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9-5 job

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