A Life of Travel is a futile pursuit in itself. Here's what you could aim for instead!

Sunday, February 05, 2017

I can't believe it has come to this that *I* am giving career advice. But given the number of emails I receive on "how to be a travel writer" or "how to fund my travels", even from students as young as in high school, I'm inclined to issue a warning and perhaps some helpful advice. Because what worries me is that they want to jump right into it as a career option without bothering about the nature of work that could sustain this lifestyle.

(Full disclosure: I have quit my corporate job to travel more and I fully recommend it. But my warning is to consider the issues I discuss below before quitting.)

Brace yourself, long post ahead! If you're contemplating quitting your job to travel the world, this is for you. If you're not but looking to travel, head straight to this section - What you could do instead of dreaming of quitting your job to travel.

Lifelong travel is a means to no end. Seriously!

All those who seem to travel forever, do some kind of work. (Ridiculous that some people think they don’t work, they work very hard!) These people, they’ve hustled and found ways to sustain themselves while on the road. But hustling for a year or two or five, is absolutely great. Anything beyond frankly is tiring and pointless in my opinion. 90% of those Internet people who pontificated quitting their jobs to travel the world have gone back to steady jobs and the few who didn't they have hit the jackpot only by creating businesses and innovative sources of income out of their addiction. So you see, people cannot travel the world forever; you'd be mighty bored and will run out of money before you get there! Heck, even Nomadic Matt has thought of settling down and started a hostel for crying out loud! Maybe you'd go around the world in 8 years or in 80 days but only wanderlust isn't going to sustain forever.

While it is an enticing idea to go on an endless vacation, the reality is much more boring and the idea equally asinine. If travel is the cure for ennui, endless travel without an agenda will bring back the same ennui you tried to escape in first place. If you’re wondering this is not true, look back at your own travels. What amazed you on your first trip most certainly wouldn’t amaze you the same way now after 20 trips.

It isn't always practically possible, to live a life of constant travel

I can't peddle a life of travel because some of us might be privileged enough to have no responsibilities but that's not the case with everyone. The way people speak about this makes me very uncomfortable. What is going to happen tomorrow if everyone starts quitting his or her jobs and travel? The few of us who have these glamorous jobs writing about travel is only possible because others are doing their so called "boring" jobs and paying for our indulgences. They are busy running the world!

Encouraging people to follow their dreams is noble. Asking to do so by brushing off the circumstances in one wide stroke of laziness or reluctance is downright cruel. I see this happening time and again over social media and in all those gushing blog posts proselytizing quitting jobs to travel, and this gets on my nerves to no end. By all means, encourage people to follow their dreams. But before doing that, acknowledge your own privilege. A person from the slums and a middle class person do not start from the same rung of the ladder; let's not even act as if it is anything else. Our troubles are the worst, but only to us, let's not make a mountain out a molehill. That's one reason I do not share much about my life or struggles after quitting my job. I need time to make sense of what's happening, of my future and also to understand how to project it in a realistic way.

Before heading straight to the "quit your job to travel" section, I would highly suggest keeping a tab on reality too. Perhaps you need to spend time with family or take care of a loved one or work on a dream project that requires your time, being on the road constantly is highly overrated not the only way to see the world. Do what we do best, adapt and make best use of what's available to us instead of dreaming of hitting the road indefinitely. Hustling to travel constantly sounds fancy, but what it is in reality is the same old drudgery packaged with different rewards and issues minus a cubicle, office politics and perhaps ennui.

Sense of accomplishment is crucial to our happiness, choose wisely!

We spend a better part of our life doing work, whatever it is that we choose to do. If it's not enjoyable, if it's not motivating, if we're not proud of what we're creating, we'll be hopelessly lost in the long run. Looking back at the last few years of my life, I do not want to look at a string of influencer marketing deals that made me richer but left nothing but a trail of product recommendations in my wake. Neither do I want to see a binder full of clips in high-end magazines telling people where the hottest luxury hotel has just opened or gush about a well-worn tourist trail. Either way, I could've made a lot of money if I so wished and would've travelled a lot too. But there would've been the same void that I failed to fill in my corporate life - a bottomless pit of discontent at not creating something that I considered useful.

Money is important to our general well being. But the most important thing that gets swept under the rug for some strange reason is work satisfaction. When you come to me asking for advice on how to quit your job to travel, it shows that you have given no thought to the work that you want to put behind it. What's the worst you are willing to do to travel? Do you have a threshold and how long can you put up with meaningless jobs? Do you have a particular liking to one aspect or kind of travel? You need to consider finding work that aligns with your interest and liking. For instance, even though I'd get to travel, I'd be downright miserable writing luxury hotel reviews for even a reputed publication because it is just not what I want and it's just not the right fit for me.

So while a life of travel might sound enticing, at the end of the day, you need to feel proud of the work you are putting out. You'll achieve lasting satisfaction when you find a worthy reason to wake up every morning, when you find a meaning to your passion.

What you should look for instead?
Some sort of purpose that intersects with your passion.

It might look like I'm veering into boring philosophical territory here, but stay with me because if you're contemplating quitting your job to travel, this is pertinent. I remember having many conversations with friends and strangers fraught with anxiety and disenchantment of the "normal" lifestyle. These people were so depressed, they were happy to join any company and do anything that would allow them to travel. But you cannot lead a lifetime with a purpose as shallow as "traveling for fun".

So many of my friends started something dreamy, quickly realized working in the travel industry too comes with the same old constraints of routine grunt work, along with the insane rollercoaster ride of emotions and conflicts thrown in as an entrepreneur, and have now settled comfortably in their lives. But they’ve done so with the added contentment that they at least tried. Few have gone on to make a living out of travel. Those who succeeded had a passion that went beyond travel, an underlying motivation that pushed them through the infinite hurdles.

If money or time was no consequence, what is it that you'd want to do every single day of your life? After lounging on the beach or a hilltop for months, you'll want to do something of consequence. So even though it may seem like money or travel or luxury makes you happy at the moment, once these things are achieved you'll be looking for something more.

Ever since I realized this, I’ve changed how I travel. I now exclusively pursue novelty and stories instead. Why? It makes me feel alive and it gives me something to tell. Here, this is a passion that could translate into a tangible result instead of something as fleeting and generic as seeing beautiful places or traveling for fun. Novelty is the fuel to my passion and sharing that story to the world gives purpose to my passion. Life has been so much simpler ever since I realized this. (The reason I enjoy writing for reputed publications more than my blog is this, I enjoy reaching as many people as possible.)

Find what fuels your passion and what gives meaning to it.

Here's what being a travel writer entails.
Travel writing is a lot like unrequited love. You go through a lot for a very little in return but you do it anyway because you love it. Not because you get to travel, but because you get a high from publishing. I'm going to expound this more in another post in future but take this on face value for now - getting into travel writing hoping you'll get to travel is going to be the sure-fire way to kill your interest in both travelling and writing.

Here's what being a travel blogger entails.
You could put in the same kind of work, writing wise, into your blog and succeed as a travel blogger without the insecurities of publishing industry. But again, you'll succeed only if you're driven to create quality content consistently for absolutely no return while bootstrapping, interacting and engaging with your followers, creating an illusion and feeding their curiosity persistently, and marketing your lifestyle or life story obsessively. As you see, if you don't have a passion for blogging, social media and a certain affinity to self-promote to begin with, you won't succeed here either.

In the same vein, to be successful as a travel photographer, you need to be really passionate about photography first and also be good at it! And be prepared to be a one-man army in running your business.

It's not all hunky dory. It is work. Do you have passion for this kind of work? If not, how different is this - doing any job for travel that is - from choosing a meaningless job for the reward of a salary or travel? You'll be back to resenting your life in no time! The only difference is now you're both miserable and penniless. In your corporate job, at least you were not penniless.

I couldn't put it any more eloquently than Mark Manson who elaborately explains you need to be in love with both the result and the struggle required to get to the result, to succeed in an unconventional pursuit. Travel is the reward and the drudgery you're willing to put up with, is what you have to figure out. "Our struggles define our successes, so choose your struggles wisely my friend", he says. Couldn't agree more, go read his superb piece linked below and come back to see what you could do about travel.

(While you're at it, see if whatever you have in mind is going to pass the litmus test of positively getting through these questions? 7 Strange Questions That Help You Find Your Life Purpose)


Here's what you could do instead of dreaming of quitting your job to travel:

1. Find a suitable job that allows you to travel and pays you well
Look no further than fellow traveller Anshul Chaurasia who I profiled on my blog earlier. With a well paying corporate job and meticulous planning, he’s on his way to seeing as much of the world as possible. If you even remotely enjoy the work you do, this is the best approach to fund your travels. Read: You don't have to quit your job to travel. Here's why!

2. Find a passion that also allows you to travel
Passion's the operative word here. That passion could be storytelling, videography, photography, research, conservation, science, activism, documentary filmmaking or even teaching! Then it wouldn’t be like you are travelling to feed your passion, your passion itself would take you places. This is the kind of work that sustains over a long period, very long period.

3. Work towards a location independent lifestyle
I cannot recommend this enough. It's a miracle that we're now in a place that allows us to work remotely. In my opinion, this is one the best things to come out of Internet proliferation for the common public. Take out all the horrible work things that ties you to a location like long commutes, useless meetings, constraints that require to you to be present physically and your work no longer is the noose around your neck. Instead it is now your ticket to freedom!

4. Sort your priorities. Do a SWOT analysis. Make a plan.
List your goals and work towards them. Travel cannot be an actionable goal. X amount of money and Y days of vacation is. Think hard, figure out what’s important to you and also what’s acceptable to you - and then find some middle ground.

5. Hustle or Save up. Then go for a gap year!
Earn and save up. Travel for a year or two. Get back to your job and life. Repeat. For this, hustle away to glory. From SEO links to influencers ads to barter exchanges to random “flavour of the season” neo-digital media campaigns, everything goes. But be warned, don’t think of this as your long-term strategy because in the long run, this sort of hustling sucks big time. Hustle to find your path, not to stay on it forever.

Travel. (Work) Satisfaction. Money.

If you’re not intent on arriving at this winning trifecta at some point in your journey, I would suggest to not bother with quitting your stable job to travel the world forever, because you might end up in the same old rut you tried to escape and it’s only going to be much worse this time.

In the end, all I want to say is there is no need to mix travel and work. If you do, do it wisely and it can be immensely gratifying. Or keep them separate and have the best of both worlds!

Related reading:

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  1. Thank you so much Neelima for this heartfelt and candid post. It comes in a crucial time in my life and is a lifeline.

  2. I can't thank you enough for this !

  3. This is such a realistic insight into the world of 'quit my job to travel'. Wonderful read, Neelima.

  4. Wonderful write-up. It allows to put our face in both the world, and also your words of suggestions lifts the soul up to chose carefully and wisely. Super super.

    1. That's all I'm advocating, to think wisely about the work one chooses to fund their travels. Thank you! :)

  5. Thanks a lot Neelima for this no nonsense write-up :-) Loved it.

  6. Neelima, are you trying to step into the shoes of a third party person to explain what are you going through? I feel this is the case, where in, its you who's planning to hangup the travel boots, but disguised in the form of anonymous mails which come to you requesting guidance.
    No sarcasm or criticism though, just a thought,


    1. Someone's imagination is running wild here!

      Hello person *disguised in the form of anonymous mails which come to you requesting guidance*, this post applies to me as much as it should to anyone who's quit or thinking of quitting their job to travel the world long term. Work satisfaction should be an important consideration in taking these decisions.

  7. It was high time somebody called out the 'quit the job and travel the world' schmaltz. I've crossed 20+ countries on a journalist's salary and I have no plans of quitting my job anytime soon. All it needs is careful planning and sorting of priorities.

    1. To be clear, I have nothing against quitting job to travel the world. It's an amazing privilege/opportunity and I fully recommend it still. But when thinking of travel as a full time career option for long, I would highly recommend taking work satisfaction into consideration. I am dead against glamorising putting up with shitty jobs to sustain long term travel, which just doesn't make sense to me because enjoying the work you do is as important as enjoying the reward in the long run. For short term travels and gap years, go crazy, do whatever it takes to travel and then get back to a nice, fulfilling job when you return.

  8. Great post Neelima! It surely will help many put things in perspective.

    I am one of those who has always wanted to travel all my life. I struggled for several years to figure it out and eventually through my blog (which needs more attention and I am guilty of that) and freelance writing I ended up with a magazine as a writer. I am a mother and a wife and can't just take off. I figured if I can't be on the road the whole time, why not do work that lets be in the world of travel all the time - that's why a travel magazine works for me.

    I agree that at the end of the day my job is a regular job as glamourous as it may seem from the outside. But what I love about it, is the people I work with, the creative satisfaction that writing gives me and the endless learning opportunities that come my way.

    1. Exactly! As long as work gives us satisfaction and allows us to travel, I think we are good, all other constraints notwithstanding. :)

  9. Neelima, one thing we missing in whole dialogue. Like in past history some travelers are very famous, but they have purpose, why you travel ? what knowledge you have about the destination, what you bring out of that and share with people...For a person it may be a big thing you loose job and travel but as a reader what i get out of that. People should come out of this personal glory and do some meaningful while you travel. Clicking some pic and talking about your personal shit have no value, may be some people can respond.

    1. I think it is a bit unfair to expect travellers to serve a bigger purpose than their own personal motivations. People travel for their own reasons, not necessary that someone else should gain something out of it. Although, to travel for long, I believe it is necessary for the traveller should have identified some sort of purpose that drives them individually.

  10. Great article and really nice page Neelima you have. When i decide to travel in India end of year i will email you. If you decide coming to Greece and special in Santorini i'm there

  11. Very good writeup. It clarifies a lot for people jumping on leaving their stable job. We cannot ignore the consequences and responsibilities that follow. As someone said, dont just follow your passion, bringit along with you. You can have a day job that gives some purpose/sense of achievement and then have time for your passion. A simple plan is all that is needed.

    1. Having a good balance between money, passion and sense of achievement should be of importance, whether that's through an unrelated day job or passion projects is irrelevant.

  12. Words of wisdom! I guess it is very tempting to assign 'writing travelogues' as a passion to 'justify' the travel! However it is not everybody's cup of tea. I shudder to think what will happen if everybody just kept travelling all the time! It is not sustainable:> Also though it may sound a bit abstract, its time we start being conscious about impact of travel on local eco system, climate change and environment in general!

  13. thank you for this, you seem like an amazing human being.

  14. That was one reality check !! Really appreciate you for writing this Neelima! There is nothing in this world that is fun all the way. Anything worth having takes hard work!
    About the boredom that sets in - there was a time when I was looking for a job after having shifted cities post marriage.
    When we went for a vacation at that time, I was haunted with the question 'What am I taking a vacation from'?!

    1. So if travelling as a career was nt hard work, you rightly said that the ennui will be back!
      And kudos to you for sustaining in the unsure world of travel as a career that requires so much of self motivation. Passion alone can do that!

  15. thanks for sharing
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  16. wonderful piece Neelima. Have read both sides of the story of why one should quit and why one shouldnt quit. you bring in a diff perspective altogether. Thanks for this

  17. This is where I am going to point those questions to. Thank you for writing such a heartfelt and honest account of the reality of traveling the world/quitting the job. Those rosy pictures painted all over the internet are just dangerous.


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