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There’s a lot of information out there about escaping the Rat Race, but what about knowing how to avoid the Rat Race altogether?

If you don’t get stuck in the Rat Race to begin with, you won’t have to escape it later. Makes sense.

The choices you make early in life (i.e., while still in school) obviously determine your trajectory. Correcting course later requires more time and energy.

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Like so many others, I took the standard path:

Attend school → pursue the “American Dream” by going into debt → realize it isn’t for me → work hard to escape.

I did manage to correct course and get out in 2006 to begin living a life of location independence — but getting there took a lot of effort on my part at age 30.

How I wish someone had simply told me how to avoid the Rat Race in the first place! I would have begun structuring my life for remote work in a way that allowed for more freedom, flexibility, and international travel.

If you’re currently in that planning phase of life, this is for you.

Backpacking travel in Nusa Lembongan, Bali

Start With Backpacking Travel

First things first, you should get a taste of international travel — especially if plan to create a life of travel and location independence!

Living and working abroad simply isn’t for everyone. The best way for you to find out is to take a gap year, or if that isn’t possible, travel for three months while on summer break. Another option is to study abroad.

Sample a Life of Travel

Getting a taste of life on the road is crucial for two reasons:

  1. You’ll find out if traveling extensively is really what makes you happy.
  2. You’ll be shaped by the experience and can more easily keep your goal of avoiding the Rat Race in sight.

When things get tough later (e.g., friends and family are telling you you’re “throwing your future away”), you’ll always be able to think back on how you felt on your first trip.

Belts for sale at a market in KL

Rise Above Consumerism to Avoid the Rat Race

Even travelers on the strictest of budgets need some money to survive. The more savings you build, the better positioned you’ll be. Start saving early.

I personally don’t believe in saving through deprivation. If that $6 latte makes you happy, well, life is short. Drink the latte.

What we do want to avoid, however, is falling victim to rampant consumerism. Try to keep your purchases experiential rather than material.

Do you really need a new $1,200 smartphone or will your old one keep working a bit longer despite the scratches?

It’s no secret we are constantly bombarded by ads. A lot of people out there want some of your money (your future travel funds).

Here’s the thing: willpower simply isn’t enough. Corporations hire some of the smartest engineers and data scientists in the world to track your behaviors and dangle tempting products in front of you.

We are targets, and they’ve become good at hitting the mark.

Filter Your Environment

The only way to avoid falling into the trap is to manipulate your environment.

You have some control over what comes into your environment. If influencers or social media accounts are constantly touting products, fire them from your life.

Instead of drifting along with the mainstream current, follow travel blogs and people who are doing what you want to do. Learn from those who have gone before you.

Use Social Media Strategically

If you have to spend time on social media, try to do so strategically with intent. Get in and get out; be a “sniper.”

Pop onto Facebook, Instagram, and others only to check messages, events, or whatever is needed. You can bookmark a handful of close friends’ profiles and go to them directly to see updates rather than scrolling the endless feed.

The timeline can be a precarious place for many reasons. Even if you manage to resist the ads, people tend to showcase their consumerism on social media.

Avoid Consumerism by Making It Inconvenient

Next, make spending money less convenient for yourself.

Denying your brain the dopamine of a purchase for as little as 30 seconds can help you avoid unnecessary purchases.

Here are some quick ideas for getting consumerism in check:

  • Never save credit card numbers on websites. You should have to enter the card details each time.
  • Think long and hard before setting up automatic subscriptions. Paying “manually” is better.
  • Don’t use the ability to pay by watch, phone, or tap. Switch to cash if possible; the inconvenience works in your favor.
  • Remove Amazon (and other shopping apps) from your phone.
  • Put a piece of masking tape over the number, chip, and stripe on your credit card. You’ll have to peel it to make a purchase. You can go a step further and write “Bali” or “travel the world” on the tape for a reminder.

Exotic car parked in KL

Escape the Societal Pressure

Not easy, I know.

To succeed, you’ll need to keep in mind that not everyone will understand your decision to avoid the Rat Race and do something different in life.

People from older generations often tend to value stability over life flexibility. Big institutions and corporations would probably prefer to have you spend life as a taxpayer in suburbia rather than drinking coconuts in Bali.

Expect to encounter some resistance and pressure when sharing your plans to avoid the Rat Race. Don’t be too hard on loved ones; they probably have good intentions.

Again, you can manipulate your environment. Doing so is the best way to shape “reality.”

Make an effort to consume books, media, and advice from people who are living the way you want to live. Watching shows about mass consumerism is counterproductive if you hope to live a simple life of travel.

  • For some inspiration, check out the budget travel adventures on my vagabonding blog.

Working in cafe in Bali

Choose a Field Compatible With Remote Work

If your goal is to avoid the Rat Race completely, don’t choose to study a field that isn’t very compatible with long-term travel!

Strangely enough, a lot of young people get this wrong. Again, societal pressure could be to blame.

Although students consistently answer on annual surveys that they “want to travel more,” they pursue careers that aren’t compatible with travel.

Be smart about choosing a future career. Otherwise, you may find yourself with only 2 – 3 weeks of vacation a year — definitely not enough to see much of the world.

The pandemic certainly changed how companies feel about remote workers. Many traditional roles can now be performed while living as a location-independent digital nomad.

Laptop with remote work view

Work Toward Self-Employment

This obviously doesn’t apply to all fields and situations, but the safest approach for how to avoid the Rat Race is often to make yourself the boss.

After a stretch of real-world experience working for a company, have a path in mind for breaking free and starting out on your own — ideally with contacts and clients from your former position.

Don’t get the wrong impression: small-business owners and self-employed consultants often work longer hours than traditional employees. But being the boss is really the only way to guarantee your location independence won’t be yanked away from you someday.

My Personal Experience

As I alluded to above, following the default path (school → job → mortgage) then trying to make radical deviations later is much more difficult. That’s what I did.

Although I had a technical job, my company (IBM) had a “hybrid” work expectation for my role. So, I first had to sell my house (I did so by owner and was able to save some Realtor fees) and then gave a month’s notice for my resignation.

Meanwhile, I sold furniture and many personal possessions (that weren’t sentimental) online. I had to get climate-controlled storage, move, and make all sorts of other infrastructure shifts in my life.

If I could go back and tell 21-year-old Greg anything, it would be to structure life in a way that will allow for as much travel as I wanted. Again, that can be with seasonal work, gigs, self-employment, or getting a job with a company that allows for remote work.

In Conclusion

Knowing how to avoid the Rat Race is a matter of making smarter choices earlier in life.

Changing things around becomes more challenging later.

The decisions you make now about purchases, studying, and employment determine how easily you’ll be able to set up your life as a digital nomad later.

Keep your goal in mind!

Bottom photo credit: Ostap Senyuk

Greg Rodgers Greg Rodgers is a remote worker, budget traveler, and location-independent writer. He created Science of Escape to help others also enjoy a thrilling life of travel.

For remote work updates, you can follow Greg on Twitter and Facebook.