Why I Quit My Job To Travel The World Or (Some Would Believe) Why I Chose To Commit Financial Suicide

Monday, October 10, 2011

“Hi I’m Wei and I just quit my job of 10 years. I intend to spend the next year traveling around the world with my wife.”

You’d be surprised by the myriad of responses this ice-breaking statement managed to evoke. The wife and I are used to hearing the gasps of horror and the plain exclamation that we are committing financial suicide. Every once in a while, however, we would hear someone whisper, “I wish I could do what you guys are doing.”

While it’s easy to respond to that statement with a mightier-than-thou, “So why don’t you?”, it reminded me of the first time the idea took hold of me.

I woke up (too early) one morning, brushed my teeth, stared at the mirror and realized that if things carried on the way they were now, this is probably what I am going to be doing for the next 30 years of my life. I froze. I could literally feel the air rush out of my lungs, and without being overly dramatic, my (would-be) life flashed before my eyes. I found myself asking a question that was probably too complicated to be answered at five in the morning: “What am I doing all this for?”

I draw a decent salary. I work five days a week. Normally, I would reach home from work too tired (or lazy) to do much except surf the internet and watch a bit of television. I go to sleep. Rinse and repeat for all weekdays. I spend the weekends rushing through things I enjoy doing and catching up with friends. Whatever money and leave days I had, I saved up so I could go for my annual grand trip of two weeks where I could let myself go and just forget about work.

This was hardly the life I pictured myself living. Somewhere along the way, I had forgotten my dreams and all that I was passionate about. I needed a break from the routine to sort my thoughts out. It is difficult to think about what truly makes you happy when you are working 50- and 60-hour weeks, and it is easy to come up with excuses to not pursue what you really love to a point where you forget about them.

The question then was when could I take a break? I only have 21 days of leave a year, and even with the holidays added in, I could never be able to get away from the job for more than a month at a time. I needed more time than that.

The next decision was not that easy to make.

I was newly married, and the wife and I just bought a house that comes with a mortgage to pay off. We had spent the past few years (rather successfully) building our careers and we were both at a point where we were drawing pretty comfortable salaries. We could not possibly give all that up on a whim.

Yet, I know that we could not live the way we had before. But no matter how we looked at it, it was a zero-sum game to choose between pursuing the dream of traveling and continuing through with the rat race.

So we asked ourselves this question: “What’s the worst thing that could happen?”

What’s the worst thing that could happen if we drop our career now and go for our travel? We would definitely lose our jobs and give up careers we have been building for some time now. We might not find jobs with comparable salaries when we got back from our trip.

Are these deal breakers? We decided that it really was not. We can get by living on half the salaries that we had been drawing. And the mortgage for the house could be supplemented by renting out a room or two in our current place. True, it would be a less comfortable existence, but we could still get by.

I was reminded of a quote from Fight Club: “Advertising has these people chasing cars and clothes they don’t need. Generations have been working in jobs they hate, just so they can buy what they don’t really need.”

So what’s the worst thing that could happen if we give up on the trip and continue with our current jobs? For me, I think I would slowly lose my mind going running through the same maze looking for the same cheese day after day.

And I guess since the idea had already taken root, we will always look back at this time and wonder: What if?

Once we broke it down like that, the choice was easy. The consequences of going for the trip far outweigh the price of not going (especially the part about me losing my mind).

Here in Singapore, long-term travel and “gap years” are not popular. We come from a culture where it is “decent” to find a career, work for the organization your whole life and get a gold watch and an appreciation dinner when you retire 40 years later.

We still have well-meaning friends and family who are trying to talk us out of it, and others who simply dismissed our plan as plain stupid. We have learned to disregard them because this is something that we truly want to do, and also because it is hard to listen to advice from people who have not done this before.

At the end of the day, we know that long term travel is not for everybody. And when it comes to life changing decisions like these, it is best to know that this is what we really want to do and do what is best for us.

Check back with me on a year’s time on how well this decision is going.

By Toh Thiam Wei


About the Author

Home for Toh Thiam Wei is the very sunny island of Singapore. He dreamed of seeing the world since he was a kid, and spent 10 years of his life doing that with the Singapore Navy. Deciding that that was not good enough, he quit his job and coerced his wife, Jo, to do the same.

Wei and Jo now spend their time hanging around in (cheap) cafes, getting lost in side streets and eating street food that Wei is convinced are secretly local pranks to see how far unsuspecting foreigners would go to have a “local” culinary experience. Their journey is chronicled in www.TwAndJo.wordpress.com.

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