Study, Work, Career And Gap Years. The Middle Way.

Quit Work and Travel the World Bemused Backpacker

You don’t have to quit your job to travel the world, and you don’t have to give up on your dreams of travel to have a career or a family either. You can have it all. Here’s how.

‘Quit your life and travel the world!’

How many times have you heard this? Read any of the more popular travel blogs or websites and you will come across a common theme of quitting, dropping everything and following your dreams of travel.

This is of course an exhilerating and intoxicating dream. Who wouldn’t want to kick the bosses door down and beat them round the head a few times with your resignation letter? Who wouldn’t want to set off on exciting adventures around the world instead of trudging off to work on a wet, miserable Monday morning?

There are many examples of amazing people who have shunned their normal, boring lives and spend their days bouncing around from country to country, or who have quit their boring jobs to devote their lives to some awesome adventure to climb Everest or push the boundaries of exploration. It sounds like a dream come true, and for many people it is. Who wouldn’t want to emulate the lives of some travel writers who have been travelling since 2000 and something and counting? For those people who find that this way is right for them, it is so easy to do, so easy to throw off the shackles and live the life you want exploring the world. If that is for you, then there should be no stopping you! Stop reading this, get off your backside and go book that ticket now! For some people that is the perfect answer.

Quit Work to Travel the World Bemused Backpacker

But the problem is, this dream isn’t perfect for everyone.

Of course the extreme of quitting everything to travel works out really well for some, and some do forge a really happy life for themselves constantly moving from place to place picking up jobs here and there to support themselves. It really is a dream life and that is fantastic for them, but it isn’t the only way!

What about all of those people who would love to travel the world consistently but have a career they would like to keep, or a family they want to get back to? What about those who want to go to university and gain a degree or professional qualification? What about all of those people who would love to take a gap year but aren’t quite willing to drop their entire lives for it? What about those who want to travel indefinitely but still need to pay the bills and keep a roof over their heads?

For all of these people, simply quitting and travelling the world is not as easy as it sounds. The answer – according to those very same examples above – is seemingly looking everyone straight in the face, some websites practically scream the potential answer at you through the screen. Become a digital nomad! Regardless of circumstance, regardless of individual dreams, you can and should drop everything and support yourself by building a blog and hoping that will support you as you search out the cheap hostels and try to cover your bill at that really chilled Bob Marley themed island bar you just can’t stay away from. Quit your life and travel the world!

But again, we are back to square one and this answer isn’t for everyone.

So what do these people do? How do they manage to drop everything and travel the world but still maintain a career? How do they fulfil other ambitions or family or monetary commitments? Well the answer may not be exactly the same as the extreme of dropping everything and going, but the truth is it is just as simple.

There is a middle way.

Many people have a picture painted for them that taking a gap year or backpacking the world is an either/or scenario. The problem with the ‘quit your life and travel the world’ advice – where you either drop everything and quit the rat race to travel, or you stay at home and keep on dreaming of life on those lazy tropical islands – is that it doesn’t always quite fit in with everyone’s individual lives. We are all individual, and world travel is at the end of the day a very personal journey. It really isn’t all about dropping everything and hopping from party island to party island, or forgetting your work and love life problems to ‘find yourself’ in a yoga ashram like in Eat, Pray, Love. There is this notion perpetuated by many otherwise inspirational travel blogs and websites that you have to drop everything and travel endlessly where coming home is somehow seen as a failure, or you stick to the dreary nine to five and forget your dreams of travel. There is no in between, no middle ground, right? That is the only way. The general consensus seems to be that you have to follow one of these two extremes and that there is no middle ground; but that is as far from the truth as you could possibly get. There is a middle way.

Many people have a wide variety of other dreams and ambitions alongside world travel, and there is absolutely nothing wrong at all with following them too. What about the rest of your aspirations and passions? What about the other things you want to do with your life? Sure, the idea of forgetting all your problems to live a carefree life hopping around tropical islands and lush jungles and exploring fascinating cultures sounds seriously appealing, but you don’t have to suddenly give them all up just because you want to travel the world.

Many people want to study for a degree, either just for the experience of furthering an academic passion and going to university, or more commonly as a gateway to a certain career path. Does the fact that you dream of taking a gap year or setting off on a backpacking adventure stop you from doing that? Of course not! If you are travelling already and want to pursue a career path, then simply settle in one place for the three years it takes to gain your degree. You can easily resume your travels after you have graduated with the added bonus of being able to use your newly earned qualification as a marketing tool for gaining work. If you want to do both, travel and study, then you can do that too. Go to university, get your degree, simply take a few snap years in the summer holidays or longer breaks to quench your wanderlust and leave the longer gap years or indefinite long term travel until after you graduate. I have done that twice now! I have been backpacking around the world for over ten years now and have two great degrees to show for it. I am living proof that you can have your cake and eat it too!

‘Careers do not have to end just because you decide to take a little career break’.

For those of you who already have careers to think of, no matter what they are, you could very easily incorporate short snap years into your working life, just save up your annual leave for a long snap year every year and you can even extend that by taking some unpaid leave too if you wish. A few months or so every year will allow you to incorporate travel into your working life quite easily. You will still hold the same role and position at work when you get back and still be able to pay your bills while you are doing it!.

If you want more, then there is absolutely nothing stopping you taking a long sabbatical or even quitting work completely to set off around the world, but unlike the stereotype painted by some that says once you do that it’s the nomadic life or bust, that doesn’t mean you can’t return to your life any time you choose! Quit a job, travel for as long as you want, then get your old job back or even a new job when you return. It really isn’t rocket science! I mean really, what are you? An indentured servant literally chained to the one job, the one desk for your entire life with no hope of escape? Your boss is not your jailer, you are not a prisoner. Your choices are in your hands! Go, take your trip, travel around the world; your job will still be there when you get back, and if it isn’t you can easily find another one. There is no such thing as a job for life. Careers do not have to end just because you decide to take a little career break!

In fact, travelling the world could even enhance your career prospects and help you get a promotion or an even better job on your return! You could easily incorporate a little volunteering or job experience into your trip, something with skills that you could utilise in your chosen career. Communication skills while teaching English as a foreign language or practical skills gained when volunteering with an aid organisation for example are all highly desirable traits if you spin them well on a CV.

Then of course there are those out there whose chosen careers will allow them to pursue their career goals at the same time as travel. Professionals in particular such as nurses, teachers, physicians, engineers, and many more are all highly regarded for their skill sets in many countries, so what is stopping you from travelling for a little while to explore a country or region you really want to see, then getting a job in your chosen field abroad for a while? I personally do this all the time as a qualified nurse, my professional qualification allows me to travel the world any time I choose, work anywhere in the world any time I choose and still build a successful career with a wide range of experiences and skill sets that most employers value very highly. If I want to simply travel without working for any length of time, I will either arrange extended paid and unpaid leave or a sabbatical, or I will quit and simply return to work when I have finished travelling. It really is that easy! There is absolutely nothing stopping you from doing the exact same thing!

If you don’t have a specific qualified profession, there are still a wide range of jobs and roles you can do and travel at the same time, everything from a barman or a farm worker to a dive instructor or an au pair or even a location independent writer. You can do pretty much anything you choose!

Work and travel at the same time

You could – if you choose – even go as far as to be a serial expat, settling for longer periods of time in a foreign city or country, working and living as a local for a year or more, then moving back home or moving onto a completely different country and a whole new adventure and doing the same thing again. I know many professionals who do just that and they are extremely happy with their choices. They have the stability of long term work and their careers, but the adventure of travel and the freedom to move whenever and wherever they like. It really is the best of both worlds.

Working whilst you are travelling makes a lot of sense in many ways, because travelling the world does cost money. A lot of it. And there are many countries you can obtain a working holiday visa and many ways you can find to earn money as you travel. It really isn’t just a case of working an endless nine to five at home or taking an infinite amount of time off to travel. There is a middle ground, in fact there are an infinite number of middle grounds to choose from.

Following the middle way does take some sacrifice though, and there is a price to pay. It isn’t easy to negotiate the minefield of working holiday visas and it can be hard to deal with the uncertainty between your periods of travelling and getting a job, especially if you have a partner or a family, but that in no way means that it is impossible, it just means you will have to do the research and the paperwork hoop jumping to achieve your goals. It isn’t just the practicalities however, not everyone is cut out for the life of a nomad. Just as it is for those who choose the complete backpacker life of a constant world traveller, it can be difficult to deal with the pressure society puts on you to come home and be normal, to conform to the stereotype of normality. You can come under a great deal of pressure from society, from friends and family who just don’t understand why you don’t conform to the exact same path they did. They don’t understand the lure of the open road in the same way you do, they don’t get why you aren’t choosing to stay working in the career you chose for longer than six months at a time and assume you are simply fickle or lazy, or you are just skiving off on another long holiday. They don’t get that it is us long term travellers who think they are the weird ones for working 60 hours a week in a job they hate to pay off a mortgage in a house they barely live in because of work! And then have the audacity to say to us they wish they could do what we do in the same breath as criticising our choices in doing so! You get bombarded with questions of when you are settling down, getting married, getting a mortgage and having kids, and it can be hard when you see all your old friends and family doing just that and you aren’t. It can be difficult to see what they have and think that you are somehow a failure for not having the same, for not having the house and the mortgage by the time you are in your mid thirties, for not using the degree you studied long and hard for to its full career advantage or even – the Gods forbid – for not being married by the time you are thirty! Shock, horror! because that is the norm that society forces onto you.

But for those of you with the courage and the confidence to step outside of those expectations and follow the path that you want to lay out for yourself, the path that makes you happy, then it can also be extremely liberating and empowering. It doesn’t have to be the life of a constant backpacker or a complete digital nomad, but it doesn’t have to be the rigid school, family, job, taxes, death paradigm that society sets out for you either, hell it doesn’t even have to be any of the examples I have just mentioned! Just as long as – if world travel is your dream – then you incorporate backpacking or taking snap or gap years into your life in any way you see fit for as long as you see fit!

If you still doubt what I am saying is possible, then just look at me for living proof. I have two degrees and have used them to build a good career for myself, I have travelled the world and continue to do so. I travel for as long as I want or need to, then work for a little while to maintain my career and then travel some more again. When I get bored of work or being at home or the itchy feet gets too unbearable I can get a plane ticket and go anytime I choose! Occasionally I may even combine the two and use my professional role to get a work or volunteer position abroad. My point is I am free to travel and work as I see fit. I am my own man, confident and comfortable in my own skin and I make society conform to my rules, to my norms and expectations. I am happy! Life doesn’t have to be lived according to someone else’s expectations of you. You can have any career you want, any life you want, follow any dream or path that you want, and if your dream is to travel and see the world in all its wondrous entirety then that is within your grasp too! This isn’t an either/or situation. You can cherry pick the best parts of life that you want and take it all!

Quit your job and travel the world

Just because many of the long term backpackers and travellers you may get inspiration from have done it one way, that doesn’t mean you have to follow in their exact footsteps to be able to travel the world. Anyone of you can travel the world in any way you see fit, and if you are unhappy with your life and have dreams of travel then you should take steps to change it and do just that! Just do it your way.

The world is your oyster, but the path you take through it is yours and yours alone, so choose it well.

So what about you? Are you dreaming of travelling the world? Have you managed to get a balance between your working life and your dreams of travel? Let me know. 

 I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or please join in the discussion on my Facebook or Twitter pages on this important topic, and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons and spread the word.

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Related Articldes

Excuse Buster Series Part 7: Taking Time Out To Travel Will Ruin My Career!

How Backpacking And Volunteering Can Help Your Career.

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Michael Huxley is a published author, freelance travel writer and founder of Bemused Backpacker. He is also a charge nurse by vocation with an interest in emergency nursing and travel medicine, but his real passion is travel. Since finding his wanderlust a decade ago in South East Asia, he has bounced from one end of the planet to another and has no intention of slowing down.

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27 comments on “Study, Work, Career And Gap Years. The Middle Way.
  1. Milene says:

    Yeah!!! loved it, as always! And this; Who wouldn’t want to kick the bosses door down and beat them round the head a few times with your resignation letter! Just made my day… although I´m again working in an office and only for a month (serial-immigrant style) I´d love to do that again =) You are fabulous! Keep on going…

  2. hdwarner says:

    I am currently doing the work like crazy thing – so I can quite my job in a years time and go travelling for as long as possible. But I keep freaking out that I might be too old at the ripe old age of 28 – that there should be other things that I should be doing… but all I want to do is travel. Great blog – thought provoking!

    • Thank you so much! You are not too old at all! I’m 34 and I’m still backpacking! 😉 I do understand that pressure, I really do. But as I say it doesn’t have to be one way or the other, take the middle way, the option that makes you happy!

      • hdwarner says:

        Great advice – and good to know that I am not the only one who is planning on backpacking through my 30s

    • Tony Chan says:

      You’re not too old at all! I’ve seen people as young as 24 say they’re too “old” to backpack and people into their 60’s stumbling into the hostel dorm drunk at 4am. Backpacking is a state of mind. As long as you have the desire, age really is irrelevant.
      I didn’t start backpacking until I was 33. Next year at 41, I’ll be doing a RTW trip!

  3. The Caffeinated Day Tripper says:

    Great to see a fresh take on the idea of railing against “the man”! I think more folks think this way than don’t. I’m 43 and spent most of my adult life staying at home with my kids & working in retail. Now that that “career” is over, hubby & I get to travel but we also need an income. There is a balance that can be struck and it’s nice to see a post demonstrating that. 🙂

  4. willc88 says:

    I think the most important thing you raised here is it all being about what ‘you’ want to do and not trying to live by rules set by everyone else. Very interesting read, and good for you!

    • Thanks Will I appreciate it! You’re right, there are so many paths through life, so many ways of creating that balance between practicality and following your dreams, there is no point in blindly following the ‘quit work and travel’ mantra (as inspiring as it is) unless you have found that balance within yourself, found the path that you are happy to follow as well.

  5. wisemonkeysabroad says:

    Great read and you certainly raised some excellent points! Lots of food for thought – thanks!!

  6. Creating Josh says:

    This is such a good article. Currently in the progress of writing something along the same lines. Couldn’t agree more about the middle ground. Have just left my job on excellent terms with my manager although I knew I was leaving months ago and as a result have a guaranteed job on my return. Provided you go the right way about things, you leave yourself so many open doors for later in life.

    Thanks for a great read!

    • Thank you so much Josh, I’m really happy you enjoyed it. You are definitely right, leaving your job doesn’t mean you can’t go back, never burn your bridges. You can always travel for as long as you want and have something to come back to. Thanks for the comment. 🙂

  7. Wandering Artist says:

    Your blog is inspiring. I am 35 and my husband is 42 and we have a steady career/home. We both are taking six month trip to travel a few countries. It is scary as hell as we still have our mortgage….we are going thru our phase of doubts whether we are doing the right thing to leave everything, what will we do when we get back etc etc. But I guess, there is no right or wrong, just a choice 🙂 Your blog is now in my fav list to check for planning our trip! Hope we don’t back out 😀

    • Thank you so much! It’s really nice to hear that the website is inspiring you! 🙂 You are so right, it is all about being a choice, a choice that is right for you as an individual, there is no right or wrong. Just ask yourself will you regret it if you don’t? I completely understand the practical concerns of career/mortgage etc, you aren’t alone in that. But believe me it is possible! Feel free to contact me if you have any questions, and please come back and let me know if you made it and where you went! Thanks again for the really nice words. 🙂

  8. Tony Chan says:

    I love this article!
    I’m lucky enough to have a job that gives me 2 months of paid vacation a year with the option to take a year off and return. That takes a huge load off my mind as I really love what I do. This lets me have one foot in the corporate world and one foot in the backpacking world.
    Keep traveling Michael!

  9. Bonnie says:

    Great article and right on the money. This is exactly how I feel about travel – I get yearnings to see the world for months at a time, but I love my job and my family too, and I think its all too easy to make excuses not to do the things you dream of. People always say I shouldn’t be going away again or I’m always on holiday, but honestly – what better way is there to spend your money!? Thanks for this post, great to know others out there are following the “middle” route too!

  10. Peach Blossom says:

    im 53 ,i love travelling but i also want to try working in australia or in canada even for 3 to 6 months..

  11. john says:

    i am 31 canadian is there any way i can work in Uk, i know there is for the ages from 18-30 but i have got 31 now

  12. Ben says:

    Wow, what a great way to look at things. Not a slave. You are so right!

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Hi, I'm Michael! I'm a published author, qualified nurse and world travelling professional adventurer! I have spent 15 years travelling over 100 countries and I want to inspire you to do the same! Want to know more about me? Just click here!

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