Travel Stories

How to quit your job to travel

I’ve been dreading this moment ever since I decided to permanently quit my job and travel. I’ve avoided it and found excuses to delay it. I’ve even thought of taking the cowardly way out and doing it via email. Now the moment is here and my heart is pounding. My hands are clammy and I can barely catch enough breath to tell my boss to her face that I’m quitting. 

I finally formulate the words and her face turns ghostly white. Her smile quickly fades as she tries to hide her shock. She nods her head and says she understands. I tell her my last day will be six weeks from now, hoping to give her enough time to find a replacement. I tell her I’m sorry about the poor timing, that I realize our nurses are already working overtime, that our unit is struggling with having enough staff as it is. She forces a tight smile and wishes me luck. I leave her office quietly with mixed emotions. This is really happening. 

It’s easy to talk about WHY you should quit your job to travel, but a lot of people neglect to tell you HOW to actually do it. How do you leave a life you’ve carefully built for yourself to pursue something you’re not entirely sure of? How do you navigate the transition from full-time employee to wandering vagabond? While some people choose to leave abruptly and suddenly, this wasn’t the way I wanted to say goodbye. Instead, I took it one step at a time.

I’ve had a lot of people ask me how I finally quit my job to travel, so I thought I’d break it down for you and share the practical steps I took before finally facing the moment with my boss that made it all real.

How to Quit Your Job to Travel
One year before

Start planning to quit your job as far ahead of time as possible.
As I’ve mentioned before, I took about two years to really think about quitting my job to travel. I made sure it was what I really wanted before I took a leap of faith. Taking adequate time to process the idea gave me confidence and helped me to begin realizing my dream.
My short vacation to Europe in 2011 inspired the long-term travel I’m doing now! 

Six months before

Make a travel budget and outline your goals for saving money.
As my trip came closer, I started really honing in on forming a travel budget and outlining some goals for how much money I wanted to save. I began working a lot of overtime and seriously pinching pennies. 

Move in with your parents or a friend
I realized I could cut down on a lot of my bills by living with my mom for a few months before my departure date, so I broke my lease and moved out of my apartment. I sorted and packed all of my things into boxes and stored them in a safe place. Living with less clutter and organizing my belongings gave me more freedom to concentrate on my travel plans.

Tell your friends and family
Breaking the news to your friends and family might be one of the hardest parts of long-term travel, so it’s best to give them time to get used to the idea. Ask them for support, advice, and encouragement. You’re going to need it now and when you’re on the road.

Start blogging
While planning for this trip, I started writing about the two month internship in Ecuador I completed during a leave of absence. I started a Twitter account and created a Facebook page to promote my blog. I started developing my writing style and focused on my travel photography. Giving others a chance to follow your journey from the very beginning will make them more invested when you actually hit the road.
I used my time in Ecuador to practice my writing and find out what solo traveling was really all about!

Talk to other travelers or expats
Seeking the advice and wisdom of travelers who have gone before is one of the best ways to prepare for your own journey. Ask them about their challenges, their triumphs, their packing tips, and their bargaining skills. Ask them what it’s really like to travel alone or with a partner. Glean as much information as possible from people you admire who have already been where you want to go.

Three months before 

Arrange your transportation
Even though I didn’t have a concrete itinerary, I began scouring budget airline sites and formulated a tentative route for my travels. I outlined rough dates for specific countries I wanted to visit, and chose a few experiences I wanted to have in the States before leaving indefinitely. I purchased all of the bus and airline tickets I could be sure of and continued looking for deals on other possible destinations.

Start looking at volunteer sites
I signed up for a Workaway account and began seriously looking at volunteering opportunities as a way to reduce the cost of accommodation.
TheBarefootBeatThis was my first and hardest Workaway experience. Thankfully it has only improved!

Apply for a passport/visas 

*A fatal mistake I made in planning for my trip was not looking into visa requirements for the countries I was considering visiting ahead of time. This mistake is still causing me unnecessary grief and it’s so simple to do the research beforehand. Three months is about how much time you’ll need to process multiple visas and send your passport to the respective embassies. If you don’t have a passport, apply for one now.
I have serious separation anxiety when it comes to my passport!

Two Months Before

Purchase the travel gear you’ll need
When my sister arrived home from her own solo backpacking adventure in Central America, I picked her brain for her advice on travel gear. I asked her what she needed that she left behind and what she could’ve done without. Based on her advice and the advice of other solo travelers I met, I started purchasing the items I thought I would need. I bought my backpack, a travel sleeping bag, a Diva Cup, and a small two person tent. I wanted to have a chance to test all of these essentials before actually hitting the road in case I needed to replace something. I even excitedly packed my backpack and started walking around with it to get used to the weight.
TheBarefootBeatMy younger sister gave me loads of advice and tips after her own solo adventure! 

One Month Before

Get a Checkup and Buy Travel/Health Insurance
Since I was no longer going to be insured by my employer, I wanted to have some basic health and travel insurance. I bought a plan for one year and made one last trip to my dentist. I researched the kinds of vaccines I would need and made an appointment to get any prescriptions I’d need for malaria, etc.

Check the U.S. State Department for any travel warnings
It’s easy to get so caught up in making your travel plans that you neglect to pay attention to political or natural disasters that may have a potential affect on your adventure. The U.S. State Department is a great source for general information about the countries you’ll be visiting. It regularly posts safety tips and any current travel warnings (it also has a breakdown of visa requirements). You can also choose to sign up for their smart traveler program to get safety updates while you travel. 

Cancel your internet, cell phone bill, and car insurance
This is the time to cancel all of the services you’ll no longer be needing. It’s a pain in the ass, but you’ll feel so much more free on the road without all of these monthly bills weighing you down. Don’t worry, your Netflix, Spotify, Hulu, and high speed internet will all be waiting for you when (if) you return.

Say goodbye to your friends
Don’t wait until the last minute to say your goodbyes. Plan a going away party or make an effort to spend some one-on-one time with your closest friends. Visit your grandparents and any family you may not see for awhile. Life happens while you’re on the road, you never know what changes may occur in your life or theirs, so get some closure before you head out on your new adventure!
TheBarefootBeatMy best friend calmed me down when I had second thoughts about quitting my job and convinced me I wasn’t having a life crisis!

Quit your job
I know you technically only have to give two weeks notice, but giving your boss a little advance warning will probably go over more smoothly. Unless you think they will turn it against you and fire you on the spot. In that case, wait until the very last minute before walking away!

Two weeks

Forward your mail
Ask your mom or someone you trust to handle any miscellaneous mail you might receive while you’re gone. Go ahead and fill out the paperwork for forwarding your mail or changing your permanent address. Keep in mind it’s useful to have a “home” address even if you’ll be vagabonding for the foreseeable future!

Notify your bank/credit card company of your travel plans
Nothing will suck more than getting to your destination and not being able to withdraw cash from the ATM because you forgot to tell your bank you’d be traveling to Togo. Most banks are completely understanding and will put a notice on your account so it’s not blocked while you’re overseas. It’s a good idea to take some travelers checks with you too, just in case. I failed to do this and had to withdraw a large amount from the ATM over a several day period which was annoying.

Set up a Skype Account
This is the primary way I keep in touch with friends and family back home. It might be a no-brainer for you, but your parents and grandparents might need a little bit of an explanation. Help them set up their webcam and have a practice Skype session with them so they won’t panic when you’re gone and they can’t figure out how to sign in.

One Week

Print and copy important documents
Get a folder or envelope to keep all of your important travel documents in one place. Make copies of your passport and birth certificate or any account information you might need on the road.  I made two copies of all of my travel documents and placed one copy in my wallet and the other in my backpack, just in case. Print your flight itineraries and bus tickets too!

Do Last minute shopping/Pack
I wish I were kidding when I tell you it took me three days to pack all of my things into my backpack. Now it takes me less than five minutes to stuff all of my belongings into their appropriate places, but before I left it seemed like an impossible task. Give yourself enough time to decide what you want to take with you to see if it will realistically fit. It probably won’t and you’ll panic, but at least you’ll have a few more days to reduce. Try your backpack on when it’s fully packed and adjust all of the straps. Make sure it’s as comfortable as possible.
It didn’t look this organized the first or even second time around! 

Head over to Target or the Dollar Store for any last minute essentials, but keep in mind you can purchase most of these things while abroad, too.

All of the excitement and adrenaline rushing through your veins can actually be quite exhausting. You’ll have a surge of conflicting emotions as you say goodbye to the ones you love and set off on a new journey. Try not to plan too much this week and allow yourself to enjoy the last few days of normalcy. You may be ready to leave now, but you’ll regret it if you do so in a hurried or rushed manner. The last thing you want to do is start your adventure with emotionally and physically worn out. 

I wish I’d taken my own advice!

Lastly, don’t forget to enjoy this part of the experience, too. Though you may not realize it now, the planning and preparation that happen before you leave are just as important and fun as the journey itself. Don’t stress too much, everything will come together, I promise! Bon voyage! (Oh yeah, don’t forget to tell your boss you QUIT)!

For more advice and “how-to’s” on long-term travel don’t forget to check out my Travel Tips page! For country specific guides, hop over to “Travel Guides.” As always, feel free to email me with any questions, I love reading your comments as too! 

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  • Reply Karla November 5, 2013 at 3:44 pm

    Very well done Mariah!

    I know the feeling of announcing to your superior or boss about your intention to leave but once it’s done, there is no turning back!

    I wish I had someone to support me or be more organized back in my days!

    I went on a 2 month trip around Europe and basically took it one day at a time.

    That helped me become stronger and prepared me for my biggest adventure & life challenge, living & working in South Korea on my own.

    I’m so glad I did!

    Travelling makes you see life with different eyes and the people you meet definitely help you become a better person 😉

    Great tips & suggestions!
    Karla recently posted…Guest Post: What is so magical about Costa Rica?My Profile

    • Reply Mariah November 6, 2013 at 12:55 am

      Thanks for the comment Karla! Are you still in South Korea? I’ve been thinking about trying the expat life since I really have no desire to return to the States! Happy and safe travels to you!

  • Reply Rick November 4, 2013 at 6:24 am

    Very good article! Practical and informative, thanks! 🙂

    • Reply Mariah November 4, 2013 at 7:42 am

      Thanks Rick! Are you thinking of starting your own journey? Or have you already?

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