Why I Quit a Job I Loved – and Traveled the World for Two Years

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I was thrilled when the editor called to offer me a job. Already eight months out of college, I had spent the better part of my post-collegiate life toiling in the lowly intern ranks of my local newspaper for less than minimum wage, clinging to the hope that a reporter position would open up.

My job offer contained everything a respectable post-college career should: a matching 401(k) plan, health insurance and two weeks of annual paid vacation.

And yet I couldn’t quit shake the feeling that something was missing. Two weeks of vacation? How could I ever explore the world with just two weeks each year to call my own?

Throughout college I dreamt of globetrotting, exploring the far-flung corners that I saw on the news. I wanted to see the Pyramids in Egypt, the killing fields of Cambodia, the Great Barrier Reef.

I originally entered journalism with the hope of becoming an international correspondent – long before I learned that achieving the coveted “foreign correspondent” status, with its company-sponsored stays in the Jerusalem Hilton, would require a lifetime of ladder-climbing.

I accepted the job, as any good honor student would. For the next three years, everything on the surface seemed great. I loved my boss. I considered my co-workers to be among my best friends. My dress code was fine with my penchant for wearing flip-flops and zero makeup.

I rented an apartment within bike-riding distance from my newsroom, cutting my commute to five minutes. I received awards from professional associations, got a promotion and even lost 20 pounds for good measure. My life was charmed.

And yet I couldn’t shake the sense that I was stuck. No two-week vacation could quench that longing to see the rest of the world. I hung a map of the world in my room and studied it each night, imagining all the places I’d go.

So after three years in the newsroom, I quit. I ditched my dental plan. I sold my car and my mattress, gave away my plants, and bought a one-way ticket to Egypt. It was time to see the Pyramids.

I planned on traveling for one year; I ended up on the road for two. Without a job to rush back to, I could travel slowly, immerse myself in different cultures and take each day as it came. I immersed myself in 17 countries over the span of 25 months. (My lifetime total is now 27 countries, averaging one month per country).

I saw the Pyramids, the Cambodian killing fields, the Great Barrier Reef. I photographed komodo dragons, learned to scuba-dive and struck a kangaroo with my car (well, really, the kangaroo hit me). I rode a motorcycle across Laos and tasted wine in Tasmania. I spent a week in Jerusalem without having to climb the news ladder to get there – and although I didn’t stay in the Hilton, I stayed somewhere better: with newly-minted friends.

For awhile I worried about being able to re-enter the workforce when I returned to the U.S., but job interviews have made one thing clear: I’m a standout candidate. I took a risk, had loads of adventures, showed initiative, and proved myself to be a generally more interesting person with a much broader perspective than the dozens of cookie-cutter applicants out there.

But that’s irrelevant. Two years trotting the globe instilled an appetite for taking measured risks. I’m self-employed now, enjoying the same freedom and self-direction that I experienced on the road. And I encourage anyone who wants to take a risk – whether it’s traveling the world, launching a business or falling in love – to go for it.

Untemplaters, what are your dreams, and what risks are you willing to take to achieve them?  Have you ever considered a mobile lifestyle?

“Personal

Unconventional Guides

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

A] September 7, 2011 at 7:59 am

Really loved reading this – I’ve followed you for a while but didn’t know the back story.
I’m thankful that in Europe having 5 weeks paid vacation is the norm and I take advantage of it every year to do some awesome travel, but its great to read how you took things to the next level.

And I loved how the article ended…even if all 3 of those things: traveling the world, launching a business or falling in love, are really really scary sometimes, you’re right -you have look out into the void and just JUMP….you’ll be OK, even more than OK afterwards….

Keep rocking :)

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Financial Samurai September 7, 2011 at 10:50 pm

I took 6 weeks off for the first time last year and it was MAGICAL! It took over 10 years to get 6 weeks off a year, but not that I’m there, it feels great.

5 weeks standard in Europe is awesome. Definitely sounds like a good lifestyle once retired.

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Paula @ AffordAnything.org September 8, 2011 at 10:44 am

Thanks!! I’m happy to hear you’re reading my posts — and I’m always here to encourage you to take risks in life!! :-)

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Sydney September 7, 2011 at 11:48 am

A month each in 27 countries is awesome! I really love your story Paula, very inspirational! What are your top 5 favorite places in all your travels? Any places you didn’t really care for?

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Paula @ AffordAnything.org September 7, 2011 at 2:40 pm

@Sydney — Loads of people ask me that question: “Where was your favorite place to travel?” But that’s a bit like asking, “What was your favorite age?” I loved being 7 years old for completely different reasons than why I loved being 24 years old. Neither age was ‘better’ or ‘worse’ — they were just very different.

Countries (and sections within countries) are the same way. Some are easier to travel in than others. Some are more rewarding (a nice way of saying “tough”). Some have better beaches; some have better mountains; some have the most outgoing, friendly people. I can list “faves by category” but its tough to pick “best overall.”

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Sydney September 7, 2011 at 10:26 pm

:) Ok, fair point. How about faves for wildlife then? There are endless numbers of stunning places with gorgeous mountains, lakes, etc but I’m especially interested in traveling to places with wild animals strolling about. When I was in Quintana Roo Mexico I loved how there were iguanas roaming around all over the place, esp. because I was able to get some great pics up close. Did you come across places with a lot of animals in your travels?

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Paula @ AffordAnything.org September 8, 2011 at 10:50 am

Ah, if you like iguanas, you’ll probably LOVE komodo dragons. Try this: Fly to Bali. Spend a few days (or years) in Ubud, an artsy cultural place in the highlands. (If I were to ever “peace out” from the rest of life and write a book, that’s where I’d live.)

When you’re ready for more nature, fly east to Flores, Indonesia. There’s a small town called Laubanbajo on the western tip of Flores. From there, you can charter a boat to Komodo Island, where you’ll see tons and tons of Komodo Dragons. If you’re into snorkeling or scuba-diving, the underwater ‘wildlife’ there is also spectacular, although you need to be a confident diver: the currents are strong.

Then if you want some pristine remote beach time, charter a boat to Kanawa Island or Seraya Island, which are both accessible from Laubanbajo. They had some of the most spectacular, empty stretches of beach I’ve ever seen.

Otherwise …. Western and Central Australia also have great wildlife; we’d see tons of blue-tongue lizards, thorny devils, echidnas and other crazy wildlife there.

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Sydney September 10, 2011 at 9:07 am

Wow that sounds like an amazing itinerary, thanks Paula! I saw a komodo dragon at the San Diego Zoo last year and was blown away at how big he was. Some people are scared of lizards but I think they are so cute, big and small. I would love to be able to all of those different types of lizards in the wild!

Financial Samurai September 7, 2011 at 8:49 pm

Hi Paula,

Thanks for sharing your story! Several questions for you:

* What is it that you do for a living now? I think a lot of us would like to do what you do and travel the world, so any tips on this would be great.
* What do you do for health care every time you move to each country? Is there a US health care that travels with you? Or do you get the local health care each time?
* Do you think you’ll ever tire of traveling around so much and want to settle down in one or two places?

Thanks,

Sam

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Paula @ AffordAnything.org September 8, 2011 at 11:03 am

Hi Sam!
Looks like I should be writing a follow-up post! To quickly answer your questions:

1) I’m a freelance writer now — penning articles for magazines and websites. In the past I was a “general” freelance writer, which stemmed from my background as a general-assignment newspaper reporter. But lately I’ve been trying to focus on personal finance (!!) as my writing specialty. After all, every good freelance journalist needs a specialty, and I believe strongly that if people can manage their money, their possibilities in life are limitless.

2) I purchased traveler’s health insurance, which mandates — as part of its eligibility requirements — that I must be outside the US or Canada for at least 6 months out of every year. The insurance had a very high deductible (I think $2K or $3K?), so conceptually it was a worst-case-scenario, if-I-get-hit-by-a-bus insurance.

That said, health care in many other countries is top-notch and much cheaper. I got tons of treatments in Thailand — ranging from the routine (eye exams, contact lens fittings, dental exams) to the elective (in Bangkok, my boyfriend had all his mercury teeth fillings extracted and replaced with gold fillings. He hated the idea of having mercury, a toxin, embedded in his teeth.) It cost a fraction of what it would have cost in the US, and the doctors were fantastic. Many had attended US or British medical school before returning to their native Thailand.

3) Yes, I absolutely want to settle down! The first thing I did when I returned to the US was buy a house, adopt a kitten and start a veggie garden — all of which are fundamentally “staying put” activities (nothing puts an end to the nomadic lifestyle like growing crops!)

That said, I still travel a LOT. In the past year, I’ve spent three weeks in Colombia, two weeks in the Caribbean, one month in New York, three weeks in Colorado, plus I made three trips to New Orleans, two trips to California, two trips to Florida … hmmm, I’m probably forgetting something, but you get the idea. The difference is that now, I have a home (and a cat and a garden) waiting for me when I get back.

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Financial Samurai September 8, 2011 at 2:52 pm

Cool, thanks for answering my questions. The health care insurance once is important, and very interesting aboutthe time outside of the US necessary.

I’m surprised you decided to settle down and buy a house though! Who house sits while you are away? Buying a house seems to be the opposite of a world traveler, or no?

Sam

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Paula @ AffordAnything.org September 8, 2011 at 10:58 pm

Not at all! We still have tenants renting out sections of the house (it’s divided into three units — a “triplex” — so we live in one section and rent the other two). And, for added frugality, we ALSO live with roommates in our section.

The roommates and tenants watch / live in the house while we’re away … plus they help pay the bills. Substantially. Mega-substantially.

Honestly, the real “opposite of world traveler” is having a cat and a garden. A house can exist without you, but plants and animals depend on you to sustain life. That’s the biggest ‘ball and chain.’

But again, that’s what roommates are for — they watch the cat and water the plants while we’re away!! :-)

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B Kelly @ MoneyMasteryAcademy September 8, 2011 at 11:16 pm

thanks for sharing – it’s definitely an inspiration for me now that I’m planning to quit the corporate world as well. Maybe it’s a sign, but ever since i decided 6 weeks ago, I’ve been stumbling on blogs like this and all the stories seem to feed my soul! I’m working doubly hard now (my day job & creating my passive income strream) so that I can actually take that step in 6 mths… do keep writing cause I definitely look fwd to the motivation you exude! thanks! ;p

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MoneyCone September 9, 2011 at 11:27 am

That is indeed awesome! Gives a new meaning to life! I do believe everyone should travel outside their comfort zone and visit a different part of the world!

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SB @ One Cent At A Time September 9, 2011 at 6:03 pm

And this girl is my competitor for best new blog of the year. Well as far as our lives are concerned mine is just play safe and be safe adventure a pale compared to hers. Paula I am fond of your writing and wish you all the best for the awards!

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Paula @ AffordAnything.org September 12, 2011 at 12:44 pm

@SB — LOL! As long as you’re happy, that’s what really matters in the end!! Thanks for the warm regards, and best of luck to you too!

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Mark of Success September 10, 2011 at 7:11 am

Paula,

Inspiring story! You really followed your heart and made the best of your dreams. And it’s great that you took the initiative after just 3 years on the job.

It took me close to a decade and a half to take the leap. There finally came a point where I realized that if I didn’t do it now, I never would. It’s been 3 months since I quit my long corporate career and things are yet to unfold, but I’m looking forward to what the future holds.

There’s much more to life than getting stuck with a job for a lifetime.

Cheers,
Mark

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Paula @ AffordAnything.org September 12, 2011 at 12:45 pm

@Mark — Congratulations on quitting your job! What a tremendous joy and freedom that can give you!!

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Buck Inspire September 12, 2011 at 10:51 pm

Inspiring story Paula. I admire your moxie and confidence. You are definitely not like the other cookie cutter applicants! How does your boyfriend handle all your traveling?

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Paula @ AffordAnything.org September 13, 2011 at 8:31 am

He himself is a traveler too … he’s actually been to more countries than I have!

Before we met, he and some friends bought an old school bus at an auction for $800, converted it to run on veggie oil, and drove it across the country. I find that far more impressive than anything I’ve done …. I merely bought some airline tickets; I never scoured restaurants for leftover French Fry grease that could power my schoolbus.

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Kyle @ The Penny Hoarder September 13, 2011 at 6:34 pm

Oh that sounds wonderful! :)

As my blog started to take off this year, we’ve started dreaming about living overseas for a couple of years. It needs to grow a little more before I would feel comfortable doing that, but I would love to blog for a couple of hours everyday and then spend the rest of the day exploring a new country!

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Paula @ AffordAnything.org September 13, 2011 at 8:08 pm

Do it!! My one piece of advice if you’re going to blog overseas is to buy the best, fastest, most top-of-the-line 4G internet connectivity card (or whatever is the creme de la creme by that time). Absolutely don’t skimp or save on high-speed internet connectivity! There is nothing in the world that’s more frustrating than trying to work online at a cafe in Cambodia where 8 people are sharing the same intermittent, slow wireless signal.

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Murray Lunn September 16, 2011 at 4:39 pm

I really loved going through this because I too left my job and went traveling. Of course, it was for 2 months and I came back to do freelancing but it’s really inspiring to hear how well things turned out in the long-term.

Something that really caught my attention is the whole fact that it’s easier to land interviews because of that experience; I think it has had a bit of an effect on my social interactions as well – people seem to … notice.

Really great stuff, thanks for sharing :)

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Paula @ AffordAnything.org September 17, 2011 at 12:40 pm

Thanks Murray! I’m glad you had a 2-month travel experience … you understand firsthand how spending months overseas is fundamentally different from, say, a “one-week vacation” in another country.

And you’re right … it ups your “interestingness” factor considerably!

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Jeremy from TheWorldOrBust September 18, 2011 at 1:26 pm

Thanks Paula!

Another amazing great story of someone taking self-initiative and doing what they love. There truly is no “perfect” time to take that great adventure, and I think you are a perfect example, great job, great people around her, but there was still that sojourn syndrome that wouldn’t go into remission. Looking forward to reading more about your adventures!

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Dennise Dy October 4, 2012 at 12:14 am

I was amazed while reading your story.But i am just curious in one thing. How much money do you have before deciding to quit your job and travel 27 countries in 25 months? I bet it would have been expensive especially for the airfare tickets, hotel bills and food as well. How did you manage financially?

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Pauline December 6, 2012 at 5:45 am

It is not as expensive as you think, since you travel slowly, there aren’t many plane tickets involved. I traveled for a year and spend about $1000 per month all included.

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Paula @ Afford Anything December 6, 2012 at 5:48 am

Exactly! I agree 100 percent. It’s definitely not as pricey as people think, because transportation costs are a lot lower. I spent about $1K/mo excluding plane tickets and health insurance.

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Financial Samurai December 6, 2012 at 6:18 am

I guess that’s the thing. Spending $1,000 a month, or $12,000 is a lot for some folks.

That’s a pretty good budget for many places.

If you stick to Europe, you can just take the rail yeah?

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Paula @ Afford Anything December 7, 2012 at 9:19 am

It took me 3 years to save up enough to be able to travel on a budget of $1,000 per month. During those 3 years, I lived in a tiny tiny apartment, wore used clothes, cooked most meals at home, rode my bicycle to work, and worked extra jobs on the side. Anyone who really wants to do it CAN do it.

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Nina March 29, 2014 at 12:40 pm

This is a really inspirational read. I’ve recently just quit my job to focus on my small business and hopefully get to travel more. The problem is, being from a “developing” country, it is so hard to have the freedom to travel indefinitely, especially to countries that require us to have a valid visa. We won’t even be allowed to leave the country with just a one-way ticket. The authorities always need to be assured that we will return to the Philippines after our trip. It’s really frustrating for someone bitten by the travel bug. :(

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