How do I know if quitting my job and traveling is the right move?
December 15, 2010 12:55 PM   Subscribe

I've been working in the same job since college for several years now, and am starting to feel the "what else is out there" itch that I'm sure isn't uncommon for someone approaching 30. I feel like I want to spend several months roaming the world, but I'm not sure if I'm doing it for the right reasons, and if I'm fully evaluating the cost/benefit aspect.

I've never really traveled much, but always wanted to, just couldn't a) find people to go with and b) find time away from work. But I'm feeling the urge more and more, because it's only going to get harder to do, and I'm just sort of tired with life right now. I've had a series of serious disappointments that are telling me I'm not on the right track right now, and I can confidently say I'm not remotely happy with my life. I've got enough money saved up that I could easily go off for 6-12 months, and not even handle being unemployed for a year or two when I get back. But I do have a few concerns:

1) If I quit, I should assume I'm exiting this career track entirely. My current role is very specialized, and I don't think I have enough transferable skills to get a comparable job when I return, which is a problem because of #2...

2) job is, objectively, very good: pay is way above average, benefits good. If I give it up, I'm not going to get it back here or anywhere else. Some sort of extended leave might be possible, but I wouldn't count on it.

3) Little apprehensive about being on my own in foreign places for so long. I don't really have anyone I'm close to here, so if I'm in the middle of a jungle somewhere and feeling overwhelmed and alone, I don't have any support network.

4) I've never been good at anything social. I'd want to stay in hostels and all that, but I'm worried I'm romanticizing it a bit, and in reality nobody will hang out with me because I'm not that interesting.

5) I'm not sure I'd be doing it for the right reasons. I feel like to a great extent my motivations are to check off a bunch of cities on the list of places I've never been, and because doing this will automatically make me interesting, which I know isn't true.

You could say that, at least for #3 and #4, extended solo travel is just what I need to change that, but still hung up on #1 and #2. I know that I have to figure out my own priorities to make that decision, but what should I be thinking about? What should the goals of such a trip be? Any experiences, tips, regrets anyone can share?

(posting anonymously in case anybody at work identifies this as me)
posted by anonymous to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I wouldn't quit a good job in this economy.
posted by By The Grace of God at 1:18 PM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Have you considered taking a sabbatical from your company? You can ask for a month off without pay to take an extended vacation - it's not really a decision that you have to go 100% working or 100% quitting. Split the difference.

If your current role is very specialized, as you say, you're valuable to the company.
posted by meowzilla at 1:21 PM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I vote go. But I would have said that even before I read your full post.

Sure, the future is uncertain. But you will cherish the memories you gain from traveling far more than the paychecks you are currently receiving. That was certainly the case for me (I did my backpacking across Europe at the age of 35). And I would bet that, when the time comes, you will be able to slip back into something far easier than you might imagine.

Do the hostel thing. Travel light. Expect to lose things along the way. And don't romanticize anything before hand; it's actually a pretty gritty package.

As for being overwhelmed in a foreign land, that's actually an important part of the experience. Don't avoid that. My grandfather used to say, "Everywhere you go, people speak English. Except Scotland." And all kidding aside, that is mostly true. Also, I found Irish pubs in pretty much every major city I visited. So you can look out for one of those if you start to feel oppressed.

And absolutely, positively, do not worry about whether or not you are interesting. While that's never a good thing to do, anyway, while traveling it becomes even less of a concern. If things don't click at any one point, you just move on. Simple.

Good luck!
posted by fartknocker at 1:22 PM on December 15, 2010 [7 favorites]

I could have posted this exact question about six months ago. That was before I took a leave of absence from work (and home...) and roamed the country for six weeks. It is the best thing I've ever done. See if you can take an extended leave from work to try out the gypsy life style that you're craving.

You don't have to spend your whole solo trip alone. Meeting up with locals and other travelers can put a whole new perspective on 'seeing new places.' I highly suggest checking out You'll be able to find all types of folks who are for one reason or another traveling, and you can find great hosts out there that want so much to just share their culture and area with you. It's like you become a temporary foreign exchange student.

I too tend to be antisocial when traveling solo in hostels/hotels but I can usually cure that by finding a local couchsurfing meetup or finding someone to host me.

Get out into the world before it's too difficult to do so.
posted by mrsshotglass at 1:32 PM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Do it.

The best thing I ever did for myself was quit my job in my 20s and travel for a year. The future will always be uncertain, and life is for living. You'll learn an immense amount about yourself and your world and people. You'll come back with an expanded sense of possibilities, both internal and external, and that's worth a great deal.

In particular, one of the things I learned is that I CAN make friends on the fly, which I had been concerned about. I'm still shy about meeting new people, but I know how to push through that and ask questions -- almost everyone likes telling stories about themselves! -- and get to know people in all sorts of contexts.

It's reasonable to have fears and worries about this kind of plan! And part of the fun and power of doing something like this is moving through those fears and worries anyway.
posted by rosa at 1:36 PM on December 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

An excellent way to meet people and cut costs is to look into the WWOOF (world wide opportunities on organic farms) program. Basically there are organic farms set up all over the world, you pay for the ticket out there, and in exchange for work on the farm, you gain room and board. Depending on the farm (each is different of course) there can be several to just a few travelers there at a time, ranging in all ages. It's good honest work, you meet incredible people, eat incredible food that you grow yourself, and in the spare hours see the world, hopping from one farm to the next for as little or as much time as you like. My brother did it for years, ranging several continents; myself just for a summer in Tuscany, a friend of mine just for a month in S. America. There's no wrong way to do it, and you're going to be sitting down to dinner every night with a revolving door of hard working/adventuresome/energetic people from all over the world. And for the record, anyone who dares to dream of more is already any interesting person.

Here's a link for ya.

Never be afraid to travel, you will be tested, and rewarded with the knowledge that you can handle so much more than you ever imagined. I agree the economy is tough, and your concerns are totally valid, but then again, if you're stuck in this environment now and already tired, with no real opportunity for growth/adventure (it sounds like) you have to ask yourself: how much longer do you want to commit yourself to these terms? (There's no wrong answer b.t.w i just mean that your heart is owed equal if not greater power to the strings that tie it down. Work it out, whatever you choose will be right.)
posted by billypilgrim at 2:29 PM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I agree that a list of visited countries doesn't automatically make people interesting, but if I met someone who had a well-paying job and left it to go travelling for a year in their late 20s, I'd fine them more interesting than a similar person who stayed at their job and carried on at home.

So there's that.

Also, travel's great. It sounds like you understand that coming back to a similar job will be difficult, but it also sounds like that won't be the end of the world - apart from comfort and familiarity, would you actively want to do the same job? If you have enough money to travel and support yourself for a while when you return, then I say go for it.
posted by twirlypen at 3:10 PM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you do decide to travel for a while, please seriously consider the WWOOF advice above, or design your own series of structured experiences (but with breaks in between for free-travel/improvisation). While traveling, I've met a lot of people who had been on the road, by themselves, for several months to a year or two, and many of them were lonely, tired, and in various stages of burn-out.

This is not meant AT ALL to dissuade you from traveling because it's an awesome, broadening experience. Just keep in mind that part of why traveling is so exciting is that you're going somewhere new and different from home, but that after a while that newness wears off and that 100th church, temple, palace, or whatever is not so thrilling. What really keeps it fresh is the people you meet and the experiences you have, so if you feel a bit unsure of yourself socially, guarantee some conversation and cultural insight by signing up for things like immersion language courses, volunteer projects, etc, where you're around the same people for at least several days and can get to know them. Then, with that practice under your belt, you'll have more confidence to initiate conversations at hostels.
posted by martianna at 4:16 PM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't know for sure that lots of travelling will make you interesting to other people but it sounds like it is interesting *to you* - so do it. Whether you decide to do it during a sabbatical or whether you decide to do it after quitting your job matters less than making the decision to go. In my experience, nothing changes your mindset, your outlook and your attitude quite like being somewhere else, somewhere new.
posted by kirstk at 6:03 PM on December 15, 2010

If you're boring yourself at home, chances are good that you'll bore yourself while traveling. Rather than dump the good job and zoom off, I'd work on becoming more whole while at home, then go.
Pick a destination, and learn the language (you don't have to be fluent, but studying a foreign language makes your brain work in a different way, which is good.) You don't have to plan every day of your big trip in minute detail, but you could have some goals. Read some great travel books--Patrick Leigh Fermor is my idol, even though the world he roamed is largely lost.
Practice some other skills--blogging, video making, photography in anticipation of your trip. Make some connections in the places you want to visit, through this site or others. Chose a significant event that you want to participate in--New Years Eve in Vienna or whatever, and work towards that goal.
You can discover yourself while traveling, but I think chipping away at the carapace should happen before you go, and then you can sprout your wings.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:12 PM on December 15, 2010

Just do it, if it's something you've wanted to do. The first time I went a long trip (over 1 year), I quit my job and rediscovered what I really wanted out of life. The second time (this year!), I asked for a several month leave of absence from a job I really loved, was given the leave, and now I am happily back at work. If you're worried about future job prospects, just ask for an extended leave...and don't be surprised when you get it! And I wouldn't worry about social boredom, just roll with it....some of my favorite moments from traveling have just been me, myself, and I making the decisions about how I wanted to spend my day. Of course, you'll have your boring days and your exciting days, just as you would at home, but at least you'll finally find out "what else is out there."
posted by ch3ch2oh at 6:47 PM on December 15, 2010

I don't know how to advise you about your job. But I'll weigh in on this:

I've never been good at anything social. I'd want to stay in hostels and all that, but I'm worried I'm romanticizing it a bit, and in reality nobody will hang out with me because I'm not that interesting.

I'm a bit of a loner, myself, and I've taken a couple of long-ish backpacking trips.

I find that, even staying in a hostel, I don't really join up with other travelers easily. I like the fact that staying in a hostel will provide opportunities to talk to people a little in my native language (ah, the privileges of being an Anglophone traveler...), get some social interaction. But it's never really developed beyond "oh, you're going to the Hanuman Temple tomorrow? Me too, we should go together." And that's OK by me. I don't need a built in gang of friends.

I do find, however, that it's usually me not being terribly impressed by my fellow travelers, and not feeling rejected. You'll probably find the same - backpackers are a pretty boring bunch, all in all. Also a lot of them are 18-19 years old and lack the maturity to be really fascinating people; they're hoping that this trip turns them into fascinating people.
posted by Sara C. at 7:43 PM on December 15, 2010

I did it. I worried my head off before I did it, but I'm still alive, and I'm much happier.

Quitting your job and travelling isn't a guaranteed magic cure-all for what ails you. If you're not fulfilled by your current life this is not going to be an instant fix -- but it'll provide a framework for you to figure things out for yourself. I expected the "growth" that people get out of travel to come easier, but nope... you still have to work for it.

One year in and I haven't changed as much as I thought I would. I'm still me. I still have weird hang-ups about certain things. However, I feel like I have a much better sense of my likes/dislikes and morality than I used to. I'm calmer. I'm in less of a hurry.

You don't have to see a hundred places for a few days each... you could opt to see a few places, and then settle down for weeks/months in the first one that suits you (visas permitting).

I've never made a long-term friend in a hostel, but I met a few great people on longer adventure tours where you're camping outdoors with the same people for 10 days straight. Once I actually found a city that I liked (Melbourne) and got a proper apartment, I started meeting tons of great people.

Not sure where you're from, but if you're not yet 30, you can apply for Working Holiday Visas in Australia and New Zealand. You'll have a year during which you can actually WORK (I travelled for about 100 days straight, then settled down and found a job).
posted by adamk at 9:10 PM on December 15, 2010

Do it.
posted by maryrosecook at 8:08 AM on December 16, 2010

Do it! I've quit 'good' jobs several times to take a year or so off, and have never regretted it. You'll always find something when you get back, even if it's not in your field at first. Or consider combining work and travelling - teaching English, for example, isn't too difficult to get a first job in, especially if you have a degree. I personally think everyone should take off by themselves at least once - it can be hard (I don't particularly do well all the time with the social side of hostels either), but it is so worth it. Better to regret doing it than not (and I've had a trip or two not turn out as expected. I just came home, worked for another year or so, and went off again). Good luck!
posted by mudkicker at 8:26 AM on December 16, 2010


do whatever you feel like doing. think about the money part later. don't think too much.
posted by janet bin at 7:25 PM on December 17, 2010

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