“Stay hungry, stay foolish” – Steve Jobs
A few of you might have read a recent interview of mine floating around the internet on the financial blog ladyyoucanbefree. I’ve never really spoken about the financials of quitting my job to travel and do my own thing before, so I guess it’s time to share my experience given the recent interest.
I’m going to break this down into the past, present, and future.
Why I decided to quit to travel the world
In September 2013, I left my job and have since traveled to 10 countries, done 14 trips, and spent 215 days out of 536 days outside Singapore (about 40%).
Traveling has always been something dear to my heart, but I never found the time and energy to do so in a normal 9-5 job. The push finally happened when I realised that I was tired of working endlessly for others and not owning my work. I wanted to leave to do my own thing, but I had no idea what.
Some talk about working hard before retiring early. But I feel that the best time to travel is while we are still young, fit and healthy. Before our minds get clouded and got jaded with life. So I figured that the best thing to do would be to travel first and figure things out along the way.
I had faith because from my previous experiences, I knew that travel is an awesome teacher. When you expose yourself to different cultures and get uncomfortable, you see things differently and make connections you normally wouldn’t. I just trusted that the dots would connect. And connect they did! Though that’s for the last section.
How I managed to do it
There were two main problems I faced when I decided to QUIT to travel on a budget. Money and Family.
The most obvious problem. How can one survive while traveling? I originally wanted to travel for a year, but I also knew that I couldn’t give myself an end date. So I needed savings, and a way to continue earning money while traveling.
Back then, I was drawing a fresh graduate salary of about SGD2.9k/mth. Thankfully, I was quite frugal in my expenditure, and had about 16k in my bank account by the time I was going to quit. To give you an idea of what this is like, here’s a fairly generic breakdown of my monthly salary.
- Contribution to Family: $400 (not a lot but still significant)
- Living Expenses: ~$800 (I ate on a budget, but still go out fairly often with friends for drinks, did the usual leisure activities, bought stuff now and then, and had the occasional holiday)
- Misc Bills/Loans/Insurance: $600
- Savings: $1100
The savings added up to about $13.2k (12mths x 1.1k), and with some of my existing savings, made up the 16k. I’m sure some may do better or worse due to your own commitments, but this was what it was like for me. I’m used to traveling on a budget (you can learn about it from my 76days around South America trip), so I knew that I probably wouldn’t spend more than what I normally did in expensive Singapore.
Hence the 16k would last me about 8-9 months. Enough for a start, but I still needed to earn money while traveling.
Working while traveling
I could be plucking strawberries in New Zealand or teaching English somewhere, but i wanted to continue doing stuff I was decently good at so I wouldn’t get rusty. Things were tough initially, but I eventually found the following to work for me.
- Leveraged on strengths – Coming from an advertising and media background, I leveraged on the skills I picked up and ventured into freelance graphic design and social media management. Understand your strengths and use them to start an alternate career. You could do consulting for businesses, coach a sport, or be a freelance writer!
- Found jobs that allowed me to work remotely – This is key to the lifestyle I want to have. In fact, I only take jobs that allow me to work remotely and have minimal face to face meetings. This gives me the freedom to continue working even while traveling.
- Kept learning – Being comfortable is the worst thing we can do to ourselves. Keep learning and that will open new doors. I was clueless about web design before I started. Now I can design simple websites!
- Sacrificed – A traveling lifestyle requires a lot of financial sacrifices. Instead of saving money for shopping or splurging on expensive meals, I keep them for travel. After setting aside money for bills, living expenses, and the rainy day fund, everything else goes into my travel kitty. This is necessary because I wouldn’t want to end up in a situation where I can’t do certain activities overseas because of a lack of funds.
The next biggest hurdle was getting my loved ones to understand. I come from the most typical of Chinese families in Singapore. My parents would have been happy if I worked in a government job all my life. But I wanted more. I wanted to be rich, not just financially, but rich with experience.
My family and friends did not understand, and some of them still think I’m just traveling non stop for fun, leading the life and being irresponsible. But the truth is that it’s more of a lifestyle choice. I gave up on stability and relationship building to work on myself first. In fact, I had to work a lot harder to maintain a lifestyle of work and travel. Finding that balance and earning enough to pay the bills is a real challenge.
After a year and lots of communication, I think the important people in my life finally understands. Although my parents sometimes still catch themselves accidentally saying that I don’t have a job when their friends ask. If I were to do this again, I would probably involve my loved ones much earlier, instead of telling them after I made the decision.
What lies ahead
If you read my post on one year on after quitting my job, you’ll realise that I’m thankful with how the dots are starting to connect. The original plan was to travel for a year before settling. But amazingly, things changed along the way and opportunities came up. Now I’m traveling while freelancing, and working on my own travel startup.
If I am to give a word of advice to anyone who plan to do something similar, it would be to assess your own situation, make a plan, and just do it. There is a saying that “if you love what you do, the money will follow.” My reply to that would be not everyone is lucky or capable enough to be so good at something that money will follow. But even if money doesn’t follow, at least you enjoy what you do and have no regrets. My rule of thumb in life is that if you think you might regret not doing something, you better do it.