Should You Quit Your Job To Travel? Probably Not

by Frost on February 6, 2012

Over the past six months, I’ve quit my job, moved to Chiang Mai, backpacked around Southeast Asia, and now I’m back in my Thai hometown to spend another month writing, working, and practicing MMA. In retrospect, it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. But it’s not for everyone.

If you have a location independent job or project that you can work on, if you have a sport or hobby that you can practice, and if you have the self-discipline to stay focused without supervision – then yes, a one-way ticket might be a good idea.

In my case: I spent 3-5 hours a day training Muay Thai, and I’m a professional blogger (my parents are so proud). I probably worked harder during my vacation than I have for any one-month stretch of my life.

I’ve also met quite a few guys out here with similar lifestyles. They’re managing SEO companies, scouting factories, building information products, affiliate marketing, making porn (true story), and writing software. They are, in short, on the grind. They are working, training, and building.

If this is the kind of lifestyle you can realistically envision for yourself while living abroad, hop on a plane.

However…

The hustlers described above are a slim minority.

If you are fresh out of college, have no idea what you want to do in life, and want to spend the last 10k of your student loan money on a year-long trip around the world to “find yourself” – don’t. You’ll wind up on a path to being forty years old, without a dollar or a marketable skill to your name. Southeast Asia is full of these types, and you don’t want to be one of them.

As I write this, I’m sitting in a cafe, eavesdropping on a woman who is making my point perfectly. She’s 34, Australian, and has spent the past ten years teaching English and working for NGOs. She is single, twenty pounds overweight, with short frizzy hair that looks like it was styled with a chainsaw. Her wardrobe is straight out of Wal-mart’s Winter 2012 ‘Frumpy’ collection. She took a train into Chiang Mai this morning, and has invited the middle-aged Thai woman who shared her sleeper car to breakfast, no doubt in search of a truly authentic experience.

Let’s play a game called annoying Hippie Traveler Stereotype Bingo with Ms. Frumpy McFrumpleton:

1) Physically unattractive and unkempt – Check!

2) New balance hiking shoes and Columbia track pants rolled up to her knees – Check!

3) Satchel – Check!

4) Describes herself as a “foodie” – Check!

5) Uses the phrase, ‘Oh, you need to go to Laos!’ – Check!

6) Laments the increasing tourist presence, and declining authenticity of Thailand – Check!

7) Insincere perma-smile plastered across her face at all time – Check!

8) Feels great shame for not speaking Thai and apologizes for this repeatedly – Check!

9) Hairy legs – Check!

10) Cannot hold a conversation about anything except a) places she’s traveled to, or b) places she wants to travel to.

Congratulations Frumpy Hippie Traveler. Today, and today alone, you score a perfect 10/10.

The male of the Hippie Traveler species (Hippidae Nomadicus) is similar in many respects, but with more drugs, less volunteer work, more tattoos, and less subconscious terror of dying childless and alone. Also, one hopes, more angst at the prospect of having nothing to show for his life beyond photo albums, acid flashbacks, and a thick passport.

In case I’m being overly circumspect about my feelings: I do my best to avoid these people. They are boring, uninspiring, and since they have nothing in their lives beyond travel for the sake of itself, they have very little to teach me. Their problem is that they’ve fallen for the great myth of Traveling.

According to this myth, the mere act of living somewhere that is not your permanent home is somehow educational, productive, and ennobling. Sure, they haven’t learned anything in the past decade that I couldn’t find on trip adviser. Sure, they are penniless and alone. Sure, the only people who can stand their company are others like them. Whatever man!

Their path is an easy one to take. If you aren’t doing anything with your life, the easiest way to distract yourself from that fact is to start living out of a backpack. Your days will be full of activity – finding food, finding hostels, catching buses, going out, keeping an eye out for pickpockets. Much like white-collar workers who distract themselves with busywork, aimless travel is a way of filling your time, so you don’t have to ask hard questions about how you’re spending your 25,000 days.

So please, don’t become that guy. Don’t pack a bag and fly away from home without a plan. Don’t go abroad until you have a project you want to work on, a skill you want to develop – anything more than just a list of countries you want to see.

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Jo December 3, 2012 at 7:27 am

I read this post with interest being a 33 yr old woman who quit my job in
London and decided to experience my first solo backpacking to Thailand and Vietnam. When I was travelling I met many people in the same boat who quit their jobs and decided to travel. I didn’t find my travelling experience like the romanticised version you get from reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love. In fact, living out of a backpack was rather hard compared to what I am used to. From talking to others whilst travelling it became apparent that people operate on different values and what one person might find fulfilling and makes them happy is another person’s poison. The hippie lady that you overheard may seem to be a saddo in your eyes because you see yourself as having a life with a plan and being fit, young and healthy she is the foil of you. It is easy to judge from the outside based on what you see but I find it interesting to speak to different travellers to understand their lifestyle choices and what they find enjoyment in. Some travellers take the physical journey to mentally find themselves and others travel for the sake of looking cool, I find by being open to the different people that I met whilst backpacking I learnt a lot regardless of our different stations in life.

Ted November 9, 2012 at 5:42 pm

This guy is 25 years old, judging and dishing out such words of wordly wisdom, give me a break!

THKrupp May 27, 2012 at 10:21 pm

Interesting article, what you dont realize is that you are on the path to 40 too. When I was in college I spent a summer traveling through Europe. I also spent a summer working in Alaska. I did it just to travel. I quit school started farming. Then a few years later the hog market went south and I lost everything. I was always focused on making money. That was very important to me. That and building an empire. I continued farming but then I took a full time job as well. I had a lot of debt I had to pay off. The full time job paid well and I excelled. Eventually I got a job as a plant manager making very good money. At ever instance I always chose more money. I am now 40 years old. I have a nice bank account. I hate my life intensely. I dont even remember much about the last 10 years. Ive been working 80 hour weeks since I left college. I really have nothing to show for it other than whats in the bank. You criticize the hippie woman and I have met people like her before. They can be irritating. Yet the one thing you are forgetting is what is different about her than you? Do you really have anything to show for all your “work”? If you want a lot of money move back home. Become an insurance agent or work your way up to an management position. Something thats mind numbing and repetitious. Make a decent salary every year. Spend less than what you make. You will get wealthy. No matter what do you will get older, life will slip away bit by bit. The next thing you know you will wake up and you will be very similar to that woman. You wont be young and cool anymore. You will have tried to stay in shape but you will have put on a few pounds. Your hair will be falling out or turning grey. Chances are you will not be the next Bill Gates or whomever is the next superstar. If you are lucky you will be healthy. If you are really lucky you will have found someone that you really get along with to share your life. Regardless of what any of us do we are going to die. The only thing that matters is the traveling. By traveling I mean the experiences of life. If the woman is happy let her be happy. There is no need to criticize her. The only thing that you will be left with some day is the stories you have to tell. We all end up at the same destination, the difference is the road we traveled to get there.

ahh September 11, 2012 at 2:04 pm

THKrupp couldnt have summarized the struggle better myself.

Nick February 21, 2012 at 1:57 pm

It’s good to hear about the lifestyle of a blogger from somebody who is doing it. You’re a very effective writer. I would also add that the opposite of what you say holds. You say that traveling without a project is not necessarily fulfilling. I would add that if you have a project that you are working on FOR YOURSELF, that it really doesn’t matter where you’re at. What kills most people isn’t that they aren’t traveling the world, it’s that they are stuck most of the day doing mechanized, routine tasks that they feel add no real value to their well-being. They see travel as a metaphor for freedom from that life.

Frost February 22, 2012 at 10:15 pm

Absolutely, this was something I sort of figured out in the three weeks after I quit my job and before I left the country. Working on projects you care about, and spending all day reading and writing in coffee shops, partying with friends most nights, etc is fun wherever you do it. Living abroad and seeing new countries is fun, but I’m in no way dreading going home.

Bronan the Barbarian! February 15, 2012 at 2:13 pm

Lolz at the description of the Hippie Traveler. I’ve met so many of those assholes. You nailed it.

Cody February 11, 2012 at 3:33 pm

Frost,

I get a lot of what you’re saying. The people who travel just to travel are in it just to say that they have traveled. They use that fact to one up people who haven’t traveled or have traveled less. They have nothing to show for their travels other than the stories though, which is what you’re against.

The only way I see traveling just to travel works, is for people in the arts, which I’m sure many of these hippie people consider themselves. Last month at my school Werner Herzog, the German film director, gave a talk and from what a teacher and a friend of mine who attended told me, Herzog said going to film school is pointless and to be a good director you should travel around the world and “hang out in brothels” and that is the only way to “know the hearts of men.” The people who travel like that have a general plan, but not a specific one while traveling so they can enhance their art. But not everyone can be Herzog or Herman Melville who use their travels to influence their work and actually make good art.

So traveling with a plan to make money, like you advocate, is a much better idea, but that is too hard for many people.

Keep up the good work,

Cody

Frost February 15, 2012 at 9:21 pm

Yeah, I have nothing at all against traveling, or even doing a bit of aimless hippie traveling, as it were. It’s what I’ve been doing for the past month, and I’ll be doing quite a bit more of it in the summer in Europe.

I can’t really relate to a person who spends half their twenties doing it, making money teaching English or whatever, but to each their own. They probably can’t relate to me either.

The only people I openly mock when I come across them are the ones who try to make a point of how wise and deep they are, because they’ve drank with other backpackers in countries X, Y and Z etc.

Rick Darby February 10, 2012 at 3:14 pm

Frost,

Your posting was thought-provoking; in fact, it provoked these thoughts.

Frost February 15, 2012 at 9:17 pm

Thanks! Interesting post, and very similar to my thoughts.

JJ February 9, 2012 at 1:43 am

Okay I have been following these posts for some time now and occasionally enjoy them, but for me this post missed the mark to the point where I’m beginning to think you are full of shit.

Firstly you come of as a judgemental, arrogant wanker. “I do my best to avoid these people. They are boring, uninspiring, and since they have nothing in their lives beyond travel for the sake of itself, they have very little to teach me. ” Really? I took a year out after University, worked in Eastern Europe helping a guy build a hostel after this I left and travelled with no plan or direction and met some of the most amazing, inspiring people, people I would have in the past never gotten to know.

So what if these “annoying Hippie Travelers” don’t fit your ideal of the perfect human? They are on their own path in life just as you are, yours is not the ‘correct’ or ‘better’ one. I guarantee most people will always have something to teach you and closing your self of from that is never a good path. Honestly in my life, it is always the people who I would normally not get to know (that includes hippies) that end up surprising me and offering me the most and that is one life lesson I will never forget. I feel sorry that you can’t see this.

“Your days will be full of activity – finding food, finding hostels, catching buses, going out, keeping an eye out for pickpockets.” I got to know myself really well by just living like this, hoping city to city going where I wanted, when I wanted, doing what I wanted to do. No constraints. I recommend it and wouldn’t compare it to the white collar working distracting themselves.

Also what exactly are you doing again? You seem very judgemental at those without a project or even those that chose to teach or volunteer abroad. It seems you fill your days with working out and writing a blog. Just because your in SEA doesnt change that fact.

You may try and avoid ‘these people’ but I think if I met you and you told me you spent your day exercising, working on healthy eating and working on your blog that I would probably avoid you.

And one more thing this pissed me off the most that hippie women you talked about, you ended by making a sarcastic slight at her:

“and has invited the middle-aged Thai woman who shared her sleeper car to breakfast, no doubt in search of a truly authentic experience.” Why? Why would you pass a judgement on someone in a different country who offers a local breakfast, who does an act of kindness for a stranger?

We need more people in the world like that hippie traveller women and less cynical, judgemental, wankers like you.

Frost February 9, 2012 at 9:21 pm

This is actually a fair critique, and probably something I could have made more clear in the original post.

I’ve definitely met a few people who fit the resume of “hippie traveler” I laid out who I found to be interesting and cool. One of my best friends who came on the trip, and is living with me in Chiang Mai right now, has been a hippie traveler extraordinaire for about two years now.

But most of the long-term travelers I’ve met have been pretty boring and uninspiring. If that makes me judgmental, cool. Many of them – and you – probably judge me as arrogant, stuck-up, totally square, man. To each their own.

They also have the annoying habit of believing themselves to be better than anyone who has spent less time ‘traveling’ than them.

As for what I’ve been up to – well, there’s not much to show for it. Just an e-commerce site that totally bombed, a book outline, and a few shells of new websites that may or may not make me a dime. But I’ve learned more in the past three months than I did in the ten years, two degrees, and two years of professional experience before them.

In any case thanks for the post, I disagree with much of it, but it was worth thinking about.

Cheers,

Frost

Koanic February 8, 2012 at 10:03 am

Good post, finally. Keep it up.

Frost February 9, 2012 at 9:22 pm

Thanks!

Aurini February 7, 2012 at 4:18 pm

Frost, I have a question for you – heck, maybe it’s worthy of a full post.

Could you explain the logistics of up-and-moving?

I’m wondering what you did with all of your crap? Highschool year book, guitar, motorcycle, what have you – and for that matter, furniture. I’ve got the ‘couch problem’ solved, like it says in Fight Club, I have a decent ammount of stuff that ties me down to a location. Are you paying for a storage locker?

Not to mention, what did you do with all of your bags when you arrived in Asia? Dump them in a locker until you found a place?

Back when I was 17 I was out on the street, but everything I owned fit into two duffle bags. It seems like there’e be a pretty high set-up cost to do what you’re doing.

Frost February 9, 2012 at 9:27 pm

For sure! I will probably elaborate on a future post as well. But for now:

Most of my crap -Skis, hockey gear, guitars, furniture – I left at my Dad’s house. I was living there anyways, so it wasn’t much of a leap.

I arrived in Asia with just two bags, a 65L pack and a laptop bag. I left the laptop and all but about 8 kilos of stuff with a friend in Chiang Mai while I traveled around, but I still have a small enough pack that I can carry it around pretty easily.

I sent a few things back with a friend after the trip through Cambodia and Laos. (I don’t really know why I though i would need a rain jacket…)

I don’t really have that much fancy gear to worry about. My laptop is mid-range, and other than that I have a Kindle and a phone that was built in 2004.

Cheers,

Frost

asdf February 7, 2012 at 2:58 pm

Rob,

I don’t know if Frost really cares about being “productive” so much as being successful. If his old job paid one million per year he wouldn’t have left, even if his job was selling crack to little kids. I came from an investment banking background, and it sure as hell wasn’t productive (in terms of providing people things that genuinely made their lives better). It did reward, and there was a lot of hustling. Frost uses the word “hustle” a lot. Hustle implies something is hard work but isn’t so concerned with exactly what that hustle is doing, it almost implies something underhanded (hence, why gang bangers or drug dealers use it).

Frost February 9, 2012 at 9:37 pm

Also something I’ve recently realized!

I want $$$. For this, I make no apologies. But the fields I’ve been learning about are generally full of people making money, I won’t say unethically, but by taking advantage of stupid people.

Here’s a great example of a site by a guy who has read a book or two on affiliate marketing and SEO:

http://confidentman.net/

I think he’s definitely going to make a buck or two off of it. But I also have no doubt that his customers will be stupid, weak men, who will not benefit from whatever products he sells.

Again, I have no problem with this. The weak are the dinner of the strong.

But if I were to spend hours building similar websites, I would necessarily be spending a huge chunk of my life in the (virtual) company of retards. A writer has to envision his reader while writing, and treat it like a conversation. If I am writing for retards, I am effectively spending time with retards.

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” – Truth

So do I necessarily care about the morality of doing unproductive work? Not necessarily. But I would much rather write and build products for smart people, because it’s more fun.

I also think the retard-preying market is crowded right now.

Cheers,

Frost

Gaurav February 10, 2012 at 4:17 am

I love this comment! I love it so much because this describes my attitude in life to the tee. For a long period of my life, I tried the whole attitude that we are in it together, we’re all the same, no I am not better than you, if I can do it you can do it too, I can help you change etc. I am now just tired of it.

The world is too full of stupid people. If you can’t take care of yourself, then just go fuck off and die. If you come to me for help, I will help you if I want to. If I don’t want to do so in that moment, I am not a jerk. If you think so, go ahead. I don’t care.

I too now make no apologies of the fact that I want $$$. This is in spite of the fact that I probably live a more minimal life than a lot of my contemporaries but what I know for sure is that having money in the bank definitely does not hurt.

I also love your comment about not caring about the morality of doing “unproductive” work. I am increasingly shifting away from the concept of “morality”. I now feel it’s a stupid concept designed by top people in a society to keep everyone else in check, but that’s a different discussion altogether. The set of people whose opinion matters to me is probably myself and a few close people. That’s it. Everyone else can just fuck off.

Gaurav February 10, 2012 at 4:23 am

I forgot to say something else – this part that you wrote that even though you don’t care about the morality of doing unproductive work, but you would prefer to work for smart people, this is so true! One only learns and grows when others challenge you, which stupid people can’t but that doesn’t mean one can’t make money selling shit to stupid people. All the ab crunch machines in the world are a great example of how people have got rich by retard-preying.

Rob February 7, 2012 at 1:12 pm

I agree generally with this piece, especially with the part about finding (or not finding) meaning in travel. But I also find it interesting that while you deny many of our modern values you still subscribe to the idea that one must be a “success” and do something “productive” with ones life.

I’m unclear why someone can’t choose to lead a life in which they don’t try to build any business without being a failure. If they don’t care about what you care about, why is that cause for scorn? Maybe they never will return to the real world and, if they do, maybe they aren’t concerned with having a family, etc…

So what if they aren’t “doing anything” with their life. Most people for most of time were content with just living.

Frost February 9, 2012 at 9:30 pm

This is actually something I’ve only realized lately.

I’m not content to make enough money to ‘get by.’ I want to build an Empire.

Will the success of that Empire be judged solely on how many dollars it brings in? No. But 8 figures in the bank makes everything easier.

I have no qualms with people who choose a different path. Figure out what you want, and then relentlessly pursue it, I say.

Gaurav February 7, 2012 at 8:28 am

This post echoes my feelings about this topic. I am not someone who is living the location independent lifestyle but someone who works in a “regular” job. However, I have traveled quite a bit through SEA amongst other places and have come across way too many of these hippie traveler types. I find absolutely nothing attractive about any of these people or their lifestyles.

I will actually go one step further and say that even those guys/girls who occasionally pick up some work like teach some dance workshop or build a website every now and then for money without any long-term goals/plans are in a for not such a pleasant surprise whenever they decide to return to the “real world”.

I feel this kind of a lifestyle is only suitable for people with a plan. The only other type of person who I feel would be okay with this lifestyle is someone who has already earned enough money in life that they can almost or completely retire.

Frost February 9, 2012 at 9:38 pm

Yeah, +1

There’s nothing wrong with traveling for leisure (as most do) or traveling with a plan (as I’m trying to do). But the people who consider ‘traveling’ to be a plan are in for a rude awakening in their middle age.

reBourne (AG) February 7, 2012 at 3:44 am

“Don’t pack a bag and fly away from home without a plan. Don’t go abroad until you have a project you want to work on, a skill you want to develop – anything more than just a list of countries you want to see.”

Last paragraph is key. As much of an influence as Tim Ferriss was with his book, most nomad lifestyle designers do not tell you that your traveling should be guided by a larger more important purpose that will add value to your life not as a goal itself. Also working for yourself is mentally demanding and requires a lot of self-discipline and time with your own thoughts. Something that is very hard for most people unless they have it somewhat together.

Traveling in itself is fun, yet I often find myself bored and wanting to work on projects, always thinking of business ideas and things to write that add to an overall goal.

But that would not make for good marketing copy.

twelvis February 15, 2012 at 3:14 am

Jeez. I just got back from a 4-month trip while working online and that was EXACTLY the lesson I learned. I need to travel again, but I need a plan. I had fun, but it’s ironic that I’m headed nowhere as a person despite going everywhere physically.

asdf February 7, 2012 at 12:21 am

So what are you up to man? What are your businesses?

Frost February 9, 2012 at 9:40 pm

I will post more on this later, but I built an e-commerce site that bombed, and now I’m working on a new book and two other websites/products that I have much more confidence in.

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