4 years ago, I told you to quit your job to travel the world. Now I’m kinda taking it back
I am writing this from my new apartment in Tel Aviv – a space I kept looking at and constantly wonder how I can ever afford to live in. I have to take this opportunity to apologise to those who have been reading this blog for years: I went into a make-believe world of ‘quit your job to travel the world’ but I never did it myself.
First, I never had a real job. I have always been a freelancer (at the time, in fashion) who made ends meet. I never had to walk into my superior’s office and tell to his face that I’m done. It’s time to move on. At a very young age, I have always been the person who unconsciously decided that she wanted to live life on her own terms – no bosses, no offices, no grueling commutes.
I could’ve reworded that ‘quit my job to travel’ propaganda to ‘quit my life to travel.’ What I really left behind was a life I couldn’t bear living in a place where I felt like I lost my competitiveness and worth. It’s sad that place is somewhere I grew up and first sewed my dreams in but it happened.
I also found myself in a humbling circumstance when I was sitting on a mountain of debt. I kept dating the wrong men: the married, dickhead, full of themselves, I-promise-to-move-mountains-for-you type of men. I thought I was cursed. But this is what happens when you are in your early 20’s and is exploring the many versions of yourself. I had to leave that life. That life was ‘the office’ I made a hasty exit from.
Many groundbreaking decisions changed my life forever. You know it. I kept talking about it all these years like I was shitting rainbows and unicorns. Because I really was. To get out of the society I was in was a breath of fresh air. To quit my life to travel the world turned my life around in a more intense and lively way. For the first time in my life, I truly felt alive.
I said yes to everything and jumped into many situations I wasn’t sure about. I abruptly decided to travel with a boy I barely knew, booked a one-way ticket to Africa, broke my heart, used my last money to go to Brasil, landed Brasil with $30 USD, made ends meet, the list goes on. From constantly telling myself “I am brave” and “I can do this,” I made myself believe that I was unbreakable and I can do anything. That mindset kept me traveling, traveling, and traveling… There were no limits. I never went back home even if it was downright shitty hard to be out there at 22.
Wait, what? You said it was easy to quit your job to travel the world?
I know. And I’m sorry I wasn’t able to reiterate its perils. I would completely understand if you feel betrayed right now and decided not to read this blog anymore. Today, I found myself in a different position so I want to set the records straight. I live in a very nice apartment in the most expensive city in the world and I still travel constantly. I have a dog, a boyfriend, neighbours to share meals with and friends to drink with any time of the day. On top of that, I am running an empire and I still have a job that I love (traveling, blogging, social media, content creation, etc).
All these are new to me because I grew up on the road. I was unattached. I didn’t care if I had long-time friends or a comfortable bed to go home to but now that I am 28 (29 next month!), times changed. It’s about time I respond to that change.
For those of you who still want to do it, I want to emphasise I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t do all the vagabonding shenanigan I did. Our lives move forward in levels and I still believe if you are 22, young and physically fit, you have all the right to leave everything behind and travel the world; to live on your own terms. This is the only way you will learn and discover what you really want to do.
There are only 2 ways to look at this: you will succeed or *gulp* – things will go south. But no matter the results may be, you will be a better person. You will lead the best life.
I, fortunately, have got things worked out but whenever people are emailing me, I can’t bear lying to their face that this system is way more difficult now because everyone is already doing it.
And so, I vowed to myself to tell the truth about this whole make-believe world. It’s harsh. I’m on my 7th year of doing it but I still find it very difficult.
You need money
And you need a lot. I planted this idea to not think about the money (again, I’m sorry!) but what happened to me in the past, traveling without money was pure luck. There are so many ways to stretch your financial capability while traveling but you don’t want to travel eating rice and beans every day in some Latin American country. You need to taste their food and you need money for that. In my case, I slept in bus stations and shady hostels but I always ate like a King. I was never cheap on food because it’s something that was (and is still) very memorable in all the trips I’ve done. For me, food is an experience. It’s not a thing that will fill your stomach whenever it’s mumbling. Don’t look at food that way!
Imagine you’re in Tokyo and will have the chance to eat legitimate Japanese food but you are cutting your expenses short because Tokyo is expensive. What kind of travel is that? Sure, you’ve seen the famous sights and landmarks (probably the free ones) but being cheap while traveling is not an option anymore.
I still believe in staying with local families as a guaranteed meaningful experience wherever you choose to go. It’s an all-inclusive package of food, culture and people. It’s the best option to cut costs however, you will be tied to the host family’s schedule. You won’t have the freedom to explore things on your own (maybe a few hours a day) because you signed up for the local family experience. You should be present every step of the way. This is ideal if you are staying in one place for 3-6 months. These days, who travels like that anymore? I used to do it but the maximum I can go now is 1 month. And that’s it. I’ve graduated from the overdue in one city kind of thing.
I know the follow-up question for this is, “how much money do I need?” The truth is, I don’t know. Just a month in Morocco alone, I’ve spent around $2,000 USD (comfortable, luxurious) but it depends where you want to do your RTW trip and what type of experience you are after. The answer is always up to you. It’s a case to case basis but what I can tell you to do is to be financially ready for it. Save.
Lastly, re-entering society (the life you left behind) also needs financial support. Don’t go back with a drained bank account! Whether you plan to go back home or live in another city you fell in love with, you need money to settle down. If your family will help you, then you’re lucky. However, bear in mind that you are the one who made the decision to quit your job to travel. It’s a shame if you would put that burden to your loved ones and mandatory sign them up for something they’re also not ready for.
Being alone for long periods of time is subjective and personal
Can you afford to be away from family and friends for months? Maybe years? In the Velarmino-van der Heijde household, all of us are adults and are living our own lives so my parents just got used to us not being around. I myself have lived my formative years on the road so being alone was never a problem. What I came to realise when I was backpacking South America was the difficulty of making long-lasting friendships and relationships. Okay, I did stay in most places for a minimum of 3 months so I was able to make meaningful friendships but what if you are moving every 2 weeks? Every week?
Are you ready for that? Meeting new people all the time is super fun but it’s a temporary bliss. Even if you stay 3-6 months in a hostel, what about the others that you intend to be friends with? Do you have the same travel schedules? Will they also stay for the period you planned?
When I was volunteering in a hostel in Peru, I developed an attachment to people I was friends with so every time they go away, I felt being left behind. I often get this email from readers who feel the same: “Trisha, what can I do? I have attachment problems. Every time people leave the hostel, I feel so miserable!”
Can we not put ‘attachment’ as a problem? Why should it be labeled a difficult situation? We are humans! We need to be touched, hugged, kissed, loved – we need physical and emotional interactions so attachment is normal. If you don’t feel, in any way attached to the people you get along with while traveling, that’s when you should start questioning yourself. That is the problem. Traveling for long periods of time can transform you into an emotionless robot and you don’t want that. Nobody wants that.
In the sub-title, I wrote “being alone is subjective and personal” because I don’t know most of you. Maybe you’re that kind of person who can endure being alone all the time? There’s also nothing wrong with that. We are different people so whatever works for you, it will fit. Though you have to admit it really gets lonely sometimes. This is a fact.
I was that kind of person and when I went back home in 2015, after a long time on the road, I noticed all of my friends have moved on with their lives. They’re used to my non-existence. Whether I am there or not, it’s all the same to them. I couldn’t blame them for anything. I was the one who modified this setting and all they had to do was to function with it. And they did. I had no right to ask them to down a bottle of wine with me every day because, like me, my friends’ circumstances also changed. Sure, they are still there for me no matter what but after being gone for a long time, I can’t make them fall in line just like that.
If I did, I’d probably get a ‘fuck you’ in the face.
Your identity will be a mess
Declaring I’m a world citizen is super easy (verbally) but when I started living here in Tel Aviv, I faced a lot of challenges that people who didn’t travel for a long time didn’t have to deal with. I was applying for a temporary resident visa in Israel when the clerk just slapped me with a long list of requirements that I don’t even have on hand at the moment.
Tax ID, birth certificate, certificate of no marriage, proof of no children, police clearance, etc. Some documents even require me to go back to the Philippines as it needs physical appearance in order to be issued.
I wanted to say I don’t have all these but the clerk already guessed I didn’t. I saw that look on her face – it’s unimaginable that I don’t have all these docs (even my sister said it) when I am almost 29 years old. “What kind of adult are you?!” No, she didn’t say that. But with the look she gave me, she might as well did.
My sister, a government employee in the Philippines told me “you don’t have a tax ID?!”
“What, don’t shout at me like that. You know I have never lived anywhere so my life is scattered. I can feel your judgment, seriously.”
She is, very clearly, more organised than I am even if she is younger. As a matter of fact, she’s currently arranging all these documents to be sent to me asap. It’s a pain!
One of the hardships of traveling long term for a Philippine passport holder like me is obtaining a visa. Tel Aviv is super close to Europe and the flights are very cheap but I can’t get a visa because I’m on a tourist status here. I’ve been told with this standing, I have to go to my ‘home country’ to be eligible for application. It’s funny they kept saying “home country” when I haven’t lived there for years. On paper, my legal address is still in the Philippines so it’s difficult for me to re-enter society after years of traveling because I’m not ready for it, ‘paperly’ speaking.
A reader also asked me if long-term travel affected my track record (aka no job for years, always freelancing) but I couldn’t answer this because I never had to apply for a job. However, in my opinion, it doesn’t matter. Employers actually like someone who has traveled because they are more inspired and will bring something different to the table. This, you don’t have to worry about.
Sustainability and the art of being practical
In lieu of quitting your job to travel the world, I encouraged you to start a professional blog. It is, after all, one of the major things that worked for me so I that encouragement hasn’t changed. As long as Google is breathing and alive, there is a chance for you to make it as your financial means but you have to bring something different to the table. The Internet is saturated with a lot of advertorials, travel guides and listicles. People are already sick of this. In order for you to make it, you have to think of something that will make you stand out.
If you have a 9-5 job, then your situation is different. Why would you want to leave your job if you can occasionally travel? This is where the practicality comes in. I noticed that most of the people who decided their quit their job to travel the world have really good occupations. The only problem is, even if the pay was enough, their energy depleted. ‘Burn out’ is one of the prominent words I read whenever I receive an email from a reader who thinks he/she is lost, torn, and confused.
We, millennials are the most confused in all the generations that have ever emerged in humankind. The by-product of putting drama in our lives was the boom of travel trends and the ability to work independently so 9-5 is old news to us. Everyone you see on your Facebook newsfeed is working online and traveling at the same time. Of course, you want to join the bandwagon, too. However, did it ever cross your mind that none of these people explained the hardships of having that kind of lifestyle?
Social media is a trend that has transformed into a necessity. Our attention span is so short that when we see a friend sitting down a pristine beach in Brasil, sipping gin and juice with his/her computer, we transmit the idea that it’s easy because we make it look easy. I’m not saying this person doesn’t talk about the challenges. In fact, most of us do, but in private. It’s not for the world to see.
A friend of mine who is working in Singapore tried to ask her boss for a 3-month leave: something she didn’t believe will be granted but she still did it. There’s no harm in trying. What’s wrong with getting a no? She didn’t have nothing to lose so she walked into her superior’s office and said, “I’m going away for 3 months but please don’t fire me.“
Her boss probably looked at her in an are-you-out-of-your-fucking-mind way because she is working in a multinational company. They can’t afford to just send off employees to a long-term vacation while holding their position for them. He said he will think about it. After two weeks of long email exchanges, debate and justification, her leave was approved. In fact, when she got back, she was offered a remote position. Her boss probably learned she’s better off working this way because it’s an environment she’s good at.
Lesson of the story: “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.”
Keep your job and find ways on how to make the travel work. It’s 2017 and it’s almost 2018 in a few months (yikes!) and our world has evolved into endless possibilities. I know most of you are scared to break it off to your boss because of the traditional dynamics of a workplace but again, it’s 2017 – be that person who breaks norms and brings something different to the table. Take your seat on the table without asking (I mean, be polite, at least) and you will see how it will take you to greater heights.
Jobs are not easy to find. In the USA, everyone I know who graduated University owe at least $100,000 college loans. But they’re making it work! They are traveling while paying their debts, getting meagre jobs to make ends meet. In today’s super competitive world of millennials, it’s not practical not to have a job. People are fighting to have the job you have so keep your shit together and arrange a workable schedule that will allow you to travel if you can’t stand up to your boss about having a sabbatical.
You’re smart. Make it work. You’re the only person who knows yourself better. Whatever you decide, know that I’m with you all the way. Don’t you ever forget that you have me.
Are you one of those people who quit their job to travel the world?
How well did it work for you? What are the challenges? The hardships? If you didn’t, what’s your opinion about it? I would love to hear about your experience! Leave your thoughts in the comment box below and help other people with their decisions!