Is it a good idea to take a break from “real life”? How do you make big decisions like going on extended travel?
As some of you know, five months ago my husband Ever and I decided to quit our jobs and go traveling for six months. Well, to be fair, Ever quit his job for other reasons, and when we decided to do a longer-term trip, the big decision of quitting my job came naturally. No, I did not hate my job. I actually thought it was the best job experience yet and it was very rewarding, but at the end, I decided I wanted more than the job could offer me.
A few years ago, Ever and I went to a yard sale where the hosts told us they both quit their jobs to travel across the US for a whole year. Ever looked at me and told me, “we should do the same!” I was completely against the idea. I told him we would need to save tons, not see our families for a while and that was insane and irresponsible. He never touched the subject again.
Was I being crazy? Maybe. But in my defense, at that time I had just moved to the US and was trying to adjust to the change in culture, to live with my then-boyfriend and adapting to be very far from my family. I needed time. The good thing is, though, people change. And I did. Landing my last job built up my confidence, and every project completed made me strive for a greater challenge. My personal life started to change, too. This self-confidence boost also helped me become more social and a little less hater (hehe) and I started to do things I never did before, such as learning how to sew, workout more efficiently and cook (and healthier, yes, I never liked cooking before).
I didn’t know it yet, but somehow life itself was preparing me for a greater challenge. I soon discovered that while I loved my job and the people I worked with, there might not be a lot of room for growth in the company. I honestly had never thought of a plan or the future of my career. And things started to change (refer to paragraph one). So when Ever quit (before we set our traveling plan) and brought up the idea of traveling, my reaction was an euphoric “yes!!!”
We decided this on a Wednesday, and by Friday I talked to HR to give a one-month notice (I still had a big project going on and I did not want to leave until I knew it would be completed on time and that it’d be successful.)
After that, I talked to my manager (with whom I got along very well) and asked him if he would give me six months of unpaid leave. He just said “What?! I just let you go for a full month for your trip to Europe!!!!” (true story). Then I tried to negotiate for four months… and he just said that he couldn’t. Did I expect him to say yes? No! But hey, something I learned is that we don’t always ask for what we want and we should. When Ever and I went to Europe last November, I thought they would say no when I asked for a month leave from work, but I received an easy “yes” when I promised to leave everything regarding my projects ready prior to my leave.
I ended my work there with a lot of good recommendations and amazing friends. I do cherish the time I was there but I was ready to take on a new challenge.
What should I expect from my friends/family?
Now, this new challenge was definitely risky. When we talked to our families, we had mixed reactions. Some people were completely against our idea. Some were very happy and excited for us, and others did not know what to think. These are some of the things you will hear when communicating your plan to friends and family (some of which are good points, unless you plan carefully):
You will have a hard time finding a job
Ever and I are both smart and hard working people. We have been good employees and left our jobs with the recommendation of our managers. While we didn’t know what the job market would be when we get back, we tried to prepare the best we could to find a job upon returning.
You are ruining your life
A little dramatic in my opinion. Not much to say about that.
You will run out of money
We carefully picked our destinations, made a budget and made sure we would have enough $$ to survive for the next six months after coming back to the US, while we looked for jobs. Also, we ensured to have a place to crash after the airport and not have to choose which bridge to live under. To make our trip cheaper, we did opt for more economic options of food and accommodation. We pay a lot on a daily basis in “real life” because we “don’t have time” to do stuff. While we traveled, all we had was time. The food stalls are a few blocks away? We’ll walk instead of eating in a fancier restaurant. The next public bus leaves in 3 hours? We’ll wait instead of taking the “VIP” buses that are three times the price. We were constantly willing to sacrifice a little comfort to save money and travel for longer.
You need to save to buy a second car/house
We have had only one car since we started living together. We were lucky enough that we could commute together to work everyday. Why having a second car if not absolutely need it? Parking in San Diego is expensive if available and hard to find if street-parking. A second car was a waste of money. As for a house, it’s not something that we are ready to commit to. We need to find the right jobs in the right location to make such an important and big decision. We might get a house when we both feel it’s the right time. Why rush such an important and life-altering decision?
You need to think of starting a family
Although I know it’s a common question (and usually part of small talk for some reason) and I usually don’t mind answering it, it does annoy me when people start pushing or being nosey after we say we are not ready for kids. “You are getting older”, “you are being selfish”, “it’s the most amazing thing ever!!!”. For anybody else telling people all these things, please stop. Having or not having kids is definitely NOBODY’S business but the couple’s. When people ask “but why not having kids soon?” I just put my it’s-none-of-your-damn-business polite smile and say “because we don’t want to”. End of discussion.
You just don’t want to work because you are lazy
Refer to reason number 3
So how do I convince MYSELF that this is the right decision? How do I ensure I will succeed?
I read a quote not long ago saying that if you want to succeed, don’t listen to your family, friends or neighbors. I say two things:
- Don’t be afraid to take a calculated risk
- Don’t trust, always verify
In this post, I referred to our extended travel as my personal challenge, but this applies to anything that you want to do that will break your routine.
These are some things that should be considered when deciding whether extended travel is a good idea:
What are your reasons for doing this?
Is it because you are tired of your job/place to live? Do you need more adventure? Find a good reason and stick to it. You DO NOT need to defend your big decision from the world’s opinion, but you need to know what it is. Things could go very wrong when you make a big change for the wrong reasons. For example, picking your major because your friends are doing it. If it’s not what you sincerely want to do, you may waste time/money/energy and end up regretting it. Do what you want, but know WHY you’re doing it!
What is it that you want to do?
Motorbike across Vietnam? Visit every capital of Europe? Climb the tallest mountains in Africa? Make sure to plan for something you actually want to do. You do not have to do anything you don’t feel comfortable doing, and as good-old Dirty Harry would say: “A good man knows his limits”. Example: Ever was considering going from Saigon to Hanoi driving a motorcycle. I don’t ride motorcycles (I barely can ride a normal bike, shame on me) and I was just not up for it. We discussed and decided we would not do it. Moral: You don’t have to prove anything to anybody. You don’t have to expand your comfort zone to the point you are actually suffering because of it. Know your limits and plan for that.
How much do you spend on a monthly basis?
Prepare your savings for when you come back, or enough in case things go wrong (especially if starting a business or changing to a less-paid job). Plan to be without income for at least 6 months.
Make your budget.
If applicable, include insurance in it (always get traveler’s insurance!!!!). Don’t forget to research, then research and finally research about whatever you are doing and wherever you are going. Always be prepared!
Be brave and enjoy every single minute of your big adventure.
There were some bad days, there were days that I felt home-sick, there were days I was ready to come back. But I wanted this so bad that everything is working out well and I believe this was a good decision. I have learned so much about other people, about life and about myself that I think that taking this trip changed the course of my life for better. When I was little and I was scared of jumping in the water, I remember I would just close my eyes, run, jump and hope for the best. As an adult, I prefer making sure the water is deep enough and that I know how to swim back to surface. Again, don’t be afraid to take a calculated risk.
Humans are creatures of habit. And almost always, change hurts at least a little; first days of school of work, moving out, even enjoyable activities can make us nervous or stressed at some point. Just embrace that. If you know in advance and accept that things can get rough and that it might make you re-think what you are doing, you are setting yourself up for success.
Plan, prepare, and TAKE ACTION!
Surely, life has tossed some important questions your way. How do you handle big decisions? Do you have any additional advice? Talk to us in the comments below!