I quit my job to travel for six months, and now that it's over (for now), I realize - it really wasn't a big deal.
Hear me out - or, let me explain first what that statement is not saying:
1) This is not trying to be a #humblebrag post. It is not saying the past six months of my life were not some of the most epic, awesome, life-changing months of my 26 years on this little pebble. In fact...well, that's exactly what they were. Some of the most epic, awesome, life-changing months of my 26 years on this little pebble. To me, the last six months ARE a big deal. My life is completely different half a year later thanks to one (simple) decision.
2) It is also not saying that quitting my job did not completely change my outlook on work, life, and careers. Though I loved my job and the people I worked with (and FOR - that's for you, Boss-man. See, I finally said it), there are certain things for which only retrospect can provide perspective. I was unhappy, but I felt obligated to my job. Why do we do that to ourselves? Aren't we so much more than a collection of our paychecks and bills and net-worth? Discuss.
3) It is most definitely not saying that traveling for any extended period of time - or, really, any amount of time at all, short or long - is not a big deal. Traveling is a big deal. The experiences one gains as a traveler (notice I didn't say "Tourist") are irreplaceable. Everyone should travel - young, old, rich, broke as a joke. There's always a way, just as there's always an excuse. Which road do you take?
4) It is really not-at-all saying I don't feel incredibly...let me repeat, in-cred-ibly...privileged to be able to travel. At all. I know how lucky I am to be able to take off to (almost) any part of the world and explore to my heart's content, without guilt (though not necessarily without fear). Trust me, I count my blessings every damn day that I had a job and a lifestyle which gave me the financial wherewithal to take off at my own behest. Visiting countries that did not have the same economic freedom as I did really hammered that point home for me.
So yeah, on first read, my opening statement comes off as brash and arrogant. I got mad at myself just reading it. So here's my point:
It's not a big deal. I'm not the first person to quit their job to travel. I'm not the first person to stay out of the country for months at a time. I'm not the first person to tour the countries I visited. I'm not the first backpacker, the first person to see Machu Picchu (and hopefully not the last), and not the first person to try anticuchos and tripe from a street vendor (though dear god, let me be the last...). This experience doesn't make me special. It doesn't exactly make me "amazing" or "brave" or "exciting," I suppose - though on a few of those I would beg to differ (sorry, but not everyone would or should eat that tripe, ok? #martyr).
But it does make me part of the human experience.
We met so many other backpackers along the way. Of course, when meeting any backpacker, most "intro" conversations all start the same: "Where are you from?," "Where have you been?," and then of course the classic "How long are you traveling for?"
The answers ranged anywhere from 1 week to years. Years. Woah. Sometimes from young men or women. Sometimes from full families - yes, adults with their children in tow. That makes a few months seem a little puny, doesn't it? So yeah, in that aspect, I'm not special. Now, it's not only length that matters...I'm also not the first, I'm not the last, my trip isn't the shortest but it also isn't the longest, I'm not traveling the cheapest nor am I traveling in luxury.
But I traveled. Oh you bet'cha, I traveled. And it made a difference in my life.
Traveling itself was a big deal, but the whole quitting the job that made me unhappy? Yeah, not really a big deal when you think about it. I had money saved. I had no obligations to anyone. For a long time prior, I mentally, and financially, prepared for a moment when I'd finally say "Screw this" and bounce. So when the time finally came - it just wasn't a big deal.
I'd built the moment up so much in my head. Quitting and leaving meant, at the time, leaving "everything" - my job, my apartment, my financial security, my health insurance, my group of friends in L.A., my beloved gym (hey, they were a big source of daily support, alright?). I panicked when all I had left was a ticket to Ecuador, my 70L backpack, and some chump change in my bank account. What was I doing? Hadn't I had it all? Why did I need to leave? Was it too late to reverse everything?
That's a lot of questions, but simply put: I gained more from leaving than staying. I may now have a very, very depleted bank account and be living at my mom's house (thanks momma). But I got my life back. I have a clear(er) sense of direction in life. And if I want to pick up and leave again for a few months again in the future, I will. Because I realize it's not a big deal. Everything will still be here for me when I get back. The world will not punish me for checking out for a hot minute. It will only reward me.
So if you can, quit your job. Drop whatever (or whoever) is making you unhappy. Throw up some deuces, leave whatever you feel obligated to, and see a new place. Bring your loved ones, or not. Do you. Go for a week, a month, a year, or plan for a week and stay for a year. Don't bring your worries or your expectations; let the world surprise in every way possible. And last but not least, do bring a good pair of shoes. Because when life gives you a trek, you don't want to do it in Vans.