I am a travel blogger. I have visited more than 50 countries and stopped counting somewhere on the way. I love staying at luxury hotels & getting pampered and I prefer travelling off the beaten path. I recently returned from a month in beautiful Kyrgyzstan, and now I back home working 9-5 here in Munich. The one thing I never considered was quitting my job to travel.
Let me elaborate. Many of my much-esteemed colleagues lead that seemingly carefree life on the road. Just a backpack and endless opportunities. The usually start out in South East Asia until their growing blogs are able to sustain a statelier home base. And at one point they all seem to write a rather lengthy post about why others should follow in their footsteps. Yes, quit your job. Just do it. Head into the adventure! The reader casually clicks on a couple of affiliate links and off you go on a journey to fulfillment.
Because after all, whoever liked sitting in a cubicle all day? I certainly don’t! Much as I cherish the rest of their work, I strongly resent these ever-same articles. Here is why.
So what is wrong, Norman?
First of all, the very idea that quitting your job was the only way to travel the world, even when you are young, is preposterous! Traveling the world as a job sounds like an awesome goal. But there is a lot of romanticization involved as well, or call it sentimental escapism. And I’ll tell you a secret: You won’t be able to escape your daily grind with being lazy. Neither at home nor on the road. In fact, the road is a lot more unforgiving. It is not quitting your job, but changing your job.
There is also an important psychological dimension to such a decision. Not everyone is made for the constant life on the road. When you are doing it alone, you’ll long for your friends. With your partner, you’ll wish for some distance. Most people do get homesick, and seeing one tourist attraction after another loses its luster after a time as well. Sure there is Skype these days, but that won’t be able to replace getting drunk with your friend at the local bar and talking the whole evening about nothing. Not everyone is up to these challenges in the long run.
More than that, quitting your job is not a decision, it is a unique privilege! Not everyone can sell his car, save a little extra for half a year ($1,000 a month, c’mon how hard can it be?) and redeem these frequent flyer points dad wasn’t using anyway. The next time you are buying yourself these trendy Gucci stilettos, why not save even more points with your brand new miles & points optimized credit card. >>Ka-ching!<<
The harsh truth is: 90 percent of the world population, if not more, cannot make that decision. There is no car and your parents barely make it to the next paycheck themselves. Most importantly: There isn’t even a decent job to quit, to begin with.
“Telling people to Quit their job to travel the world is nothing but unbearable western arrogance.”
Now admittedly a lot of people reading those articles COULD travel the world if they so desired. But is it really ethically? I mean, seriously, they know, they won’t be able to afford long-term travel in Europe or the USA. So they pick South East Asia or South America where 15 US-Dollar a day will earn you a life full of luxury and unlimited food. They totally ignore that Thailand is actually an ugly political mess. Tourism is the only growth sector in the kingdom – but who is benefitting?
Some of the countries they will be visiting have thousands of people starving each month, daily violations of the most basic human rights and a staggering criminality rate. So what wrong can a little couch surfing do? Irresponsible tourism goes way beyond throwing away plastic bottles in a national park (even though that has become a major problem).
Here in Germany, we got a trade tax and, among others, also a visitor’s tax.
“But Norman, what does trade tax have to do with budget travel?”
Well, companies (like hotels) should pay a special tax for the infrastructure they use and wear down, for the garbage they produce, for the water they use. Sadly, most cheap tourist destinations don’t have any sound system in place to take care of the secondary and tertiary damage. Only recently Thailand had to close down a couple of islands in the Phang Nga Bay due to irresponsible tourism. Harsh as it may sound, most budget tourists take more from a country than they give back, and inexperienced global nomads are often among them. Budgeting can be an incredibly selfish decision.
I also wonder if it is a smart idea to change the course of your life based on the advice from someone barely in his late twenties. He or she is in no position (yet) to judge whether the decision really was a good idea. It remains a fact, however, that quitting a job to travel will have a PROFOUND impact on any vita. True enough, it doesn’t have to be bad. In fact, I believe that travel actually teaches you valuable lessons. Travelers are, in general, more tolerant and open to new ideas. Getting in touch with different cultures will make you rethink your own. Ultimately this can be the starting point for new business ideas, and an improvement of your overall life. Happiness even.
But you also have to realize that you will block off quite a number of career opportunities. You won’t be able to consistently sell that two-year gap in your CV as a benefit. Some employers, actually whole sectors, will favor candidates thinking less freely, less impulsive. In our super competitive job market, you will also be too old for certain vacancies when you return. Others might think you forgot half of whatever you learned at university when you come back. Ridiculous, I know. Coming back from a life on the road to study? Your fellows will be 2 years younger – fresh from the school with totally different problems. Here’s a wonderful study that takes a more scientific take on things.
The other side of the travel blogging world
So what is the other side? Whenever I read one of these ubiquitous articles about “quitting your job to travel”, I get the impression I should be feeling inferior. Like there was no chance I could be happy with my job. Rubbish! I am working full time for a wonderful young company which really believes in giving back to its employees. In fact, I even call my colleagues friends and often join them at the pub after work. Whenever there is time, I travel. It got 30 days of holiday a year plus weekends. A lot of companies (at least here in Germany) will even be able to offer you a 4-day week.
I am not saying it is easy. I am working hard. But it IS another good alternative. One of many. I am not forced to make a living teaching English abroad or tap my meagre saving to bring my three dirty t-shirts in my backpack to the washing salon once a month. The constant life on the road is tough and nowhere as dreamy as those glossy pictures on Instagram might suggest.
When I want to go abroad, I just pick a target and book the tickets. No budget, no ultra-long layovers or super awkward flight times, no hostels and no burdensome backpacks. I don’t need to waste precious time on searching for accommodations, or trying to hitch a ride. Besides, nobody ever said your travel life has to stops once you hit 25. There is no need to leave it all behind at 20. I am way into my thirties and plan to enjoy the wonders of the world for the rest of my days. So far I am succeeding.
Actually, I do enjoy the time at home just as much. We all got our roots and only very few are made for constant travel. their. whole. life. There is no need to pack it all into two or three years.
Now this is the point where I have to admit that my parents supported me through my studies. I also live in a region of the world where unemployment is only a problem for the few uneducated. The Euro isn’t exactly the weakest currency in the world either. So I am lucky. Very lucky indeed. I could have been born as one of the 15,7 million AIDS orphans in sub-Saharan Africa – desperate for food, education, psychological counselling and a family.
I don’t claim to have a ready solution for this long-standing problem either. 150 years of western involvement in the area sadly hasn’t exactly created a stable foundation, to begin with (I recommend reading “Dead Aid” by Dambisa Moyo for more on this subject ).But see, that is exactly the reason why I keep my advice mostly to myself. So, find your own way. Travel for a living if you really feel up to it or become a doctor. Read. Try things out. Fail. Start again. Work hard, and then yet harder towards whatever your goal is. Be yourself. And never believe long-term travel is easier than your job. It isn’t. It’s just as hard, maybe even harder.
Last but not least: Running a travel blog to gain a steady income might just be the worst business idea ever. The niche is super competitive, with ultra-low wages and little organization. It can be feasible, sure. But it is only a dream job for a very selective few. The least reason you should start one would be clicking on an affiliate link inside the shiny post of a travel blogger.
So what are your thoughts on the subject? Quit your job or work on a career? Tell me!