of income, think it dangerous constantly going to foreign places and when you will get married and have a family. When you try to explain that the job would help you attract the type of spouse you wanted to end up with and that you are in no rush to settle down, they will worry you are living an immature lifestyle that wasn’t logical for a real adult. But, if you’re happy, healthy, making enough money to live on and having enriching life experiences, how is that immature? Because you’re not following society’s or someone else’s plan?
After a few years of working when traveling, family and friends may become more accepting, although you will still face challenges and resentment. Over time, you will become much more confident and resistant to criticisms. Many don’t know what they would be doing if not traveling and working, and probably not as happy or passionate about their chosen path.
Many of your friends may be in corporate jobs that don’t fulfill them. They work five days a week, sometimes weekends, and complain how unhappy they are, how they hate their bosses and how they don’t feel like they’re contributing to society. When you suggest they follow their real passions, they simply shrug and shake their heads, as if they have no choice in the matter.
I beg to differ. If you truly want something and can clearly picture yourself doing exactly what you want to do, you can make it happen. With time, and possibly working in a unfulfilling job in the interim, you can clearly define your dream and take the steps to make it happen. A positive attitude, drive and a belief that you can make something happen — even if society says you shouldn’t or can’t — are all you need.
Quitting Your Job to Travel – Again
It’s not for everyone, and there’s nothing wrong with taking the vacations allotted to you at work. Nobody should tell you to quit your job – it’s a highly personal decision. For those interested in quitting and traveling long-term:
a. Pick a deadline where you access your goals: Sit down and ask yourself what you want out of the trip ahead of time, and set a timeline for meeting that goal. Is the aim to keep traveling the world, or to created a new career as well?
b. The money runs out: There are many places where cost of living is quite low. Here most travellers may spend as little as $12,000 a year if you don’t move around too much. But eventually, your resources will deplete. Before the trip, you must ask yourself “what is your worst-case scenario when you can’t live off savings any longer?” Are you willing to get a working visa, or trade accommodation for services? If a primary benefit of traveling indefinitely is flexibility, that often means working for yourself.
c. It is wise to work on developing a skill that you can leverage from the road, hopefully one that you are passionate about. You may accidentally stumble upon what you love, so seize the day: learn to code, improve your writing, design websites, or build apps. If you become good enough, you can create your own terms – and often that means working anywhere. l
In general, thinking about the sustainability of travel is a lucky problem to have. But it is not easy to do when there is pressure to settle down, to take care of ailing families, or to provide for an existing family of your own. But if it is in your heart to leave and explore as much as you can, you can make it work.
Some positives will be unexpected, well beyond the travel. You will value the quality time with your family when returning home. You will have experienced the food, met fascinating people who teach you new things every day and developed the flexibility to made the effort to meet up with them around the world. Personally, you will have been open to change and will have reaped the benefits of pushing yourself to do the things that scare you.
It is not all ponies and rainbows. Before setting off, think about what you hope to gain, where you would like to see yourself in a few years time, and why is it that you seek a different life. It’s not running away if you are moving toward new experiences of building a new career, something exciting and sustainable. But those are personal choices, and ones that come with downsides, just like anything else.