Why You Shouldn’t Quit Your Job to Travel

It’s a popular notion. Almost a perfect fantasy. “Quit your job and travel the world!” I hear it all the time when travelling. There’s always that one guy who’s on a permanent trip and has been everywhere and laughs when you tell him you’re away for a month and then back to work. In the travel blogging community, the argument that one should quit one’s job and travel is almost de-rigueur. But what if I told you that you shouldn’t?

About ten years ago, I was burnt out at work and so took 3 months of leave without pay to go surfing in the Maldives followed by 3 months of backpacking in Europe. My job was pretty low-paying, so I didn’t have much in the way of savings. So I took out a personal loan to fund the trip.

Travelling in Trondheim, Norway after losing my job back home
Travelling in Norway after losing my job back home

I was about 3 weeks into the trip, when, one day in Norway, I got an email from my boss back home, telling me our division was closing down and we were all being made redundant. I spent some time staring despondently at the hostel ceiling in Bergen before making the choice to go out and drink some beer with some guy I’d met at the hostel.

At the bar, I asked the pretty bargirls in (very bad) Norwegian/Swedish if I could leave my bag behind the bar. They responded in (very good) English, wanting to know where I came from, what I did, and so on. I told them I was now an officially unemployed Australian surfer bum. I gave the bargirl 5 euros for a beer, and she gave me the beer plus 7 euros change, and smiled at me. I was somewhat dumbstruck, but when I ordered my next beer, the same thing happened. I began to feel a bit drunk and happy (and a bit richer), despite the bad news.

It was at this point I met “Jurgen from Bergen”. There was an open mic night happening in the bar, and Jurgen was the organiser. I mentioned I could play guitar, and he told me to get up and play a song. I declined, saying I was too drunk and depressed and didn’t want to embarrass myself. He slapped me on the back and said, “Man, stay in Bergen. I can get you gigs playing guitar in bars. The girls here love Aussies. You will be happy here.” The pretty bargirl gave me another negative-cost beer and suddenly the thought struck me.

“Man, screw this work shit! I am never going back home!”

Dinner of sausage and banana with melted chocolate in the Norwegian Fjells.. my long-suffering boots fell apart and we had to duct tape them together.
Dinner of sausage and banana with melted chocolate in the Norwegian Fjells.. my long-suffering boots fell apart and we had to duct tape them together. I was tempted to live like this forever- but then realised I wouldn’t be able to afford new boots.

Long story short, my glorious night was curtailed by that enemy of travel conquests, the evil hostel curfew. And when I woke up the next day with a hangover, I wasn’t so sure anymore about my plan of action. Surely there were better contributions I could make to the world than playing guitar in Norwegian bars? And could it be that last night’s decision had been made more by the beer and potentially also my nether regions, given the attractiveness of the females involved?

Checking my email, there was one from a research institute back home I had enquired at before my trip. There was a vacancy for a PhD research position and I could start whenever I wanted. Now I’m not a superstitious person, but the timing was so fortuitous as to leave me in little doubt as to the correct life path. The redundancy cheque from my old job gave me about 10,000 bucks, so the personal loan was paid off immediately, and I continued the trip as originally planned. The day after I arrived home, 2 months later, I began work at the new job.

Life in the lab
Life in the lab

Ten years later, I have made contributions to science, love Mondays, have investments, just got married in Brazil and have more travel than I could ever want. Rarely do I need to pay for a flight and it’s at the point now where I am actively looking for ways to avoid travelling to places I have already been many times before (eg, Singapore, even though it is awesome) because the jetlag and flying wears me out and if it’s not absolutely essential then I feel guilty about my carbon footprint.

Things can always be better and my life is not perfect but I am counting my blessings every day.

I wrote an article about getting a job that allows you to travel, but you shouldn’t worry too much if your job doesn’t involve it- as long as they let you take paid leave or leave without pay every so often, you can still see the world. I sometimes get emails from Americans saying “I only get 2 weeks of vacation time a year, not a day more” and if that is really true, you probably need to find a way to take some more time off, even if you really love your job, because you only get one life and smelling the roses is important. If you don’t really love your job, this is even more true.

The coast at Cannon Beach, Oregon, where I lived and worked for 2 years
The coast near Portland, Oregon, where I lived and worked for 2 years

 

However, one should not forget the honour in working, in contributing to society. Even if you’re only emptying trashcans, you’re doing a small but essential service that cleans up the planet and allows humankind to continue to progress. If you’re just travelling the world and taking 30 flights a year, just to see the sights, then you are not really making a contribution and in fact you’re most definitely polluting the world and contributing to climate change.

Travel can help you find yourself, open your eyes to things you never thought possible, and bring untold self-confidence. But here’s the other thing about “a life of travel”- it is a solitary one. It is unstable. It is tiring. Many of these people continue to deceive themselves, continent hopping, still trying to find themselves years later, kidding themselves with their regular Facegram (TM) posts that they are living the dream.

But I see these people in hotel bars and hostel dorms and they are lonely. They are frazzled. They exist on the fringes of society as aspirational ghosts. They are just vagabonds.

There is the argument that tourist dollars help developing (and developed) economies, and fair enough. But you could equally argue that western tourism results in cultural pollution. Neither of these positions are entirely wrong or right.

There’s also a host of intrepid travellers who write blogs and “inspire others to travel” or take beautiful photographs or just entertain with their anecdotes, and this post is not really aimed at them, even if I think their advice is sometimes a bit misguided and they might display some of the personality traits above. After all, they haven’t so much as quit working, they’re just doing something that suits them better and contributes in a different way.

So then, maybe the question you should be asking is not “Should I quit my job to travel?” but:

 

“Should I get a different job?”

 

Agree? Disagree? Want to tar and feather me? All bouquets and brickbats are welcome below.

 

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Matt Edwards

Australian solar power scientist travels the world for 15 years, takes photos, writes stuff, has toothpaste confiscated. I like adventures that involve art, history, science, music, technology and partying. Sometimes all at once...

Comments

11 thoughts on “Why You Shouldn’t Quit Your Job to Travel” :: Leave yours →

  • January 19, 2015 at 5:56 am
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    Love the post, as finally there is a blogger, who works and blog :) We are two – working full time, but try our best to travel too. And YES, you can work full time and travel. I guess you just have to make traveling your priority and everything can be done too :) Cheers and happy working and traveling! :)

    • January 19, 2015 at 6:51 am
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      Hi Nina yes everyone always seems to be crazy about the extremes- all work and no play or all play and no work! You can totally have both!

  • January 19, 2015 at 6:07 am
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    I’m a recovering lawyer. Thanks to a father with wanderlust who managed to find ways to take us on living abroad adventures while working as an art teacher, I had quite a bit of travel under my belt by the time I finished my undergraduate degree. Then, came law school, marriage to a then medical resident with a ridiculous 80 hour/week work schedule and two sons. I was pretty sure my traveling would be limited to that once a year vacation Americans try to squeeze in. Fast forward 25 years. Our boys graduated from college and became self supporting (saints be praised). The medical resident with the ridiculous work schedule morphed into a physician-scientist hell bent on trying to find treatments for mesothelioma and lung cancer—and collaborating with researchers all over the world. Thanks to that, in 2014, we traveled for 4 weeks in Southeast Asia (including Singapore 😉 , lived in Hawaii for 3 months where he did a sabbatical at the University of Hawaii Cancer Center, traveled to Gernany, Austria and Hungary and spent 3 weeks in South Africa. Next month, we’re going on a one week “get me outta here” Caribbean cruise. In March we head to Turkey and Israel. Our travel is partially funded by my husband’s invitations to speak at various international scientific conferences. I heartily endorse the idea of finding a career that involves more than playing the guitar for beer. Work hard and earn the chance to do well (having opportunities to travel) by doing good (medical research)—or have the good sense to accidentally marry someone who ends up doing that 😉

    • January 19, 2015 at 6:50 am
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      Hi Suzanne yes! Great story, it is really amazing how much travel can work its way into your life if you have a good job. I think a take home message from this which I possibly should have included in the above is to get your degree!!!

  • January 19, 2015 at 6:44 am
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    Totally agree, we work hard and then travel. Quitting a job to travel isn’t for everyone. No matter what people do, we all deserve to do something that makes us happy and respect the choices other people make.

    • January 19, 2015 at 6:53 am
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      Very true Nat. There’s no reason why work shouldn’t be thought of as something that can be just as fulfilling and worthwhile as travel.

  • January 19, 2015 at 7:24 am
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    Hi Matt… I really enjoyed reading this post. You see, I am about to “quit my job” and travel full time. But I’m 57 years old.

    After 32 years in corporate America (where I get 6 weeks of vacation – whoo hoo!), I am ready to retire (though too early and too poor) and travel full time. One small issue, I hate to travel. I love living a bit here and there (currently living – on a work assignment – in Budapest, Hungary). Living this way will allow me to retire early. But I don’t plan to move quickly.

    I cringe at the term “nomad”. I worry about the 20 and 30 somethings who seem so desperate to find themselves. I’m glad I had a career – something I “did”. But I am also glad I now have the flexibility to live differently (and with my husband – I would be so very lonely if all alone).

    Good luck to you. You seem to have a very intelligent head on your shoulders. You can always “quit your job” and travel full time. You can’t always find a job you love where you contribute to society… All the best… Julie

  • January 19, 2015 at 11:12 am
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    I completely agree with this article. There are so many people who have quit their jobs JUST to travel continuously. I’ve done that a few times, but only when I was going to leave my job anyway and my travels were all less than 2 months. I too want to feel like I am doing something to better society. I am confident that I will be able to find fulfilling work that also allows me the time and freedom to travel often.

  • January 19, 2015 at 6:24 pm
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    Very thoughtful post and worthy ideas. I’ve been in and out of freelance work for decades. Travel has always been a priority and the flexibility to keep doing so has its ups and downs. There’s a time for everything and it seems you found the right one to take off and the right time to set up a home. Congratulations.

  • January 20, 2015 at 7:28 am
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    Couldn’t agree more with so any points in this well written and thoughtful post..We do make travelling a priority but we also love our jobs – I am doing a Marine biology phd, my husband is a psychiatrist. Although we get tempted to take year out travel the world with our kids, I think that’s just an idealistic picture we think we would like..In reality we love contributing to society, feeling good for doing our part, whatever little it might be, and in the meantime also showing the kids the world and enjoying family time travelling every opportunity we get. I think your key message is spot on – don’t quit job to travel, find job you love and travel too!

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