At 27 years old, I started on a 130-day trip around the world. I had quit my first job of 3.5 years as a journalist to go into the unknown.
Some months later, I returned to Singapore to look for a job. It took me about four months of job searching before I landed on a job that fitted my skills.
When I left my first job, I heard horror stories from people (who ironically hadn’t tried long-term travelling) about how the world is a scary place.
Someone told me that by being impetuous, I was missing out on the opportunity cost of having a stable job.
I imagined myself cutting free of the career rope ladder and falling into an unending hole.
What lies at the end of the hole? A comfy mattress or a bed of thorny vines?
After going on the trip, I’ve come to a conclusion that quitting your job to travel in your twenties has its advantages and disadvantages.
Benefits of a career break travel in your twenties
1. Your pay is insignificant enough that it doesn’t hurt to leave your job
Money is always on the top of my mind so it’s #1 on this list.
Let’s face it, unless you have climbed really high up the corporate ladder or you are a CEO before you hit the 30 mark, your pay is probably insignificant. (Or maybe it is just me. Ok. I think it’s just me.)
Anyway, it’s easier for you to leave your job now for a long trip than 20 years down the road when you are earning $10,000 a month. Imagine giving up all that for a year trip. I’d tell you not to do it too.
2. You have the energy to do so
You are in your twenties and this is probably the fittest you will ever be.
You can manage a monstrous backpack and trek the Inca Trail to see Machu Picchu with only a tiny feeling like all the bones in your body are crumbling. (Not that I’ve done that before, or ever will.)
If you shelf your travelling dream to post-retirement, imagine how much harder it is to walk that 2 kilometer stretch of pebbly road to reach the Rose City of Petra in Jordan.
Very hard, trust me, I was there with a cruise ship of elderly folks.
You have the energy to do it! Why wait until you’re 65 years old to go see the world?
3. You don’t need to spend a lot
As a 20-something, you can skimp on food, accommodation and transport because your poor body hasn’t reached its limit yet.
The things I’ve done to save money on the trip aren’t that extreme but I’ve stayed in hostels in a room for 12, cooked in hostels, took public transport and visited many free sites.
Compared with paying more for comfort such as taxis or hotels, you can save a lot more but still enjoy my trip.
4. You don’t have a lot of responsibilities
As a 20-something, you likely do not have a family to support or a house and car loan to finish. Well, at least for most 20-somethings I know, those processes will come later in life.
That makes this period the best time to go out and explore without worries.
The only thing you might worry is your student loan so make sure you take care of most of that before you leave.
5. You won’t live in regret
One of the biggest drive for me to quit my job to travel around the world was that I didn’t want to live in regret.
Sure, I had many jobless, anxiety-filled months after coming back from the trip. But I was happy on the road.
And I achieved a life goal. That’s a big win for me.
If you are hesitant about quitting your job to travel for that big trip, think this way:
“Are you able to cope with questioning yourself daily: ‘What would happen if I did quit my job to travel?'”
If travelling around the world has always been a dream for you, just know that you can do it and you have an example right here.
Stop dreaming, make it a reality.
Disadvantages a career break travel in your twenties
Even though I have no regrets about quitting my job to travel, I must admit it is not for everyone. This segment is particularly for us living and working in Southeast Asia.
1. Currency exchange is not in favor of most Asian countries
There is a reason why many travellers from the West flock to Southeast Asia for their gap years. Their exchange rate is strong enough that a day’s spending in Southeast Asia is probably worth less than two meals in McDonald’s back home.
That is the same reason why many of us from Southeast Asia (or most of Asia, excluding Japan and Singapore) cannot afford to quit our job and spend our days in foreign lands.
Of course there are cheap ways to do it but making money in a country with strong currency helps a lot if you are thinking about leaving work to travel.
I was lucky that I started my career in Singapore where the currency is stronger than other SEA countries.
If I were back home in Malaysia, I cannot imagine how long I would need to save before I could leave my work for long term travel.
2. There’s no such culture (in Asia)
While travelling around the world, I’ve only met one Taiwanese girl who quit her job to travel. I’ve seen other Asian travellers (mostly Taiwan) but most of them were on holiday and on short trips.
It’s hard to buck the trend. Most likely none of your older cousins took time off to travel so you can’t point to him/her as an example.
Plus, growing up in an Asian society where fitting in is important, it’s a tough decision to make if you want to quit your job to travel.
3. People will question your decision
Related to the entry above, my decision to travel long term was questioned by a relative, a fortune teller and a hiring manager.
The relative asked if I knew the opportunity cost of leaving my job while the fortune teller didn’t see the point of seeing the world.
As for the hiring manager, she wasn’t very pleasant about my decision.
During the first call to schedule the job interview, she said, “What? You are 27 and you’ve travelled around the world? You must be rich or a really lucky girl.”
I mumbled that I had saved up my own money for the trip but that didn’t help with that interview session.
It’s not easy to still believe that what you do is right when there are people out there trying to make you feel bad.
4. It’s harder to get back into the workforce for someone in the 20’s
At a travel meetup after my career break travel, I met a man in his thirties who took 5 months off to travel in South America.
I asked if he found it difficult to find a new job after his trip. He said it wasn’t difficult, adding that he was in the shipping industry.
Maybe it is because I don’t have as many year of formal working experience, I found it rather difficult to find a job after coming back to Singapore.
I tried to joke that it was the end of the year so everyone who wanted to quit were still in their jobs as they wait for their year-end bonus.
5. Travelling doesn’t solve any problems
Before I went on my journey, a tiny part of me wished that I would turn out like Liz from Eat, Pray, Love: I would find myself with a full stomach, lots of spirituality, a hot boyfriend and a book deal. The only thing I actually achieved was a full stomach.
Leaving your job to travel does not help you figure out your next step in life.
5.5 It’s hard to find good Asian food outside of Asia
OK, this list is getting into the weird zone but bear with me. If you need to eat rice for every single meal, you might find Europe or South America a culinary hell unless you live in a Chinese-run hostel.
If you love experimenting with foreign cuisine, then travelling around the world is pretty awesome. (Nice to eat you, ceviche.)
You don’t have to quit your job to travel now
There are plenty of ways you can travel without leaving your job.
Squeeze all your work leave into one, travel during the weekends.
But if you really want to quit your job to travel, you must prepare yourself so you can travel responsibly. You first have to figure out the expenses of your trip.