How to Quit Your Job to Travel

Quitting & Career Management — By on December 31, 2007 at 2:01 pm

Blame it on the holidays, the cold weather or the government (for forcing more of us to get passports!) but it seems that a growing number of readers are writing to tell us they’re planning to quit their jobs to take extended trips overseas. One of the biggest challenges? How to give notice at work without burning those proverbial bridges. We assure you, it can be done. Shockingly, it was a lot easier getting jobs upon returning home from our year away than it was screwing up the nerve to quit!

Since its almost the New Year–and it’s well worth resolving to the the heck out of Dodge for a few months in 2008–we’re re-posting this popular entry. Drop us a line with any questions and we’ll try to post the responses in our “Lost in the Mail” section next week.

How We: Quit our Jobs to Travel
ADP: Initially, Jen, Holly and I worried that it would appear a little flakey to take a working hiatus after only five years on the job-would leaving be occupational suicide in fast-paced, career-centric NYC? To our great relief and surprise, our bosses seemed to recognize, as we did, this it’s not everyday you find two friends willing to travel around the world with you. They were sad to see us go, but supported our decision to leave.

In the end, it’s actually pretty simple put the old grind behind you (just two little words will do the trick), but telling your boss that you’re giving up a steady paycheck to backpack across the globe can require a certain level of finesse. So, based on our own experiences with bosses, HR and exit-interviews, here’s how to quit with a little panache-and perhaps, one day, to get your old position back.

1. Give Plenty of Notice: Nearly everyone advised us to give the standard two-weeks notice, as it could be uncomfortable sticking around the office longer. While it can feel a little awkward to be the lame duck employee, your superiors will likely be grateful if you give them four full weeks to prepare the department and start interviewing candidates for your position. If your job is technical and fairly hard to staff, you may want to consider offering even greater lead time. Give your boss a little courtesy now and she’ll remember you when it comes time to write a reference or recommendation later.

2. Find the Positive Spin: Whether you’re taking off for three months or three years, present your adventure as an opportunity too incredible to pass up. Explain how the experiences you’ll have abroad-learning foreign languages, immersing yourself in new cultures, volunteering in developing nations, etc-can increase your skill set and make you a more valuable employee upon your return.

3. Negotiate long-term leave: When Jen told her boss that she’d be hitting the road with us, he surprised her by offering to hold her position-provided she return within three months. While she couldn’t take the offer (she had her heart set on a year abroad), it taught us that anything job-related is up for discussion-even quitting. If you’ve got a good relationship with your boss, consider asking for 6-12 weeks of unpaid leave. That way, you can have your extended vacation and keep your position, too.

4. Finish with Style: Once you’ve officially given notice, it can be incredibly tempting act as if you’re already a free agent, but few things put a damper on years of hard work and dedication quite like slacking off at the very end. Make your boss’s life easier by creating a “cheat sheet” to your workspace and paperwork. Include any computer log-ins and passwords, a status report of your pending projects and instructions for locating digital files and their hard copies. It may take a little time to get the document together, but you’ll probably save yourself a few emails from your frazzled replacement.

5. Be grateful: You probably sent a thank you note to your boss after she interviewed you, so don’t forget to show your appreciation that she actually gave you the job. It’s not necessary to make your departure a Hallmark moment-a simple, heartfelt “thank you” will suffice.

6. Keep in touch: When you’re finally living the backpacker life in Argentina or Thailand or New Zealand, take a few minutes to send a postcard or email to your former boss and co-workers. It’s a great way to ensure that you’re gone-but not forgotten.

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  • Dellie says:

    Great information…

  • Modestmerlin says:

    an undoubtedly fantastic example of seizing the day. unfortunately long term leave isn’t viable for many jobs, especially in nyc, even given your expert advice :!

  • The Bon Vivant Traveler says:

    This is great advice – my husband and I just quit our jobs to travel around the world on our honeymoon and this article is right on the money. It’s great to read about your adventures. Love your blog – keep up the good work!