Earlier this year, I was featured on BBC Travel’s How I Quit My Job to Travel column, sharing my journey from the cubicle to a nomadic life. As I pen this, snowflakes are dancing outside my window in New York City, I’m still hung-over from heady experiences in Guatemala and Honduras, and have a flight to catch in three days to sunny California and onwards to Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama.
When I quit my corporate job in mid-2011, I couldn’t fathom this is how I’d be wrapping up 2014.
So this post goes out to all of you who dream of building a life of travel. If you are sitting on the fence about quitting your job, this is a plan for you in real dollars and cents (or should I say, in meagre rupees?):
1) Know that you really want to travel.
I’ve said it before, and I say it again: Traveling long term is not the same as a luxury vacation. When you travel more days than you stay at home, you’re not only on a smaller budget, but also quickly tire of sightseeing and superficial experiences. I know many people who like to take short trips, but after a few weeks, crave nothing more than their familiar bed, daily routine and social circles. Ask yourself if you really like being out of your comfort zone for long periods. Then club your long weekends and annual leave, give yourself a realistic budget, travel for atleast a month at a stretch, and determine whether a life of travel is really for you.
If like me, you don’t enjoy backpacking, go with a flashpacking budget of INR 6,000 (100$) per night in the west, and INR 2,500-3,000 (40-50$) per night in most developing countries – for everything except flights. If backpacking is your thing, determine your range with help from Nomadic Matt‘s blog.
2) Create travel and rainy day funds.
First things first. Before you put in your papers, save enough money to travel for a few months, and then some. Money runs out faster on the road than you can plan for, especially when there’s no inflow. Given that in India and most developing countries, we don’t have social security to fall back on, running out of money means having to crash at your family’s or friends’ couches. That might be well for a while, but when you are building a coveted life of travel, sympathy might not last long enough.
I quit my corporate job just after receiving my bonus, with over INR 4 lakhs (SG$ 8000) to glide me through till I figured things out. I used half of it to create a fixed deposit – my rainy day fund – which I’ve never yet touched, letting it gather interest for the last 3.5 years. I imagine that if one day I stop making any money, this fund will cover me for 6 months of rent and living in India, and give me enough time to find a job again. I used the rest of my savings to travel and experiment with different work that could lead to a sustainable income on the go.
3) Prepare for a lonely journey ahead.
There are no roadmaps for the journey you’re about to take. Chances are, your family will never fully grasp the way the road changes you. When weeks become months, your friends will move on, building lives that you hardly relate to. You will meet amazing people on the road, but you will say goodbye, every time. And for the most part, you’ll love it. But there will be times when these fleeting interactions, and decisions that you are solely responsible for making, will overwhelm you. There will be times when you’ll wonder what if you had taken a different path and not know the answer. There will be lonely times, and you must know that.
Many international bloggers, though on a somewhat similar journey, face battles very different from mine. And I don’t relate to most Indian bloggers who chase press trips or live off their spouse’s income. So even now, after all these years, when I feel lost, I only have myself to rely on and figure a way out.
4) Evaluate ways to make money once you quit.
This is the trickiest part, and truth be told, I didn’t have it figured out before I quit. I did however, feel confident about the number of options I could try. I tried a ‘work from home’ role with a travel company. I dabbled into travel writing. I picked up freelance social media work. I found perspective, learnt to work smart, and this year, I’ve made a comfortable six-figure monthly income (in rupees) on average. I could do more, work more, earn more, for there are opportunities, but the balance between travel and money is the only thing I’m after.
How are you going to do it? Figure out if you’re a good writer, a people person, a gifted coder, a talented website designer, an excellent photographer, a social media buff… and as a first step, start building your portfolio and try to score freelance work.
5) Have a goal, but be flexible.
It’s easy to get distracted or discouraged when uncertainty looms ahead. Having a time frame in mind always helps, and for many, having a goal in terms of your travels.
I had only four days between deciding to quit and resigning, but if I were to do it all over again, I would plan 4-6 months ahead, time it with a bonus payout (which luckily I was able to anyway), and consciously save in the months leading up to the D-day. Even now, while saving for longer, farther trips, I give myself a tentative date, and plan the trip based on how much I’ve managed to save by then.
The important thing is to use these goals or timelines as a reference point, leaving enough flexibility for new opportunities or dreams to find you.
6) Break it to your family, but expect to be talked out of it.
You know your family best, but in general, our parents belong to a different generation, and their idea of what is best for us might be very different from our own. They might never be at peace knowing that your life’s goal is to travel. So if you have decided to take a stand, break the news to your family at a time when you are convinced that no one can talk you out of it.
It’s best to tread slow. Start with the little things. That you are going to quit your current job, travel for a few months, try working in a different beat, and see how it goes. Leave some things vague, like you might have a come-back plan, like you might want to ‘settle down’ at some point. You’re being an adult now, so it’s time to accept that if your money runs out or if the going gets tough, you have to figure it out yourself.
Be practical, experiment, let the road show you the way. But don’t let anyone walk over your dreams and tell you you can’t do it.
7) Surround yourself with people who travel, even if virtually.
The more you travel, the less you’ll relate to people who choose not to. Seek inspiration and practical insights from other travellers and nomads, and if there are none around you, get online – get active on Twitter and read travel blogs.
Even now, when I feel anxious about traveling solo or wonder why I live the way I do, I find respite in travel blogs like Candace’s The Great Affair and Earl’s Wandering Earl, and in Instagram feeds like that of NatGeo. My Twitter and Facebook timelines are almost entirely dominated by travellers, and when the going gets tough, I turn to my Facebook page for encouragement.
When you build your life on the road, you might not have a thriving social life (I’m far from it), but the online travel community is fabulous, friendly and helpful.
8) Do the deed and be awesome!
You’ve hit your savings goal, thought long and hard about your options, and made your decision. Say the words, ‘I quit’.
Do what it takes, get out there, keep an open mind, have your adventures, live life the way you’ve dreamt, and in the end, if it doesn’t work out – for whatever reason – promise to put on a brave face and move on.
There are a million reasons why it might not work out, but it did for me and its been pretty fuckin’ awesome.
Want to build a life of travel? Read all about my journey here.
If you still have unanswered questions, ask me in the comments.