When my husband and I decided to get married, we made an event out of planning our honeymoon. Nearly six months prior to setting off for the big day, we ordered a large map, map pins and a bottle of bubbles and had a saucy trip-planning date night.
Prior to said date night, we had both been in our respective roles with our employers for several years and were feeling a bit stagnant at work. So, it may not surprise you to learn that, at the end of our evening, with 20 or so pins scattered across the globe, we looked at each other and said, “Let’s do it all.” Under the spell of Champagne, we both decided to quit our jobs and take the plunge, traveling to 13 countries over the course of the six months following our wedding.
Making the decision to leave our jobs and travel for a meaningful amount of time was the best decision either of us could have made for ourselves, and it allowed us to fall into the perfect employment (both with marked salary increases) when we returned. Allowing ourselves to reset our perspective made all the difference in the world.
Here are four steps to setting off on your own adventure and to finding the right gig when you return:
Step 1: Set your budget and savings plan.
Planning to quit your job with no new employment in the wings can only be done with real preparation. You first need to ensure that you have enough money to survive and to set up a savings plan to pay yourself first.
Start by stripping out every unnecessary expense in your current daily life -- cable and WiFi, expensive meals and extracurriculars. Begin living the “abroad life” while still at home, and see how small you can get your existing monthly spend (placing the saved cash in your travel savings account).
Beyond rent (which you will not have while traveling) and your car expense (you’ll want to rent or sell this), your monthly budget at home should mimic what you realistically think you will need while traveling. As a rule of thumb, and if you are comfortable with a budget lifestyle on the road, you should plan to save $1,500-$2,000 per month of travel, which includes room, board and travel expenses. Once you’ve saved your first $5,000 (and can see the path to saving the full $9,000-$12,000), you are ready for Step 2.
Step 2: Be transparent with your employer.
In the age of the millennial, employers are thinking creatively about how to keep their employees engaged, and sabbaticals are becoming more popular. Prior to quitting your job and burning a bridge, bring your employer into your plan. Share with them the detailed budgeting that you’ve been working on and your reasons for wanting to pursue that lifelong dream.
Employers, more often than not, appreciate being given significant notice prior to losing an employee, and you can bake a value proposition into your exit. Offer to help find and train your replacement and to work for a few hours per week while on the road. A small recurring income stream can go a long way on the road. This also leaves the door open for you should you decide to come back to your company when you return.
Once you’ve got your money and the good will from your boss, you are ready to take the plunge.
Step 3: Give yourself a hard deadline to not think about work.
I have been working for the better part of 20 years, so quitting my job and becoming a vagabond was a tough transition for me. I remember, only two weeks into our six-month honeymoon, telling my husband, “I think I’ll get my PhD. No. I want to start a nonprofit. Maybe I should work for a university . . . ” only to get rolled eyes in response.
Take time to rediscover who you are when you are not working. Schedule meaningful time to not think about work at all while you are traveling, and hold yourself to that timeline. Set a hard deadline for when you can begin thinking about work again, and be sure that it is at least a month (I took three).
Step 4: Craft your dream list to help you set your next employment destination.
During the period of time when you are not thinking about work, you can keep yourself busy by setting other hopes, dreams and ambitions. Author and coach Matthew Kelly suggests creating a dream list for yourself to help you determine what is most important in life.
"What do you desire? What makes you itch?"
Break your list into categories, i.e. spiritual, family, professional, financial, community, character, physical, travel, intellectual, etc., and spend time filling in dreams for each category (except professional -- save that one for last). Your goal is to get to 100 dreams. Once you’ve maxed out, you’ll notice themes in the other aspects of your life, and this will help lead you to clear professional goals, which you can fill in after your deadline has passed.
On our honeymoon, my husband and I both completed dream lists, which made it clear that he wanted more authority and autonomy in his next job and that I wanted to be in a teaching role. When we finally began to look for jobs again in month four, we were crystal clear about what we wanted, and we both found it.
Quitting our jobs was the best thing we could have ever done for ourselves, and I believe that anyone can do the same -- with the right plan.