Why Quitting Your Job to Travel Is a Terrible Idea

We all read the instantly famous story about the woman from New York who quit her $95,000-a-year job to go scoop ice cream in St. John. This story went the kind of viral usually reserved for Sh*t Kanye Says®.

And it's no wonder: who doesn't want to quit their soul-sucking day job and escape to a tropical paradise? It's pretty much the gold standard of daydreams; the ultimate "If I won the $500 million jackpot tomorrow..." fantasy. But we don't. Because if it were that easy -- just quit and go, NBD! -- the Caribbean islands would have more ice cream scoopers than tourists to support them.

It's easy to romanticize the notion of leaving it all behind to travel the world, and while, yes, it can be done, there are pitfalls that most folks don't consider before taking the plunge. We interviewed four people who did it and asked them to play devil's advocate -- to offer reasons why you should stop daydreaming and just go back to making copies.

couple relaxing on the beach
BlueOrange Studio/Shutterstock

There's a difference between vacationing and traveling

Vacationing is fun. Traveling is work. Vacationing is a timeout from life. Traveling is real life. "I think people glamorize this, like it's all happiness and no sadness -- which is obviously completely untrue," said Jinna Yang of Project Inspo, who booked a one-way ticket to Bali after the lease on her apartment in Brooklyn ended and has been traveling ever since. "But it's all about expectations. You can't just pick up and leave and expect your life to be filled with only happy moments -- there are going to be problems no matter where you are."

woman hiking outside alone travel

You're going to experience a lot of quality alone time

If you can find someone to travel with you, great! But there's a good chance you won't, because of jobs and family and commitments and life. While new, single friends you meet may be a ton of fun to see the Louvre with, they may not be able to fill the void left by close friends back home who know all your crud and love you anyway. Long-term traveling can be an exercise in being truly alone. Which, admittedly, many people want and/or need -- but it is something to be ready for.

"I think loneliness will affect everyone differently, but I have to think it hits everyone at some point, just some more than others," said Katie Aune of Wandering Along a Road Less Traveled, who left her full-time job in Chicago to travel the world for over a year. "I struggled with it a lot my first few months on the road. It sets in on the days when you have struggles and there is no one to commiserate with."

lonely woman traveling alone

You may become disconnected from family and friends

Out of necessity, making the choice to travel long term is making the choice to (at least temporarily) sacrifice many of your personal relationships. While there are people in the world who can be very forgiving as far as the emotional demands of friendships and family go -- the kind of people you can not speak to for a year and pick right back up again like it was yesterday -- a lot of folks aren't that way.

"When I first announced my plans to leave, very few of my friends understood. Many tried to be supportive, but I could tell they didn't get it,” Aune recalled. "It was tough trying to keep in touch with people while traveling. After returning, I just found it hard to re-assimilate with many friends -- some had gotten married or had kids while I was gone and our priorities were just different."

You can fall off the career track

If you're still in college and reading this, please understand: you have a small window of time to establish yourself on a career path before you're behind the eight ball. Assuming, of course, you don't plan to change paths along the way and/or go back to grad school to reset your career. If you miss that window, you can be fucked. Especially financially, since as every money guru worth their salt will tell you -- there's no more important time to save for retirement than in your 20s. You know, compounding interest! How detrimental full-time travel can be to your career really depends on how long you plan to be on the road.

"I finished university in 2009. It's now 2016. I've basically spent seven years attempting to make a decision,” said Dan Baird of Anxious Travelers, who initially started traveling to escape a miserable dead-end job in England. "I'm 30, I don't have a pension, don't have any savings, don't have a career. In a lot of ways, I am way behind other people of my age."

In other cases, some time off might be exactly what you need; but it helps to already be established and continue working towards a career goal even during your absence. "For me there was no ground lost during my sabbatical; in fact, it helped me," said Abby Tegnelia of Daydream Away, who took a year off to live in Costa Rica, where she started her own company travel blogging and doing social media work. "It ended up helping me in the future -- I basically still live off of those skills. At the same time, I never worked past 2pm!"

But you still need to work to support yourself

Oh, so you're going to go travel? Just like that? You're just going to go travel, like, whatevs, no worries, I'm traveling? Cool story, bro. How are you going to afford it? And yes, while there are countless blog posts from professional travel bloggers with tips on how to live on the road for $500 a year or whatever... you really need to think about what it entails. How much of your savings are you willing to spend? How much time are you willing to work along the way?

Now, if you've got $50,000 stashed in your bank and are totally down with blowing it all, by all means fucking YOLO. Ditto if you're a Trustafarian because life is just different for you. Everyone else: remember that if you're not going to live off savings, then you'll need to work. Most likely in a menial job. Maybe even in one like the job you just left. And while at least you'll be working someplace new, and meeting new people, and experiencing a different culture, it's something to keep in mind. You'll still be working.

"I did temporary admin work while I was traveling," said Baird. "Much of it was menial... and I wouldn't want to go to work because I'd think, 'This means nothing to me, I'm wasting my time!' A lot of my time when traveling was spent doing these jobs so I could save up for further travels and further menial jobs. This is kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy as you just end up qualified for jobs you hate."

suburban house green lawn
Jo Ann Snover/Shutterstock

Marriage? Kids? A home? Be ready to hit "pause."

If any of those things are in any way -- now or in the future -- going to be a priority in your life, recognize that you may be pushing them off for a while. It's one thing to go backpack for a few months through Eastern Europe or Southeast Asia or Central America before coming home and settling back down, and quite another to wander the planet like Caine from Kung Fu. Everyone's got different values, priorities, and needs in life -- just make sure yours align with the travel lifestyle you're choosing.

"Towards the end of my third year of travel I came to realize that constantly uprooting my life every year was a giant pain in the arse," said Baird. "The problem is that you forge friendships and then you have to watch them die. You start jobs and know you'll never be able to progress further. You live in a house but it can never become your home because you know eventually you'll be leaving it. I wanted to be in a place where I could connect to others, be a part of a community, have a home and have roots. I wanted something meaningful."

woman with camera travel

Full-time travel is rewarding, but it's not for everyone

Look, we're not trying to torch your dreams here. There are a LOT of great things about traveling that we didn't mention largely because there are plenty of articles that talk about how great quitting your job to travel is. Hell, we put together a guide on how to do it. We're a travel site. We LOVE to travel. Just know that quitting your job to do it full time is not for everyone, and that might include you!

"The life I live is not for everyone. It's not easy," said Yang. "I wouldn't change it for the world, though, because I feel like my journey is one that can inspire people to take chances in life and pursue their dreams."

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Nicole Rupersburg lives two separate lives -- one in Detroit, one in Las Vegas -- and sees both the pros and the cons of traveling and outright uprooting. She mostly wrote this to be contrarian, but does believe the lifestyle isn't for everyone. Follow her traveling and otherwise on Instagram at @eatsdrinksandleaves.