Quit My Job to Travel the World? Nope. Not Me.
These days, the travel blogging corner of the internet is filled with posts about why travel bloggers chose to quit their jobs and travel the world or why travel bloggers chose to keep their jobs and travel. For the most part, the ones who quit their jobs talk big things about their dreams and the ones who kept their jobs talk about how their lives are more fulfilling because they have a home base. While both are totally valid, I think there are more of us out there with slightly more nuanced stories. And now, I’m going to share mine.
Since I was fifteen years old, I’ve desperately wished to spend a few years backpacking my way around the world. Ever since I discovered the website Bootsnall.com and spent hours poring over the forums and creating potential itineraries in my diaries and journals.
I’m thirty now and I still haven’t been yet. Sometimes that’s okay and some days I still feel absolutely gutted that I haven’t been and have no plans to go.
I tried to leave for a year at twenty-four, but there were two big problems that kept me from quitting my job to travel the world:
- I didn’t have a job to quit.
- The summer I was going to leave on my trip, I was diagnosed with a chronic illness instead.
Part One: Underemployment
Underemployment was actually a reason to go. I graduated college in 2009 when there were basically zero jobs for college graduates. I knew I wanted to get a writing degree at some point, so I went to graduate school where I wrote every day and worked a series of odd jobs that consisted of writing, editing, and transcribing (things in my career wheelhouse) plus whatever else I could get like dog walking and being a barista. So I had no job to quit, but I did have the potential to get teaching jobs overseas and volunteer work for organic farms in exchange for room and board. I wasn’t going to quit my job to do it, but damn it I was going to leave the U.S. on a one-way ticket until I felt like coming back.
Part Two: Crohn’s Disease
I kept delaying my departure because I knew something was wrong. My guts hurt when I was hungry, when I was full, and when I was eating. I was constantly constipated. I could be walking along just fine and then double over in excruciating pain seemingly out of nowhere. Sometimes I felt like I’d swallowed a set of miniature knives. Other days I felt like someone had shoved their hand into my belly via my belly button and was just squeezing my intestines in some disgusting attempt to kill them. I was losing weight all the time and was about 105 pounds at the beginning of July 2012.
I knew I couldn’t leave to travel the world by myself feeling like that. But tests kept coming back negative. Endoscopy? Negative. Fecal occult blood test? Negative. Gastric emptying study? Negative. Weekly blood tests for who can remember what? Negative.
Until finally I had a colonoscopy because my gastroenterologist had no idea what else to try and BINGO – I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.
I had been atypical symptoms for years, which is why it took me so long to figure out what was wrong and why I was so sick by the time I was diagnosed. Leaving before I got the disease under control was absolutely out of the question. And I was so desperate to feel better that I didn’t take into account for someday being in remission, still wanting to travel the world, and needing to take my medication in another country. I just took a lot of vacations while I was ill in an attempt to convince myself that vacationing while ill would be an okay substitute for being healthy and traveling around the world. It’s not an okay substitute for that, but I did have a ton of fun.
I chose a medication called Remicade because it worked for my brother who has had Crohn’s since 2006. Since we believe in the theory that Crohn’s is partially caused by genetics I figured that the same medication would probably work for me. I was right. And these days I feel so healthy. Healthy enough to backpack around the world by myself for a year or move overseas.
But Remicade is extremely expensive and travel insurance generally doesn’t cover pre-exisiting conditions like Crohn’s disease. I’ve been researching how to get Remicade as an American traveling abroad for five years and I cannot figure out how to do it. I’ve spoken to various insurance companies, employers, and schools in various countries including numerous calls to the Czech Republic and Australia because I thought I’d finally found solid leads. I hadn’t. Although I haven’t given up, I have slowed down my research significantly because the research process is fraught with emotions and it makes it far more difficult for me to enjoy the wonderful, fulfilling life I’ve built for myself here in the U.S.
Why I Have a Location Independent Job Anyway
After I got over the disease and the worst of the grief about not going on my round-the-world trip or moving to Prague to teach English, I threw myself head first into figuring out what I wanted to do with my life instead. Luckily, one of my part-time jobs became a full-time job shortly after I was diagnosed (ironically because the person whose job I took left to travel the world and paint for a year). I spent a year working with writers who were visiting or migrating to the U.S. from all over the world. It was incredible, but too much stress to keep a disease in check that is aggravated by stress. So I then took another full-time job. There was nothing wrong with the job itself, but it wasn’t for me. I finally figured out that was because I hate working a set number of hours in a set place just because. I like to work when and where it works best for me because that’s how I was raised. By the time I was in first grade, my parents ran their own business on their own schedule and I was raised with a huge appreciation of what it’s like to be your own boss. My grandparents also literally ran away and joined the circus in their sixties; they lived in an RV and traveled all over the United States. I had endless role models for an independent and fun lifestyle. But it still took me a back injury and complete mental breakdown to finally quit my secure full-time job with the great health insurance and emotionally invested co-workers.
But when I did, I decided that I would work for myself and only take on clients that would allow me to work from anywhere. Even though I’m mostly at home, I know I can take a trip anytime I want or go out to lunch on a Thursday or go hiking if it happens to be a particularly gorgeous Monday (as long as I get my work done and pay my bills). That freedom is just what I need for my mental health. I know plenty of people who are happy in the nine-to-five environment, but after three years of that, I can tell you with certainty that there is no job I would be happy doing on such a routine schedule with no flexibility.
My Life is Fulfilling but I Still Want to Go
At 30, I have an incredible life. I have enough friends and family that I had an entire week of birthday celebrations and hosted 11 different people in my house over the course of six days. I felt like I was running a hostel and it was amazing.
I’m married to a wonderful man who actually likes the nine-to-five schedule, but also loves to travel. We’ve been lucky enough to have two amazing dogs in our lives and the weirdest and best cat. We honeymooned on a remote island off the coast of Ireland where we went hiking in the rain and drank a lot of Guinness.
My parents, brother, and sister-in-law all live just outside NYC now so I get to go see them and when I do if I’m craving anything from any part of the world, I can probably go get it. And there’s an overnight bus that’s cheap and allows me to spend as much time with them as possible on each trip.
My best friend loves to travel and is really easy to convince to go places, so whenever I want to take a “girlfriend getaway” I know who to call.
I’m part of a wicked fitness community that helps me with the holistic side of keeping Crohn’s under control.
I love my work, which all comes from this blog. Even the client that I work for in the financial sector hired me because the office manager was intrigued by this travel blog so I got to be interviewed even though I was only partially qualified for the work. They trained me on the rest of the things I need to know and now they’re one of my favorite clients.
But there’s still a huge part of me who is that 15-year-old girl with the big travel dreams and empty backpack. A few times each year I still plan out intense round-the-world travel routes and research countries that I would love to live in for awhile. I don’t think that will ever go away. I am soothed from time to time when I see the travel bloggers now who did leave when I was ready to go that are now settling down to a lifestyle more like the one I have. Adventurous Kate, Steph at Why Wait to See the World, and now Vicky Flip Flop…all carefully sculpting a life like mine. It’s good to know that I probably would have burnt out too and would be desperately seeking what I have now.
But in the end, I still find myself saying: just one year. Can I get just one year that’s me and a backpack and a series of one-way tickets? And maybe someday I will, but as I write this it’s not on the horizon for reasons beyond my control. So I’m doing what I can to help find better treatments than Remicade and ultimately a cure for Crohn’s disease. I’ll be walking the Pittsburgh Marathon on May 7th to raise funds for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. I’m not qualified to do the research myself, but I can certainly walk, fundraise, and donate to CCF so that the researchers have the funds to find a solution.
If they cure Crohn’s in my lifetime, I’m buying a new backpack and a one-way plane ticket! Even if I’m 99 years old!
Would you quit your job to travel the world? Did you quit your job to travel the world? Share your story in the comments section! 🙂