Taking the plunge: Quitting to pursue a life of travel

Taking the plunge

November 30th 2015 I walked into my boss’s office with a letter of resignation. December 23rd I had my last day of work. Today, at the time of publishing this post, I’m sitting in Helsinki Airport on a 3 hour layover; with a one-way ticket to Bangkok, “taking the plunge” is in full effect. But let’s start at the beginning.

I have always loved travelling. I’ve been travelling many times every year since I was a kid and during my university years in Denmark I spent three semesters abroad in Phoenix (Arizona, US), Troy (New York, US) and Karlsruhe (Germany) so coming out of university I was no stranger to travel or spending time abroad several months at a time. During my younger years it was mostly ski holidays and weekend trips to big cities of Europe. I also went on a couple roadtrips around Europe and some international festivals. But despite actually having spent many weeks of my life abroad I had only ever been to two continents: North America and Europe. In other words, by age 25, I had only really experienced western culture – albeit a lot of it and a good starting point for further explorations..

The first bite of travelling

Between my first and second job I spent 2½ months travelling almost full time. Greenland for two weeks, Ukraine/Moldova for two weeks, Sweden for one week and a couple of other minor trips. This was where I experienced the faint bite of the travel bug for the first time. I enjoyed these trips so much and I met so many people that there was really no going back. Although at the time, when I was about to start working again, I was thinking: “Oh well, you’ve had your fun – now get back to work and start acting like a grown up and get a job instead of living in a dream where one can travel for ever and cash is never an issue”. And so I started my new job.

Eagles on my arms in Ukraine
4 eagles taking a “rest” on my arms in Odessa, Ukraine.

Building my career

At first my second job was amazing, I got thrown out into the deep end of the pool with my assigned mentor quit leaving me very alone to take care of things I had no idea how to do. On top of that I went on business trips with the company and therefore got to travel a lot. This was a very exciting time of my life and at that point I could see myself doing it for a long time. However, after about a year and a half the travels stopped. I got slowly pushed into a more expert like role with a less broad profile.

For my career this was all good and I definitely had a bright future continuing this job but the longing for travel just kept increasing until the point, after a very pivotal conversation with a good friend, when I realized that I had to make a change. Luckily I got the possibility of a 3-month stay  at our department in Malaysia.

Those three months were spectacular and by using some vacation I also got to travel solo around South East Asia. The only downside was that when I got back I wanted more. With the 2 months of travel a few years back, a 3 week intense trans-Siberian railroad trip and this latest trip to Malaysia I had been exposed to not only solo travelling but also long term travelling and last but not the least, a vastly different culture than what I was used to, I could only think about my next trip.

Some reflections about quitting

During all our lives, well at least most of us, we have been socially programmed to “do the right thing”. That is to go to school, get an education – as academic as possible, get a job, raise a family, take a loan, buy a house, buy a car, buy a dog, all while paying into your retirement fund so that you can die of old age in comfort. Not necessarily in that order.

Economics

All those thoughts go through your head the time before quitting and especially 5 minutes before you quit: will I be able to get a job when I get back, will my career take a serious blow, what about my pension (since I’m not working), what about my friends, what about my family, what about my house, car, tv, lawn chair or whatever else you may dearly possess. What about all of it!? And even when you have convinced yourself that all your worldly possessions will be safe as well as your future potential to gather more trinkets (read: your career) will also survive there is still the very immediate and unavoidable fact that travel ain’t free and somehow someone will have to pay for the whole shebang.

The topic of “how much money do I need to travel” is a question asked by almost everyone and answered almost as many times but not by me right now as that is enough material for a full post. But in short you don’t really need that much. Check out this post made by Nomadic Matt about this very topic. Many people have started travelling by initially just going away for a week’s vacation and then just never returned because they saw an opportunity to stay and seized it. An example is a friend of mine from the UK that went to Thailand for a 10 days’ vacation and while there got offered a job to teach English. 2 years later he is now in Malaysia instead (still teaching English) and has no immediate plans or need to return home any time soon.

Being Lonely

Another very pressing topic is loneliness which I got a bit into in my post about Penang. I’ve been on four long term stays abroad and not until the last and final one did I experience being lonely. The first three were all as an exchange student while the latest one was a business trip. Being away on a business trip and living in a hotel for three months was a great experience that I wouldn’t take back. However, even though your colleagues are awesome and often go out in the evenings and weekends to do things with you, you still miss your friends. A third way to travel is the way I’m going now: full time travel, constantly on the move. This is unlike anything I’ve done before (for more than a month) and from what you hear through the grapevine it can and will get lonely at times. Even though you are constantly surrounded by interesting and unique people you will have to endure a lot of goodbyes which can take it’s toll on anyone.

Outside your comfort zone
Where the Magic Happens

These are just a subset of things that have been on my mind over the last 2 years and especially the last month. People who know me will confirm that I can easily spend hours talking about travel – in a more or less rambling fashion. But no matter what happens I’m completely certain that I will look back at this experience and be happy that I did it. Travel is the best education you can get.

The next steps

All of January I have been planning and preparing to get ready and by the time of publishing this post there will be nothing left to do than to board the plane to Thailand. Even with a month of preparing, I have a very vague idea about what I will be doing when I get there. I have set up to meet with two bloggers and I have talked to a couple of friends about meeting up with them (or their families) but nothing is written in stone. Once again I will be in the deep end of the pool – taking the plunge.

view over the green fields of Mongolia
View over the endless fields of green from the top of a mountain in Mongolia

7 Comments

  • Hanne

    February 1, 2016

    I know I said I wouldn’t because I knew I would get jealous of your travels but I thought I owed it to you. I love your writing style my friend. Will follow your journey. See you out there.

    Reply
    • Thor

      February 2, 2016

      Much appreciated Hanne and thanks for the kind words – I’m happy that you like what I write. I’ll see you out there

      Reply
  • Derek Cullen

    February 1, 2016

    Good luck with everything 😉

    Reply
  • Derek Cullen

    February 1, 2016

    Best of luck with everything, it will all work out fine ….you’ll see 😉

    Reply
    • Thor

      February 2, 2016

      Thank you Derek. I’m sure it will 🙂

      Reply
  • Mr. Observer

    February 1, 2016

    Håber, jeg må skrive på dansk.

    Jeg nød at læse din blog, frisk og uhøjtidelig I stilen.

    Og sikke et pragtfuldt billede fra Mongoliet. Det er lige før, man forestiller sig Djengis Khan (død 1216) og hans ryttere galoppere igennem det. Bæstet udslettede flere civilisationer og huserede fra Nordkina til Polen.

    Det at rejse, har det ikke både en kvantitativ og en kvalitativ side? Den kvantitative side er forholdsvis let at måle og forestille sig: Hvor mange lande har jeg besøgt? Hvor mange kilometer har jeg rejst? Hvor mange kulturer har jeg stiftet bekendtskab med etc. ? Det er ikke særligt interessant og kan let munde ud i det rene praleri.
    Den kvalitative side er vanskeligere at måle og i det hele taget vanskeligere at have med at gøre. Hvad er det, jeg søger? Hvad er det for kvaliteter hos mig selv, rejser skal udvikle ? Hvad kommer der I det hele taget ud af at rejse?
    Diskussionerne derom kan være mange og svarene ligeså: At få oplevelser, at få erfaringer, jeg ikke kan læse mig til, at tilfredsstille min nysgerrighed, at få indblik i sæder og skikke hos andre folkeslag og kulturer, at erhverve sprogkundskaber i sprogenes naturlige omgivelser etc.
    Et ofte fremhævet formål er at komme til en dybere forståelse, ikke bare over sig selv, men ogå over sit eget, dvs. ens baggrund, historie og den plet på jorden, hvor man er vokset op.
    H.C. Andersen fremhævede gerne sin glæde ved at rejse. Han udtrykte forståelsen af sit eget i et digt, som jeg ikke tror han ville have skrevet, hvis han ikke havde set sig selv og sit land udefra. Digtet, jeg tænker på, mener nogle burde være Danmarks nationalsang:

    I Danmark er jeg født, dér har jeg hjemme
    dér har jeg rod, derfra min verden går;
    du danske sprog, du er min moders stemme,
    så sødt velsignet du mit hjerte når.
    Du danske, friske strand,
    hvor oldtids kæmpegrave
    stå mellem æblegård og humlehave.
    Dig elsker jeg! – Danmark, mit fædreland.

    Det er naturligvis de færreste – eller ingen – beskåret at gøre H.C. Andersen rangen stridig, men digtet er her også kun brugt som eksempel på, hvad rejser kan udvikle af kvalitative sider hos én selv. Hvordan kan det, jeg ser, hører, oplever og sanser bruges til at udvikle mig selv kvalitativt til glæde for andre?

    Reply
    • Thor

      February 2, 2016

      Det vers er fantastisk. Blev helt rørstrømstk da jeg læste det! Iøvrigt tak for den meget lange og interressante kommentar 🙂

      Reply

Leave a Reply