Why I Turned Down My Dream Job

Yerevan, Armenia
I walked out of the office and down to the street, trying to sort out my emotions. I should have been ecstatic; I should have been flying high with excitement. It was October 26, just one month and one day after I landed back in Chicago after a thirteen month career break that took me through 20 countries. My biggest fear upon leaving and throughout my journey was that I would not be able to find a job when I returned.

And there I was, just 31 days after returning with an offer in my hand.

And not just any offer – an offer for what I long thought was my dream job. I had an offer to be a travel consultant specializing in Europe, working for a luxury tour company in Chicago.

But I wasn’t happy or excited or even seriously thinking about accepting it. I was stressed out beyond belief because contrary to all of my expectations, I couldn’t see myself taking the job. At the same time, I worried that I was a fool to turn down a job when I had no idea what else might be out there. In the end, though, I just couldn’t accept it – it just didn’t feel right.

So why did I turn down my dream job?


1. The pay was too low.

When the company first contacted me about the position, they gave me a salary range. The low end was way too low for me to consider, but something in the middle to higher end would have been manageable if the benefits package was attractive. Unfortunately, the offer came in at the very low end of the range because I lacked experience actually working in travel (apparently traveling around the world for a year and writing a travel blog that’s read by thousands of people doesn’t count for anything). And when I say low, I mean exactly half of what I was making in my previous career. Conceivably, I maybe could have made it work, but it would have meant permanently giving up my beloved condo and renting at best a studio apartment or moving in with a roommate (something I have no desire to do in my mid-30s). It would have meant freelancing on the side just to make ends meet. It would have meant living in a city I love but not having any money to actually enjoy it. And it would have meant I wouldn’t have any money to actually travel myself.

2. The benefits and perks were non-existent.

Remember when I said I maybe could have made a salary in the middle range work if the benefits package was good? Well, it was a disaster, at least compared to what I am used to. Only two weeks of vacation (at a travel company!), a 401(k) plan that didn’t fully vest for 5 years and just one available health insurance plan that came with such a high deductible it would have been like not having insurance. Travel-related perks were pretty much non-existent. While they assured me that I could take more vacation time if I secured sponsored trips in connection with my blog, they would have expected me to pull double duty on those trips and be taking notes for them as well.  Because I would be specializing in Europe, they would likely only approve trips to Europe – which would be great except that I’m kind of ready to move on from exploring Europe. Ultimately, I want to be able to travel on my own terms, to places I want to see – not to just any place a tourism board is willing to host me or where the company would want to send me.

3. It conflicted with my travel values.

More than anything, I couldn’t take the job because I was certain I would grow to resent it. I had long envisioned myself in a job where I would be planning detailed, customized tours for people. However, I saw myself helping people who have a sense of adventure and want to get off the beaten path, eating in local cafes, staying with local families and taking public transportation – not living in luxury and being chauffeured to and fro. The company that offered me the job was a luxury tour company and I would have been planning two week trips for people that cost as much as my entire YEAR of travel. Typical clients would be looking to stay in five star hotels and eat at five star restaurants, while taking private cars to and from attractions. Everything about their trips would be so far from what I personally believe travel should be that I worried about my ability to effectively do the job. In some cases I would be booking trips for people spending more than I would be making for the whole year and I knew myself well enough to know I would soon hate that – especially when I wasn’t making enough to be able to travel much myself.

4. I had other options.

By the time I got the offer, I had two other interviews set up, had applied to a couple dozen other jobs and had a short-term consulting opportunity. I was living with my parents rent-free and had few expenses outside of health insurance and my condo assessments (which aren’t covered by the rent I get from my tenant). I was also getting some freelance work so I wasn’t feeling strapped for cash – I felt like I would be okay financially even if it took me another couple months to find a job.

In the end, I realized that working in travel isn’t what I want to do.

As I considered the offer, I spoke with other contacts in the travel industry and got a much better feel for what kind of opportunities are out there to do what I thought I wanted to do. The news was disappointing and made me realize that if I wanted to work in travel, I would have to give up the lifestyle I had become accustomed to. I have never lived extravagantly – even when I was a lawyer making six figures, I watched my expenses closely and rarely splurged on anything really crazy. But I am also at a point in my life where I don’t want to be living paycheck to paycheck, struggling to make ends meet.  I still have student loans to pay off, I want to rebuild my savings and I want to be able to travel for a few weeks a year – for fun, not for work. I also want to move back into my condo and enjoy life in Chicago without constantly thinking about whether I can afford it.

In the end, my desire to live a comfortable lifestyle that includes travel exceeded my desire to make travel my career.


45 thoughts on “Why I Turned Down My Dream Job”

  1. Pingback: Workers of the World #12 | The Working Traveller

  2. Omg Katie! That’s what happened to me too! I got my dream job but I turned it down in the end because the pay was too low. The benefits were virtually non-existent and I was very uncomfortable with the contract. Oddly enough though, I still regretted not taking it, probably because the people there were wonderful and I hit it off with most of them I met on the first day.

  3. So glad that you waited and that you ended up finding a great job! If you’re not excited even about the thought of a new job, that’s a warning sign right there. Smart girl for listening to your instincts!

  4. It is very rare that you recognized that you weren’t in your dream job before signing up Katie! I feel your points tangibly, especially number 3. I long thought about working with a travel company, but then I realized that I didn’t travel like that or care to support it. It wasn’t my style. So, for now, I will keep looking. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Congrats on your successes.

  5. It would be hard to organise and send people on these amazing trips knowing that you are not going to get the opportunity to take a trip yourself. If it was going to get in the way of you going the things you want to do, then you maded the right call.

  6. It sounds like your dream job wasn’t a dream job at all. If you are sacrificing quality of life/living standards then it is a hard compromise to make.

    I’m sure there are a lot better and more rewarding opportunities out there to be found.

  7. Great post, Katie! After coming back from my RTW trip this year, I’m dealing with the “What’s Next” job search as well. I often say that I want to work in Travel or Hospitality, but I know from past experience that it will likely mean low pay. As often as I say travel is my passion, I may really need to think that would mean having it as a full time job. Right now I’m hoping to either find something in Travel/Hospitality or something in a totally different field but that is flexible in terms of hours and location. One that doesn’t care if I’m working from my home office or from a coffe shop in Rio de Janeiro. I’m confident that job is out there somewhere with my name on it!

  8. A job in travel sounds awesome in theory, but you definitely have to follow your heart and it sounds like you made the right call. I’ve survived in Chicago making as little as $1000 a month, but that involved a lot of roommates and ramen noodles, and once you’re past the mid 20s, that lifestyle is just not fun!

  9. Sounds like you made the right decision. I wouldn’t have taken the job either. I love traveling and writing about travel but I wouldn’t want to take that job either. You need to enjoy what you are doing and do what is right for you. This didn’t seem like a good fit.

    Working in the travel industry and traveling are two different things. Ironic that their worlds could be so far apart.

  10. Congratulations on doing such a brave move! When I quit my finance job, I was dealing with something similar: I thought a work in the travel industry was the answer. But after a lot of research, I realized that the type of job itself (let alone the pay!) were going to fulfill me. Sometimes it’s good to leave your passion as a hobby.. otherwise, just as you say, you might end up resenting it.

  11. Good for you for following your heart instead of taking the first job offer. I’m extremely picky when it comes to who I will work for and it has always paid off for me. I agree that working in the travel field sounds glamorous, but the reality of it is usually not as good as you would imagine!

  12. Good for you for not lowering your standards just for the supposed “dream job”. I have found that when you do this, you are almost never happy with the decision.

  13. I love this post – good for you! Isn’t it amazing how what we THINK we want, or what we think we “should” do, evolves as we accumulate life and travel experiences? Kudos for following your instincts and trusting that something better would work out. I can’t wait to see how it goes for you – especially as you allude to work in your “old field” – law??!

    1. Thanks! Nope, not going back to my old field of law. I worked in alumni relations & development for a law school for 4+ years before my career break and that’s what I’m going back into.

  14. Good call, Katie! Lots of people get into the travel industry thinking it will be glamourous and fun to help people plan their trips all day long only to realize that it is not all it’s cracked up to be. It’s a low margin business so the pay is pretty much universally crap, most of the perks vanished when airline commissions were eliminated, and the industry is always experiencing some crisis or other. The one good thing about it is working with like-minded people who are also passionate about travel. Nevertheless, there are much better, more lucrative, ways to channel a love of travel than by getting involved in this crazy industry.

  15. I have faced the same situation, and made the same decision. Honestly if you get a better job with more vacation time (I currently get 30 days) and a lot more money, you can travel where and when you want to.

    10 vacation days and low pay? You’d be at the mercy of the travel company…and ironically likely travel less.

    1. Exactly. I have luckily never had a job in 10 years of working professionally that provided less than 4 weeks time off – I couldn’t imagine going back to just 2 weeks.

  16. Sounds like you definitely made the right choice! I can’t imagine working full time for a travel company. But I will tell you that since returning to Chicago and NOT returning to my TV producing job, I make half of what I used to make…but am twice as happy! 🙂

    1. I think I did! I would never have been able to enjoy it and I would’ve been working 24/7 with freelancing just to make ends meet. I definitely don’t need a lot of money to make me happy, but I would constantly be stressed out living paycheck to paycheck. I need a certain amount of financial security.

  17. I think working is travel is akin to working for a magazine or television station or something along those lines, it seems like a fantastic opportunity but the pay is SO low. I would rather have a job where I made more money and it gave me the opportunity to travel than work in an industry I’d eventually resent.

    Good for you for following your instincts.

    1. Thanks! I think you’re right – people have this picture of working in travel as being able to travel a lot,but the reality in speaking with this company and people at several others was that the travel perks just aren’t there. I’ll be much happier back in my old field, making decent money and being able to travel a couple times a year.

  18. Sounds like you made the right decision! I used to think that working in travel would be awesome, too – and then I heard the salaries. Gah! Things will all work out – and they sound like they already are!

  19. That’s the sad reality of what working at a travel company per se means. No pay, no benefits, and ironically no travel perks. And it’s even worse that someone who has extensive travel experience, not just traveling, but planning and going through countless experiences around the world counts for nothing, but staying at a desk for hours on end as a travel agent talking about destinations you’ve never and most probably never will see does counts as experience. You made the right decision; from what you’re describing, they probably would have just exploited your blog and extra skills, without offering anything in return. You shouldn’t settle, especially thinking of long term goals.

  20. Sounds like you made the right decision. The objective is to have your dream LIFE, not just your dream JOB. Sometimes we get so fixated on a short term goal, we lose sight of the long term one.

    We have a friend (incidentally we met her at Meet Plan Go), who worked as a travel writer in NY, and finally left to go on her career break because she never had time to travel!

    Congrats on your new position–I’m sure there will be plenty of travel also in the future! 🙂

    1. Very good point, Larissa. So many people focus on finding a “job that makes them happy” when really that is just a part of the equation.

  21. This is so encouraging! I appreciate how you listened to yourself and your core values rather than making a decision out of panic. I’m about to move without having a job secured ahead of time, and although I’m a little worried, I can’t help the feeling that something will work out. It’s my first leap of this size. Thanks for your post-it encouraged me!

    (Website under construction, so I just posted Twitter account. I’m a newbie in the social media world, so pardon the clunkiness).

    1. Thanks Kasey! Glad you found it beneficial. One of the things I learned on my trip was that things have a way of working out and I tried to keep that in mind throughout my job search (which I’ll be writing much more about in future posts). I just really had to trust my gut when it was telling me it wasn’t right.

  22. I’ve been working in Chicago at Rail Europe as a travel consultant for two years — but it was a seasonal position, so I’d only work from March-ish to September-ish, and then I would go on unemployment and do some freelance and then travel during the off months. I think that’s honestly the only way I could work in the travel industry at a consultant type of job. If any of your other options don’t work out or if you’re interested (and if Rail Europe isn’t the company you’re talking about in this post in the first place, haha), I think they are already looking for seasonal people for this year!

    1. Interesting! And no, Rail Europe was not the company I got an offer from. I actually have lined something up now and will be starting in January – outside of the travel industry and back in my old field.

  23. It takes guts to turn down a job in the face of uncertainty – congrats for having the hutzpah to do it! And congrats on your new job, you’re going to be great!

  24. Katie d’not give up!
    I believe that you will succeed!

    And I feel a little ashamed. ((((
    I thought that 6 trips a year for each week, both in Russia and in foreign countries is not enough. I was wrong.
    Own apartment in the Moscow region (near Mytishchi. You know where it is, right?) a high- building, with rents of $ 100 per month. Ongoing work of the house, the ability to spend on travel 1000-1500 $ a month, and I am not happy!!!!!!

    But I believe, Katie. I believe that you will find a decent job and live without looking at the bank account. Happy New Year and let accompanies you Good Luck!

  25. You should always go with your gut…it will lead you down the correct path. Many companies want to underpay their employees…it is sad and a lost opportunity for them to hire individuals who could and would make them successful. Your experience and adaptability would make anyone a very strong employee, in the correct job. Keep looking and here’s hoping that 2013 brings you the job that will give you what you are looking for.

  26. Good for you! I think a lot of people take jobs just to ensure they have a paycheck coming in (as I did when I was younger) but you planned very carefully for after your trip which afforded you the luxury of not taking a job you would not be happy with. I was not surprised you did not want to enter the travel field as thru your writings you mentioned here and there that you were not interested in this full time. Kudos for taking all aspects into account and doing what was best for you. I am sure your new job will provide all or more of what you need to live life the way you want to.

    1. Thanks Rhona! Yes, it was definitely nice to know that I still had enough in the bank when I returned – as well as some other small sources of income – to not feel like I had to take the first thing that came along.

  27. Basically the skill set is NOT to have travelled, the skill set is to be able to sell, and close the deal. If you were a successful car sales man they would have jumped at you and offered more.

    Not worth it – and it’s a dying industry – it’s been over 10 years since I’ve used an agent, they just don’t value (because most haven’t travelled as much me) and are never cheaper than booking online

    1. This job wasn’t a travel agent job – it was planning customized tours. They dealt with everything on the ground, but no airfare. I agree, travel agents aren’t used as often anymore, although I do know a lot of people who still turn to them for big or special trips – honeymoons, etc. And from everyone I spoke with, the luxury tour companies still do good business through very high end individuals who don’t want to deal with planning stuff themselves.

  28. As hard as it is, glad you were able to make the decision to stay with your ideals. The world and its systems and insitances to earn and be apart of the system can overwhelm very easily.
    You will find something that makes you happier and understands and respects your travel lifestyle. And they will find a better employee with that respect.

  29. wonderfully put katie. i can completely sympathize with you on every aspect. i, for the record, think the travel agencies could immensely benefit from someone w/ actual experience…not those who sit at a desk and research destinations all day long. i never understood why they don’t take advantage of people out there who have true experience out in the field.

    nevertheless, im sure you made the right decision. im very similar. i see bloggers out there who make blogging or travel consulting their full-time career and while i think it is fantastic and i wish i could do the same…i know deep down it is not for me. i got my MBA in international business so i could work and do a little traveling and working w/ other cultures at the same time (has gotten me nowhere thanks to immigration here i norway thus far). but as for being a travel writer or working in the travel industry…im not sure it is for me.

    i had gotten used to a comfortable lifestyle and am not sure i can ever work a full-time job for significantly less money and benefits. and besides, mixing work and pleasure (travel) is not always for everyone b/c it can burn them out to a degree.

    good luck with everything! not sure where your career stands at the moment but i hope things have played out in your favor 🙂 and happy 2013!

    1. Thanks Megan! I totally agree with you about the travel companies. Between my travel experience and my past work experience (which was basically sales), that I could have merited a higher starting salary. Learning the logistics would be easy – being able to sell and having first-hand knowledge of places is what you would think they would want. But I digress…

      And yeah, I don’t think mixing business and pleasure is for me – I already experienced a bit of that on my trip when I got so caught up in needing to blog about it to keep my stats up so I could try to get sponsors, etc. I stopped enjoying it.

      I should be accepting a job offer later today back in my old field. One of the things the whole process made me realize (and I’ll write more about later) is that I had it pretty good before.

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