I’ve written some other posts on the topic of balancing work and travel, but I want to delve a little deeper into the topic for those of you who might be reading this, wishing you were able to get out and travel more, but afraid of taking the necessary steps in order to do so. For many of us, life is a long slog of working with occasional breaks, but we wish for something more. Nobody wants to spend life chained to a desk, typing away on a computer. The reason people choose this lifestyle is because there are real benefits to it. Those jobs typically pay a little better than more flexible jobs, therefore allowing luxuries like purchasing power, financial security, and the ability to save for a rainy day. Trust me…I think those things are really important and having worked for ten years doing things I didn’t necessarily love in order to pay off $80,000 in student loan debt, I understand this better than most.
Still, I’ve spent my life working to continually better myself and I’m constantly taking steps to move closer and closer towards my goals. Ten years ago, I was 23. I had $80,000 in debt, and nothing but a low paying job where I got yelled at over the phone all day long, every day. I’m not kidding when I tell you that I went home in tears every single day. My life felt hopeless. I felt like I would be stuck getting yelled at on the phone for the rest of my life, that all the money I worked so hard to earn was just falling into an endless black hole of student loan payments that I didn’t hope to ever pay off, and that I would never have the freedom to have fun or do anything I wanted ever again. My health suffered as well. I was so depressed that I stopped exercising, started eating crap that made me feel better temporarily, and I gained weight. It took me a long time to dig myself out of that hole, become healthy again, and pay off that student loan debt, but I’m happy to report that today I am 33 years old and my life is drastically different. I have zero debt. Zero! I’m working in a different field where I’m able to make more choices and enjoy more flexibility. I’m able to travel and go on amazing trips, and I’m actually building up savings. What a difference a decade makes!
My life could have easily taken a different path, but I made a difficult decision ten years ago when I was in so much pain. I realized that it was too much to bear and I couldn’t live like that for the rest of my life. I knew that I have this one life to live and I wanted to make the most out of it. It was incredibly difficult, but I made a conscious decision to dig myself out of my hole. I lived an extremely frugal lifestyle for a long time. My travels turned into road trips to visit family members rather than the international adventures I loved so much. I spent my spare time learning new professional skills and software, working on my portfolio and resume, and applying to any jobs I could get that moved more and more in the direction of where I wanted to be. It was tough at first. Companies like to hire people for things they have already done, and I was pigeonholed as a customer service representative for a long time. Still, I would apply for jobs that included some of the things I wanted in life. Each new job I would work at gained me some new skills, and each time I would leave a job for a new one, I would play up the skills I wanted to continue to develop on my resume and play down the ones I didn’t want to continue to do. This slow transition eventually led me to a completely different career!
Here’s what that transition looked like:
From Customer Service Rep to Graphic Designer
- First job: All customer service. Nothing creative. Completely soul-sucking. Needed to get out. Worked on some graphic design on the side and built up software knowledge and a portfolio.
- Second job: Job description was mostly customer service, but they did need somebody who knew basic graphic design to help with some basic stuff. Pay was drastically lower, but took it anyway.
- Third job: My resume and cover letter heavily featured the fact that I did some graphic design at the previous position. I didn’t talk much about the customer service.
- Fourth job: I worked at a sign shop for a few months, which was all graphic design, but super low level stuff.
- Fifth job: Combined the design and customer service experience to snag a position managing advertising for a pretty big company.
- Sixth job: Now a full graphic designer, corporate.
- Seventh job: Transitioning into working remotely (next goal).
I wasn’t able to even think about transitioning to freelance/remote work until the student loan debt was paid off. When you’re heavy into debt, you need to focus on paying it off. I was, however, able to work on my career concurrently. If you’re in a position you don’t like, why not work on making incremental changes today that will lead you into a better place? It may be slow going, but it’s important to take the long view and realize that in the grand scheme of things, the pain you will go through in improving your life will be worthwhile.
When you work remotely, you’re able to work anywhere you want. Why not travel while working at the same time? You don’t have to give up a paycheck in order to travel!
What is holding you back?
Take a moment to look at what is limiting you from achieving your travel dreams. Those reasons will be different for everybody depending on their personal situation, but I would be willing to bet that there is a significant amount of fear involved. Making a significant life change comes with a lot of uncertainty and the fear of the unknown and the possibility of negative consequences can be a powerful thing. Not only that, but depending on where you are in life, you may have additional factors limiting you from getting out there and traveling more. If you’re struggling financially, you may find it difficult to think about getting out of your situation and traveling when you’re just struggling to make the bills. If you’ve got a mortgage and children to take care of, you may feel like you’re tied down to your particular location and moving around a lot might be difficult.
This isn’t going to be one of those articles where I tell you not to worry about your obligations and that you should just quit your job and roam the world, because for many people it’s frankly just not that simple. I will, however, give you some motivation and a few ideas to work on making manageable changes in your life that can lead to a career change that allows for more travel and more flexibility in your life.