How to Leave Your Dream Job to Travel

Quitting & Career Management — By on November 25, 2010 at 12:00 pm

As I finalize the details for my upcoming trip around the world, I’ve been fielding bewildered questions from friends and family who simply can’t understand why I’d leave my dream job to travel for a year. While many career breakers turn to long term travel because they’re burned out on the 9-to-5 grind, resigning from my position as account supervisor in the Weber Shandwick Travel + Lifestyle practice was a decision I wrestled with for months.

For the past four years, I counted my blessings every working day. When I moved to New York from Atlanta in 2006, I landed a job at the top PR agency on their world-renowned travel team. My coworkers were like chatty sorority sisters, my clients were interesting and challenging, and I had more once-in-a-lifetime experiences than I could count – like launching the Wizarding World of Harry Potter or taking a private jet trip around The Bahamas. I couldn’t imagine leaving knowing the opportunities I would inevitably miss.

I was initially drawn to a career in PR because I enjoyed communicating. Unfortunately, my first few disappointing years as a publicist left me wondering if it was all it’s cracked up to be. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t get excited about my accounts during those early years – a chicken farm, peanuts and tea bags. It wasn’t until I combined a love of travel with my job that I finally found my groove.

Since I was a toddler road-tripping across the country with my grandparents, travel has been my fiercest passion. As an adult, my discretionary income goes to plane tickets, not shoes or clothes. Combining travel with work made my day job so much more than just a day job.

While I’ve worked on dozens of accounts, The Bahamas account has been my consistent favorite. It’s no wonder, since I’ve been to the beautiful islands dozens of times to escort visiting journalists and host TV crews. While there are always downsides, like long hours and the occasional crisis, my Facebook albums over the years only show the glamorous side – yachts, casinos, scuba diving, beaches, private planes, island hopping, video shoots and the occasional celebrity. I fully understand why everyone thinks I’m crazy to leave. Who would leave all this for the uncertainty (and poverty, and hostels, and bugs) of a year on the road?

Suffice it to say, I’m not leaving because of burnout – not by a long shot. My worst day at this job is better than the best day at my last, and I haven’t taken that lightly even as I’ve made plans to leave. At the very most basic level, I’m leaving because I have a bad case of wanderlust. I want to spend my 29th year living life as fully as possible. Instead of speeding toward my 30th birthday creating PR plans and getting gray hairs and wrinkles, I’m going to ride elephants and cage dive with great white sharks on the other side of the world.

Of course there are risks. As any career breaker will confess, leaving the working world for a sabbatical of any kind is unsettling, especially in a shaky economy. What if the job market is a disaster when I get back? What if the gap in my resume makes me less attractive to employers? What if people think I’m flaky for running off to Fiji? What if no one reads my blog? What if I never find another job as wonderful as the one I have now?

My college roommate’s dad used to tell us, “If ‘ifs’ were fifths, we’d all be drunk.” Sure, it might be irresponsible to quit an amazing job for some people in some industries in some situations, but I am confident that my communication skills will still be top notch in a year’s time, and I’d be willing to wager that the PR industry will still be around then as well.

Even believing that, I was still hesitant to walk into my boss’s office to resign. He couldn’t be a more stand-up guy, and I knew once I finally spit the words out he would be supportive, but saying it out loud made it official and real. After I did it, I went back to my desk and thought, “Well, that’s either the best decision I’ve ever made, or the worst.”

Only time will tell, but I’m betting on best. Here’s four tips on how to leave a job you love that I picked up from this experience.

1. Be graceful. Unless you’re determined to make a dramatic exit, do everything you can to avoid burning bridges. Most career breakers eventually come home, and you may want to use your experience in the same field once again. Unless you plan to switch careers upon return, now is not the time to tell everyone what you really think of them. Bow out gracefully.

2. Plan ahead. Make the transition easy on your colleagues. Leave detailed notes of everything you were working on and plan to be available should there be any questions about projects after you leave.

3. Give good warning. Give as much notice as you can before your departure. I gave six weeks, but I know others who’ve given up to six months.

4. Leave at a slow time. When deciding on a departure date, consider what projects you’re working on and try to leave during a lull. October is historically an insane month for me with multiple events and projects, and this year was the worst yet. I decided to wait until I wrapped up the large projects to leave so I didn’t stick one of my colleagues with extra work. I also took into account that we had several teammates out on maternity leave and decided to wait until they were back to make my exit.

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    17 Comments

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  • Great post, Angie. And you’re right: While so many other “career breakers,” do so with the intention to change fields when they return–or not go back to work at all–I think it’s an excellent point to make that you can always just take a hiatus and come back to the field and work that you love. You may be going somewhere, but the travel and PR industries are not!

    Speaking of Harry Potter, can’t wait to see you at Wizarding World in just three weeks!!!

  • Patty H says:

    I’m so jealous of you girls! You’ll have SO much fun!!

  • Great post! A little bit of a different circumstance since I’m making money while on the road since quitting my job 3 months ago, but I can definitely relate. I’ve met a ton of people that took career breaks, and not one of them have I heard them say “that was the worst decision I ever made”. I’m traveling the world, meeting great people, experiencing things I never would have and wouldn’t trade the last 3 months for anything. I don’t know how long I’ll end up doing this, maybe forever, maybe not, but I know that anytime I can come back to the job market on my own terms when I’m ready to. Look forward to following your journey!

  • Angie says:

    Can’t WAIT for Wizarding World!

  • Rebecca says:

    Great article and VERY inspiring! I’m in a similar job (PR – but not in an agency) where I get to travel loads and do lots of interesting things, but sometimes that’s not enough! All the best for your travels!

  • Angie says:

    Thanks, Rebecca! I feel exactly the same way. There’s much to be thankful for if you can find a great job, but nothing satisfies like travel!

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  • Congratulations on making the decision to travel!

    YOu’ll never regret it and you’ll have memories to last a life time. Watch out with wanderlust…you might never go back 🙂

    I sure don’t regret leaving my career back in ’08 and never went back to my old life. I’ve been traveling ever since and hope to continue my travels for a few more years.

    Good luck and safe travels!

  • OTV Egypt says:

    Good, How to Leave Your Dream Job to Travel For a Year | The Lost Girls.

  • Gary Arndt says:

    Good for you! I’m glad to hear you are doing this.

    I think you will be better at your job when you return having seen the world through the eyes of a traveler.

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