Tom: This is a truly inspiring guest post by Susan Shain, the founder of Travel Junkette. Having read it, I now want to get up off the couch and immediately see more of the world!
What’s your biggest dream?
If you’re like many people, it’s “Quitting my job to travel the world.”
Unfortunately, for most, this remains nothing more than a dream. Excuses pile upon life which piles upon excuses, and before they know it, they’re on their deathbed.
For LWB readers, however, it doesn’t have to be just a dream.
With a flexible career, it’s now possible to work while traveling the world – so what are you waiting for?
How I Left Work Behind to Travel the World
Through high school and college, I took a pretty conventional path. I found opportunities to travel and study abroad, waitressing to fund my adventures, but I also accepted summer internships to boost my resume for the “real” job I thought I’d have after graduation.
During my senior year, I was offered an interview with a prestigious media company based in NYC. As I sat in a room full of stuffy guys in suits, I realized I didn’t have any clue why I wanted this job – or any desire to work with these people.
After bombing the interview by giving honest answers, I walked home and told my roommate I was moving to Colorado to be a ski bum (something I’d always dreamed of).
At the time I thought I would eventually return to the professional world and get a grown-up job.
But after working in Colorado for three seasons and meeting other seasonal workers who were living incredibly adventurous lives, I realized I didn’t have to go back. Then, after backpacking through Latin America and Asia during my off-seasons, I realized I couldn’t. Two weeks of vacation wouldn’t do.
As I worked my way around the world, I started to blog about my adventures. I thought, “If I could just earn an extra $500/month online, I could travel for so much longer.” I started reading blogs like LWB, and eventually, I gained a few regular writing and marketing gigs. My workload continued to increase, and in September 2013, I finished up the summer season at my job in Alaska and went online full-time.
Though my life today wasn’t what I envisioned when I left that interview in early 2008, I now know it’s the path I’ve always been on. I’ve taken a roundabout route to online entrepreneurship, but my goals have remained the same. I left a conventional career behind to meet interesting people, have more time to travel, and add adventure to my life.
In this post, I’m going to explore why you should do the same.
Why You Should Make Travel a Priority
I don’t normally like “shoulds,” but this is one I feel good about. The benefits of travel are seemingly infinite, and I want everyone to experience them.
Here are three huge reasons why you should make travel a priority in your life:
You read LWB to learn how to grow your business – and yourself. Though you may be attracted to traveling because it’s fun and exciting, it’s also the best education there is.
You learn about other cultures, people, and economies. You practice new languages and immerse yourself in different ways of living.
When you travel, your surroundings are your classroom, and each experience is worth a hundred textbooks. There’s no better way to understand an artist than to visit her home, or an ancient city than to climb through its ruins.
But besides the obvious, you also gain countless skills that will serve you well in entrepreneurship.
For example, I’ve learned how to:
- Negotiate while shopping in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar
- Express myself clearly while teaching English in South Korea
- Increase sales while raising money for an organization in Nicaragua
- Milk a cow while doing a homestay in rural Tanzania (not so useful for entrepreneurship, but fun nonetheless!)
No matter what you’re learning, you’ll always come back from travel knowing more than when you left.
2. Personal growth
Not only do you learn about external things like customs and events while traveling, you also learn so much about yourself.
It’s important to clarify here that I’m not talking about a vacation. Though those are important for relaxation and unwinding, they don’t generally stimulate a lot of personal growth.
The difference between travel and a vacation is that travel isn’t easy. It’s exhilarating and adventure-filled, but it’s not beach chairs and daiquiris. It’s sweat and missed trains and scams and food poisoning. It’s the most fun and most challenging times you’ll ever face.
But besides the frustrations – or more likely, because of them – these experiences cause you to grow more quickly and more deeply than few things ever will. You become more flexible, open-minded, and grateful. Less judgmental and more optimistic. I could go on listing positive character traits, but I think you get the idea.
I’ve never met anyone who’s come home from traveling a worse person. You’ll have difficult moments, but all in all, you’ll be offered a perspective on the world you would’ve otherwise never had – and it will change you forever.
Personally, travel has had a huge impact on my development. From navigating cities by myself, I’ve become more self-reliant and independent. From constantly meeting new people, I’ve become more outgoing and open-minded. From waiting for buses for hours on end, I’ve become more patient. And from cold showers and outhouses, I’ve become very appreciative of Western bathrooms.
I know travel’s made me a better person, and I know it will make you one, too.
Last, but certainly not least, you should travel for fulfillment. There’s no point in working hard if you don’t have any time to enjoy life.
It seems to be the paradox that those who have enough money to travel don’t have the time, and those who have the time don’t have the money. By creating a flexible career, you don’t have to choose. When you leave work behind, you can work from anywhere.
Fulfillment will look different for every person. Maybe you want to climb the tallest mountain in your country, or maybe you want to learn how to cook pasta in Italy itself.
Whatever the reason is behind your wanderlust, pursue it. A few years ago, I spent a week in Thailand volunteering with elephants. They’re my favorite animals, and I’ve always wanted to get up close and personal with them. I doubt that bathing pachyderms would be a dream trip for most people, but for me, it was.
Don’t mold your travel dreams to fit anyone else’s; just focus on what will fulfill you, and I promise it won’t disappoint.
What Are You Waiting For?
None of this does any good if you keep waiting for the right moment. That’s because the right moment is now.
I didn’t share these stories to make you jealous or prove how much fun I’ve been having. I shared them so you’d say, “Wow, that sounds amazing; I need to make travel happen.”
As soon as those words leave your lips, however, I bet a whole slew of excuses will start to roll in. If you’re anything like my travel coaching clients, they might look something like this:
“I’m too old/young/out of shape/inexperienced.”
No, you’re not. There are travel experiences for every type of person, from guided group tours of American national parks to homestays in France. If roughing it through southeast Asia isn’t your thing, don’t try and make it so.
As I said above, you need to figure out what’s going to fulfill you, as well as what fits your time, budget, and personal restraints.
Don’t let your idea of what travel should be hold you back from what it really can be.
“I can’t quit my job.”
This is, of course, a legitimate concern – but it doesn’t have to be the ultimate roadblock.
If you don’t want to quit your job, start by taking long weekends here and there. See how it makes you feel. (My bet: awesome.)
Try to work remotely a few days per week. Take two weeks of unpaid vacation. During the slowest quarter of the year, ask your employer if you can take an unpaid leave of several months.
The point is: there are many ways to travel and maintain your job. You don’t have to go all in if you’re not ready to.
It all starts with excelling at work. If you’re constantly over-performing, your employers are more likely to approve of you working remotely or taking extra time off. If your company isn’t willing to cooperate, then start looking for a similar job with a more flexible work environment.
If you eventually make the decision to leave work behind and travel for an extended period of time, it’s important to remember all the benefits that travel will bring. When (if!) you decide to return to the conventional workforce, your new experiences and skills will only aid you in your job search.
“I don’t have the money.”
If you’re reading LWB, you’re already halfway there. Use the tools and resources listed here to start earning money online.
Put the extra money into a travel fund, then once you take off, use it as a steady stream of income while on the road. It doesn’t have to be much; a little bit will help you feel so much more secure. And if you’re traveling in developing countries, the exchange rate will help even small paychecks go a long way.
Furthermore, traveling isn’t as expensive as you think. The money you’re currently spending on rent, car payments, eating out, and new clothes really adds up. Traveling in a developing country without those costs is probably less than what you’re spending now.
Traveling slowly and experiencing places like the locals will help you to spend less money. Doesn’t renting a beach bungalow in Thailand or an apartment in downtown Cartagena sound like the perfect way to combine work and adventure?
The bottom line: we live in an amazing world – one where you can create a career that relies only on a computer and an internet connection. With the help of this blog, you can create that career, then fulfill your travel dreams. Don’t let this opportunity pass you by.
It’s time to banish your excuses. It’s time to leave work behind. It’s time to travel the world.