In 2016, I decided to quit my job to travel to South East Asia and India for 6 months.
If you’re reading that thinking, “If only I could take that leap, but I’m afraid of the negative impacts”, I’m here to tell you that quitting to travel can boost your professional life, not harm it.
That being said, you have to be rational and tuned-in throughout the process to identify moments of opportunity you can use to spin new sources of income or creativity. Don’t be discouraged: there is a way to do this that will serve you and your career going forward.
Before you even read the below steps, it’s important to first understand why you want to quit your job and begin by thinking about an exit strategy. It took me a year and some serious sacrifices to save for a 6 month trip. Still, once I had a gameplan, I learned some really important things along the way that were hugely formational to where I am now. Once I put my plan in motion amazing things started to happen which actually facilitated my choices and turned out to benefit my career in the long run. If you’ve been thinking about quitting yourself but are not sure how it will impact your career in the long run, read on for the lessons I learned while I was going through the process.
1. Understand your goals when you set out: Forgetting tactical logistics (like budgeting or picking a destination) for a moment, it’s crucial to get to the heart of why you want to go. Is it because you want to spend some time volunteering for a non-profit? Broaden your photography skills? Take the time to finally develop your blog? Understanding your overarching goals will act as a compass, guiding you in the face of many different options. It’s a big, beautiful world out there and believe me, there will be many, many decisions you’re going to make throughout your trip. Clarifying your intentions at the outset will help you subconsciously tune in to seeing the right opportunities when they come up. In my case, I knew I wanted to dedicate more time to yoga, so I decided to get my yoga teaching certification while I was traveling in India. Now back in Montreal, I still teach yoga and it has become an extra source of income as well as a passion I’m able to cultivate in my daily life.
2. When you quit, monitor your boss’ reaction carefully: When you drop the news, pay close attention to your boss’ body language. Telling my boss was the single most terrifying part of this process for me, but I will never forget the look on his face. I hadn’t understood at the time how valued I was at the company but in that moment I knew my bargaining power, which came in handy later (which I’ll get to in #5). You might be worth more than you think you are. If their reaction is more relief than incredulity, there is a lot you can learn from that too. Take the opportunity to have a candid conversation about your strengths and weaknesses- this will help you determine if they would be open to you staying on part time.
3. Determine if there is a possibility of staying on part time: Is there part of your job you can do remotely? According to Global Workplace Analytics, 50% of the US workforce holds a job that is compatible with at least partial remote work. Bake that into your exit strategy. Depending on how much notice you’ve given your employer, there will be a hole to fill when you leave, and for most of us in the workforce, we know two weeks usually isn’t long enough to fill that void. To lessen the blow of you leaving, offer to continue working on tasks remotely until they find someone new. At the time that I quit, one of my tasks was writing for the company’s corporate blog. When I left I knew they would still need writers and offered to continue to contribute posts. They took me up on my offer which led to continued monthly income which was a huge bonus and which allowed me to travel for longer than I anticipated. Furthermore, having more time to work on one facet of your job in a different setting might make you view that task completely differently, and breath new creativity into something you once dreaded doing, or allow you the time to explore something you initially didn’t have enough time to dedicate to.
4. Prepare yourself for reverse the culture shock of returning home: In fairness, this is more of a warning than a lesson. Many people are able to turn their trips into full time lifestyles that are financially supportive. This doesn’t happen overnight, or for everyone. Planning to leave is the fun part; but planning to come back is just as, if not more important. You might run out of money and have to come home, which can be really difficult and having no idea what you’re going to do when you come back can be a dizzying and terrifying experience. Don’t plan to return with 0$ in your account, unless you clearly organize before leaving with your support network that they will be open to helping you out upon your return. If you bake it into your plan to be a travelling nomad forever, make sure to have a backup plan in case things go awry. (Side note, this is when that part-time gig can really come in handy).
5. Network in both conventional and unconventional places: Often times in life, things do go awry and my case was no different. Due to some unforeseen changes during my trip, the plan I’d set out to return to changed drastically and I ended up living in a city I didn’t intend on, with no plan for a job when I returned. Remembering how valued I had been when I left my old role, I reached out to my old boss for dinner, knowing my bargaining power this time around. This meeting led to a managerial position within the company and a 45% increase in salary. My point is, you might be tempted to completely write the company off and give your old employer a collective giant middle finger, but don’t. You have no idea what kind of support you might need when you get back, or who those employers might know in the new countries you’re visiting. Networking is a beautiful thing. On that note, every person you meet along the way is a new opportunity to grow your network. Don’t write people off, and if you see an opportunity to collaborate on the trip or when you get home, jump on it!
Travel can be part of your career trajectory, it doesn’t have to be the end of it. You’ve got to put those resourceful abilities you’ve hyped on your resume to good use and recognize opportunities when they crop up along the way. Stay open, stay receptive-the world might just become your oyster.