Leaving Your Job to Travel in 5 Realistic Steps

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Sunning sexy woman's feet on the beach in Thailand; cover image of the article "Leaving your job to travel".

It’s been a long time since I’ve written on the topic of quitting a job ever since I quit my own to travel some eight months ago. I’ve thankfully been very busy photographing and sharing experiences about my adventures as a result of the leap of faith I took. It was a scary moment at the time, but looking back, I wonder why I hadn’t done it earlier. Leaving your job to travel may seem difficult at first, but a lesson I learned well is that nothing is ever permanent. No workplace will ever offer you a guarantee of permanent work. I worked for the largest home finance company in the world and it went under. I then worked for a bank, and it went under too!

So when you contemplate leaving your job to travel, just remember that tomorrow may be your last day at work. There is no such thing as a stable job, which is just another reason to quit.

A picture of Rashad Pharaon in contemplation. He sits on a sofa wearing glasses.
Travel took a lot of planning. I resigned from a lucrative banking career to pursue self-exploration. I never once regretted the decision since; I am not the same person I am today that I was a year ago.

Admittedly, what makes us worry most about leaving our jobs is the money, or lack of it. When we run up credit cards, have a car loan, and student debt to pay off, quitting a job isn’t the easiest thing to do.

But who said leaving your job to travel doesn’t require planning?

You have to be willing to make the sacrifice. Planning and following through takes both time and discipline. Nothing comes easy. If it did, everyone would be doing it. All these nomads you see traveling the world have taken the time to plan, and have executed. The vast majority didn’t just up-and-go. Instead, they saved up enough money after possibly paying down some debt.

If you ever feel afraid of leaving your job to travel, rest assured you’re in the company of many. I had to leave a well-paying career to travel. My co-workers thought it was suicide. When the CEO asked me why I was leaving the bank, and I told him why, he laughed. He offered me a 6 month leave. I refused. I said I have to go. For a long time. A very long time. But let me share with you tips on how many of us have planned our resignations, and how we then transitioned into nomads.

I hope these steps will help you leave your job to travel, but remember each step takes time:

1. Paying Off Debt Before You Travel

This is probably the single biggest hurdle people who want to travel face. It’s hard to do anything, let alone move one neighborhood over, if you have tons of credit card debt or a big car loan. Leaving your job to travel means having to plan. If it means getting two jobs to pay the debt down, then do it. But be sure to set a definite date for your travels.

Then tell everyone about this date.

This will create a sense of urgency. Most oftentimes the goals we set start waning as we relax and come up with excuses.

A panoramic picture of houses in a vast valley on the Syrian Lebanese border.
My first order of adventure was to cross the Syrian-Lebanese border. I wanted to cross into the heartland of my origins; albeit having written little about it, it was a painful experience. One day I’ll write about it, but that day isn’t today.

Things always seem to get in the way. A friend’s wedding. A new car, an emergency, etc. If everyone knows you are leaving next summer, they will keep asking you about it. The closer you come to this date, the more the pressure will build up. It will provide the jump-start and motivation you need to keep working on the big plan: leaving your job to travel.

2. Saving Up Enough Money for your Travels

The important thing is not to make the classic mistake of saving money while you’re paying off debt. Chances are, no savings account will ever pay the high interest rates that you are carrying on debt. The logical thing to do is to first pay off any high-interest debt, followed by low-interest debt, and then start saving money. Doing it any other way will only prolong the time needed to pay down any debt.

Leaving your job to travel means properly prioritizing your time.

Pay off your debt as quickly as possible, then save up as much as possible. How much you need to save depends on what kind of traveling you want to do. If you plan on teaching English abroad, then a couple of thousand dollars may do. If you don’t want to rough it, then five thousand dollars or more is ideal.

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Again, it depends on what type of food and accommodation you require, what country you choose, and if you will be working along the way. Some hardcore nomads travel with less than five hundred dollars in their pockets and pick up odd jobs along the way.

3. Purpose Your Travels

What I mean here is that traveling ought to have an underlying purpose. Ask one hundred people if they want to travel, most likely all of them will say yes. But how many want to truly travel long-term, away from from friends and family? Long-term travelers have an underlying purpose, a curiosity, a drive that others may not have.

The house of Huynh Thuy Le in Sa Dec Vietnam. It was filmed in Marguerite Duras's film "The Lover".
One of my driving purposes to visit Southeast Asia was not only to see Vietnam, but my writing inspiration: the house of Huynh Thuy Le, from my favorite author’s novel, The Lover.

Explore the reason behind the reason. Why do you want to travel so badly, to see the beautiful pagodas of Myanmar? But why? To explore a foreign religion? Okay… so now we’re getting somewhere. Maybe you should purpose your travel by going to a Buddhist meditation retreat as well. The mistake I made was purposing the reason behind the reason while I was traveling, instead of planning ahead.

Some may say that that’s no mistake at all, but just part of self-discovery.

Leaving your job to travel when your purpose is crystal clear makes things a lot easier. Unfortunately I’ve seen many friends go back home because they never purposed their travels. They just went, hunted for a mate, got their hearts broken, and returned home.

4. Prepare for your Travels

As the deadline looms near, you’ll need to start making preparations. The key here is not to over do it. If you plan on checking-in luggage and flying for some parts of your trip, bear in mind most flights will charge for luggage in excess of 15 kilograms. Traveling with anything more is too much, especially if you plan on traveling a lot. You just don’t want to be lugging a really heavy backpack around.

A photo of Nikkon camera bodies and lenses which Banker in the Sun would be taking on his trip around the world.
Most of what I took was photographic equipment and electronics. I even whittled it down to only one camera body and two lenses. Very little of anything else.

Most of the stuff you’ll be packing you can find at your destination, possibly for much cheaper. I traveled with barely anything but my laptop and camera. I bought everything I needed as soon as I arrived in Vietnam. Shorts, t-shirts, flip flops, everything. And they were much cheaper there. Just bring the basics with you–things you absolutely need. You definitely want to bring along anti-diarrhea and malaria pills, antibiotics, and any other medication you personally need. Don’t blow money at home trying to make the perfect travel pack.

5. Understanding the Risks of Travel

You will have some amazing experiences awaiting you, but should anything bad happen along the way–like lost or stolen items–just understand that it’s all part of the experience. Nothing will ever go as planned. I personally had some things get stolen, got hit by a drunk driver in Myanmar, had a very bad relationship with a Thai girl, and much, much more. Despite this, I never lost sight of the beauty of my surroundings and why I was traveling. You will have sacrifices to make when leaving your job to travel the world. If you think the biggest one was leaving your job, the challenges on the road may very well surprise you.

You will miss your friends and family. You may even question the decision you made to travel when you hear your friends back home are getting married, or one just landed an awesome promotion. These are all the hurdles that constantly test our mettle while traveling. They constantly challenge our beliefs and force us to question ourselves, which is a learning lesson no school can teach.

A photo of Rashad Pharaon sitting in a restaurant with a thoughtful look on his face. In the background, the restaurant's decor is Teddy Bear. It is located in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
We all question our motives at some point while on the road: was leaving our job to travel the right thing to do?

Leaving your job to travel requires serious forethought. I doubt anyone just stood up and said, “welp, I’m outta here!”, and then got on a plane that evening. Most had to plan well ahead of time. Things such as money, debt, and family had to addressed.

Everyone can travel long-term if they choose to, even a family of six. But everyone in the family needs to be on the same page, and that’s the challenge.

The chance to travel long-term does not come easy, and that is the barrier to entry into this awesome lifestyle of freedom. Rest assured, you WILL find jobs along the way, possibly better than those at home. You WILL find opportunities and you WILL meet awesome people from all walks of life.

There is no time like now to prove to yourself that you can do it too,

And that you can be part of the few that have done it, and that are living it! 😀

Have you thought about leaving your job to travel the world? Do you believe anyone can do it?

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4 comments on “Leaving Your Job to Travel in 5 Realistic Steps

    1. Very true, Elaine. If someone is paying down credit card debt, though, they could always pay the cards down and just re-borrow against them if they absolutely had to. You can even cash advance, and the high interest rate would probably dissuade you from doing so. But hey, a small cushion is always a good idea.

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