There are countless stories circulating online about people who felt burned out from work so they saved up thousands of dollars, quit their jobs, and put their most treasured possessions in storage and began traveling the world with little more than a suitcase and laptop. In many cases, these people became travel bloggers, social media influencers, freelancers or English teachers to supplement their income while traveling – but how realistic is this major lifestyle decision?
Even if you’re able to make money while jet-setting to different countries every few months, you likely wouldn’t be able to completely replace your regular job’s income, no matter how much the handful of successful travel bloggers promise it’s “possible” for anyone with the right mindset and dedication to their travel dreams. The reality is that many people fail to plan for unexpected expenses, end up spending much more money than they originally anticipated, and/or have to return to their normal lives for any number of reasons.
If you’ve dreamed of quitting your job to travel the world, then here are five common problems you should consider before deciding whether or not it’s truly feasible for you.
People who quit their jobs to travel internationally typically approach this enormous lifestyle change in one of two ways: either they acknowledge their travel plans are merely temporary (e.g., leaving the workforce for 12 months with the intention of finding a new job afterward) or they quit their current jobs with no set plan for the future aside from traveling to new places.
The latter approach can be incredibly risky for anyone younger than retirement age because there’s a decent likelihood you may need to return to the workforce within a few years (unless you’re exceptionally careful about your spending and saving habits). For cheerfully unemployed travelers who are eventually forced to go back to work out of financial necessity, it can be tricky finding an employer to hire someone with a large gap in their employment history, not to mention issues related to age-related discrimination you may face after 2+ years of not working in a regular job.
Health Insurance Concerns
Unless you’re one of the extremely lucky few who have their employer’s blessing to work from anywhere, you also risk losing your employer-provided health insurance when you quit your job. For citizens of countries without universal healthcare (e.g., Americans) this means you have to purchase expensive long-term travel insurance, which comes with its own set of complicated requirements, restrictions, and exclusions.
While some non-U.S. countries offer more affordable prices on common medical procedures and medications, you’ll still be responsible for covering these out-of-pocket until your travel health insurance policy’s deductible is met (assuming whatever treatment you need is even covered by your health insurance plan). The potential for unexpected medical bills to arise during your world travels is one of the most important considerations anyone should make before quitting their jobs and leaving behind their employer-sponsored healthcare plans.
There are many different levels of commitment to traveling full-time: some people simply quit their jobs for a year then come home, some people put their possessions in storage indefinitely (some even abandon their pets), and others sell everything they own to get a fresh start on their new lives.
The problem here is that most people underestimate how much money they really need before quitting their jobs to travel the world, which leads to faster-than-anticipated savings depletion, irreversible losses of treasured belongings (especially for those who sell their homes and can’t afford to return to their home city/state), and financial desperation for those who can’t easily find income opportunities when their savings accounts get dangerously close to $0.
Traveling is inherently a leisurely activity; never go in expecting to make more or the same amount of money as you earned at your previous job. Unless you have at least 8-12 months’ worth of expenses saved up before taking off, you should strongly reconsider your departure date until your finances are more secured.
Limited Retirement Saving Potential
Not only do unemployed world travelers typically spend more money than they make on the road – they also lose out on valuable retirement savings opportunities. When you have a regular job (or your own business), you can invest part of your earnings in a 401K or IRA. You can still invest in your own retirement account when you don’t have a job, but IRA contributions must be earned income (e.g., freelance work), which means you can’t simply divert part of your savings to retirement accounts each year that you’re traveling the world.
There are also Social Security tax concerns for those living and working abroad, which can impact your eligibility for retirement benefits and/or increase your tax liability if you’re self-employed (yes, you still have to pay self-employment taxes even if you’re not physically present in the U.S.).
Another major concern for world travelers with little to no long-term employment plans is the potential for robots and advanced technologies to eliminate certain jobs over the next several years. For example, jobs related to data entry, rideshare driving, basic instruction, and even online research could potentially lose their jobs to efficient, cost-effective algorithms within just a few years.
Granted, this problem isn’t isolated to world travelers, but it can be much more destabilizing for anyone with gaps in their resume, limited skill sets and/or people living off their savings who may need to find income-earning opportunities that don’t require a full-time commitment and specialized knowledge/skills.
How to Balance Travel Goals with Financial Stability
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to quit your job and travel the world, but planning for this and successfully executing this transformative lifestyle change is a whole different story. Just because some vocal people with amazing travel blogs managed to succeed doesn’t mean that anyone can do it, and even the best-laid plans may be upended if any unexpected events crop up during the journey.
As an alternative to quitting your job to travel the world, you might want to consider discussing remote work opportunities with your current employer, finding a new job with generous paid time off policies, or researching possible strategies for nurturing your travel bug without going as far as quitting your job (e.g., more weekend trips).