How to reset your life?
March 12, 2007 11:31 AM   Subscribe

Leave your job, your girlfriend, drive across the United States... done it?

I've been thinking about leaving my job for the past, well, 5 years (I've been at my job for 5 1/2 years). It pays well, got me a 'free' M.S. in Computer Science and has great benefits. But the work is not interesting (to me) and the environment is sucking the life out of me. I've applied for various other jobs on the West coast, got a few interviews (all the 'gee wow that would be cool' companies) but never landed a job offer. So I decided that come June/July I'm going to pack up, give my two weeks, and drive out West (I live on the East coast). I don't really have a plan, other than visiting various landmarks along the way, and making sure I have a place to sleep. I'll have about 10-11k bucks to fund this little 'what the hell am I doing adventure.' My only ties with my current location are my immediate family... no more girlfriend and many of my close friends have moved away (I've still got a good group of friends though that I'll miss). So, has anyone on here done this, and if so, advice? Like what _not_ to do. What things you didn't prepare for that you now know you need to prepare for. I'm not even sure I want to be in the Comp Sci field anymore. And yes, I know I could do all this from where I live now, but I've never taken such a trip, and I have this strong desire to just press the 'reset' button in my head. I might just pick a state (California, Colorado, Arizona or Oregon) and set up shop there while searching for whatever it is I'm looking for (I do tinker with electronic music on the side, so I'd like to pursue that more along with music in general). I know, lost guy syndrome. But if you've done this, or thought about it, I'd definitely like to hear what you have to say.
posted by bizack to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Been there, done that. I can give two general pieces of advice:

1) make sure you have a safety net or support group for if things go horribly wrong. Some money (sounds like you have enough to set aside a couple K) or some family to turn to if you end up feeling stranded with no prospects.

2) If you're a nature person at all, stop at Zion national park, preferrably now or later in the fall when the crowds have died down. For me, there was something kind of magical about that place that cleared my head and got me back on track. It's different from the other parks in the area because of the water- it feels like an oasis in the desert. There are pretty cheap motels for the off-season, or you can just camp. Go back-country, hike the narrows, do whatever speaks to you. It gave me a feeling of changeover- I left behind what I'd left behind and I was headed out for something new, for Zion if you will. YMMV.
posted by ohio at 11:51 AM on March 12, 2007

I've done it twice. Once, I left husband and job and drove across the U.S. (CA-->NY), with very little cash (under $3k) but had a job waiting for me at the other end. The second time, I had a bankroll about the same as yours ($12k-ish) and went the other direction, NY-->CA, with no job lined up, no car, and an apartment ready to move into.

The second time was more interesting, for sure. I was able to relax a little and figure out what the hell it was I really wanted to do, instead of starting a job right away. If I'd had a car already, as you do, I probably could've stretched out my "what the hell" phase a little longer.

If I could do it again, I'd have budgeted better and set limits on spending. I think treating part of it like a vacation/adventure is a good idea, as long as you budget accordingly. You'll want to have enough left over to get a place wherever you end up, and enough to live for a couple of months in case you don't find a job right away.

It's fun, a bit scary, and totally worth it, in my opinion. Go for it.
posted by bedhead at 11:55 AM on March 12, 2007

Go to Burning Man. It's an arts festival for a week at the end of August out in the middle of the desert in Nevada.
posted by infinityjinx at 11:58 AM on March 12, 2007

I've also done it twice, both times with much less money.

I would agree with setting up a budget and spending limits, which is difficult when you move to a new place because you want to go out to meet people.

I also would have tried to stay in better touch with the people I left behind, but both times I hit reset, it was before the internet.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 12:04 PM on March 12, 2007

yes, I have done that. multiple times in different variations.

just two recommendations:

(1) take a camera. memories preserved will save many a bleak day later for you.

(2) don't plan. go where the road takes you. you will run into the strangest places and coolest people. avoid the interstates, you won't see anything there. cover 400 miles per day and only crash in rural motels every other night. 10k is way more than I ever had. I burned through 800 bucks in two weeks, rental included.
posted by krautland at 12:10 PM on March 12, 2007

This book comes out tomorrow. might help?

The Happiest Man in the World
posted by nineRED at 12:22 PM on March 12, 2007

Never did it but I will 2nd what Ohio said about Zion. It is a pretty fantastic place.
posted by mmascolino at 12:25 PM on March 12, 2007

I did it in 1995, except for the $10 - 11k part. It was more like roughly .8k and 1k on the credit card for the Ryder truck, in which I, with the help of my cat, led a one-man diaspora from Ohio to New Mexico.

I had traveled the country before with my family, so had less of a desire to sightsee, and more of an urge to just get there before the gas money started eating into the deposit-for-an-apartment money.

For me, it turned out to be a fantastic reset. But it was pretty scary living in a hotel for a week with a cat, an unreliable motorcycle and no job.

My relationship with my immediate family improved greatly with 1,700 miles between us, and has only gotten better these last 12 years.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 12:29 PM on March 12, 2007

don't confuse wanting a road-trip adventure with "throwing it all away." do not underestimate the value of a great girlfriend and a network of friends. those are treasures that take TIME to build.
consider the option of just stealing away for a couple of weeks. if you have that itch to roadtrip, by all means do it though. maybe take a trial run first? if you're from the east, do as 'ohio' says and take time to check out Utah/southwest.. you will not regret it. read "On The Road" and Neil Peart's "Ghost Rider" for inspiration/insight.
posted by mrmarley at 12:34 PM on March 12, 2007

Did this in the early 80's with 4k bucks. Traveled all over the country for 10 weeks, but I never found that reset button. Nevertheless it was one of the milestones of my life. I hit the national parks, had car problems, was cold and lonely or scared at times, went through my money faster than I expected, and enjoyed the hell out of it. Just don't expect it to change things all that much (unless you make a much greater effort at it than I did). After my trip I did end up deciding to go back to grad school in a new field, but that was another year down the road.
posted by DarkForest at 12:46 PM on March 12, 2007

Great advice here. I didn't have that much money but I did it twice, ahtough not across America (once to backpack through Europe & once through Southeast Asia). No regrets whatsoever here -- quite the contrary. I still talk to people I met during both adventures, decades later.

Definitely pay attention to the people who are saying to prepare a little cushion so you have a soft place to fall when you are ready to settle back down again though. One thing I learned is that it's best if you are traveling to find yourself and have a nice adventure, and not to escape your problems. Don't avoid tying up your loose ends before disappearing... otherwise, often whatever issues you had when you set out on your adventure are still there to meet you when you land. And sometimes they've even festered in your absence.

Lastly, keep a travelogue. It will not only let other people know what you're doing along the way but it will be a great document for you and make you feel less alone during your travels.
posted by miss lynnster at 12:47 PM on March 12, 2007

Well, actually the girl left me, but, whatever. I did it for three weeks, traveled around 5k miles, went to see old friends I hadn't seen in years, saw a big chunk of the country I'd never seen before, got a better grip on myself and eventually came back to my old job. I spent less than 1k.

My only advice is to have some sort of reason for wherever you go. I was tracking down various hot springs in AZ and NM, it gave me places to camp, reasons for going to out of the way places, and opportunities to meet local folks. Find a guidebook for something off-beat and track them all down. Wandering is fun, but it can wear you down if you tend to feel utterly lost without a destination.

Hope you find what you're looking for.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 1:10 PM on March 12, 2007

Oh, see... I disagree on needing to find a reason to go places. That ruins half the fun.

But that's me. I am queen of "Magic 8 Ball Road Trips."

How to Have a Magic 8 Ball Road Trip
Buy a Magic 8 Ball.
Get into the car. Shake said 8 ball and concentrate.
Ask "Should we head north?" See what signs point to. Do it.
See a town on the map with a funny name. Ask the 8 ball "Should we go there?" Do whatever the sources say.
Spy a fun looking restaurant. "Is this a place we should eat?" You get the idea.
Lather, rinse repeat.
Much fun to be had by all. Trust me on this.
posted by miss lynnster at 1:49 PM on March 12, 2007

Response by poster: Great advice and feedback from everyone. I really appreciate it. Time to start putting this plan into action...
posted by bizack at 2:22 PM on March 12, 2007

Read Travels with Samantha" and just *go*.
posted by notsnot at 2:23 PM on March 12, 2007

Done it; quit my job, moved 3,000 miles away from my boyfriend. We ended up getting married -- to each other -- a few years later.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:08 PM on March 12, 2007

Yes! I got a divorce and moved from Atlanta to LA six years ago. Your situation reads *very* similar to mine back then. I had a small bankroll, no real plan, I just needed a major change. I got a really cheap tiny place short-term and temped for the entertainment industry for a few months while I got my bearings. I eventually returned to my "professional" life but I was in much better position to make career decisions by then. You may find you can wring a few more years out of your Comp Sci career once you're in a new environment/mindset, and may even appreciate the familiarity of that work.

Driving across the US is fantastic. It is such a beautiful country. Enjoy it. My family is still in the Southeast, and while I visit frequently it is very rare that I have the luxury of driving it, and still would, any chance I got.

Do it. Love every minute of it. It was the best decision I ever made for myself.
posted by FuzzyVerde at 3:39 PM on March 12, 2007

Yes. It was called "The Beans and Rice Tour of the Southwest."

It was awesome and it was horrible. Crucial to building charachter. Everybody should do it.

10-11k is pretty good. I did it for way less than that. And before this thing called the Internet made logistics so much easier. Not to mention cell phones - I'd get a pre-paid one to last a few months.

My concern now would be that gas is so much more expensive. I did it with a VW van when gas was like .60¢ a gallon. Find a good fuel efficient car. You will want to spend your money on experiences and emergencies. Not fuel.

And of course a paid off credit card is always a good idea.

Plan on your car breaking down. It might not happen but plan for it. I brought a mountain bike with me and when the van blew a gasket in 100° heat I had a quick ride into town. (You should consult a mechanic about your particular car and worst case scenarios. Bring a kit with some extra spark plugs maybe a batter charger and a Dummies manual for the make of car.)

Is there a way you can apply for unemployment? How cool is your boss? If you can get a couple of checks sent to somewhere it will help you if you exhaust your funds on the trip. Washington State has pretty high unemployment benefits it may bare some fruit to research where you may want to be and collect unemployment from there - which state is higher, etc.

Think about time of year and the activities related to that. Waiting tables and being a Ski bum is pretty awesome. The Forest Service has summer jobs in the wester states too!

Remember. We regret the things we DON'T do.
posted by tkchrist at 4:18 PM on March 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

If you're going through Nevada, the cut through the middle (south of Reno, but north of Las vegas) is a gem. I think it goes through Tonopah. Really out of this world. And it leads in to Yosemite, and it's like finding the garden of eden after 40 days in the desert. Definitely the way to go if you're passing through tha part of the south west.
posted by conch soup at 5:50 PM on March 12, 2007

I did something like this, but it was with my boyfriend. We went from Florida to Oregon for 6 months. Frankly, I was miserable - but I'm really not resilient. At all. Lots of factors contributed to the trip not being a good time, though, most of which I doubt you'll have to deal with. In any case, I don't know how different the weather will be from your current state to your destination, but keep it in mind. After growing up in Florida, the month-long drizzle in Oregon drove me insane. I also racked up $2k in credit card debt, and that really bothered me, so if you're concerned with that kind of stuff, maybe wait and save up some more dough? Make sure you don't pack up the car with too much shit, you'll want to stretch your legs and lay the seat back once in a while.

Scott Carrier did a really amazing piece about driving across the country for This American Life . If you need a push, this will give it to you. Much more useful than anything I can say.
posted by tatiana wishbone at 9:01 PM on March 12, 2007

Hey-- If you settle someplace, make it a point to settle someplace with a low cost of living. If you can go anywhere, why not pick a place where you'll have a leg up? Especially with a field that is in so many places and that lends itself to telecommuting.

There are books on how to find work while on the road RVing, etc. Browse in the Amazon RV/ Road Trip section and you'll find some.
posted by Mozzie at 11:43 PM on March 12, 2007

Go to Truth or Consequences New Mexico and stay at the hostel. Enjoy.
posted by sien at 2:25 AM on March 13, 2007

Read William Least Heat-Moon's Blue Highways. He lost his job and his wife on the same day, and drove around the back roads of the US in a van.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:59 AM on March 13, 2007

Did it. Loved it. Cannot recommend it highly enough. (!)

a) If you can sleep in the car/camp, do so. Grab the occasional hostel for a shower, but there's something about roughing it that resets the body clock and reconnects you to the outside world. Think: sunrise, birds chirping, cold/hot differences, waking up surrounded by a herd of deer.

b) Take 1k of that and upgrade your car stereo, now, and load up that iPod.

c) Seconding the "avoid interstates at all costs". Go with the funky country roads and don't underestimate the local wisdom of the waitress at the greasy spoon.

d) I personally haven't used it, but a friend of mine is now on year 2 of using couchsurfing with great success.

e) Bite the bullet and pay for the COBRA healthcare coverage when you leave the job. (This saved me twice.)

f) Take the California Highway 1 as far and as long as you can, if you can.
posted by bhance at 7:31 AM on March 13, 2007

miss lynnster: Who says a guidebook can't be random? I usually opened it up to a random page and stuck my finger down and that was my destination for the day (week, hour, whatever). But I do tend to be one of those people who will travel in a straight line as quickly as possible unless I'm forced to head off the beaten path YMMV.

Other advice after the initial thought: get a Haynes manual for your car and a good set of tools. Definitely read Blue Highways. Great book. Camp as much as possible, you'll have plenty of time to spend under ceilings later in life, National Forests and BLM land make this as simple as just pulling off the road a certain distance and packing out your trash.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 7:50 AM on March 13, 2007

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