Nothing excites me more than quitting my job to travel the world. It excites me so much that I’ve quit my job to travel FOUR times before the age of 30. This guide includes everything I did (and did wrong) to help YOU quit your job to travel!
First, I’ll share my story (hopefully it will help/inspire you. Feel free to skip to the step-by-step guide on how to quit your job to travel long-term)!
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My “Quit my 9-5 to Travel” Story (x4)
In 2014, about 6 months after graduating University of Iowa with a business degree, I quit my 9-5 to travel. I was a Human Resources Assistant in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I was lodged in a window-less cubicle living “the American dream.” I escaped to travel for three months in South America, my very first solo trip.
The second job I quit was The Cheesecake Factory and Chicago Improv Comedy Club in Schaumburg, Illinois. Never have two serving jobs at once, it’s soul-crushing (yet entertaining and good money). These jobs were way easier to quit because everyone and their mother knew I was saving for my solo adventure through Central America.
The third job I quit was The Cheesecake Factory in downtown Chicago. Thank you Cheesecake Factory for funding my travels. (Always tip your server. She might be funding her dreams or feeding her 3 children. Either way.) I quit this job to once again see South America, but for longer (8 months).
The fourth job – 1. a shitty serving job 2. Zumba instructor at LA Fitness 3. Online English teacher with QKids.
2020 Update: I’m now home in Chicago quarantining with family planning my next trip.
Warning: after about the 3rd time you quit your job to travel, your friends and family stop throwing you going away parties.
Step 1: Change Your Mindset + Surround Yourself With People Who Inspire You
When I first announced that I was going to travel South America by myself as a young 20-something-year-old woman with $25,000 worth of student debt; my friends and family did not exactly jump for joy. I was devastated. But yet, also excited to prove everyone wrong.
My grandma told me I was crazy. My dad looked at me like I was crazy. No one in my family (on my Dad’s side) had ever quit their job to travel. That wasn’t a thing to do in Midwestern Iowa. They had no idea why someone would want to “waste” their education. While I understood their concern, I did not let that deter me (and you shouldn’t either).
My point of telling you all this: mentally prepare yourself to be ridiculed.
Prepare yourself for people you love and care about to not support your decision. There are going to be doubters and “haterz” regardless of what life path you choose.
It’s okay as a woman to not get married or have children. You are not selfish or crazy for craving something different.
Growing up, I saw my parents had a car, a home, a child, well-paying jobs, and yet, that didn’t create happiness. I saw people retiring and losing mobility shortly after. The “American Dream” of living for the weekend, 2 weeks of vacation a year, and living to pay bills does not have to be your reality. I am living proof it is possible to quit your job and travel regardless of savings and student loans.
If I can do it, so can you.
Okay, pep talk is over. Let’s dive in!!
Surround Yourself with People Who Inspire You:
At first those people may be authors, podcasters, and inspirational strangers on Instagram.
- Travel novels for inspiration: Best Travel Memoirs of All Time
- Podcasts that keep me sane: Screw The Nine to Five & Second Life
- Facebook Groups: Girls Love Travel, Women Who Travel, Travel Massive (linked is the Chicago chapter, look for your local chapter for events and meet-ups)
- Follow travelers or people who inspire you on Instagram or social media, some of my favorites on Instagram:
Related Article: Podcasts for The Curious Soul
Step 2: Pick a Destination
6 months-year before your trip
First, which part of the world appeals to you most? Where have you been dreaming of going all your life? Where do your favorite foods come from?
Forget about the money (!!!): For example, Australia is expensive, but you could always get a work visa and travel while you’re there. Europe is expensive but you could always couch surf or house sit for free accommodation.
Go with your gut. Go somewhere that you’ve been dying to go all your life.
Note: You could do an around the world trip and see every continent in a year. I don’t personally recommend that (reasons below). But, do whatever feels right for you.
Why I chose South America and why it’s great for a first-time solo trip
- It’s cheap. You can EASILY get by with $50/day and your money goes a long way.
- The backpacker route is pretty much mapped out for you. It’s easy(ish) to solo travel because so many people have already done it. It’s flooded with other solo travelers and it’s easy to make friends.
- It’s beautiful and the culture is amazing. There are TONS of things to do: dance, hike mountains, Machu Picchu, learn Spanish, lay on a beach, see huge cities, fall in love with a Latin lover, etc. There is something for everyone.
Step 3: Create a Rough Travel Plan
4-6 months before your trip
DO NOT PLAN OUT A YEAR OF TRAVEL. DO NOT DO IT!!!!!!! If you take anything from this guide, please promise me you will not plan out every day, week, or even month of your trip. You will be mad at yourself if you do. The BEST way to travel is to have a rough idea of where you want to go and see but remain flexible. The best parts of your trip will be because you were flexible with your plan.
Trust me: I planned out my entire 3-month trip to South America. I felt rushed the entire time. I got invited to really cool shit and I had to say no because I had a flight or a place to be. This is why I wouldn’t necessarily recommend around the world trip (RTW) plane tickets. RTW plane ticket is a package of pre-determined popular destinations. You pre-pay and book all your tickets beforehand.
I recommend buying a one-way ticket and going where the wind takes you. Of course have a budget, ideas of where to go and see, be prepared (more information below). It gives you the freedom to stay longer in cities you love.
For safety, it’s good to plan out your accommodation for your first few days or weeks abroad then go from there.
A great way to ease into your trip is with a work exchange. You can sign up for work exchange opportunities using websites like Worldpackers. The deal is you volunteer for 20-25 hours a week in exchange for accommodation and meals. Work exchange is wonderful for language learning, cultural immersion, and saving money/traveling for longer!
Click here for $10 off a Worldpackers membership or use discount code “courtneytheexplorer10” for $10 off!
How long should I make my trip?
6 months to a year (or longer).
For budgeting purposes, I would budget for a year. You can always come home sooner. (Budget advice in step 5)
Most Europeans and Australians backpack for a year. You’ll find some Americans or Canadians only backpacking for 3 months or less, but the “norm” is 6 months to a year. If you’re quitting your job and selling everything, make it worth it. It may seem like a long time, but you can easily get caught in a city you love for 3 months.
Example: My Itinerary for 6 months to a year in Central America
Here’s what I planned for my trip:
- Antigua, Guatemala for a month
- I applied for a month-long work exchange through Work Away, a website with volunteer opportunities around the world. I “took care” of an 86-year-old English woman for a month in exchange for accommodation and food. I chose to start my trip with a work exchange so I knew exactly where I would stay right when I got to Guatemala. It was my way to slowly get settled into the language, country, and culture.
- Travel around Guatemala for another month or so
- Maybe go diving in Honduras (a famous place for scuba diving)
- Spend a month or longer in Nicaragua (cheap and popular for backpackers/expats)
- Somehow get to Panama and fly out of Panama City, Panama back to Chicago
That was my plan. Nothing more.
Tip: Create more of a bucket list and a list of tips for each country you want to go to. It’s important to know a few key phrases of the language and cultural norms (how not to offend people).
My Actual Central America Itinerary (2016)
Here’s what actually happened:
- Spent 2.5 months in Antigua
- Got Zumba certified in San Marcos, Guatemala (because of some friends in Antigua)
- Taught Zumba and yoga at a weightloss clinic in the middle of nowhere in Guatemala (Work Away)
- Traveled around Guatemala for 4 months total (met a Guatemalan boyfriend and lived with him for almost a month)
- Broke up with my Guatemalan boyfriend and decided to travel to Mexico with my Japanese friend
- My Japanese friend ditched me for her Guatemalan boyfriend and left me in Mexico alone (they’re married now!!)
- Couch Surfed for a month in San Cristobal, Mexico then worked for a couple of weeks at a local hostel
- Decided to hitchhike and couch surf up Mexico with an Argentinian friend I met
- Took a bus to Mexico City to meet my Dad and traveled with him for a week
- Took some Spanish classes in Guanajuato, Mexico, and met friends which led me to couch surf with a local couple in Guadalajara, Mexico for a couple of weeks
- Flew out of Guadalajara after 8 months of traveling
HA! Quite different than my original plan, but I wouldn’t change ANYTHING! My reason for sharing is to remind you not to stress too much about the plan. It WILL change and bend the way it’s supposed to. You will meet the most incredible humans and have unforgettable experiences.
Step 4: Buy that ONE WAY Ticket!!!
3-4 months before your trip
Yes, this is step number 3. Whenever someone tells me they want to travel, I tell them to buy a plane ticket. It solidifies your decision and makes it real. Once you have your flight, you’re forced to figure everything else out. I realize if you want to quit your job in a year, you probably don’t want to buy your plane ticket a year ahead of time (is that even possible…?).
Tips for buying flights:
- My favorite site is sky scanner (you can look up tickets by month to see what month or day is the cheapest), others recommend Momondo
- Fly on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturday or on a major holiday
- Research “travel hacking” and sign up for a credit card that will give you miles and travel rewards (Basic Travel Couple blog is a great resource)
- Join airline newsletters like Scott’s Cheap Flights and Secret Flying
- Be flexible and patient
Step 5: Save Save Save
3 months-year before your trip – start saving now!
Good news: you don’t need to be rich to travel the world. You don’t NEED $20,000 to travel for a year.
I met a 40-something British guy who traveled for a year with only a SATCHEL *shook*. I also met a Dutch girl who didn’t have ANY savings and worked at local bars, couch surfed, and hitchhiked to fund her Central American adventures. At the end of the day, money should not be the reason you do not follow your dreams.
“Money should not be the reason you do not follow your dreams.“courtney the explorer
Here’s how much $$ I saved each time:
- 3-months in South America: $5,000
- 8-months in Central America: $6,000
- 8-months in South America + Central America: $6,000
- 8-months in South Korea: left with $500 (and $5,000 credit card debt + $20,000 student loans)
As a general rule, budget for about $50/day or $1,000/month. It will depend on what region of the world you choose and how you travel.
You have three options:
- Option 1: Save all the money beforehand and travel comfortably with a savings
- Option 2: Save modestly and plan to do work exchanges, couch surfing, house sitting, etc.
- Option 3: Save enough for emergencies and a plane ticket back and go work abroad
I’ve done all 3 and would personally recommend option 1 & 2. Working abroad (teaching or getting a random job) can be a rewarding experience. But, you know what’s even more rewarding? Sitting on a beach with no plan and having the freedom to go wherever you please. (lol)
My Money-Saving Tips
- You are now a minimalist: start purging + stop spending.
- Sell your shit
- Look at every single one of your bills and try to eliminate them or lower them
- Student loans: I could care less about my student loans, I will pay them off when it’s time (maybe never), so I changed my repayment to $0/month (talk to your loan provider for help)
- Save a certain amount of money each paycheck
- Create a budget and goals for your trip
- Do side hustles or pick up a second job (it’s grind time!)
- Related article: How to Get Hired Teaching Online with QKids
Step 6: Prepare For Your Departure
2 months before your trip
Things to do before your international trip
- Get your passport (takes 4-6 weeks, $145)
- Tell your bank and notify credit card companies (sometimes able to do it on your banking mobile app)
- Apply for a travel credit card or debit card (I use Charles Schwab debit card because there aren’t any international fees)
- Check visas for countries you want to go to (some countries you need to apply for visas beforehand)
- Create a Packing List (click for my Ultimate Solo Female Packing List)
- Packing Tip: Try packing everything AT LEAST a week before your trip, make sure everything fits and you have everything you need (it’ll give you time to order last minute things if needed)
- Sell your stuff
- Vaccinations (tip: you can get yellow fever for free in Ecuador or Peru)
- Make copies of important documents (give copies to someone just in case) – at least 3 colored copies of your passport with you
- International Driver’s License (Asian countries require this especially)
- Stock up on medication, birth control, contacts, etc.
- Buy travel insurance
- I (and most travel bloggers) recommend World Nomads travel insurance, but it’s always a good idea to shop around
- You only need a VPN if you do business online, are traveling to China and want to use social media, or want access to Hulu and American Netflix for entertainment. I use Express VPN (it’s one of the cheapest and most common)
- Print your airline tickets, your accommodation information
- Unlock your cell phone (you can get a local SIM card in different countries if you want)
- Example: in Korea, I got a Korean SIM card, so I have a Korean number, can call local numbers here, and use data (otherwise you need to be in wifi to use your phone.)
- Make sure all your bills are taken care of and cancel anything that needs canceling (ex: Amazon prime)
- Download Travel Apps For Your International Trip
- Sign up for Worldpackers, a work exchange platform, where you can travel for free in exchange for volunteering for 20-25 hours a week! Click here for $10 off your membership, or use Worldpackers discount code “COURTNEYTHEEXPLORER10” for $10 off!
- Make a profile with WhatsApp, Hostel World, Couchsurfing, House Sitting, or any resources you may use while traveling
- Learn key phrases of the language
Related Articles: Complete Packing List
Step 7: Quit Your Job (and maybe tell your family)
2 weeks- 2 months before your trip
Let me tell you, there is no better feeling than putting in your two-week notice. If you work for a company that you’ve been with for a while and find that a month’s notice is more appropriate, that works too. Do whatever feels best for your situation. Nomadic Matt gave his boss a 3-month notice before jet setting across Europe and Asia.
This step is pretty self-explanatory. But, I’ll just say this: jobs are replaceable. You could die tomorrow. Your job (or a job like it) will probably still be there when you get back. You may miss birthdays, anniversaries, weekend girl’s trips, maybe even your best friend’s first child being born (ME!!!). It sucks to miss those things. It really does suck.
But, you know what’s more important? Living the life you desire and not living for anyone else. Sometimes we have to be the lone wolf and take the first step so that future generations will have the courage to explore after us.
Step 8: GO TRAVEL!
YOU DID IT!!!!! Your flight is booked. You saved the money. Your mom and dad are confused but support you. I’m SO proud of you for trusting your gut and following your path!
Your trip won’t be perfect. It’ll be hard, frustrating, lonely, and depressing at times. You will grow and learn more during your trip than any education system will ever teach you. I’m so excited for you and your journey. Please keep me updated. xoxo
Comment below where you’re going, any fears you may have, questions that are lingering in your head, or any advice for other travelers!
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