On a recent bus trip, there were few seats available and so I didn’t manage to sit next to Ashray. I had the pleasure of sharing the ride with a chatty Ecuadorian old man who was curious to know what attracted me to come from so far to his remote home-town.
I told him I was traveling across Latin America with my boyfriend and after I mentioned we have been doing this for months, he asked: “What is the point? Just vacation?!” I tried to explain that traveling is something more than vacationing. We spend some time in each place and try to learn new things from different people and, over all, we just want to know what the world is like outside our own countries. It’s much more than a pastime.
“I have been to Spain once. But I didn’t like it!” This man was at least 70 years old and, in all his life, had only once been outside his own small country, to visit his emigrant son in Spain for a month. “I didn’t like it, because it was not my home, you know? You have a better life here. There it is a bit sickening.”
If it was difficult to explain to this old man that I spent months in a row traveling even more difficult was for him to understand that I actually quit a job to do this. He certainly thought I was some kind of hippie. “That’s your boyfriend… for now, right? You get a new one as you go on to a different country?!” No, Abuelo. I do not. We have come from a far away land to visit countries like yours, to meet people like you and to go on with our horizons more broad than before. “But you didn’t even bring anything to sell? What’s the point of all this traveling if at the end you run out of money and go back with empty pockets?”
Well, the point is an attempt to understand the world we live in. To become better people while we do this. To have fun with it! There are so many points! The price to pay to do this? Quit a job and leave a world of so-called “stability”. A price I would be willing to pay again, without hesitating for 1 second.
Let’s face it: most people don’t like their 9-5 job. Most jobs are not even 9-5 anymore! You do it because life has a cost, and there is little you can do about that. Because you have bills to pay, a family to raise and all these things that I know I will have one day, and gladly. Every phase in life has its pros and cons. Traveling for a long period of time is one of those things that, for most common mortals, can be done mainly when you are young or older. Middle life tends to involve way too many responsibilities to allow this kind of freedom – although there are some travelers that go around the world with their whole families! But those are an exception.
When you finish college, you are on a race to get your first job and, as you normally don’t have savings, don’t consider traveling right after your studies. Once you start working, you think that leaving your job for a while is crazy because people will overtake you on the corporate ladder, and you are going to be behind by the time you are back. Then you have kids and priorities and expenses change. And so you think that maybe you will do things like traveling later, when you’ve saved more money or have more time. By the time you are retired, you probably consider it’s important to keep that money you saved as your retirement back-up. What if you get sick? What if you have extra expenses? You want to have that comfort and security that a good amount of money in the bank gives, right?
My Dad passed away when he was 60. This is really young for now-a-days but I seek comfort in thinking that he had a pretty good life. Not a traveling life, but a life fulfilled with other activities that he enjoyed. So ultimately, no matter for how long you live, what is going to define if you had a good life or not is if you did the things that made you really happy. For me, traveling is on the list. But what did I have to do to get here? Work, save some money, and quit my job.
I have always wanted to work “in the movies”. Before moving to Dubai I had never managed to score good audiovisual work in Portugal. Finally, in the Emirates, I started working as a production manager and was doing quite well. Turns out that, although I did like my job, it was not as exciting as I thought it would be all those years in college. After working for a couple of years for a production house I was content, but not happy.
My boss was a good guy, he did have a good heart, but he was dedicated to this company over measure. I would be happy to employ him but being his employee felt different: we used to work a lot of hours at peak times and, while hard work doesn’t scare me one bit, he once said something that really hit me: “Zara, you are great at what you do, but if you want to become better, you’re gonna have to learn to bend over…” Obviously he didn’t mean it literally – we’re talking about a perfect muslim man, here. I was working in TV commercials production and he meant that to be better at it, I would have to learn to smile and say yes to our clients, to brands that in many cases, manufactured shit products that don’t bring anything positive into this world. I would have to basically suck it up, and somehow learn how to enjoy it.
Soon after this “professional lesson”, my band won a contest and got to play a concert in Vienna. This was a HUGE deal for me, only to hear from my boss that I would have to go, play the concert and be back right away because we had a shoot on those dates. I would not be able to enjoy the remaining days in Vienna that this trip included. And so I thought to myself: what’s the point of having a stable job, with a decent income, when you won’t be able to enjoy those things that truly make you happy? So I told him: “Then, I’m gonna have to quit!”. About 1 minute after he said I couldn’t go for the whole stay (4 days). He was a bit shocked by my ease at making such decision and said we could work things out. They ended up getting a replacement for my work while I lived my rock star dreams for 4 days.
Soon after I still felt something wasn’t right and did my first move towards “setting myself free”: I became a freelancer. The struggle of the beginning of freelance life can be a turn-off, but any freelancer out there would know that working on freelance projects or for yourself, is 1 million times more rewarding than working for somebody else. Although this wasn’t financially successful at the start, I did have more time to spend with my boyfriend, to chill and even to take short term trips in Asia and Africa.
After less than a couple of years freelancing I managed to save some cash that would make me feel comfortable quitting work and finally start traveling full-time. Ashray works online and can potentially work anywhere in the world. I was freelancing so I could come and go whenever I wanted. Was there the need to quit everything permanently? Yes there was. If we would have taken off for a few months at a time, maybe we would have ended up seeing the same places (spending way more money, of course) but we wouldn’t have experienced things the way we are right now. If you go out on a mission to enlarge your horizons, you must leave all worries behind. You must set yourself free from daily worries, like work. And we went to never come back, not to Dubai.
Where are we going to live next? We don’t know! Does it worry me? Not really. Sometimes I picture how I want my next house to look like. All the kitchen accessories I want to have after cooking in hostels with two worn out pans. I think wherever we live next, we shall be happy, because the more we travel the more flexible we become, the more understanding of people and more appreciative of little everyday things from a comfy couch, to a good internet connection, to having your own fridge full of stuff you like. As cliche as it might sound, you do learn how to value things you used to take for granted and this makes you grow.
If you think quitting your job to travel for a while is too risky, it’s not, I tell you from my own experience (although it’s true that I am not “back” yet). If you think that, in times of economic crisis, it is a luxury or stupidity to turn your back on a stable income, think twice. I am not saying we don’t need money to live – eventually, I too am going to have to settle somewhere and get a job if I want to put food on the table. Do you see how everything is so relative? By quitting your job and setting off to see the world for a while do you think you are going to be left behind when you come back? You will only be ahead. Ahead in terms of thinking, ahead in terms of understanding what goes on around you, definitely ahead realizing that the world is small and no matter where you go, the basic things that make human life human are the same: we all want to be happy.
If a regular employer doesn’t understand that as a plus-value when he sees the gap years in your resume, then it’s probably not worth working for that company anyway. Great ideas that make the World go around come from minds that think different, that do different. Maybe by the time you are back (if you are even ever back to the place you departed from!) you won’t even want your old job back. Maybe you will have fresh ideas and more enthusiasm than before to start something in a different field. After traveling, you are likely to see the world and yourself in a new way, and that will reflect in everything you do, including your professional life. So don’t be scared to quit your job if you can afford to. Change tends to be good.
As this song by Gabriel O Pensador says:
“Change, ’cause when we change the world changes with us
We change the world changing the mind
And when the mind changes we go forward
And when we rule nobody rules us
Changing the way we think there’s nothing wrong we can’t change, there is no disease without a cure
Changing our stands we get to be more secure
Changing the present, we shape the future!”
It might sound better in the original Portuguese, but I guess you get the point.
Think about what really makes you happy and don’t let society dictate what is right and wrong for you as an individual. Whether it’s traveling or something else you have always dreamt of doing, jump of the cliff and you’ll see when you’re surrounded by nothing but air, you’ll eventually manage – and learn how to fly.