The Rat Race in Bangkok, Thailand

How to Escape the Rat Race

Is figuring out how to escape the Rat Race all fun and games? No, of course not. Is controlling your own time infinitely better than dragging into a job you don’t enjoy for four decades? Absolutely!

I exited Corporate America in January 2006 and began a new life of travel. Breaking from the default conventional life wasn’t easy, but it was the best life decision I ever made.

Getting out of a conventional life is a big change, but like all big endeavors, it’s easier to do when following a process. You aren’t the first to break out and won’t be the last. Escape has never been easier than it is now!

Here’s how the escape process goes:

January 1, 2019

Change of Priorities

All life change begins with a shift of personal priorities.
What’s more important to you: freedom and life flexibility or the purchases made after time is sold to an employer?

January 1, 2019
January 1, 2019

Prepare Mentally

Learn from other people who have accomplished what you want to do. Limit negative influences. Understand the neuroscience and what your brain thinks about going against the status quo. Know how to handle fear and fight-or-flight response.

January 1, 2019
January 1, 2019

Begin Making Progress

Have a location-independent gig for earning enough money. Eliminate unnecessary expenses. Get out of your lease or mortgage. Decide where to live or travel after making the escape.

January 1, 2019
January 1, 2019

Create a Battleplan

Know for sure what success will look like. Have an idea of what to expect. Plan for contingencies. Make measurable goals and take small steps until a Moment of Madness arrives. Be ready to take action during that moment.

January 1, 2019
January 1, 2019

Make the Escape

Exit the Rat Race and begin an exciting new level in life!

We cover the process extensively in the Great Escape Course.

January 1, 2019

We can help with your Rat Race escape! Get notified when the Great Escape Course goes live in 2021.

Woman on trail escaping Corporate America

Travel Is an Investment in Happiness

Travel is the ultimate catalyst for self growth. Changing environments causes a cognitive workout and teaches us resilience, confidence, self awareness, and other attractive attributes. These “upgrades” lead to a richer life. Spending ample time on self growth means enjoying more options. The earlier the better; you’ll get to enjoy the enhancements in your life for longer, and the rewards are cumulative.

People who deliberately develop themselves become more fit, mentally and physically. This leads to better relationships (friendly, romantic, and financial) along with new opportunities. Whether introverted or extroverted, your network will grow exponentially as time, energy, and confidence increase. Having adventures isn’t a career deviation or selfish waste of time — it’s an investment in yourself!

So how to have the necessary time for bountiful travel and self development? Working all day then reading for an hour before bed about how to escape the Rat Race unfortunately just isn’t enough. You’ve got to arm yourself with information and then take action.

Time may seem like a scarce resource right now, but we all start with the same amount. Chances are, you’re initially selling too much of your time in return for money. Much of that money is then being spent on purchases purported to bring time, health, and happiness.

These purchases produce a temporary dopamine reward, but the neurological process of habituation causes material things to become less exciting over time. You’ll never achieve true happiness solely through the pursuit of material things. There simply won’t be enough time, money, energy, or reward.

It’s a full circle, and once the money is spent, the time is gone, too. It can’t be recovered. Your attempts at escaping that work-buy-consume cycle come after everything else, when your energy is low and you are less effective. Too many people end up clinging to the idea of waiting until retirement to live happily. At that point (assuming you make it), who knows what health, the market, and other life circumstances hold?

Travel Is Not the Same as Vacation

My cycling adventure in China.

Travel too often gets relegated to just two weeks of expensive vacation. The focus ends up on luxury and relaxation (because you’ve “earned it”) rather than gaining life experience. These vacations aren’t cheap, and you often have to spend even more energy getting caught up after one.

Traveling is not the same as vacationing. The two words, although often interchanged, are not synonymous. Vacations are often oriented around having more money than time. Travel, on the other hand, is more about time than money. You definitely don’t need to be wealthy to enjoy extensive travel.

In fact, most of the long-term travelers, expats, and digital nomads you meet living in beautiful places aren’t financially wealthy, but they’re living rich lives. Vacation is expensive. Travel is not.

This cycle of working to earn money, spending money for distractions or chasing happiness, then starting all over again is a conventional life. It’s the default and status quo for a large part of society that counts down until the next weekend — or even retirement — to be happy.

What do most people plan to do in their 60s after spending a lifetime of working for someone else? Travel! The surveyed groups also responded they were happy about having more time to pursue hobbies after retiring. Their choices of hobbies were often inexpensive (e.g., gardening, fishing, reading, and time with family), they just needed time to enjoy them.

Hard Work Doesn’t Guarantee Escape from the Rat Race

Not everyone hates their jobs, but a lot do. If they dread going to a place where they’ll spend 2,000 hours a year (40 hours a week x 50 weeks), why are they doing it?

They’ve been trained to be consumers and think they need more money to live than they actually do.

Numerous surveys and studies have revealed the following:

  1. Many people are unsatisfied with their jobs.
  2. Many people agree that the most important things in life are free (or inexpensive).
  3. Many people feel that time is scarce or passing too quickly (a neurological phenomenon caused by lack of novelty).
  4. A large percentage of Americans are living month to month and/or maintaining credit-card or student-loan debt.
  5. A majority of people surveyed said they planned to travel extensively or pursue inexpensive hobbies after retiring.

The wealth divide is wider than ever. Despite money flowing ever upward, the historic pandemic in 2020 proved just how many individuals and small businesses were surviving month to month, despite what the stock market indicated.

Unfortunately, hard work is no guarantee of escaping the Rat Race. The person profiting from your hard work will probably appreciate your extra time, however. Hard work is constructive only when it’s directed toward a purpose and provides direct returns.

Ironically enough, many of the billionaires in the public spotlight, the ones profiting most from others, seem quite preoccupied with earning or preserving money. Even with 10-digit balances in their accounts, they still feel like they need more.

Many of the successful business owners you’ll meet are so busy managing their empires they can’t step away for long. They can only travel in short bursts. Even these people who hustled their way to the top and are “winning” the Rat Race still aren’t in command of their own time.

The Amygdala

Why Is Facing the Unknown So Difficult?

The amygdala is an almond-sized mass in the brain that’s part of the limbic system. When we do something drastic or unfamiliar, the limbic system creates a fight-or-flight response that can keep us in our comfort zone.

Facing the Unknown Isn’t Easy

So if the Rat Race is clearly such a bad deal, why is it still the default? Too many people believe the myth that the only way out is to retire or become financially wealthy. But there is another reason:

Facing the unknown is daunting, and that’s exactly what you have to do to escape the Rat Race. You’ve got to turn around and swim against the current; meanwhile, everyone else going the default way will be asking, “What in the world is wrong with you?”

Koh Phi Phi island in Thailand is popular for parties.

Doing something unfamiliar requires rewiring the brain to remove old circuits formed by neurons firing the same sequence over and over for years.

Whatever you do the most becomes your brain’s default, something it can do on autopilot. This rule of neuroscience applies to the good habits and unhappy ones such as feeling despair and hopelessness.

The right-side amygdala, a component of your brain’s limbic system, works with emotions. It’s going to cause you problems when you try to break from the norm. Your mammalian brain is very concerned with survival, for obvious reasons. As far as your “automatic” brain is concerned, the food, shelter, and mates you enjoy come from money. That money comes from having a conventional job. If you quit a corporate job, you won’t have money, and therefore, you won’t have food, shelter, or mates.

This reasoning certainly is primal, but it’s still a part of the firmware in our brains. You can give it an override, but doing that requires knowing what’s going on behind the scenes. The better you understand what is happening chemically in your brain, the easier you can control it.

The Way Out of the Rat Race

First, you’ve got to get control of the automatic brain functions that are stopping you from making a big change and jumping into the unknown.

Next, you’ve got to have a good plan — and a gig. Escaping the Rat Race doesn’t necessarily mean going to live in the wild (although, homesteading is an option). You’re always going to need some money. The secret is to earn enough of a location-independent living that doesn’t require selling all of your time to someone by default. Working online (either for a remote company or self employed as a digital nomad) is more popular than ever. Bandwidth and technology are accessible enough that anyone can live and work remotely now.

Finally, you’ve got to work toward making your escape by taking care of logistics, closing up loose ends, and prepping yourself for the arrival of what I call a “moment of madness.” After working through preparations, at some point, you’ll find yourself standing at a crossroads. That’s when you’ve got to take the plunge and have confidence that you can hack through whatever needs to be done.

Once you get through that moment, the rest begins to fall into place as the unknown becomes the known and you feel less and less anxiety.

That’s the “red pill” moment when you’re unplugged from the conventional life for good.

Many of the beautiful places digital nomads choose to work (e.g., Bali, Thailand, Mexico, Costa Rica, Georgia, etc) are home to large communities of escapees living extraordinary lives.

Millions of people from all around the world have already exited the Rat Race. Don’t wait to pursue happiness.


Get Help Escaping a Conventional Life

Coming in 2021!

Learning how to escape the Rat Race escape is more accessible than ever before! Get notified when the Great Escape Course goes live this winter.

A female digital nomad on a boat
Photos by Greg Rodgers

Science of Escape