Em Risked It All When She Quit Her Stable Corporate Job To Live A Life As A Full-Time Traveler
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In this post, we are featuring Em, who is a twenty-something girl from California, who left her stable corporate job a few years back to build a life that has more room for travel.
19th May | 20 min read

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    At GAFFL, we love to publish inspiring travel stories from adventurers around the world. You can connect with adventurers from 170+ countries on GAFFL, meet up, and explore destinations together.

    In this post, we are featuring Em, who is a twenty-something girl from California, who left her stable corporate job a few years back to build a life that has more room for travel. She was not sure where this new lifestyle would take her, so she is documenting it and sharing travel itineraries on her blog, That Travelista. You can also follow her adventures on Instagram.

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    I Quit My Job To Start Traveling

    I was always that person on the straight-and-narrow path. As a kid, I got straight As and perfect attendance every year. The goal was always to get into a “good college” so I could then get a “good job.” Well, I got into a “good school,” and before graduating, I landed a “good job.” But during my final semester, I studied abroad in London, which allowed me to budget-travel around Europe. This opened my eyes to not only how affordable travel could be, but also how much I enjoyed traveling.

    Once I left London and started working, I was pretty pleased with my life. I started feeling pretty settled, so I started asking myself, “What’s next?” While I was in school, I was working towards college. While I was in college, I was working towards a job.

    But now that I was on the job, what next? The obvious answer was a promotion. I was confident I could get a promotion within a few years, so I asked myself, “Okay, and what about after that?” Well, the answer was another promotion. “And after that?” Another promotion?

    I realized there was no endpoint to this question, except for retirement at age sixty-five! It became very clear to me at that moment that my life in corporate was a hamster spinning a wheel, or a donkey chasing a carrot on a stick. I could essentially trick myself into thinking I was getting somewhere by setting new goal after new goal. But I would really just be distracting myself from the fact that my life was passing me by!

    Once I looked at it this way, I was never able to unsee it. Staying in corporate would be settling for a life of stability, instead of striving for a life where I could call my own shots.

    After all, that was the reason I loved to travel so much. Traveling was the only time where I felt like I was totally in control of each day and just living in the moment. So I knew at that moment that I would eventually be leaving my job and making more room in my life for travel.

    I have continued to travel since then because it never gets old. The places I see are never the same. The people I meet are never the same. And more importantly, the things I learn about myself and about life are never the same.

    How I Decide On My Next Destination

    Like most of the world, I have not traveled much in the past two years due to the pandemic. 

    When the global lockdowns first started, I got stuck in New Zealand for a couple of weeks, where they took the situation really seriously from the get-go. I think that influenced me because I took the situation pretty seriously as well even after I got home, not traveling at all for a year and a half, until my recent move to Spain.

    Even in Spain, I plan to keep my trips local for the time being. But before the pandemic, I was traveling on and off every few months. I would be on the road for between a month and a half to three months at a time, coming back home to the US in between.

    A lot of factors go into my decision of where I travel next. Flight cost is a big one, so I usually go onto to search for flights with my local airport set as the origin, “Everywhere” set as the destination, and an entire month set as the date range.

    This returns a list of results sorted by cheapest flights to most expensive flights. From that list, I’ll narrow down the choices further by what travel season it is.

    For example, I try to avoid visiting in the high tourist season because of the crowds and prices. But I also avoid visiting in the middle of the off-season if this means bad weather for that destination.

    So the shoulder seasons are a sweet spot. This normally brings down the options quite a bit, so from there, I just choose whichever destination speaks to me most!

    How I Prepare For My Trips

    I love to travel slowly. That’s the whole reason I quit my job – because I was not able to travel in that way while having to answer to a corporation.

    Since leaving my job, my trips have ranged from seven to twelve weeks each. Solo traveling was new for me back then, so I wanted to work up my confidence by taking longer and longer trips each time.

    I was in the middle of a five-month trip through New Zealand and Australia when the pandemic caused me to reverse course midway and head back home. So I’m looking forward to doing some longer-term backpacking again next summer.

    I start preparing for my international trips mostly by reading other travel blogs. These often give me a rough idea of things like cost estimates, ease of moving around, and major surprises that particular travelers faced.

    But there are a lot of nitty-gritty things to prepare, as well. I always check visa requirements on Travisa and vaccine recommendations on the CDC travel site.

    I also travel with a travel credit card to avoid foreign transaction fees and a no-withdrawal-fee debit card to avoid charges when I need cash abroad. These help me avoid losing money on exchanges, which can add up if you travel full-time!

    How I Pack For My Trips

    When I first started traveling, I filled my bags to the brim because I cared about things like wearing different outfits each day and looking nice for social media pictures. But the more you travel, the more these things weigh you down and the less they are important to you.

    Over time, I have learned that traveling as light as you comfortably can is the key to a happy trip.

    But, of course, there are some things I consider must-haves. My camera is one of them because I love to have photographs to look back on as memories and to share with others.

    Certain phone accessories also make my life a lot easier, like a small power bank for long days out and a longer charging cord for when the outlet in my room isn’t somewhere convenient.

    I also always carry two thin, quick-drying microfiber towels (one for the shower and one as a swim towel) and a padlock, so that I don’t have to waste money repeatedly renting these.

    Meeting People While I Travel

    I love to travel to Italy because I always end up having heartwarming interactions with locals there. But two stories, in particular, make me smile the most!

    The first is from when I was in Bellagio, which is a popular Lake Como day trip from Milan.

    I was a bit away from the tourist part and photographing a canopy of hanging grapes off a building. I guess the residents right above it could hear my camera clicking through their balcony window because an older woman came out and started speaking to me in Italian.

    I had only learned the very basics prior to that Italy trip. But somehow, I was actually able to understand from her words and gestures that she meant for me to try the grapes by cutting off a bunch for me to catch down below her.

    She even went through the trouble to direct me to stand away from where I initially was, where the darker grapes were because those were the better ones. She also pointed me towards a fountain (where the water came out of a lion’s mouth, in true Italian fashion!) to make sure I washed them, and she invited me into her home!

    I am not exaggerating when I say that those grapes were the single most flavorful grapes of my life. I even shared some with my travel companion later on, and he agreed.

    The second is when I was staying in Genoa and taking a bus to a nearby beach in Nerja.

    It took me a while to figure out which bus was the correct one, so I was rushing to get to the bus before it left. Right after me, another young man rushed onto the bus as well. We both sat near the back because those were the only seats left.

    He immediately asked me something I didn’t understand, so I replied, “Non parlo italiano (I don’t speak Italian).” I fully expected that to be the end of the conversation since it seemed like a genuine question he needed to know from his tone.

    Instead, he asked me in Italian what I do speak. I replied, “English.” He thought for a bit and slowly put the words together to ask me his question in English. He wanted to double-check the bus number to make sure he was on the right one.

    I confirmed for him that it was the correct bus, and I again fully expected that to be the end of the conversation!

    But nope! By the time I got to Nerja, I knew this man’s whole life story of being in the Italian Navy, traveling up and down the entire coast of West Africa several times but never getting to get off the ship except once when it broke, and that being the highlight of his career, regretting that he quit it right before he’d have gotten a good pension and that his dream is to visit California, which I said was where I was from.

    He struggled to recall each word in English before he said it, so he must not have used it in a while, but it was a riveting story nevertheless.

    But according to him, the fact that a tourist like me was taking the local bus was what was riveting! Towards the end, we figured out my bus stop didn’t exist as I was expecting based on Google maps. So the man rushed to the front of the bus to explain to the driver that I was a tourist and to please stop, and the kind driver did.

    In the US, we have a culture where you don’t really bother strangers by talking to them unless you absolutely need to. But moments like these remind me that there’s no harm in being curious and friendly!

    Why I Started My Blog?

    It was thanks to a travel blog that I first realized people could live in a way where their source of income fit their lifestyle instead of their lifestyle fitting their source of income.

    So when I finally quit my own job in hopes of building a life where I worked to live instead of lived to work, I wanted to create my own travel blog to bring it full circle. 

    But there are a lot of travel blogs already out there, so I try to make mine different through my uber-detailed itineraries.

    I try to provide all the small details in one place so that I can save my readers from hopping from site to site to plan their trips (which is what I always have to do!). So this is a part of my blog’s mission – making planning easier for people like me, who love planning and like to have a lot of information before their trips.

    Another part of my blog’s mission is to add diversity to the travel space and solo travel space in particular.

    Solo travel can be a scary thing to start, but it’s a lot less scary when you see someone who looks like you already doing it. And as the travel blogging space is dominated by white travelers, it can be hard for people of color to find relatable inspiration to make their own jump into solo travel.

    They might have family (like I do) who discourage their desire to travel, saying long-term travel isn’t something for black and brown people to do; that we will stand out, not be welcomed, and generally not be safe compared to white travelers.

    So even though my blog is by no means a large one, part of its mission is to provide just one more example of a person of color who solo travels long term.

    Countries I’ve Traveled To

    So far, I’ve been to twenty-four countries, but I have a very long bucket list! Some of the top destinations on it are Peru, where I plan to hike the four-day Inca Trail to reach Machu Picchu, Thailand, where I am looking forward to the beaches and street food, and Tanzania, where I cannot wait to experience the beauty of the Serengeti in person, as well as explore its island of Zanzibar.

    Quitting My Job Wasn't Easy

    Deciding to quit my job was a very easy decision for me. But, actually, quitting my job? That was a different story.

    I dragged the timeline out a lot further than I should have because I felt like I would be letting a lot of my coworkers and the people who brought me into the company down. And that is one of my few regrets in life – not quitting as soon as I decided corporate was not for me.

    When I finally did quit, the reaction was not at all what I was expecting. I knew my friends would be supportive because they had been on the receiving end of my cancelation texts and vent sessions for the better part of a year!

    But I was bracing for the worst from everyone else. However, my parents were more supportive than I expected, and even my coworkers, too!

    My coworkers were all very shocked at first, but I think they respected that this was a pretty brave thing to do – to leave, or at least jeopardize, a stable and comfortable career – and they wished me all the best.

    Sacrifices I've Had To Make For My New Life

    I’ve had to make a few compromises in order to pursue this new life of travel.

    The first and biggest was moving back in with my parents. Like a lot of Americans, I moved out for university. And after graduating from university, I moved out of state for work. So when I decided that I was going to quit my job and that I should save up enough money first, I moved back in with my parents for the first time in six years. It was a big shift, but I kept reminding myself how privileged I was to even have it as an option to move back in with my parents.

    That compromise has allowed me so much more financial freedom in the way I travel today.

    Another compromise was giving up being understood. I hate when people misunderstand my intentions or actions, but this is something I have had to get a lot better at accepting.

    It feels like instead of taking in what I actually say, people sometimes invent their own explanations for why I left my job, why I moved back in with my parents, or even why I continue traveling with no end date in sight.

    But this has taught me to truly not care how others perceive my decisions or lifestyle, as long as it is working for me, and this is something very important for being a full-time traveler.

    How I Manage Work And Travel

    Full-time travelers have a lot of options for being able to financially sustain their travels, and I do not believe there is a one-size-fits-all solution.

    Personally, I decided to save up a lump sum of money before full-time traveling by moving back in with my parents to save on rent. The money I was able to save up from this gave me the freedom to travel without thinking too much about money for a while. So the only work I did back then was on my travel blog.

    On shorter trips, I do not take my laptop along. I just make notes on my phone as I travel, and I crank out all the blog posts once I return home.

    But on longer trips, I do work on my blog while I travel. I typically give myself a free day every couple of days to rest or account for bad weather, and I use these free days to update my blog.

    But no lump sum of money will last anyone forever! Luckily, there are plenty of ways to make money while traveling.

    For example, I’ve recently moved to Spain, where I’ll be working as an English language assistant for a little under a year. This will allow me to travel to Spain on weekends and over holidays without eating much into my savings at all.

    Teaching English online or abroad is a very popular option for full-time travelers to support themselves, and some other popular countries to do this are Thailand and South Korea.

    Other options include working a remote job, turning your previous work experience into freelance work, or working in exchange for accommodation in countries that allow workways and work holiday visas.

    My Travel Budget

    I travel on a budget, but not on a shoe-string budget. For example, I never sacrifice cleanliness, my health, or my safety in order to save money.

    So while I do usually stay in hostels, I will spend the extra $2 or $3 a night for the hostel with better reviews or location. Or while I do eat on a budget, I will not choose an unhealthier option again and again just to save money.

    I manage my costs by creating a budget ahead of my travels. I usually make a rough spreadsheet of my itinerary for the next several weeks, broken up by the day.

    For each day, I list where I’ll be staying that night, what activities I’ll be doing, and any transport I’ll need to use. Activities can of course be rearranged based on the weather or the people I meet – this is just for budgeting purposes! In a column to the side, I’ll then list the corresponding prices for each item. I then try to find an estimate from travel blogs on that destination for how much I can expect to spend on food each day (this depends heavily on whether I am in a hostel with a kitchen or not), and I multiply that estimate by the number of days of the trip. Then, I add in the costs of my flights in and out, as well as my travel insurance, and that gives me my total budget for the trip.

    During my trip, I keep track of how much I spend on my food, activities, and transport at the end of each day, to see if I am on track to stay on budget or not. I love when I’m below budget and can splurge on yummy foods or fun activities! This way of budgeting may not be an option for those who like to show up to a new place with nothing planned, but since I am the planning type, it’s worked well for me thus far!

    It’s also good information for me to keep as a travel blogger so that I have a record of what different things cost to be able to share with my readers.

    Some Of My Coolest Travel Experiences 

    I’m not the type to bungee jump or skydive, so the coolest travel experiences for me are unexpected interactions with locals.

    For example, I was hiking alone outside of Salzburg, Austria, and I was woefully unprepared for the snow at the top. An Austrian woman passed me by and noticed how crazy I looked trying to continue upwards in my Nike Free Runs. After jokingly scolding me, she somehow broke off a tree branch for me to use as a hiking pole. I thanked her, fully expecting her to be on her way. But she kept waiting for me to reach her every now and then, eventually leading me all the way to the top. I’m not sure how I would have made it to the top without her help! These types of travel experiences are the coolest ones for me.

    How GAFFL Can Help Solo Travelers

    Solo travel is great. But there are some times that I do not recommend someone travel solo and where I personally try my hardest not to travel solo. Some examples of this relate to safety, like hiking a trail that doesn’t have many people walking it each day, or being in certain destinations where I’ve heard from others that it’s difficult as a solo female.

    Other examples relate to expenses, like taking a road trip and renting a car. Situations like these are where I think something like GAFFL is a great idea. With GAFFL, you can find a group to go on that hike with or split that car rental with!

    Challenges I've Encountered As A Solo Female Traveler

    Traveling solo as a female means that you have to think ahead and on the spot about a lot of things that solo male travelers do not.

    That being said, I have not yet felt more unsafe as a female abroad than I have as a female in my home country. The challenges I face abroad are similar to those I face at home, like dealing with catcalling, planning ahead to avoid traveling alone at night, and budgeting differently so I never sacrifice safety in order to save money on accommodation or transportation. I also always share my itinerary with someone once I have it so that someone who cares about me knows where I am staying on what night.

    My Advice To Anyone Looking To Travel Full-Time

    A lot of travel bloggers and travel social media accounts simplify their travel stories to make it seem like they just woke up one day, felt like risking it all, and hopped on a plane. This simplified narrative is good for hooking readers and stopping scrollers, but it is usually just that - simplified.

    My advice for those who want to travel full-time is to make a bit of a plan beforehand. It does not need to be detailed, and you can totally toss it out the window later on. But it’s good to have some direction in the beginning. 

    For example, if you are saving up a lump sum and taking a year-long round-the-world trip to start, brainstorm two or three options for what you will do once the year ends and the money runs out. Will you be in a country where you can get a job like teaching English or exchanging work for room and board?

    Will you be able to return to your previous line of work if one year of traveling ends up being enough for you (though I doubt it will!)?

    If not, can you do something else? Again, you do not need to have all these answers fully fleshed out, but give yourself some future options to choose from.

    You may not need any of these options as your travel progresses, but it's helpful to have them on hand, to begin with.

    Things I Have Learned As A Solo Traveler

    I first started solo traveling because I never wanted a trip to ever depend on someone else again. I always preferred traveling with friends, so solo travel is something I forced myself to learn how to do.

    But after just a few weeks, I became way too comfortable with making every single decision on my own! So I wish I knew that solo travel would become slightly addicting.

    I have learned so many lessons through solo travel. The first is to always take responsibility for when things go wrong, because this allows me to turn every failure into a lesson, and that puts the control back in my hands.

    The second is learning to live in the moment. This is a lesson I am still trying to master! But solo travel has helped me internalize that the current moment is truly all we have, that tomorrow is never promised and that we should live as such.

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