She Quit Her Job To Travel the World

…and came right back. Not because something went wrong, but because that was always the plan.

Every time I reactivate a certain “networking” profile, in the section labelled “the most private thing you’re willing to admit,” I say that I daydream of quitting my job and traveling the world. I guess if you know me then you know that isn’t really a secret. And if you frequent this site then it really isn’t all that private either. But, I know I’m one of millions with this dream. There are so many of us who want to hand in our two weeks notice and head straight to the airport, but it simply isn’t our time just yet.

However, it was high time for Nina B. to put her plan in motion and set off on a journey around the world. Her story differs from mine in the sense that I have absolutely no plans to come back, at least not yet. I’m sure a lot of people can relate to her desire though. She only planned to take a certain amount of time to see the world and return home a new Nina. Here’s her story:

Nina Camel Ride - Giza, Egypt

What prompted you to quit your job to travel?
I’d been with the company for over five years (as a millennial that’s an eternity), and simply felt it was time for a change. I’d been softly looking over the years, but at this particular time, so many factors had perfectly aligned:
  1. Personally, I’m quickly approaching 30 and this would be one of my last opportunities to travel for an extended period of time (my career was beyond entry/junior, not too senior and could recover from the gap, I don’t have: a mortgage, child(ren) or serious significant other).
  2. My lease was up, and my roommate was moving back to Atlanta.
  3. My aunt had just moved to upstate NY, with an empty basement so I could store my furniture
  4. I had friends willing to allow me to couch surf for 3 months so I can aggressively save
  5. I had several family & friend events going on over the summer that would require me to go to Chicago back-to-back weekends, so I figured I’d just stay and take the summer off. 
We all need friends like yours. Did you thoroughly make a plan or just set a few goals? What was the plan and/or what were your goals?
Yep the plan was set by December/early January of 2015 and was written in my iPhone’s calendar.
Late February/ Early March – Move out of my apartment. Start couch surfing. 
March/Late May – Live with friends & save money.
Late May/Early June – My little sister’s Prom & Graduation in Chicago.
Mid June/Early July – Travel Abroad (Australia & New Zealand)
July – Wedding in Chicago + Explore Chicago as an Adult + Bridesmaid for Wedding in Atlanta
August – Mid September – Graduation in Houston + Travel Abroad
September – Return to NY and figure out LIFE!
 
Did you keep your intentions a secret? If not, what did people say when you told them?
Nope! All of my close friends and family knew of the plan as it was developing. I’d talked to mentors for advice, etc. Surprisingly, everyone was extremely supportive and agreed that this was the time to take the leap.
Sounds like you have a solid circle. How’d you choose that specific amount of time?
It was all travel based on my summer schedule – and financially, I was only planning to save for time off during the summer. I love my career and was looking forward to returning to New York and exploring more challenging roles. 
Nina With a ladyboy after the Cabaret performance in Chiang Mai
Okay so fast forward, it’s time to book your ticket…Did everything go as planned (as far as the plan you originally came up with)? If not, what happened?
Hell No! Well there was only one trip that had been planned well ahead of time so I knew I was going there (Yacht Week Greece) – but nothing had been booked.
Just as I was giving my job my (far in advance) notice, a friend at a start up ad-agency sold me on joining their team – and I did. Within a week, my entire plan changed.
Thursday – I was taken to dinner by the agency’s owner
Sunday – we met to discuss salary
Monday – I had to go back to my job and give them a new end date 
Tuesday – a friend sent me an apartment listing for a studio – went to the open house that night – applied thinking I wouldn’t get the apartment
Thursday – by only the grace of a higher power, I was approved for the apartment and had scheduled time to sign my lease the following week. If you know anything about NY apartment hunting the you know it can be hell. 
So literally within a week, the plan I’d been working on for months had changed. Though I’m sure this was not the answer you were expecting, lol. Unfortunately, after only six weeks at the job, I decided that I was not a good fit at that particular company. I went BACK to the original plan of traveling. The issue now is that I’d tapped into my savings, lost half the summer, and was now in a new lease. 
I believe it was fate for that new job to not work out. How did you adapt to these changes?
My field is project management, so most of my time and energy goes towards damage control and logistics. lol. 
  1. I posted my apartment and found someone to sublet the space while gone. After several years in NY, living alone was a luxury I was not willing to give up just yet.
  2. I completely scratched the original travel plan and started fresh by contacting friends who were familiar with traveling to come up with a new itinerary. It changed SEVERAL times). By late July, when preparing to go to Atlanta for my friend’s wedding, I had somewhat of a locked plan and had packed my bags with the intention of leaving NY for six weeks.
Where was the first city on your itinerary? How’d you choose it?
Let’s see, I stayed within the US first to attend to prior commitments (which had always been apart of the plan). So I went to Atlanta for a wedding, then to Houston for a Graduation, and then Chicago to repack. My first stop abroad was to Athens, Greece for Yacht Week. This was the trip I’d been paying on, so this was a component that was never going to change. So, I only purchased a one way flight and used Greece as my starting point. 
Nina Sunset swim in the Aegean Sea during Yacht Week Greece
Where else did you go?
I left Greece slightly earlier than the rest of my crew (yacht term, lol), so that I could take the flight to Bangkok that allowed for a 9 hour layover in Cairo, Egypt. A good friend of mine had just done a similar layover and said that her tour was amazing. I did the exact same tour.  
So… 
  • Greece (Yacht Week: Lavrio, Glyfada, Ermioni, Poros, Porto Heli & Hydra)
  • Cairo, Egypt (9 hour layover)
  • Bangkok, Thailand
  • Chaing Mai, Thailand
  • Siem Reap, Cambodia
  • Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam
  • Hanoi, Vietnam (Ha Long Bay & Sapa)
  • Hong Kong (long layover before heading back to the states – didn’t really explore, just went to DisneyLand)
That’s an amazing itinerary. I love that you utilized the layovers because most people don’t take advantage of that FREE city during a trip. What was your favorite city out of them all and why?
That’s tough because I don’t believe in the word favorite. But if I absolutely had to choose, simply because I spent the most time there and got to explore it a little longer, I would say Hanoi, Vietnam (with Cairo & Chaing Mai right behind). 
I think Vietnam shocked me the most. So many people had been traveling to Thailand that in ways, I knew what to expect. Although Hanoi gets many tourist, in my circle, I hadn’t heard too many things about it. I’d only known Vietnam as “the Vietnam War,” but the city has sooo much culture and history that I found admirable and interesting. 
I loved the fast paced, city-feel, but then the excursions that allowed me to see some of the most beautiful landscapes I’d ever laid my eyes on (Ha Long Bay & Sapa). Hanoi allowed for a nice mix of relaxation and city living (which is probably why I instantly fell in love with Barcelona – despite the little time I spent there – I just knew it was my kind of place). I ate Phó on the side of a busy street, drank Cà phê sữa đá (Vietnamese iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk) every morning while exploring new french influenced neighborhoods, fed baby monkeys during breakfast, took a nap on the beach and went rock climbing on Monkey Island, had dinner looking out at the miles and miles of mountains in Ha Long Bay, and fell on my ass bringing the mountain lady down with me while trekking through the muddy mountains in Sapa (which I somewhat hated). Then I partied the night away with my hostel friends from Singapore & South Africa. Overall Hanoi provided the most rounded traveling experience!
Nina at dinner with Cheryl from Singapore and Jackie from South Africa 
Did this experience change you in any way? How?
I would like to think so, but probably not. I will say that I walked away knowing that I’m not meant for “backpacking” or hostels,  and that I hated being the only person traveling that only knew one language, so I came back and decided to give Spanish a fair try. 
That’s something! You learned something about yourself. Would you recommend this type of sabbatical for everyone or just for travel lovers? Why?
Nope, I don’t think its meant for everyone, even for those that love traveling. There’s a certain “lifestyle” in New York that I’d worked so hard to build, that I gave up for this “sabbatical.” Granted mine wasn’t even that long, I do think that American companies should force or offer incentives for their employees to travel more or take more time off, which would make for a happier and healthier work environment. And millennials wouldn’t feel FORCED to create these types of experiences. 
Most companies early in your career only offer two weeks of paid vacation, and if you’re a transplant, like I am, factoring in the number of times you have to take time off just to go home for family events, holidays or emergencies, you’re down to maybe a week+. If you want to go anywhere that requires at least 24 hours of travel time, you’re kind of screwed. Typically the more years you invest in a company, the more vacation time you can gain, but the older you get, the more responsibilities you likely have (like children), and your time off is not your own. 
I don’t miss not having an income and living off of savings or not living “comfortably” in NY where I can attend brunches and dinners regularly. So, I definitely can’t say I have regrets (yet), but I do miss feeling like the adult I’d managed to become in NY. I’m currently feeling like I’m back to being fresh out of college. Its humbling, but I have faith all will work out in the end, and I’ll look back with appreciation. 
Nina With her Muay Thai boxing coach in Chiang Mai
What’s the number one piece of advice you’d recommend to someone planning to quit to travel for a couple months, or even indefinitely?
This is actually advice coming from an British guy I met in Cambodia: Don’t make plans. Yes save your funds, but once you head out, don’t lock in your schedule where you don’t allow yourself enough time in each location. 
Naturally we feel there’s so much to see and we rush a lot of our visits (I for sure was tired from feeling like a tourist – and in Asia, not seeing enough diversity, which is draining), but really allow yourself the time and those extra days of doing nothing – and allowing the city to happen to you (if that makes any sense). 
That makes perfect sense and it’s my plan once I do finally ditch the US. What’s the one thing you would change about your journey?
Probably more time in Thailand (I didn’t visit southern Thailand) and more time in Vietnam (everyone highly recommends Hoi An).  Along the way I met one guy that was doing 3 months only in Thailand and a couple doing a month only in Vietnam. I understood and admired both situations, especially Vietnam. I think I’m a person that would enjoying living abroad for short periods of time, as oppose to visiting multiple cities and vacationing. I HATE being a tourist. So honestly, just more time, but there’s so many places to go!! What do you do?!
If you could do it all over again, would you? Why or why not?
Haha. Another really tough question. If my career fails to ever take off again, then it was the worst decision EVER!! But honestly, I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. Even the thoughts you manage to form that gives you the strength to walk away from two jobs in two months, lol. But I think if I hadn’t, I would have always wondered “what if,” and that’s a mindset I couldn’t live with.  
So ask me again in a year when I speak more eloquently on my experience and how I was able to repair my “lifestyle!”
Nina Khan el-Khalili - Cairo, Egypt

Nina, that was more than eloquent and you’re all types of goals for all of us. Thank you so much for sharing your story with me and now, essentially the world! You’ve lit a fire under my ass again and now I’m back to figuring out how to make this happen sooner rather than later. You can find Nina on Instagram at @ninabnett.

Has anyone out there thought of quitting your job to travel? What’s stopping you?! Drop a line below.

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