Quitting your job to travel for an extended time isn’t such a crazy thing to do these days. It’s a genuinely rewarding gap year that can be taken at any time, as long as you have the courage to do it, and the foresight to plan. If you’re reading this, then i’m assuming that the seed of travel is planted firmly in your brain. This article is aimed at first timers who already know their rough itinerary, and would love advice on what to do next.
You already know an open-ended trip free from all your usual comforts is going to be awesome! You don’t need me to tell about freedom, finding independence, learning about new cultures; that’s already decided and you can practically smell those backpacker hostels.
But, now it’s time to take action!! But how, exactly? Put on a pot of coffee, because i’ve got 8 steps to break down this mammoth trip into…smaller mammoths.
Firstly, about me. I’ve quit my job to travel not once, but 3 times, with varying levels of commitment:
– My big journey in 2012. I quit my job of 4 years, and ended up travelling for almost 18 months, completing a circumnavigation of the globe.
– A second time in 2014, quitting with the intention of staying in Europe for 2 months. I organised a job for my return (which I organised from overseas).
– My upcoming trip in December 2016. Completely selling off everything I own, for a new job and apartment (not yet found) to move to Amsterdam with my wife Cindy, a European citizen.
This big trip of yours WILL require a lot of planning. It will also contain a fair amount of discipline and self-control, especially in regards to the saving money part. The good news is that most of the planning i’m talking about is pre-travel stuff. In fact, the only thing I planned about my actual journey once I left home were 2 flights – Sydney to Kuala Lumpur, then onwards to Hanoi. That’s all! I wanted to trip to be as fluid and spontaneous as possible, so I kept planning to a minimum (I changed entire continents on a whim, which was a lot of fun).
So, where does planning start?
Choosing your destinations and activities and sights with a bit of specificity. With Lonely Planet and Google searches, and talking to friends and reading blogs. That’s the fun part, and by now you probably know what countries you’d like to see, for how long, and a rough path to link them together.
Next up, plan your finances, with a savings goal and expected timeline. I’ll delve into this scary topic in a minute.
Once you have a timeframe in mind, decide on your date of resignation (and try and it keep it relatively secret, for professionalism’s sake), and execute it so you have time to pack, clean, and say goodbye to people before leaving.
Then the rest falls into place easily.
– The plane ticket, the perfect sized backpack, vaccinations and visas and currency and shoes. You can research expected weather and hotels and whatever else you’re interested in.
– Research your vaccinations early, because some require multiple shots. Hepatitis A, for example, is two shots given 6 months apart, and maybe even further boosters to increase your titre.
– Towards the end, when things are beginning to look concrete, buy your travel insurance.
Let’s assume you’re like me, and you’re not a freelance website designer or app developer. So (unless you’re going for a working holiday visa) you’ll be fairly unemployable on the road, and your savings are all you have.
I’m also happy I did my big trip as a 25-year old, because if I tried the same thing at 20, I would have spent all my money on beers and come home after 2 months.
OK, but how much do I need?
For almost a year and a half, I took $20,000AUD. I spent less than $1000 per month living in South East Asian countries such as Malaysia, Cambodia and Vietnam. 2 weeks in Nepal was about $1000 (including a trekking tour of around $500). I stayed with friends and relatives in Europe, but I also rented an apartment in Paris, which was a few hundred Euros a month. We lived very cheap in hostels in Costa Rica, costing $500 per person for a month. We stayed in Canada for around 8 months paying just over $1000 a month, and with other expenses this accounted for nearly half my budget.
Consider which countries are expensive, and which are cheap. You need to make a shortlist of countries you want to see, you need to research their currency and the conversion rates, and you need to try and figure out how much a typical day will cost you. Do you want hotels? Hostels? Planning on camping, or paying for a huge guided trek, eating at famous restaurants or eating nothing but ramen for weeks on end? It is a lot of work, but it can be really fun too. I think ‘winging it’ in terms of finances for the big trip is a bad idea (but that’s me, i’m a planner by nature), and I also believe that the planning phase actually builds up anticipation and excitement for the trip.
Hopefully you’ll have a rough estimate for what each country is likely to cost you. Do it for each country, and add it all together. The number glaring at your from your calculator screen is going to be terrifying, but you’ve made an extremely productive and important first step. The next step is saving the money. If you have it saved, great, otherwise, give yourself a lot of time to prepare.
There are a lot of classic savings tips that you can find on the internet. Usually they’re pretty easy to abide by, but you need to be strict as hell. Cut out takeaway coffee, 100%. And buying lunch at work, stop that immediately too. (Do you remember above when I said that a job-quitter-traveller needs self control?)
Advantages: Those things add up like you wouldn’t believe. Let’s call a coffee $3AUD, and a sandwich from the corner shop $8AUD (Sydney prices, ugh). And let’s imagine you buy that every working day. $11 x 5 days x 4 weeks = $220 per month. Thats $2640 saved per year.
Disadvantages: Instant coffee (ugh).
Sadly, you’ll probably need to cut off alcohol and expensive dinners with your friends. I liked to tell myself that every beer I don’t drink in Sydney was about 7 beers I could enjoy in Vietnam. And every night out at a restaurant in Sydney was 3 nights accomodation in Cambodia. Stacking those things up like that seemed to help me when the temptation grew.
Advantages: Even more money can be saved than the coffee example above.
Disadvantages: Canned tuna on toast instead of Mexican fiesta restaurant night.
But if you have the means, the best savings can be had by changing your living situation. If you’re renting, you could look for a cheaper apartment, or share with some friends to divide the rental costs. If you get the chance, you could move back in with your parents (as much as that may not sound appealing). If you’ve got a bit of space available, you could become an AirBnb host to make spare cash. You might even make international friends that way who you could potentially stay with!
4. Your job
The first two times I quit my job to travel, I came back home both times with jobs lined up. And it wasn’t an accident.You just need to play your cards right.
I said at the beginning that quitting for a sabbatical around the world isn’t considered such a crazy idea these days. Many employers are even willing to give you an extended break, if you ask for it (and if they’re cool!), so that is definitely worth finding out about.
I should stress 2 points here. Firstly, leave on good terms. Even if you hate your job or your boss, and can’t wait to waltz into their office giving a double bird salute, resist the temptation, and do it professionally. This is one job where you want a good impression to last a long time! You’ll be unemployed for a long time, so you want this employer to write good references for you.
Secondly, stay in touch, whether it be personally or via Linkedin, with past employers or colleagues. You never know who might switch to a new company and become a leader there, and this might open doors for you.
5. Your stuff
I’ve tried a few ways of taking care of my stuff. Let’s have a look.
The easiest and cheapest way to store all your stuff is to box up all your stuff, rent a van and leave it in your parents garage or spare room. This worked well for me for my big 2012 journey – my Dad had a big empty garage, and even a spare room that I could leave my bed and other large pieces of furniture in. I even left my car there, and let the family use it whenever they needed.
Advantages: Easy, cheap, safe.
Disadvantages: A lot of packing and moving. You miss out on the chance to do a big spring clean. Leaving a car behind can be hugely costly when you return to find it’s rusty, doesn’t work and you want to re-register it.
Alternatively, put all your belongings into a storage container. We did this for our 2 month Europe jaunt, and this time I sold my car once and for all. We had the option of extending our storage if we needed to.
Advantages: Safe. You don’t annoy your family by unloading four thousand boxes on them.
Disadvantages: Cost (I paid about $AUD150 per month). A lot of packing required. Possibly an intense game of Tetris if your storage box is juuust big enough.
Another idea is the most extreme, and the most labour intensive. But so far my favourite. Pack up your most precious items (school photos, books you can’t part with, artwork, travel souvenirs, clothes, jewellery, whatever) and box those up, but sell everything else. Sell your bed, your couch, your knives and forks, your TV, your sentimental DVD collection. Sell jackets that you haven’t worn in 5 years, and sell your Pokemon cards you’re holding onto for some reason. What you can’t sell, you throw away; unworn clothes, weird paintings, old cameras and phones and chargers. What you need, such as clothes, post to your destination country.
Advantages: You make a lot of money on eBay/Gumtree/Craigslist. The amazing unburdened feeling of doing the best spring clean of your life.
Disadvantages: If you want to post things overseas, you will obviously be planning on moving country to live, not necessarily to travel. Some high postage costs. You might still need to ask your parents for storage space!
6. Your friends and family
It’s going to be hard to split from friends and family, especially in the beginning, but homesickness can gnaw at you fiercely, months or years later. And around Christmas, homesickness will always rear its ugly head. Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do about it; you’re going to be separated. But staying in contact can be done in a million ways as long as you have an internet connection. You might even have the chance to meet them out in another country, so keep in touch and find out about everybody else’s travel plans. I always found posting postcards home was very therapeutic as well, and loved when people wrote to me saying they received them.
7. Your future
What about buying a house!? Getting married!? Having kids…? All those milestone things that you want to achieve, or maybe they’re expected of you. When travelling, it’s easy to feel left behind in life’s ‘normal’ flow of events, when you’re out bird watching in Costa Rica, only to discover a baby boom of pregnancy announcements the next time you check your Facebook. I don’t have a good answer for you about love and families, because those are personal choices. I can only say that life takes you to unexpected places. I quit my job in 2012 as a single man, but I met my future wife in Borneo, only 2 weeks into my trip.
Buying a house is something we’d still like to do, and we realise that our travel-loving lifestyle has probably set us back a few years in that department. But that’s a reality for travel lovers, and for us, it’s all worth it.
8. Your return
Speaking from experience, your return requires a bit of planning, even if it’s just a tiny bit. I put very little thought into this the first time round, and I regretted it. I travelled until my bottom dollar, and immediately fell into debt renting an apartment back in Australia, despite having a job.
So I recommend putting money aside, maybe in a term deposit so you can’t touch it. A few thousand dollars should be enough, to cover rent or whatever large expenses await you at home. This might add a few months of extra saving time to your planning phase, but I highly recommend this.
Keep in mind your possessions too, and what effect a year or more of stagnation will have. I came back to find my car’s brake pads were rust pads, and it had fogged up in the rain and heated in the sun so often that the interior was covered in mould. I wish i’d sold it, or given it someone who would have driven it frequently.
There we have it, some steps to prepare yourself to quit your job and travel. Next up comes the fun part. You’ll buy your one-way ticket to somewhere new and suck in your breath as you click ‘pay’. It’s locked in and there’s no going back, and everything from this point is pure adventure!
Do you have any tips about preparing yourself for the ultimate travel? Let me know in comments below!