Before we talk about what happens when you leave a job to travel, first know that it’s never too late to make your escape. As the old proverb goes:
The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time to plant a tree is today.
I didn’t leave a job to travel until I was 30. Although my sentiment about spending life in Corporate America turned ugly sometime around 2002, I didn’t manage to escape my cubicle until four years later.
Without a doubt, fear was responsible for keeping me from escaping, not money. I didn’t have a lot of savings but that wasn’t the problem.
Ironically, I actually saved money once I began traveling the world on a budget. People who are discontent and feel trapped too often compensate by becoming avid consumers. We buy stuff to experience the short-lived dopamine pulse.
Of course I’d love an opportunity to go push my younger self to travel sooner and save more money (or buy some Bitcoin). Those aren’t options for now, but I can share my experience so you can make smarter decisions.
Without further ado, let’s talk about some of the things that happen when you leave a job to travel, whether you plan to get started with remote work or simply to see the world.
You Look at Time Differently
Benjamin Franklin’s 1748 essay that included the mantra “time is money” has shaped Western thought, probably more than he expected.
Here’s an excerpt:
Remember that time is money. He that can earn ten shillings a day by his labour, and goes abroad, or sits idle one half of that day, though he spends but sixpence during his diversion or idleness, it ought not to be reckoned the only expense; he hath really spent or thrown away five shillings besides.
This suggests that your “diversion” or going abroad is akin to wastefulness, that you should feel remorse about throwing away those five potential shillings. In other words, time is money. If you waste time, you waste money.
But hold your kite, Ben. What if that diversion (e.g., leaving a job to travel) enriched your life? What if it was so good for mental and physical health that you ended up spending less in the long run?
We know that if we don’t do some preventative maintenance on our cars from time to time, they’ll break down. There will be a bigger, costlier repair later. For some reason, we more often apply this wisdom to machines and not ourselves.
People spend a good portion of what they earn in an attempt to recover time and low-stress health, things they may have started with before selling so much time at a job they no longer enjoy.
When you leave a job to travel, you realize that Benjamin Franklin knew a lot about a lot of things, but he was misguided regarding time and money.
Time is not money. Instead, it is potential. The potential for what is up to you.
Time can be exchanged for knowledge, experience, relationships, healthy pursuits, and yes, money. If too much time is converted to money by default, then much of that same money has to be spent buying back many of these other essentials for living a good life.
As I mentioned above, I was surprised at how little I wanted to purchase once I did finally leave a job to travel. Most of my purchases became experiential. You can’t fit a lot in a backpack. After a few months away, I learned that I was happier than ever with only what was on my back.
After leaving a job to travel, you gain an entirely new perspective about time.
You Have More Mental Energy
How often have you heard someone say they don’t have enough time?
I once used this excuse frequently and blamed not having enough time for a long list of life pursuits not yet accomplished.
There never seems to be enough time. But as Gay Hendricks illustrated in his book The Big Leap, think of time at a granular level. You may tell someone who wants to socialize “I don’t have enough time” but what if that same person knocked on your door and said the building was on fire? Poof — like magic, you probably found that you have as much time as needed.
So where did that time come from if there wasn’t any? In reality, you had time all along; priorities were the holdup.
We all have the same number of seconds in a year. You can bend time if you get too close to a black hole, but then you’ll have other problems on your hands.
What matters even more than time is energy, especially cognitive or “mental” energy. It is a multiplier and determines how effectively our time is used. With high mental energy, one hour of time can be greater than three hours of ordinary time.
After you leave a job to travel, you’ll experience a surge in mental energy. Here are a few of the reasons although I’m sure there are many more:
- Lower chronic stress
- Having more time for pursuits such as meditation and self-growth
- The feeling of expansive freedom
- Additional exposure to new people and opportunities
Before leaving a job to travel, most people relegate their personal time to the end of the day. Enjoyment comes after the work, errands, chores, and everything else. At that point, if you’re lucky, you may still have several hours left before going to bed.
But despite finally having personal time, mental energy reserves are depleted. You won’t be as likely to work on learning a language, writing a book, cooking a new dish, practicing guitar, calling up an old friend, contemplating life’s mysteries, or whatever else.
In reality, we end up watching Netflix, screwing around online, playing a game, etc—those are much easier when cognitive energy is depleted. We forfeit the personal hours before sleep because mental energy is low. Then the cycle begins again the next day.
After leaving a job to travel, you may find yourself with an abundance of mental energy. The time you have left for yourself can be better invested and enjoyed.
Your Brain Gets Sharper
Assuming you don’t start huffing the laughing gas balloons for sale on the street in Bangkok, your brain will feel sharper and more alert after you leave a job to travel.
Our brains have an inherent plasticity—that’s a good thing. If you take a hard knock to the head, your brain can form new pathways, and to some extent, work around the damaged region. The scientific literature isn’t yet clear about drinking too much Thai rum from plastic sand buckets.
Although plasticity declines with age, we become experts at making mental shortcuts. The brain strives to save energy. Even when we are at rest, it uses an estimated 20 percent, more than any other organ. These demanding, high-efficiency machines between our ears actually seek to form routines and loops by design.
Over time, we tend to adapt and become best at what we do the most. That cognitive inertia is often referred to as “set in our ways,” and when it no longer excites, “getting stuck in a rut.”
When you leave a job to go travel, you shatter the routine your brain has shaped itself around for years. Even if you aren’t yet traveling, getting thrust into the unknown is daunting and requires cognitive work. It’s the equivalent of getting your brain off the couch and throwing it into a marathon.
It’s going to hurt. Your brain is probably going to balk. But in the end, it will relearn new routines and begin forming new pathways. Traveling requires that those new pathways get updated week after week. The lack of a fixed routine is beneficial.
Getting better at relearning how to do things is one of the great benefits of long-term travel. You’ll experience a boost in resilience and self-efficacy. More importantly, your brain will become better at adapting to new variables.
The longer you travel, the better your brain becomes at adaptation. At the beginning of my travels, I often awoke not knowing for sure where I was. Constantly being in new hotels and environments kept my brain hopping. Instead of reflexively reaching up the wall where the light switch should be, where it had been for years, my brain had to first look for it then adapt.
Although the outcome is good, this adaptation period does mess with you. Your sleep may suffer; that’s when your brain consolidates memories and forms many of these shortcuts.
Want to feel this process in action? Try switching hands when you brush your teeth for the next five nights. Use your non-dominant hand. Unless you’re naturally ambidextrous, using the other hand feels extremely clumsy and frustrating.
That’s the difference between using the usual circuit and forming a new pathway. If you continued using that hand for the rest of the year, brushing would become easier.
Leaving a job to travel breaks many of the old loops and routines, forcing us to learn how to learn again.
One glorious side effect of this break from routine is that time suddenly feels more abundant. Lack of novelty at home keeps us feeling like “time is flying,” but fewer routines actually stretch our perception of time.
You’ll feel as though you’ve got more time, energy, and mental clarity. These are some powerful assets to direct at whatever you want to accomplish.
Inspiration for this post came after walking out of my bank and seeing this tie on the street. I wish I hadn’t missed the moment itself, but I like to think this was the aftermath of an escape from the Rat Race.
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.