Why I Quit My Job to Travel – and What’s Next

Mt. Sinai sunrise

When I set the appointment to give notice at work – to quit my job to travel – I almost immediately went numb.  I stood up from my desk and my legs wobbled.  I tried to send a text message to a friend and my fingers were shaking.

I was more nervous than I was before I performed improv in front of 700 people.

And then I arrived at my boss’s office and he was late.  Forty-five minutes late.  So I hung out and chatted with his assistant and in the midst of all that, I relaxed and the nerves went away.  And before I knew it, I was sitting in his office hearing the words “I’m leaving” flowing out of my mouth.

I had very mixed feelings about the decision to quit my job to travel.  I have never considered myself a quitter and I have always been one to take only calculated, well-planned risks (a bit of an oxymoron, I suppose?).  I have never left a job without having another one lined up.  The idea of being jobless now scares the heck out of me.  I mean, it REALLY scares me to death.

I wish I had done this 10 years ago but I didn’t know I wanted to.

When I was a senior in high school, I predicted that I would become an international corporate attorney living in New York City or Chicago.  By the time I went to law school straight out of college, my goals had changed and I saw a legal education as a great background to go into international relations.  I envisioned myself eventually working at a U.S. embassy overseas.

But I got sidetracked in law school and the lure of a six-figure salary led me to take a job as a tax attorney at a large law firm in Chicago.  I moved right along on the partnership track, working hard but also playing hard, taking advantage of four full weeks of vacation each year to travel. I loved the people I worked with, but eventually the work started to bore me and the lifestyle exhausted me.

So when a headhunter approached me to apply for another tax attorney job at a smaller firm doing entirely different work, I didn’t hesitate to leave.

After two years at the smaller firm, circumstances within the firm changed and I did some soul-searching. I realized that I didn’t see myself working in tax law for the rest of my life.  I started to consider other options, the first being a career in travel. I loved to travel and I loved to plan my travel, so it seemed like a perfect fit.  I explored travel agent training courses and thought about starting my own travel planning business.  But it seemed too difficult, too risky, too much of a stretch for me to actually pursue.

So instead I focused on things that seemed more realistic, like legal recruiting, career counseling and law school alumni relations and development (i.e., fundraising). I ended up being extremely fortunate and had my choice of positions.  I went the alumni relations and development route primarily because it seemed to have the best career path and opportunities for advancement.

Now, four years and one promotion later, I am saying goodbye.

I enjoyed many aspects of working in alumni relations and I accomplished a lot in my first few years. I built a program from scratch and enjoyed planning events, writing the alumni newsletter and working closely with student organizations.  I met some wonderful people and I strongly related to my employer’s mission of public service and providing access to education. On the best days, I felt like I was making a significant positive difference, either for students or alumni, or both.

But then there were the bad days and as time passed, I grew frustrated that my success seemed to be largely outside of my control, particularly as I transitioned into major gift fundraising.  I increasingly resented the idea that I could work hard and have no tangible results to show for it. It became more and more common for me to leave the office feeling demoralized and exhausted.

On top of that, I was growing tired of Chicago. Ten years is a long time and I was starting to feel like my time in the Windy City had run its course.  I needed to make a change and taking a career break to travel seemed like the perfect opportunity.

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end

I leave on my 35th birthday to travel and volunteer overseas for at least 9-10 months, maybe more.  Despite my tendency to be a perpetual planner, I am trying to keep it flexible and open-ended.

Not surprisingly, since I announced my plans to quit my job to travel, everyone keeps asking me when I am coming back and what I am doing when I return.

It goes against everything in my nature to say I don’t know, but the truth is, I don’t.  But I do have a few ideas.

I might work for an international nonprofit organization with a mission that resonates with me, perhaps in volunteer management or grant writing.

I might finally pursue my dream of starting a travel planning business.

I might find some other job in the travel industry – maybe with a travel agency, tour company or travel website or publication.

I might teach business or legal English to attorneys overseas.

I might go back to the law school development world in a different role.

I might do something that hasn’t even crossed my mind yet.

So while I am absolutely terrified about the uncertainty that I now face, I am incredibly excited as well.

As I am closing one door, I am pushing another wide open.

31 thoughts on “Why I Quit My Job to Travel – and What’s Next”

  1. I found your site thru nomad mike and so far, loving everthing about it. when i read this post, i feel like we are the same. i am an ultra planner and love to organize events. i am also in an industry i am tired of and huger to get out of. unlike you though, you do instead of just think. i am a big time thinker and that usually means i stay doing something i hate due to some sort of obligation.
    in any case, i am excited to keep reading and feel i can really relate. its funny bc just last week i was wondering if maybe i should look into some sort of travel career next. but i am training to be a social worker and plan on being a travelling social worker for sure. ok, off to read more i go!

    1. Thanks Rhona – glad you enjoyed it and could relate! Good luck with the social worker training – hope it turns out to be a good move for you!

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  3. Good for you. I know you didn’t ask for advice, but….

    Don’t worry about your return. No. On the road you are poised to discover so much, and a few things migjt help you discover your next steps… It can confirm current thinking or allow new thoughts… It’s a wonderful place. Just enjoy your ten months + and take each day as that one day.

    Stay adventurous, Craig

    1. Thanks Craig! And thanks for the advice – you are definitely right and I really have not been thinking much about my plans for after my trip since I’ve hit the road. When I first wrote this, though, it was weighing heavy on my mind because that was the number one question I was getting from people – everyone wanted me to have a plan for what I was doing next and they seemed to have trouble accepting an answer of “I don’t know.” As you can see, I had/have a lot of different ideas in my head and I am hoping things will just sort of work out/clarify themselves on their own as I go through my journey. 🙂

  4. Congrats!

    Ohmigod, I HATED that question of “when will you be back and what will you do” before I left for NZ. Seriously, I had no idea and would just brush it off every time. That was “Future Rebecca’s problem”. And the best part? Everything worked out. Traveling taught me not to over plan and that is one the best things I “brought” back from my time traveling.

    Can’t wait to read about your travels!

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  6. Katie, your article struck a deep chord. After 15 years in scientific field, I’m leaving the field. I suppose ‘time’ was truly called a couple of years ago, but I’ve been fortunate. I thought I was going to take a bit of time off, when I realized I had an opportunity to spend the time to travel around the world – which I’m planning to do starting next March(-ish). Many have asked what I’m going to do after the ‘walkabout’, but I really don’t know, as I want to focus on just the next year, wandering, see some new things, meet some new people, and try to figure things out as they come along. It’s both tremendously liberating and utterly terrifying. 🙂

    Thanks again for your post, and as you leave in a few days, I want to wish you a great trip, and I look forward to following your journey!

  7. Kristi Robinson

    So awesome Katie. The possibilities really are limitless and I look forward to reading about your journey. Cheers and be well. 🙂

  8. I am really excited for you and while we don’t have anywhere near the same career arc, I read a lot of myself in this post! When I first found your site, I was a bit suspicious that you may be planning something bigger than your site let on, so I am glad my hunch was right! I will email you “my guy”‘s email address who lived in Moldova and I can’t wait to follow along!

    P.S. Nice Semisonic (Closing Time) reference!

    1. Ha, nice to know I was so transparent (or that you just have really good hunches)! 🙂

      And yes, please do hook me up with your buddy who lived in Moldova – would be so great to be in touch with someone who’s actually been there. Thanks!

  9. Congrats on taking that step! It is a bit scary I am sure. Honestly, I’ve thought about the same things. I’ve gone through the same emotions with my job as well. I’ve thought about quitting and do something different. There could be big changes for me ahead. However, I am in a different place than you. I hope you have a fantastic time on your trip! I completely understand being excited and scared. The unknown and the future can be scary but traveling is so exciting!

  10. Yay! Congratulations! I’m so excited for you.
    I totally related to the part where you said you wished you’d done this 10 years ago but didn’t know it. I feel the same way with my writing — I wish I had taken my writing more seriously 10 years ago. But, at the time, I don’t think I was ready for it then. There’s a lot to say about waiting until you’re older to follow your dreams — I think it makes you want stuff more & you don’t get as distracted by the nay-sayers standing in your way because you’re more confident with yourself.
    And, yeah, for turning 35! I turned 35 this year myself. I’m convinced 35 is the new 25. 🙂

    1. It’s so interesting you say you weren’t ready to take your writing more seriously before. I was talking to a friend months ago, bemoaning the fact that I should’ve done this earlier and she said to me “yeah, but you weren’t ready earlier.”

      And yes, I’m all for 35 being the new 25! 🙂

  11. Oh Katie, I so absolutely relate to this. Isn’t it so weird to say “I don’t know” when people ask you what you are going to do when you come back? The truth is, I think the best thing you can do is keep yourself open enough to whatever may happen to you out there in the world. You are brave and smart and strong and I have no doubt that whatever you do will be successful. You are SO CLOSE to your big adventure!

    1. Thanks Kim! I know we have been very much on the same page preparing for our trips and I’m so excited for you and Brian to pursue your dreams soon too! Despite all the pressure to have an answer now, I am definitely going to keep myself open to any and all possibilities!

  12. Whoo, you push that door open, girl! I’m so excited for you to be following your dream, even if it will mean a bit of uncertainty when you return.

    I’m hoping I’m headed down a similar path, quitting my job to go back to school. But I suppose only time will tell…

  13. Wow…I’m 25 years old right now. In a way, I see your life as my own..only further down the path. This post has inspired me, I really took the message that at the end of the day…follow a path which truly resonates deeply and never be scared to take risks. Enjoy your trip, I’ll be following your progress closely.

    1. Thanks Gos. I wish I had read posts like this when I was 25 – it may have inspired me in a different direction but, as I said above, the idea of traveling long-term or even doing anything different didn’t even occur to me back then.

  14. What a great post. It was written from the heart and I’m sure will resonate with a lot of people. I know it did with me. I also quit my very successful career as a TV producer last year at the age of 50. Sold everything and embarked on a round the world journey. I’m still travelling (right now in Barcelona) and my 9 months on the road have given me some clarity that I could never achieve while I was working. Good luck with your journey and the new path you are creating. I know I will follow along.

    1. Thanks Darren! And good for you to quit your job at 50 to follow your dream – I would imagine that may have been even harder than this is for me, but I’m glad to hear you’ve found the clarity you were seeking. Enjoy the rest of your journey!

  15. This is a great post and will hopefully inspire lots of people to go pursue their dreams rather than their career. It’s a huge step to quit your job, unsure of what will be next after long-term travel, but I am sure that you will find something that you’re passionate about. I stayed in a job that my heart wasn’t in for a way too long and I am so glad I did! Have a fabulous trip – looking forward to following along.

    1. Thanks Dani! That’s my biggest hope – that this trip will help lead me to something that will combine my passions and skills.

  16. Amazing… Be safe and enjoy every second of your experiences… Many of us will live thru you my dear!!

  17. Congratulations on following your dream! I hope that you find waiting those 10 years gives you more perspective on the road, you’ll see things completely differently than you did at 25. I think the process you went through is very common, we all get drawn in to do things we thought we’d never do (good or bad), but in the end every experience has a silver lining. Think about all the ideas you have now of what you want to accomplish, how many of them were in your head at 25? Time gives us the opportunity to appreciate things more, I’m sure you’ll take full advantage of your 9-10 months in a way you couldn’t have at 25!

    1. Thanks Jillian! You are so right – I wasn’t ready to do something like this at 25 and I think having 10 years of work experience behind me will make me appreciate this opportunity so much more than I probably would’ve back then.

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