How to Quit Your Job and Travel the World in 5 Steps
Three years ago most days where the same, I would struggle to keep my focus as my mind drifted towards the wild places and adventures I craved. Why could some people feel perfectly content with their 9-5’s, but I was somehow haunted by the places I hadn’t yet been?
In May of 2013, I was 29 years old and doing meaningful work with at-risk youth in urban Minneapolis. I enjoyed my job, but often times I still found myself sitting at my desk unfulfilled. I scrolled through pictures of my past adventures and longed for new ones, but the reality was I had debt: student loans, car loans, a mortgage, monthly bills and no money left to do the one thing I desired; travel.
As the weeks and months went on my desire to travel grew. As I scoured the Internet seeking wisdom or at least a temporary reprieve from my stationary existence I happened across a TED Talks aptly entitled: Sell your crap, Pay off your debt, Do what you love. The second it ended I sent the link to my wife, she was on board and that night on the way home I bought a map of the world and a few markers and we started planning. As our plans to travel internationally grew, I subsequently began learning all about the idea of van life. It fascinated me and fit perfectly into our vision of simplifying and minimizing. There was this whole world of people going against the materialistic, consumerism society and thriving by placing value on experiences instead of things. Living out of our 95′ VW Eurovan forced us to be conscious about how we live and gave us freedom from want. Every night was a new place to call home and we got to interact with other people who call the road home. Our winters took us to 15 countries and our summers to over 40 states and 30 national parks. Here is my advice to anyone looking to do what we did
- Tell people.
When we made the decision to deliberately walk away from a conventional, safe lifestyle we made it a point to start telling others our plan. By speaking it out loud we were making ourselves accountable to the idea. We started with close friends and family and had no idea what to expect, but what we found was that most people were excited for us, others were nervous and some doubted us. Regardless it felt good to get it out there, saying it made it real, it was no longer just an idea.
- Money matters.
The biggest question we get. How do you fund all of this? We started immediately liquidating all the things that cluttered our closets and garage. Every penny made went towards our debt. After selling all of the things we didn’t need/use we turned our focus to the big ticket, selling our house. We had bought our house as a short-sale and put a lot of work into fixing it up and it paid off for us in the end. We also never missed an opportunity to make money along the way. From roofing a house, to painting a barn, picking rocks in a field, even janitorial work. We traded careers for part time jobs and full time travel and we wouldn’t change it.
- Enlist your friends and family.
Our biggest assets were our friends and family. We found that many people wish they would or could have done something similar and even those who would never consider it wanted to be a part of our story. People helped us in every way imaginable. From letting us store belongings with them to watching our dog for us. Trips to the airport, a spot to park our van, and the unequivocal moral boost of a hot shower and real meal.
- Be frugal.
Our trip began as a 6-8 month trip that has blossomed into two and a half years and counting. We realized quickly that we loved our new life and that by being frugal we could make it last longer. We took every opportunity from sharing most meals to sleeping in cheap hostels and learning to negotiate EVERYTHING we did. While living in our van we refused to pay for camping and always searched out free campsites from Wal-Mart parking lots to road-side pull outs. We loaded up on condiments from restaurants, ate from the dollar menu, shared a phone literally anything to stretch our dollar just a little further. A little bit of sacrifice can take you a long way.
- Remember it’s not easy.
If you follow some glamorous Instagram account with incredible pictures from all over the world or perfect shots of van life, you may have an unrealistic idea of what full-time travel is really like. The truth is the real adventure happens in the time between each of those pictures. It is a lot of work to get to these places. We’ve been stranded in airports for days. I’ve stripped to my underwear in 100-degree buses with no AC and shivered uncontrollably for hours on freezing overnight trains. Three a.m. border crossings, food poisoning, and the mental drain of unavoidable, in-your-face poverty. Running out of gas in the middle of Alaska, sleeping in some legitimately creepy places, but it’s all part of the deal and it all goes right along with our motto, “It’s either a good time or a good story.”
As I write this we’ve been “home” for a few months now. At first – as I always do after returning from an extended trip – I felt enormous relief. It felt good to be back amongst the familiar comforts of American life, to work a 9-5, eat out and watch TV, but every time I return it fades quicker. I already have that itch again, that desire to throw a pack on my back and fill up my passport with stamps and my mind with memories from the unknown. Hopefully I’ll see you out there.