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Should You Quit Your Job to Travel the World?
Most people say it's a risk. I beg to differ

The question "should you quit your job" is one every woman contemplating long-term travel considers.

It's a scary decision. Will I find a new job when I return? Am I too young to be taking a career break? Am I to old to get back into the workforce? Can I afford to do this? Am I crazy? What will everyone think? Will my family suffer?

These are normal questions and should cross your mind as you think things through.

After all, why should you quit your job? You may like it a lot, it's your financial lifeline and your pension is tied up in it, you might not find another one as good...

Should you quit your jobEscape from the cubicle (dcwriterdawn via Flickr CC)

But if the pull of travel is stronger, all these reasons will fly out the window.

I know they did for me. I had a well-paid and secure job with a good future when I decided it wasn't for me. My friends tried to dissuade me, telling me I'd never find something as solid, that I'd veer off my career track (what little track I had), and that it simply wasn't safe for a woman on her own.

I did quit, thinking that a few months on the road would wean me of the travel bug. Well, it didn't. My trip ended up lasting more than three years.

When I returned home, I found a new job, better than the one I had left. I realize not everyone is as fortunate, but it can happen - to me, to you, to many people. Had I not followed by heart, I never would have known.

So, should you quit your job to travel?

First of all, not everyone can do this, and I want to get that out of the way. Some people have family ties they cannot stretch - a partner who won't or can't travel, elderly or ailing relatives, children they don't want to take out of school, or simply insufficient funds. Yes, you can save money to travel but that is a mostly 'developed country' construct because in poorer countries, you may wish to travel but your responsibilities may simply not allow you to.

Assuming you can leave, it will ultimately be your decision - and don't let anyone else make it for you.

I've spoken to many people about this over the years and here are just a few of the feelings that have come out while going through the decision-making process:

  • I know my job is wrong for me, but it's great for everyone else. I feel like I'm in quicksand - the more I fight it, the deeper I sink. Everyone else can't be wrong.
  • I started losing track of what was important. I bought the plot, built the house, and then looked around me and asked: is this all there is?
  • People have acted strangely around me at work. By belittling or raising questions about my decision, they might be expressing some sort of envy - or fear.
  • I get the feeling I'm 'different' - others seem so satisfied to work and grow up. All I want to do is see the world.
  • I don't feel I can be who I am locked up in a cubicle eight hours a day. I'm stifled, suppressed, and unfulfilled.
  • No, I'm not running away from anything. I'm running towards.
  • Will I ever settle down?
  • It's scary to think of traveling on my own.

And hundreds of feelings more. Thinking is a major part of the process of leaving, of letting go. You have to feel comfortable with your decision. You may not find all the answers before you go, but you'll be better off for having asked the questions.

My own decision was anything but an overnight one.

On the contrary, it took me a year to get things in order, make a flurry of color-coded lists, talk to people who had done this before, and so many more things I had to plow through before actually getting on the road. I didn't leave empty-handed, either - I had some savings, and I had work as a freelance writer, so I wasn't just casting myself into the universe to see what would stick.

How to feel better about quitting your job

It's perfectly normal to feel all sorts of fear and anxiety when deciding whether to quit your job to travel.

If you want to fly off into the sunset, that's fine. But if you're a little more cautious, there are plenty of things you can do make sure you don't cut yourself off completely from the world as you know it.

  • Why not consider volunteer work overseas? You'll be able to put this on your CV and it often counts as work experience - and might help with the job search.
  • You might also search for overseas jobs, with the advantage of maintaining your career path yet living overseas, perhaps becoming an expat rather than a traveler. 
  • If that's too formal, you could try something less structured, like becoming a travel writer or teaching English abroad.
  • You could study a language abroad - it won't earn you money but it will make you more marketable when you return.
  • Deal with the money thing - save enough to tide you over when you return. And make sure you have enough to go! Check out this travel advice on money to plan your budget, at least for the first part of your trip.
  • Some employers see travel as a positive developmental experience - if you're fortunate enough to work for one of those, try asking for six months or a year's leave of absence without pay.
  • If your boss disagrees, try to stay on good terms. There just might be a job opening when you return - who knows, it might even be yours!

While this lifestyle may seem highly glamorous - it's not - you should be absolutely clear of the pitfalls before you go.

The down sides of quitting your job to travel

I can only speak for myself but much as I loved my full-time travel, there were low moments, and plenty of inconveniences and disadvantages.

  • I did get lonely. It didn't happen often, but I missed my friends and my family.
  • The fun of living out of a backpack wore out and I sometimes wished I had a home base somewhere more permanent (as it was my poor brother was deluged with packages from such exotic post offices as Mozambique and Brazil).
  • Money got tight. For some reason people who hire you and pay you often forget you need to eat. They, after all, have a regular paycheck every month. You don't. At times it was too close for comfort.
  • When I got sick (and this happened at least as much as at home) I had to deal with it on my own. No one to feel any sympathy, no one to tell me it was going to be all right. When I was on the road (in the 1990s) there was no Skype or cellphones so nowadays you'd at least be able to keep in touch with your support system. But still.
  • The career dangers I mentioned earlier. You might be lucky and find a great job on your return - but you might not. You need to take this into consideration.

In the end, the reasons why women travel are as numerous as they are personal. Should you quit your job to travel? Only you can make that decision. Just know that thousands of women have made that decision before you, and many of them have come back grateful they were given the opportunity to step out into the world for a while.

Have you ever quit your job to travel? What was that like for you? Please reply in the comments below.

(Updated 10 May 2015)

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