How I Quit My Job to Travel: The Salesman/The Average Joe Traveller
In late winter 2007 I decided to quit my job to travel the world. I was twenty-one, a sales manager living in Edinburgh and terrified that my life was on an irreversible negative track. I had no plans, no savings and no concrete idea of where I wanted to go but I decided to leave anyway. I gave notice to my employer and left the United Kingdom one month later. Since then I have been to more than twenty different countries, lived on three different continents and never looked back. However, like the majority of travellers I do not make money from travelling. I’m not a travel writer, I don’t have a successful blog and I have no transferable skills that allow me to make money wherever my plane may land. I, like most of us, travel by any means.
Just like the average traveller I didn’t decide to travel to find myself or anything else quite so spiritual. I decided to travel to escape the monotony of life at the coalface. Others are motivated to travel by a bad breakup, some are looking for better weather, some want to relax after many years of solid work and others are searching for a place where they can build a new life. I wanted to give myself the time and space to understand where my position was in this world. I was desperate to meet as many like minded people as possible, listen to their stories and borrow their ideas. I wanted to see places that would make my head explode and open my mind to the possibilities of life beyond the norm.
In Edinburgh I was a young sales manager whose days were spent thinking about nothing other than profit and whose nights were spent spending that profit on vice. It was a soulless existence and one that I knew could not last. I knew that in order to break the cycle that I needed to get off the ride, jump ship, flee or run away. There was and is no shame in admitting that travel is as much an escape as it is a dive into the unknown.
The preparations for my first trip were little more than a couple of guide books, an open multi-stop ticket and my last month’s wage. I said my goodbyes and began my travels in Spain. There are many ways to travel none of which are right or wrong. There are the lucky few who manage to make a living from travelling through writing, blogging, photography and other travel related industries and if that is your desire I say go for it with every ounce of energy you have. But the majority of travellers I have met in these past seven years tend to be living their lives on a wing and prayer; they get by through dogged determination coupled with an unrivalled enthusiasm for life which is infectious to all who experience it. This energy for living is worth its weight in gold and is often the difference between a cold train station bench and a warm bed.
The distance that these attributes can take you is not to be underestimated. Many people are worried about travelling, in part, because they imagine that they will find themselves lost and without money or opportunity. However, there has been many times where I or fellow travellers have, in fact, been spoilt for choice.
Of course enthusiasm does not pay for flight tickets or hotel rooms but it does increase the likelihood of getting that last minute job just before you spend your last fifty pounds. A successful traveller must be prepared to sell their labour in ways they never that they would. You could be a sheep shearer in New Zealand, you could sell tickets for music events in Australia, you could be a burger chef in Greece, you could be a tree planter in Canada, you could be a barman in Cambodia, you could be a yacht hand in Antigua, you could be a waiter in New York, you could teach English in Mexico, you could lead jungle tours in India, you could be a mermaid instructor in the Philippines, you could open a bar in Thailand, you could busk in Taiwan, you could be a surf instructor in Sri Lanka or you could be a diving instructor on the Andaman Islands and so the list goes on. And, in between all of that, you can lie lazily under the midday sun on a paradise beach with the warm waves licking your toes, the sound of African Jazz in the background and the smell of fried prawns in your nostrils and wonder what took you so long to make that first step.
And, when times get really tough, no one hungry enough is too embarrassed to make that desperate phone call home. My advice is to go with as much money as possible but don’t think you need to save ten thousand pounds over two years to do it. In my experience the more time you intend to spend saving the less likely it is you will actually end up on that aeroplane. I know of people who left their home country with as little as one thousand pounds in their bank accounts and never returned.
What travelling gave me was freedom and the time to take advantage of that freedom. Whether I was working on a building site in Australia or a bar in Greece I always felt like I was living life on my own terms and that is an inspiring feeling. I always knew I wanted to be a writer and travelling gave me the inspiration and time to give it a go. Seven years on I am a regular contributor to a short story website, I have had my first novella published, I’m working on my second book and one of my stories has been made into a short movie in Hollywood. And, although I’ve made no money from them, these small achievements give me a great deal of satisfaction. I offer this information only as examples of what can happen simply by taking a side step away from the norm. In December I got married in Hong Kong. I met my Taiwanese wife on a beach in Southern India. We lived in Scotland for a while before moving to Taiwan where I am now teaching English before returning to India in a few months. At our wedding was an American, a Frenchman, a Hungarian, a Chinese woman, a few Taiwanese, a few Brits and a girl from Macau.
Travelling creates opportunities that otherwise may have been impossible. It gives one the confidence to chase unrealistic dreams and occasionally accomplish them. It presents ways of living that otherwise you would not have been exposed to.
I often get asked about the practicalities of long term travel. The first thing I would say is that it isn’t a particularly practical lifestyle but that’s part of the joy. Apart from an initial amount of money to get you going I believe that a positive attitude towards new experiences, new cultures and new attitudes is essential for a successful life on the road. You have to be willing to say yes to opportunities which may be foreign to you. After that make sure you have a good backpack, travel insurance, the minimum amount of clothes, a stocked MP3 player or two, a laptop if you intend on writing, a travel pillow, a very thin sleeping bag or sleeping bag liner, a deck of cards and, although it’s not cool, a decent guidebook.
I have had uncountable conversations with people who say I wish I’d travelled or I regret not travelling. I have never had a conversation where someone has said to me I wish I’d never travelled or I regret travelling. Stop thinking about it and just travel.