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The Real Reason I Quit My Job To Travel The World

Back when I was a young teenager, I remember sitting in the car one morning with my Mum on the way to school. The night before I had just watched an episode of South Park, where the guys were sent a starving child from Ethiopia and then took him to a buffet, but kept stealing his food as he was about to eat it. While obviously just bad comedy, I remember being extremely angry at it, and thinking how incredible it would be to really take one of those starving children to a buffet and let them live in our shoes for a day.

And so I blurted out to Mum, “One day, I’m going to get really rich and then go and build a village in Africa.”

I don’t remember exactly what she said in reply, but it was probably along the lines of, “If you study really hard and come first in class, you can build as many villages as you want.”

You might say, even at that young age, I was already dreaming of adventuring in faraway places.

Of course those intentions were a little starry-eyed, and many years later after having visited Africa several times, I’d probably say building a village there would be a rather wasteful and ego-driven way to spend a bunch of money. But my point of the story has nothing to do with Africa, or villages; it’s simply to say that from my earliest years, I had never once dreamed of or aspired to becoming an accountant.

Nonetheless, around ten years later there I was, fresh out of university and sitting at a desk in an accounting firm. I had never planned it that way, and still to this day can’t really figure out how it happened; I just ended up taking accounting in high school, studying it at university, applying for a few jobs, and then, like clockwork, I was locked into a three year accounting contract. Funny how life can flash before your eyes like that, even when you’re not dying.

And so I continued to drift along, following the crowd like I’d always done. Everyone signed that form, so I signed it too. Everyone joined that institute, so I joined it too. I straightened up my tie and cleaned my shoes. I paid my fees. I played the game.

It was long, painful. Every morning I would wake up and curse relentlessly, starting every day as bitter as they come. But as much as I wanted to, I didn’t give up. My fellow comrades and I trucked along, just like we were supposed to.

“Just one more year,” they said.

“It’s all going to pay off,” they said.

Three years passed slowly but I’d played all my cards right. I studied hard. I passed all the exams. My grades came back and they were “great”. It was seven years of study and tens of thousands of dollars in fees, but my efforts had finally culminated in two words – Chartered Accountant.

Yet as I watched everyone else celebrate with such glee, I didn’t see many reasons to be happy. I hadn’t really enjoyed my time as an accountant, so I didn’t find a whole lifetime of it as something to be very excited about. I’d been told for years that accounting was an interesting and important career, yet nothing about it seemed very important or interesting to me.

Before long, many of my colleagues had moved to London or Sydney, where they picked up six-figure salaries with relative ease. The ones that stayed in New Zealand landed jobs as managers and advisors in some of the country’s biggest companies. It wasn’t uncommon for them to be earning over $3,000 a week, and usually for doing a lot less work than we were used to. Here was the payday we had all been working towards, and finally it was sitting there in front of us, waiting to be taken.

For several months I pondered the idea. London? New York? A fat paycheck and a sexy looking business card? It was extremely tempting.

But it was different this time. Money didn’t entice me anymore like it did when I was 21. I was at a point where I hated my life and I hated myself, and no amount of money was going to fix that.

People often ask me, how did you do it? Why did you do it? How did you spend all those years and all that money working for something, just to throw it away in the end?

People assumed I just hated working, but that wasn’t necessarily true. Others thought I was just lazy. Others thought I was simply proving a point. But it was none of that.

Instead, it was a deep-seated unhappiness, a result of spending my whole life working so hard for things I had never wanted in the first place. People used to ask me what I did, and when I had to answer “I’m an accountant”, I felt ashamed of myself. And not because there is any shame in being an accountant, or because accountants are to be looked down upon; in fact, it is considered one of the more prestigious careers in my country. It was merely because an accountant was never what I wanted to be, and that was never the life I had envisioned for myself. Each day I would stare out the window and dream of living a different life; studying Spanish in Spain, exploring my ancestry in China, volunteering in rural Africa, backpacking through South America and Southeast Asia. To say I was an accountant only upset me, because it told me that I did not have the resolve, and was too afraid, to chase after the life that I truly wanted. I was a dreamer; someone who talks big and walks small. I was that guy. And I knew if that was always how I saw myself, there was no chance of me ever being happy.

So, after 1,165 days working as an accountant, I quit.

It was a strange feeling at first. I felt so…free. I thought back to when I first started working, in particular to a distinct memory I had of buying some gear online for my computer. At that time, I was barely two weeks into the job, and I had wanted to go pick my stuff up from the shop warehouse. However, I couldn’t go during the week because of work, as the shop closed at 6pm, nor could I go on the weekend because the shop was only open on Saturday morning and I had sport. The sudden feeling of paralysis hit me like a brick. I felt so suffocated; shocked at the realisation that someone now had so much control over my time that I couldn’t even pick up my own shopping.

And now, I had too much time. Where should I go? What should I do? Options were literally endless, and all that seemed to do was spurn hundreds of ideas that collided with each other. Overwhelmed, I spent a month vegetating at home, but eventually managed to pull my plans together and set out on the journey I had been dreaming of.

First stop: Kilimanjaro.

Fast forward three years and all those Monday morning dreams I had have come true: I’ve studied Spanish in Spain, lived for a year in China, taught for six months in Africa, backpacked South America and Southeast Asia and so much more. All the things I had so longingly lusted for in that office cubicle, each of which had seemed like highly improbable fantasies at the time, became realities, and each of them were just as fascinating and fulfilling as I had imagined them to be. It seems that dreams, no matter how extravagant, do come true, and sometimes they are much, much closer than you think.

These days, my old life is a distant memory. Sometimes I actually look back and find it hard to believe those years ever really happened at all. They just replay in my mind like a movie I once watched, or a dream from years before. Three years in the office is just one big blur, but three years on the road has blessed me with enough memories to fill several lifetimes. I can finally say with honesty: if I died today, I would have very few regrets at all.

People ask me all the time about my future plans, and to be honest, I don’t have too many. In terms of money, I don’t need a lot; between this site, some side projects, my freelance gigs, my savings, and the investments I made during my working years, I make enough to live quite comfortably in many different countries. I live a much simpler life than I did before, and spend far less than I used to; at my old job I used to pay $13 a day just to park my car. That amount alone is enough to get by each day in many of my favourite cities around the world.

And then, people often ask me if I ever regret my decision. Do I miss the office life, the routine, the putting on my suit and tie each morning? And the answer is, shockling, yes. Sometimes I do. Travel is not always the glamorous lifestyle it appears to be, and sometimes, you miss the familiarity of a routine and a community. But not once have I regretted setting out to fulfill my travel dreams. Exploring the world has been a truly priceless experience, completely my own, and totally irreplaceable.

Try to remember that life is to be enjoyed, and we usually make a habit of taking it a little too seriously. As long as you have food to eat, clothes on your back, and a roof over your head, the only thing missing from your happiness is fulfillment. Forget the shiny life you are sold on television. What do you enjoy? What makes you happy? Start chasing that today, because waiting is a fool’s game. Sooner or later, the day will come where you don’t wake up, and none of us know when that might happen. It may be today, or 50 years from now, but either way your tomorrows are numbered.

How are you going to spend them?


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33 thoughts on “The Real Reason I Quit My Job To Travel The World

  1. Very true! As an Asian-Canadian CA, I resigned in 2013 and spent a year abroad, traveling SE Asia while volunteering with NGOs in Nepal and Cambodia helping implement finance goals and accounting assistance to these local entities. I’m back in Canada now, but I really look back on those days as the best time in my last decade. You’re 100% right – not always glamourous and I got severe dehydration in Cambodia, but I sometimes wonder what would have happened had I stayed longer, traveled more, etc. Don’t regret my choices I made living truly independent of obligations and other people’s expectations.

    Cheers from Canada!

    1. Hi Rob, have not been to Nepal but very quickly fell in love with Cambodia on my trip there last year. Hope you get the chance to continue travelling in the future. Thanks for your comments and travel safe!

      Bren

  2. Another nice piece of story! Very personal, I like it hehe… and keep it up on whatever you’re doing bro! Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!

  3. I love this. Thanks for your honesty! I’m a lawyer and I just fell into my current job – it’s not very fulfilling at all. Currently I’m saving up to quit in the fall and travel long-term. Stories like this are my inspiration through the workday! (Yeah, I read a LOT of travel blogs while “working” at my desk).

    1. Hey Rachel, that’s awesome. Do let us know when you’ve handed in your notice and you’re ready to jump – if you have questions I’m always happy to answer them 🙂 Good luck!

  4. Thank you for your inspiring blog post. I am currently in a career that isn’t fulfilling and I am hoping to leave in the next few months to be a world traveler. I really appreciate that you highlighted the fact that you sometimes do miss your old life as I’ve noticed that several other travel bloggers don’t acknowledge this. I believe there are pros and cons to every lifestyle, but like you said, in the end it’s all about how you want to live your life.
    Also, just wanted to let you know that your writing style is a pleasure to read!
    Thanks again 🙂

    1. Hey Elisabeth, thanks for the kind words and best of luck with your career change. I don’t think you’ll regret it 🙂 Stay in touch!

  5. Hi! I am becoming an avid fan. Where can I avail of your books. I really enjoy reading uour blogs. So many nice insights which I can relate.

  6. Thank you for this post.

    At the end of the day, it’s about finding meaning and purpose in your life, then just go for it! Thank you for this inspiration Bren.

    Regards,
    Jon from the Philippines

  7. That was very inspiring post, Bren.
    I really want to travel as much I can ,be free and live my life at my fullest.
    Hope I will be able to do it.
    Thank you,
    Mark

  8. You seem like an aimless wanderer to me – avoiding a real life! Do you ever plan to get married, have kids?
    Personally, I’m 25 (also from Auckland FYI) and on the verge of becoming financially free in 4-5 years through property investments i.e enough to live my normal life through passive income and without an active income/job. Then, I shall travel the world with my partner for a few years before settling down and having kids!
    You should probably try that instead imho!

    1. I will have kids if and when I want to have kids. Not sure what you mean by a ‘real’ life, but everything about my life feels pretty real to me!

  9. This “nomad” life of yours isn’t real because it’s temporary – you can only do this because you are single, young and have zero financial commitments/responsibilities in life!!!
    I agree with you (about the idea of living the way you want to and enjoying every moment) but you won’t be able to do this as you get older (unless you still want to continue and stay single without kids). You’ll definitely need to base yourself somewhere at some stage!
    Whereas I’m working my butt off until I turn 30 and then am financially free to enjoy life with my wife and kids (I’ll still be based somewhere but will have the financial capability to travel as I want when I want). Understand the difference.
    Anyway, good luck to you 🙂

    1. I understand the difference, I just disagree. I’ve met several married couples with families who travel full time. Some even blog about it (Nicole and Cam from travelingcanucks.com, Caz and Craig from ytravelblog etc). This life will only be temporary if I want it to be temporary. If the day comes I want a wife and kids, I’ll have a wife and kids. If not, I won’t. We all live and want different lives. I worked my butt of til I was 25 too. Now, for me, being a married 30 yr old property investor with kids sounds like an absolute nightmare (just like for you, being a single, 30 year old nomad might seem like a nightmare). Try to keep an open mind, there are many paths in life, and all are great in their own way 🙂 Best of luck to you.

      1. You’re right – just different perspectives I suppose!
        I want to travel once I attain financial freedom and my desired passive income (which is my number 1 priority at the moment) whereas you just want to travel and aren’t really interested in financial security – good perspectives! 🙂

  10. Good on you for opting out early in your career … I chased being an ergonomist before pursuing my interests six years ago!

  11. Hey Brendan
    Wish I had a story to share like this one on the reasons I quit the market to travel and only travel…good going buddy!! Really really very enticing. Sometimes a leap of faith is all we need to discover what our heart wants. Well written and thank you for sharing it with us.

  12. Hello Bren,

    Beautiful choice you have made. It is so comforting to know that there are people like you, real, normal and smart people. Not sheep, not robots, not machines, … with their plastic credit cards,false teeth, false lives … no wonder every – forth fifth person is on antidepressants …
    It doesn’t matter if you’ll keep doing this or for how long, who knows how life might change, circumstances and all, the point is that you had the courage to do it.
    Wish you all the best in life!

    1. Hi Sibina,

      Thank you for such kind words, its awesome to know there are people out there who understand the direction I’m heading. I hope a similar path is in front of you. Thanks again and wishing you all the best as well 🙂

      1. Hello Bren,
        Thanks for sharing the real reason quit the job to travel. We’re six months into the trip now, having visited China, Hong Kong, Macau, The Philippines, Thailand (twice), Myanmar, India, Sri Lanka, and Singapore. In many ways, this semi-permanent vacation is exactly what I imagined and hoped it would be when I was chained to my corporate desk. But there have also been a few surprises—not all of them positive. Here are five kinda major things nobody tells you about giving up your life (and paycheck) to travel long-term.

  13. I just discovered your blog and I really enjoy reading your inspiring posts. This one is like an eye opener to me, because just like you, I’m studying accounting- only the year differences, of course.
    Aside of that I also like reading people traveling journals/trip, and I hope I can follow your steps.
    Your choices makes me realize that it is actually easy to get out of your comfort zone, however it needs bravery for all of the consequences that you willl face. It’s true, doing what you love will make you forget how not to be happy. 🙂
    Have a great travel time ahead!
    Cheers from Indonesia

    1. Hi Sashi, awesome to hear. Of course finishing your education is important but consider travel as part of your education too. You will learn a lot out there. Thanks for reading and good luck!

  14. Hey Bren I’m just a fresher pursuing CA from India. I’ve always wanted to travel so in my free time I keep looking for articles and blogs that speak about travel and your articles are amazing.I hope one day I would be able to live my dream of traveling just as you are.

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