I Didn’t Quit My Job To Travel The World, And It Was The Best Decision I Ever Made

girl-writingMy best friend and I went to high school together, and then college together. For those eight years, we were almost never apart, to the point that everyone used to address us by a combined version of our names. And when she told me she wanted to take her first trip to Europe in the summer of our junior year of college, it was obviously an invitation for me, too. Of course I said yes.

We spent most of our spring semester that year working and saving all of the extra money we could. We took babysitting jobs, dog walking gigs, temp positions — whatever we could get. The goal was to have $3,000 each for the trip so that we could comfortably spend six weeks backpacking across Europe, staying mostly in hostels and occasionally with friends. Working to save up for that trip was, to this day, the most challenging thing I’ve done in terms of work, because all of that money had to be saved while I was going to school full-time and working an unpaid internship “in my field.” But we both made it happen, and it made our trip together that much more amazing.

I can’t say anything about that trip other than that it was perfect. It sometimes feels as if we learned more in those six weeks than in our whole four years of college. I will always look back at that summer as the one we truly grew up, and promised each other that travel would always be a part of our lives.

Today, we are both 26, and this summer marked the fifth anniversary of our incredible trip together. And as I am typing this, I am sitting in my office on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, delaying my evening commute to Astoria. It’s 6:30 PM and I’ve just now finished my day’s work, and I honestly consider that a pretty good day, as sometimes I am stuck in the office until way past dinnertime to meet a deadline or finish a project. And right now, my best friend is living in Prague, where she is teaching English, and it is the third country she has lived in in two years, because she is determined to spend her 20s traveling the world.

When we graduated, we were both on the “career” track right away. I am currently a marketing director for a small nonprofit involved in women’s advocacy, and started out as an assistant at another nonprofit. My best friend secured a job as a junior account manager at a well-known ad agency her first year out of school, which is something we celebrated at the time with Cupcake prosecco and actual cupcakes. She seemed thrilled, for the first year.

But soon it became clear that she didn’t want to stay at her 9-to-5, and was feeling the itch to travel again. “We always said we would travel,” she would tell me. And when I tried to explain that I definitely was going to travel, but had to do it in the limits of my paid vacation time, I felt like an idiot. Like a sellout. Here was my best friend, seriously considering leaving her good agency to go “make it work” in some faraway country, because she took her promise to her 21-year-old self seriously. At first, I didn’t think she would follow through with it. But when she moved in with her aunt in Brooklyn so that she could start saving 80% of what she earned, and took on extra jobs on evenings and weekends to sock away more cash, I knew it was real. She was doing the grown-up version of what we had done in college.

The day she left, I wanted to be happy for her. And I should have been — I had just gotten a promotion at my job two months prior, and had fielded an offer from what is my current company. I had everything to be grateful for, and I knew that. But inside, I felt jealous and threatened by her decision, and all I could think was “why don’t I have the courage to make the same choice?” I felt like an addict, hooked on the comforts of my office and my status and my increasing salary. I felt like I loved my job, but maybe I was just comfortable, and maybe it was just what was expected of me. At our goodbye lunch, I couldn’t help but make backhanded comments and little digs, and after she got on her plane, I cried the entire night. I felt like shit, for so many reasons.

For the next year, I would cringe every time I saw one of those articles about “these millenials who quit their jobs to travel the world,” and there seemed to be an entire genre of them! It felt like the story was following me, and mocking me for not being able to do it myself. And yes, I realized that it was technically within my power to make that decision, but something was holding me back from it. I was never able to pull the trigger, or even make a concerted effort to save up and have the option. So when I read the articles and interviews making it all sound so easy, not to mention saw the photos of my best friend smiling on a Thai beach, I found myself feeling even more judgmental of my own decisions, and resentful of theirs.

That fall, my boss at the nonprofit called me into her office for a chat. It turned out that our little startup had nearly doubled its outreach budget over last year, and would need a marketing director to help manage it all. I wasn’t even 25 yet, but my boss had chosen me. I’ll never forget what she said:

“This is going to be a lot of responsibility, but if you are willing to rise to the challenge, we can make something amazing together.”

In that moment, my heart swelled like it never had for any plane ticket or foreign language. I was going to be able to lead something, and create something, and dedicate myself to a job that I really cared about, doing something I’m genuinely good at. I felt appreciated and understood, and so excited to start my new job with a vengeance.

A year later, and I’ve grown the position enough to hire a full-time person who works for me, and am looking at hiring a third on our team by the end of the year.

I have realized over this year that the reason I never wanted to quit my job and travel was because I really love my job, and more importantly, I love working at something every day, and having coworkers who become like family, and building something little by little as the months and years go by. It’s not for everyone, and sometimes when I’m eating Chinese takeout in front of my computer at 8:30 PM on a Wednesday, I can feel exhausted with it all. But just because a job is a “typical” 9-5 office position doesn’t mean that you’re some drone for working there. There are plenty of people who find vibrancy and meaning in what they do, even in some boring Manhattan office. Yes, life looks beautiful in Europe or Southeast Asia, but it also looks beautiful from my little window, doing what I love.

I’m going to see my best friend in Prague this November, and I genuinely can’t wait. I’m using my paid vacation time to go see her, and it might not be running off into the sunset, but I’ll know the work I love is waiting for me back home. And most importantly, I know that I’ll be able to be happy for her, genuinely, because I no longer think I want what she has. And I no longer think that her “bravery” to quit her job means I’m somehow lesser for not doing it. Because staying at something you love, and working hard every day in the hopes of building something better, is “brave” in its own way. It’s not any better or worse than leaving it all behind to travel, but it’s an important decision that I’m happy I made.

Naomi is a NYC-based marketing director for a nonprofit. Jackson isn’t her real last name, but it is her favorite Johnny Cash song, so it might as well be.

Image via Pexels

  • Yes, yes, yes, yes. I fully endorse everything you said here! Great read—thanks for reinforcing it’s totally fine should you choose career over travel.

  • I REALLY love the sentiment here. For there to be thousands of “I quit my job to travel the world” articles, it’s nice to see the reverse. However, I have a confession to make. I was probably one of those who wrote something like that, because well, I quit my job, or rather quit my entire life to travel for several months back in 2010-2011. I still travel a lot (since I work in travel after all), but for the last three years I’ve done something where every three months I take a trip in which I completely unplug, and every one is better than the last, and it’s a reminder that it’s the reset that I need. I don’t have to travel across the world for weeks or months at a time. And in fact, I can have many of those same experiences around my own home if I have the eyes to be open to it and embrace it like I do world travel. Perhaps it helps that I live somewhere like Southern California :).

  • That’s awesome. Many people are happy and successful by quitting their job and doing what they love instead, but you so rarely hear about those that love what they do now. This is refreshing. Many of us, myself included, often go for ‘the grass is greener’ in so many aspects in life, that this a very nice perspective. Thanks!

  • Ella

    I love this article! So great to see someone owning their decision to pursue their interests and not feeling guilty that they aren’t as Instagram worthy!

  • This was such a refreshing read! I have read so many of those “I quit my job and live the island life & it’s amazing!” but it’s rare to read about the (many!) of us living our lives at 9-5 jobs, but jobs we love nonetheless. Just because my life doesn’t take place on an Instagram worthy Thai beach, doesn’t mean that it isn’t wonderful in its own way.

  • Aki

    Top notch article. Really interesting to see it from the other view. She found her passion just as her best friend found hers. Beautiful. Im still itching to go though. But somehow this article made me feel more confident Ill get there.

  • I loved this. Thank you.

  • Megan

    This was wonderful. Thank you so much for writing it. It’s definitely how I have felt watching a few friends quit their jobs and travel to faraway countries.

  • Auburn Scallon

    As a traveler in Prague with a successful career-driven best friend back home, I absolutely loved this. I can’t explain how much I admire the success of friends who are building families and careers. Here’s hoping that sharing this post will remind them of that.

  • Christina Garofalo

    This was awesome! You should be proud of yourself for knowing what you want and going for it.

  • Lina Abascal

    This is amazing and perfectly captures my day to day debate with myself about the type of person I am vs the type of person I think I want to be . I appreciate your honesty here

  • Anie

    I’m so glad I read this today, because I really needed it as I ramp up on job applications. I took an “easy” job last year after I graduated from my grad program (because it was a job, and I needed one), but I’ve missed that passion and that love for what I do. It’s so good to feel yours for a bit here.

  • Rosie

    I can completely relate to this! I lived in NZ for a year with my bf during my placement year at university, and afterwards we said that we really want to live aboard again for a couple of years before we “settle down”. 4 years later and we’re now looking to buy a house, never having lived abroad again. We have seriously considered it, especially when my bf was at his old job and hated it, but I was reluctant to move because I actually liked my job (plus I’m having so extensive long term dental work), and I kind of felt like it was running away somewhat. But now we’re both happy in our jobs, we’re quite satisfied with buying a house in the village next to the village we grew up in, even though 18 year old me would have balked at the idea. But actually my friends and family are here, and I like my job, and whilst sometimes I feel like I’m missing out, and worry that missing the opportunity to work and live in London is something that I will come to regret, I’m actually happy with my life. But I nonetheless feel like I’m “settling” in accepting that this is my life, when really I should probably just embrace it.

  • Nikki Koller

    Thank you for writing this.

  • Caitlin Fitzsimmons

    It is sad that Americans have to choose, because you don’t get enough vacation time.

    • Samantha White

      Yeah, but people can still make it work if they really want to travel. I want to do both.

  • ananse77

    It’s great to read the alternative perspective. I think the key for you is that you love your job and you are doing meaningful work. Most of the people who want to run away to roam the earth don’t have that enjoyment, fulfillment and meaning in their current jobs. Everybody is different, and I’ve never valued long term travel for travel’s sake. I have traveled a bit, and have lived in four continents, but I have always traveled with a purpose – study, volunteering, work. The exception was when I backpacked in Europe for weeks, instead of months or years. The most important thing in my life is making an impact on the world with meaningful work and creations. If I can do that, and then travel once or twice a year for a couple of weeks for enjoyment, that would be perfect.

  • goldsphinix

    nice article naomi. it is really nice to read the alternative perspective. As someone who regularly battled with my inner self about dropping it all and traveling full-time a lot of what you state echoes my own perspective. That and I could never figure out the dilemma of what to do with my pup. ;psmile emotico

  • Kat Christofer

    I’m really lucky. I have a job I love, AND I travel the world. I didn’t need to quit, I’m successful, and I’m nomadic because my tech company allows me to work from anywhere in the world, plus they supply the tools to make it happen. I never needed to choose.

  • Brian Armstrong

    Really enjoyed this article, and I heard so many of the same things I’ve been thinking to myself over the years. I struggle with it even now, at 35. The choices I made don’t seem “exciting” when I compare myself to my friends who are off living different lives. But I have a family, a house, and a career I love. So I hope I can get over these thoughts, though I definitely know it’s a process.

  • I use to think everyone wanted to travel the world but it’s nice to know it’s not for everyone. This was very touching and relateable

  • Sarah Papageorgiou

    Great read – Thank-you