Save, Quit, Explore, Change: Take a Year Off Work to Travel Around the World

Resign from your well-paying, software sales jobs in a terrible economy and be prepared for head scratches and funny looks. I know, because that’s exactly what I got in January 2010 when I packed everything I own into a storage unit and indulged my wanderlust to travel the world. When sharing my plan, the usual response was something along the lines of, “I wish I could afford to take a year off work and do something fun.” Well, I have news. The only difference between everyone who said that and me is that I made it a priority and planned for it.

In order to take a year off work I had three major financial areas to consider. The first, how could I save enough to take a year off work; the second, how would I stretch what I saved to last me a year; third, how would I re-enter the job market afterward. As much planning as I did, I also had an element of hope in my strategy. I hoped I was making a good choice in spending a significant amount of savings and that I could convince a hiring manager that my life experience from traveling abroad was an asset to my professional abilities.

My job merely funds my lifestyle and interests. I use it to build financial worth, but not for self-worth. With that mindset, I chose to go into sales specifically to have maximum earning potential with the most flexibility. For years I lived well below my means and my only debt was my home. Though maxing out my 401k contributions each year, my financial planner encouraged me to invest more of my money. Instead, I chose to build up my cash reserve taking advantage of high interest rates and put money in a risk-free CD at my bank for several years. I debated whether to sell my home or find a tenant and concluded renting it was the best option. I did not need the cash equity in my home, so by renting it was able to make $4800 profit over the year and enjoy the tax benefits of being a landlord.

I opened a second checking account with an investment bank that charges no international ATM or card fees and put $60,000 in the account, all designated for my year abroad. This allowed me to easily track what I was spending as the balance dwindled over twelve months. To stretch my dollars I turned to the internet. After much research, I purchased a business class around-the-world airline ticket on the Oneworld Alliance for $10,000. This was a luxurious bargain! The ticket allowed me sixteen segments in the same direction between four continents. With an average of $600 per segment, this made globetrotting a reasonable price. In New Zealand I splurged and went sky diving and white water rafting, in Africa I saved by camping for three weeks. At times my spending was fast and furious, other times slow and steady.

In my travels I never discovered the fabled money tree so I knew I had to go back to work. During my leave I kept up with former bosses and occasionally networked on LinkedIn. I budgeted enough money to allow four months to find a new job upon returning. Everyone I interviewed with was fascinated by my travels so they were spent talking about the baboon who was my unexpected passenger in my car while I was driving in Africa, rather than how I attained my quote. I knew I would not mesh well with a manager who viewed my year off as a liability, so it was a great litmus test to gauge how I would fit within a management dynamic.

I have no regrets spending $60,000 to travel because my experiences will pay dividends for the rest of my life. My view of the world and of myself is forever changed. If I have to work an extra year later in life to make up for my year off, that will be okay. For me, I’m finding the right balance of saving money to live life now, and saving money to live life later.

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