I Quit My 9 to 5 Job to Travel (And It Didn’t Solve All of My Problems)

daniel miserable on a beach

Around four years ago today, I was sitting in an office, staring out the window, dreaming of travel. I’d finished university a few years earlier and instead of continuing to chase my passions, I had stayed put. I was trapped like a deer in the headlights of life. Paralysed and unable to do anything.

My friends all seemed to have gone on to better things. But me? I still lived with my parents, moving between menial jobs, doing not a lot of anything. Just sitting in an office day-by-day. Staring out that window. Dreaming.

Always my dreams turned to travel. Adventure, excitement. I would get depressed at work wondering about why I wasn’t on a beach instead. Or standing at the top of a mountain.

I was fooling myself. I didn’t want adventure. I wanted to escape. To get out of the dull hole that had become my life. So I booked a one-way ticket to Canada and soon found myself on a working holiday.

In the weeks before leaving, a lot of co-workers, friends, and family started to fill my head with doubts. You’re going away to another country by yourself? How are you going to survive!? How will you manage? I didn’t know the answers. But I felt like I was barely surviving in England, so leaving didn’t faze me. My life was about to change for the better. It had happened to so many others. Travel had changed their lives. It would change mine too. This was the start of my own inspiring story. Maybe in a few years I’d turn it into a book, then a movie would follow.

One Year Later

Exactly one year later I was in Canada. Sitting in an office much like the one I’d left behind. Staring out of another window. Wondering what had happened with my inspiring travel story. I still had a job I didn’t enjoy, most of my time was spent doing things I didn’t care about. Still, now I had a counter-argument to these woes. They didn’t matter because I was travelling. I was having an adventure. That was enough.

garabaldi british columbia

I reasoned that working a job I didn’t love was worth the sacrifice. I was living in a new place, had good friends, eating in amazing restaurants, enjoying myself. I was gaining confidence and self-belief. Something I’d never managed back home. For once I was free to do whatever I wanted, free from the expectations of others.

Two and a Half Years Later

Skip forward to now. I’ve done a few more menial jobs I’ve disliked. Lived in a couple more countries. Recently arriving in Australia.

When I arrived here, I was plunged into crisis mode. I could see my year and life before me. I’d find another menial job, which I’d work for 40 hours a week, maybe explore some of Australia. Do that for a year. Go home, then probably fall back into the same dull routine. I came to the realisation that despite travelling, I’m no happier than when I had left England. In four years, I’ve learnt a lot, but nothing that’s directly had an impact on my problems or life.

Many seem to think that travel is the cure-all answer to every problem. That by travelling, we will be starting our own inspirational story. That’s how I felt before leaving. I thought I would find myself. That I would be so completely changed by travel that every problem I had would be erased. But most problems I had at home remain with me still. I still have little self-belief, still experience anxiety and depression and I’m still at a loss as to what I’m doing a lot of the time. Still stuck in those headlights of life.

After almost four years of travel, I finally realise that when I left to travel, it wasn’t to solve my problems but to run away from them.

Will Travel Solve Your Problems?

A lot of us fall into the trap of thinking travel will solve our problems. But some problems can only be solved by tackling them head on. Travel won’t make you any happier if it doesn’t change anything that relates to your problems.

To illustrate this, let’s imagine that your goal in life is to become an alpaca farmer. You’re stuck in a dead end job at home, not an alpaca in sight. You’re depressed and think you’ll never own that farm. You don’t think you’re even good enough to do it, you don’t have it in you. You know it’ll be a lot of hard work.

alpaca eating

You’ve seen all these articles online about travel and how it lead to so much happiness and wish fulfilment for others. Plus it’s so easy. All you need to do is leave. Pretty soon you’re also thinking that travel will make you happy and fulfil your dreams. So you go away and travel and you have a great time.

But if your travels take you no closer to that goal of being the world’s best alpaca farmer then your problems won’t be solved. Travel long enough and the excitement will leave you. You’ll start to dream of alpacas and you’ll be unsatisfied again. Sure you’re travelling, but that’s not really your passion.

Travel is so intense that it can dazzle you for months or even years. You’re experiencing so many new things that you’re constantly in the now. The future doesn’t matter when you’re bungee jumping off an elephant. But soon things settle down and when you get time to think, your mind will soon drift back to that farm.

Travel becomes that menial job, the world becomes your office. You find yourself staring longingly outwards. Dreaming of alpacas.

black alpaca

That’s not to say your travel has been wasted. Maybe it will just show you what you’ve always known anyway. That you really need to focus on the alpaca problem. (Really starting to regret using alpacas as the example now as I have to keep typing it so much. Alpaca, alpaca, alpaca.) Maybe it will give you enough confidence to follow that alpaca dream.

But if you already know what your problems are, you don’t need to travel to solve them. Travel may not even help!

The Positive Benefits of Travel

This isn’t to say that travel isn’t completely therapeutic. Travelling around alone can be great.

Many of us spend our whole lives on set paths that are more or less planned. We go to school, university, have the family and kids. We never leave this path or our bubble. We’re constantly surrounded by others, their opinions and expectations.

By travelling, you can get off that path for a bit. For the first time in your life, there is no real plan and nobody else around us to influence our decisions. It’s just us and nobody else. We have to rely on ourselves. Become completely independent. For once you will be truly alone and this can help you to learn more about your limits and needs. But will it make you an alpaca farmer? I’m not so sure.

brown and white alpaca eating

Travel can solve some problems. Maybe your only problem is that you lack confidence or you’re socially anxious. Travel can help you to overcome these things. Maybe there’s a skill or something about yourself that you want to improve and maybe travel can help with that. Being in new places can push you to your limits and really test you. But I’m not sure it can help too much when it comes to those deep existential problems.

A lot of travel bloggers would say otherwise of course. I don’t doubt that many of them did leave their 9 to 5 jobs and are happy with their travelling lives. But maybe they had no problems to begin with. The only problem they ever had was that they weren’t travelling. So travel did solve their problems. That isn’t the same as it solving all problems.

We shouldn’t expect that everybody will feel the same due to a small set of people. There’s plenty of fashion bloggers out there, who love clothing, but I don’t think many of us are racing to join them. Although nobody claims fashion as a cure-all solution to life’s problems.

Quitting Your Job to Scoop Ice Cream

One story that has been making the rounds recently is about a woman who quit her $95,000 a year job to scoop ice cream on a tropical island. Many have been inspired by her story, but I scoff in their direction. Okay, it is inspiring, I’ll admit it. The woman took a big risk and made a huge change. Something most of us would be too scared to do.

At the same time though, I think people are romanticising her story. We see this woman’s now perfect, simple life. Scooping ice cream on a tropical island. Watching beautiful sunsets every night. Sleeping in a hammock and sipping cocktails from a coconut. We can see ourselves wanting the same, especially when we compare it to our own lives. Sitting in an office all day, staring out the window hoping for more. She’s escaped that life. That’s inspiring to us. We think her life sounds perfect.

But it’s not perfect. We’re not looking at the reality. After six months of ice cream scooping, I would be ready to kill myself – as would most of us. I’d be thinking, “What the fuck am I doing with my life?” It sounds cool, but how many of us would actually be satisfied with scooping ice cream for a living, regardless of where we were? If we’re not happy at home working menial jobs what makes us think that would change because we’re in a sunny locale with a beach?

I’m sure it worked for her because for once in her life she was alone without expectations. If she’d have become an ice cream scooper in New York, she would have been miserable. All her friends would be thinking she was crazy. She had a good job now she’s scooping ice cream? She’d probably get depressed just from the shame of it.

But moving to a tropical island to do it is easier. Nobody around to judge you. The only person you know is you, so you set your own expectations. Ice cream scooping is nothing to embarrass you as nobody is embarrassed for you. Everybody you know is so far away that they see your life through a lens. Woah, she’s on a tropical island selling ice cream. Her life is a dream.

This tropical dream could be a nightmare though. Stuck on an island thousands of miles from our friends and family. Still working in a low-waged job where we can barely afford to live. Our creature comforts gone. We’d all be satisfied for a year or two, but eventually we’d start to question our existence. Because again our surroundings have changed but we haven’t. Our problems aren’t solved just put to the background for a bit. Travel for many is a short term solution to a long term problem.

The narrative of travelling to solve our woes sells newspapers though, so we’ll keep on hearing it and keep on believing it. Just remember, that doesn’t make it true. If you already know your problems, you don’t need travel to solve them. You can tackle them head on at home. Maybe you do need to get away from your surroundings, family and friends to help. But if you travel they’ll still be there when you get back, along with all your problems.

Wouldn’t it be smarter in this case to just move to another city? Start fresh. Become the person you want to be. Free yourself of expectation. Gain confidence, do the things you want to do. And perhaps finally buy that alpaca farm?

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16 thoughts on “I Quit My 9 to 5 Job to Travel (And It Didn’t Solve All of My Problems)”

    1. Thanks. I try to be honest as I want my blog to be a reflection of my reality. This way in years to come I can look back and see how I’ve progressed in my thinking and philosophy. I’m sure in 5 years (or 5 minutes) I could easily look back on this post and disagree with all of it.

  1. Leaving has never solved any problem. Never. I disagree in your very opinionated ideas on this post, for me traveling is more of a way-of-life. I don’t want to be always on the move, but I want to have the freedom to move to a different place once in a while, and from time to time have some crazy road trip adventures. Maybe you were just too foolish to think that the travel would set you on a whole new world. That’s not how it is, travel is life, and life is travel, they are equal, not different things.

    This say, it’s a very good post that everybody should read before quitting for a “new amazing and full of joy life”

    1. Yes, this is very opinionated and was more my take on the idea that travel is life changing for everybody. I think travel can be life changing for sure and it can be a passion for many, but I don’t think that can be said for everybody.

      I like your idea of “travel is life, life is travel”.

  2. I think a lot of people can relate to this, myself included. Travel is not all it’s cracked up to be, and it won’t solve your problems. Depending on your expectations, you may even be severely disappointed or incredibly bored. (After 60 dives on the Great Barrier Reef, I felt it was a rather boring place, and if it hadn’t been my first diving location, I probably would’ve been really disappointed from the start.)

    Yet, if you’ve never traveled, you should. When I left the US for Australia to “get away for a while”, I changed so much, and yet, in many ways, I stayed the same. I saw so many beautiful and incredible places and met so many awesome and interesting people. I learned to scuba dive and became a Divemaster. I budgeted and traveled on month-long road trips. I challenged myself in ways I never had before and held jobs I’d never anticipated.

    Really, it’s a tossup, but travel doesn’t hurt. It can change you so much, even if it had a negative impact on your life. “Adventure” is overrated, and although it seems exciting in movies and video games, in those cases, you are only an observer, and you are not really experiencing their hardship and suffering. That said, you can choose to stay in your comfortable home and bed, or you can choose to rough it out for a while and have some stories to tell.

    1. Yeah, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. Travel can be enriching for sure. I’ve definitely learnt a lot from my own travels and grown as a person. Although I kind of feel the same would have happened at home. Simply living life is enough for most of us to grow! But travel can definitely speed up the process.

      I definitely agree with your last lines there. That was another one of my motivations to travel. Even if it hasn’t sorted out my problems, I have still experienced a lot and it was possibly more exciting than staying at home in the same routine.

  3. I am from Sri Lanka, and traveling abroad with my passport is a nightmare, Yet, I was lucky enough to travel around the world and see many countries. When reading this, I felt you are speaking my thoughts.
    Good article. Thank you.

    1. Thanks, Nishanthe. I am blessed to have a British passport fortunately! But I’m glad you got to travel despite the difficulties.

  4. I really enjoyed this post. For the sake of conversation, I am going to run with your analogy. While I had always dreamed of being an alpaca farmer growing up, I chose something more practical — technology. I even moved to a new city, climbed the corporate ladder, made friends, had relationships, etc. It was fun for a while, but I made a gigantic mistake. I moved somewhere without taking the alpacas into consideration!

    I find myself still dreaming of that farm, I’m just dreaming in a bigger city. My “friends” share no common interests with the REAL me….only corporate me. I just booked a one way ticket across the pond, and in all honesty, I don’t think I’m running away. I know I’m running away. It will not solve any problems. I’m merely hoping for a reset —and then I’m going where the alpacas are!

    1. Something I’ll say: the grass is always greener. I first went to university to do computer science but my heart wasn’t in it, my parents were kind of forcing it upon me. I dropped out to follow my dream and did a degree in Film and Radio Production. However once I finished my degree I didn’t continue to pursue this as basically I didn’t have the belief in myself.

      However, now I sometimes wish I had just taken the practical route. Sometimes I think I should have done computer science. Why? Because it’s a more useful skill to have and may have taken me closer to other dreams and goals. I like to think I could have turned that into my making indie games and being a digital nomad.

      You can easily do a dis-service to the path you’ve taken and say it was all a waste of time, but I’m sure many of the things you’ve learnt on your practical route can help you towards your alpaca dream. Your alpaca farm needs a website doesn’t it? You need to do a budget? Need to solve problems, make contacts etc. All these things are skills that you can transfer over from your practical life. You’ve learnt a lot of skills which could help you achieve your dream. Travel may help you to focus on those alpacas and realise it’s time to chase them! (But don’t chase alpacas because they might get scared and trample you.)

      End pep talk.

      1. Thank you for your reply. The grass is always greener, indeed.
        It’s funny you talk about radio production, because audio production is my dream!
        Speaking from experience, if I could do it over again, I would have never done the practical route. I thought it would allow me to afford a comfortable lifestyle, maybe a house someday, etc., and give me the resources to pursue/afford my interests. However, I am not someone who can leave work at work. It bleeds into every aspect of my life. At the end of every day, I come home completely disheartened. If at the end of the day I cannot be proud of the work I’ve done, I consider it a day wasted. I don’t know if you’re familiar at all with Joseph Campbell’s work (you should check out The Power of Myth interviews—i think they are on youtube). He has a great quote.

        “There is perhaps nothing worse than reaching the top of the ladder
        and discovering that you’re on the wrong wall.”

        Anyway, geat site. Glad I discovered it!

        1. I think audio production is a very obtainable dream. More so that alpacas. Because I think with audio production this is definitely the type of thing you can pursue slowly at first in your spare time. You don’t need to jump straight in. I’ve just started volunteering at a community radio station and it’s a great way to surround yourself with like-minded people and learn skills. Good if you’re interested in audio stuff.

          I don’t think you’re alone in thinking the practical route would eventually give you a base to follow your dreams. I think many people kind of get swept along by life until suddenly they’re 80 years old and wondering where the time went. Obviously it’s much harder to pursue your dream because you would now have to give up so much. Whether it be friends, money or lifestyle. It’s hard to give up those things.

          If you haven’t you should read my article about passions. It sounds like your work is an obsessive passion! You don’t like it but you still hate to do a bad job and you’re completely focussed on it.

          Oh and as for your quote, there is something worse. Reaching the top of the ladder and never realising you’re on the wrong wall. At least realisation means you can do something about it!

  5. To me, no external factors, not even travel, will make you happy if you don’t learn to find that happiness within yourself – sounds a bit woo woo but it’s true! 🙂 The great news is, travel can definitely help you with that, you just need to know where to look and that’s within yourself!

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