Ask LH: Should I Quit My Job And Roam The World?

Ask LH: Should I Quit My Job And Roam The World?

Dear Lifehacker, I’m 31 years old and have become a bit disenchanted with my career and life. I work as a software engineer and while I enjoy the work, I hate the ego driven nature of the industry and the general corporate BS that comes from working at a mid-sized company. For that reason I’ve been entertaining for a while the idea of quitting my job and re-evaluating my life and goals while travelling overseas for a while.

I’ve also considered asking for extended unpaid leave but the problem with that is it creates a deadline when I have to come back, and I don’t really intend to stay at the company long-term anyway.

I have enough savings to last a year or two and no relationship, assets or loans to tie me down. I would see myself doing volunteer work and generally living cheaply for as long as possible. I have travelled a bit in my life but never for more than a month, and I am definitely at my happiest when living out of a backpack!

What I am concerned about though is what will happen when the money runs out? There’s no guarantee that work will agree to grant me such a long period of unpaid leave, and the thought of coming back broke and having to find a job immediately while justifying why I quit my last job and haven’t worked since is daunting.

Is the potential growth and life experience I would gain from this sort of decision worth the inconvenience when I get back? Are recruiters and potential employers going to be turned off by my extended break from my career? Should I just suck it up and get on with my life/find another job now? Any advice and perspective is appreciated. Thanks, Hoping To Roam

Backpacking picture from Shutterstock

Dear HTR,

Our advice is simple: book that ticket now and quit your job. That’s a scary prospect, but a much more exciting reality than worrying about a role you’re clearly not enjoying any more.

As you say, you don’t really want to stick with your current employer long-term, so why go through the charade of asking for unpaid leave? You have the savings and the freedom. If you don’t grab this opportunity now, the chances are high you’ll regret it later. Your job isn’t guaranteed anyway; there’s always a chance, however slight, it will disappear six months from now anyway. Control your career; don’t let your career control you.

What happens when the money runs out (or gets close to running out)? You go back to work, either by returning to Australia or by looking overseas (assuming you can score an appropriate visa). Software engineering experience is valuable enough that I don’t think you’ll have too much trouble finding work, especially since you won’t be particularly committed to living in any particular place.

We’ve covered the question of how to explain gaps in your career before. In your case, I’d be up front, explain you took a career break, and that you’re now recharged and ready to re-engage. If you’re concerned that your skills will have atrophied or become irrelevant, set aside some of the money you’ve saved in a term deposit or online savings account and use it as a ‘retraining fund’ when you return.

That’s our perspective; we’d love to hear from readers who have taken this step in the comments. Good luck!


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  • Go! Your life will never be the same. Be smart and do your research, but do go and never look back. I made the same choice and have never regretted it.

  • I did the same thing many years ago. You should totally go adventuring, the experiences are worth their weight in gold. And about that missing period in your employment: When I’m interviewing people these days I wouldn’t bat an eyelid if someone told me they went travelling for a year or two.

    You’ve only got one life, and you shouldn’t be spending it slogging away at a workplace you don’t enjoy if you don’t have to.

    Good luck.

  • Wow. This is so timely. I quit my job last week. I have 2.5 weeks til I am jobless.

    I have reasonable savings, such that I can sustain my current lifestyle for about 10 months (eating out, buying toys on a whim, etc) or frugally for 18 months. Investment property pays for itself. Relationship is over (okay, this is largely the impetus for this) and thus no home. There’s not a lot of interesting responsibilities at work (but pays well). It’s like everything is in place for me to leave.

    Another recent LH article spoke of taking a career break and ticking something off the bucket list. I’m doing exactly that. Heading to South America for 2 months for starters. Most likely longer.

    I can’t concur with the suggestions to quit and leave as I haven’t seen the other side yet. I can say that I have never been so anxious. The uncertainty is incredible, despite all the research and prep I’ve done. But it’s getting easier everyday.

    Good luck.

  • Great response, completely agree – as long as you have some cash.. Though there are volunteer systems you can work with to get around from what I understand, which will even give you a place to stay and some food.

  • Did this a few years ago (albeit with the unpaid leave option where I could have taken up to 3 years off). My advice – go for it, you will not regret it. If you’ve got enough backing to see you through for the first few months you will be fine. Take the odd short contract in places where you think you might want to stop awhile (say the UK and explore some of Europe and the UK from there). Register with a few agencies and you will get calls.

  • DO IT! I can’t recommend it enough. I went to Amsterdam for a year and it has totally changed my life and solved all the problems I had before – shitty job, relationship etc. Don’t ever waste your life in a job you don’t like. There is so much more to life, and many different ways to live your life, which you will soon discover. Get out of your comfort zone and do it! I think putting aside some money for use when you get back is an excellent idea (enough for 6 months frugal living is a good amount), and also finding some work or volunteer work along the way will reduce your costs and allow you to travel longer. Try and It’s also really easy to get part time english teaching jobs (knowledge of local language not required) if you want to base yourself in a city for a few months – you can do TEFL courses online for around $200. I also got an excellent book called ‘work your way around the world’ which is useful. Get prepared financially, then get out there. You definitely won’t regret it. Don’t listen to anyone who tries to discourage you, because they are wrong.

  • I have a cousin who did exactly this.
    He took a round the world trip, covering 37 countries in 365 days!
    He has shared all of his experiences on his blog, and some of his stories are truly inspiring.
    After ending his round the world trip, he is now set to explore the strangest and the most fascinating cities of India, and making a documentary about it. check the Facebook page and feel free to ask him any questions you might have. Pack your bags, get set, go!!

  • I did exactly this 6 months ago. I was in exactly the same situation (i”m a 35yo web dev). I just quit my job and bought a one way ticket to thailand. It was awesome and I don’t regret it at all. I am back in Australia now, have been for about a month, and am looking for work. Though secretly I am also trying to come up with ways that I can make a few bucks there so I can go back for the long term.
    Do it, you wont regret it.

  • Fear is a constant motivator to maintain the status quo. But the thing is, the status quo is an illusion, because change is constant and cannot be stopped. So, either you take control of the change, or the change takes control of you. Either way, the fear will always be there, so you just have to feel the fear and do it anyway. Hope that makes sense, it might be a little clichéd but it is also true.

  • What about if you love your current job?

    Always wanted to travel, but currently have a great job and great pay… this is hard!

  • Do it! I took a year off in 2008 with my new girlfriend, now wife, and travelled round the world as a 37 y.o.

    Best year of my life so far.

  • I took 8 months off in 1997 aged 28 and working as a Software Engineer. Best think I ever did. Upon return home, my old company re-employed me. Your stars are all aligned right now. Go.

  • Yes. Yes you should definitely do this! You will not be enriched by engineering software in your current job. When you travel, you will feel alive & you will have innumerable enlivening experiences. Go, go, go.

  • Do it, I’m a contractor, so every time i finish as contract, i’ll pack my bags and get the hell out!

    I have been around the world a number of times now and I can not recommend to you enough that you should go. Don’t bother with contiki tours and the like, hire a van and drive around the alps! you will meet amazing people that will enrich your life and will open doors that you never thought were possible.

    You can always find another job, but you’ll never be young again, and the fact is employers tend to see people how travel as better employees as they have more of a broad knowledge of the world.

    Even better if you can get a work visa for some other country FAR from home and spend a few years there …. you will never look at life the same way!

  • Life doesn’t begin until you’re fired. Article by Bryce Courtney

    One day last week I was working at my computer when I felt a tap on my shoulder, I turned to find a young bloke who had left the company several months earlier.

    I recall at the time asking him why he was leaving. “More money” he replied
    “Will you be happy where you’re going” I’d asked. He’d shrugged and moved on, happiness was obviously not one of his more immediate priorities. Now he sat down, one lead draped over the arm of the chair, not asking if it was convenient. “I’ve been fired,” he announced, lighting a cigarette. “How many times is that?” I asked. He looked at me in horror. “The first! What do you take me for?” “By the time I was your age I had been fired twenty or more times.” I said. How do you know what you want to do in life if you haven’t looked around, tasted, experimented, been fired, come and gone?

    What are you talking about? He was obviously shocked. This is the best opportunity you’ll ever have to come to grips with who you are. Start moving, Cast your bread upon the water, trust your luck, your wit, your intelligence and simply follow your nose, you a single, free and able bodied. See Australia, move on. See the world. Get your nose broken and your confidence restored.

    “What about my mortgage? In three years I’ll own a place with a quarter of a million bucks.” “Are you happy?” “No”. “At 26 years old you’re worried about a mortgage? You’re putting it ahead of being happy?” “That’s easy for you to say, you’ve made it. You’re rich”. “I am also 57.” I replied

    There are probably a good number of readers who will query my advice which by the way, you may be quite sure will not be taken.

    We have become obsessed with the idea of security and our children consider themselves failures in their mid twenty’s if they’re not surrounded by the trappings of success.

    Kids leaving school and university bite their nails down to the first knuckle at the prospect of not finding a job that pays them handsomely for not doing very much so they can quickly appear to be successful while privately being bored and unhappy.

    Most have no idea what they really want to do. More importantly, they have very little sense of who they are or how to exploit their own potential.

    The best thing a person can do when they leave school or university is to hit the road.
    Undertake a voyage of discovery. Not for six weeks or six months but for two or three or even six years. This process of intellectual weathering, coming to terms with yourself and life is essential if you’re going to be a success happily. The gaining of wisdom and confidence and getting to know who the hell you are is critical to your future happiness.

    The two or three year trip with a few quid in your pocket to get you going for the first couple of months should be mandatory for most young Australians.

    Now it’s a six week trip skiing in Aspen or doing Paris, Rome, London, New York and all the other Peter Stuyvesant capitals with a credit card and a loan from daddy.
    I spent the first six years of my adult post education life moving around the world, tasting a bit of this and that, trying my hand at everything, getting fired, moving on, learning to know the crowd and how to tell the pickpockets from honest men.

    Sometimes I was hungry, but not very often, sometimes frightened, but that soon passed as I gained more and more confidence and experience. I discovered that most people are nice and that some are bastards. I also learned how to tell one from the other.

    I also learned a lot about myself. When I settled down I caught up with the stay-at-homes very quickly. Learning in weeks and months what they’d achieved in years.
    Work became a pleasure because I knew I was doing what I knew I wanted to do.
    Life was good, is good.

    Now, three years from 60 I look back. The six years I spent as a travelling man proved to be the most important of my life. They gave me the width and depth and confidence in myself. They were my reservoir. When I grow fearful I’m able to recall that problems, if you work at them, solve themselves. When I don’t know something I am happy to learn from scratch.

    In those six years on the road I learned that the entire meaning of life is knowing that the worst that can happen to you is well within your capacity to handle and that the best will continue to surprise and delight to you for the remainder of your life.

    What I had really done in those traveling years was to turn myself from an amateur at the mercy of everyone into a professional person and thereafter the business of finding the right path in life seemed to take care of itself.

    If you’re young and unhappy and without a job, here’s what to do. Work at anything until you have enough money for a ticket to anywhere that sufficiently far away from the support structure that’s been your whole life to this point.

    Then start finding out who you are. In other words, get rid of your amateur person status. Don’t come back until you know yourself thoroughly. Once you know who you are, the rest is easy. Life takes care of itself from that point on.

    And remember, being fired may just be the best thing that ever happened to you. How else are you going to find out who you’re not?

    Just one more thing, don’t tell yourself that things have changed, that the world is a different place today, that things are harder, more dangerous, less certain.

    When Marco Polo told his son to get out and see the world, to live a little, the fat kid probably looked at his dad and said: It’s OK for you, dad, things were different in your day. It’s not as easy now. I’ve got a mortgage on an apartment overlooking San Marco square to pay off.

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