When people hear how I quit my job
as a lawyer after six years of corporate work, they assume I burned out and
fled the nine-to-five (or, more accurately, the nine-to-midnight), leaving
contracts, negotiations and lawsuits behind.
I quit my job in March 2008. Now,
six years later, where I am today surprises me as much as anyone else. My
website Legal Nomads – which I started so my mother
could keep track of my wanderings – has grown to a million views a year. I
freelance about travel and food for various publications around the world, I work
as a social media consultant, I’m a public speaker and I’m a brand ambassador
for Canadian travel company G Adventures.
And some of the lessons I learned to get here were intangible.
despite the stereotypes associated with long-term travellers or career
changers, I did not start travelling with the purpose of “finding myself”.
Others I have met on the road echo the same, saying they did not take off for the purposes of
self-discovery, even if it was a fun by-product. Plus, if you reframe a
decision to quit your job as a practical learning experience versus something
more stereotypical, it goes a long way toward convincing those around you to
support your choice. When I quit my job, many people said I was making a huge
mistake I would regret – feedback that left me feeling dejected. But I found
that talking about how my
sabbatical would be centred on the history of places I longed to visit, and how I planned to volunteer my skills as a lawyer where I could, helped to keep
the conversation positive.
Secondly, it is important to let go
of the external pressure to “find your passion”, an expectation that especially
affects those who left a traditional career path. Those that don’t run the risk
of falling into the “passion trap”, the idea that figuring out what
you “love” in life can be to the detriment of your day-to-day living. Instead, that
energy can be focused on getting better at the skills you already have, or
learning new ones that apply to the life you want.
In my case, I did not quit
to begin a new career. But in writing about culture and travel, and learning to
experiencing a destination through its cuisine, I found one along the way.
addition, just as I didn’t suddenly “find my passion” on the road, I didn’t
become a completely different person either. For some, leaving things until last minute and
seeing what happens is the norm. For my lawyer’s brain, it was rare. Yes, my
current lifestyle has made me less risk-averse, and I have spent time in places
I was scared to go before I quit my job. I’ve learned, also, not to be rigid
about plans and schedules, an approach I would recommend to others. Bookending
your travels with open-jaw, long-haul flights makes sense if you have time
constraints; otherwise, I would caution against planning too much. Part of the
glory in travelling is making friends – and having every day planned takes away
the serendipity of journeying to unexpected new places together.
At the same time, I will never be
completely comfortable with the inherent unpredictability of long-term travel. Uncertainty
stays, and spurs me to keep building toward bigger goals – not just to make
enough income to keep travelling, but to focus on building a business as I go. Conversely,
the ability to have a flexible life – writing from places around the world,
spending more quality time with family when I do return for a visit, meeting
others who inspire me to see a new place at the last minute – far outweighs the
Finally, it is important to keep to
your own standards of integrity and quality, regardless of what others might
think. This applies specifically to those who want to try for an online writing
career. When I started out, people told me my posts were too long or that I
posted too infrequently. This might be true for some, but I wanted to treat my
readers the way I wanted to be treated. By sticking to my own values, I’ve had
the pleasure of creating a community of like-minded people. If you don’t like
what you’re putting online, you’re probably not going to like the people who
are drawn to it.
Thinking of making your own
transition to long-term travel? Here are some of the more practical lessons
I’ve learned along the way.
There are scores of websites and books about how to save to travel. I had the
huge benefit of going to law school in Canada, where tuition is incredibly low,
but before I left I was living in New York, which made saving to travel more
My goal was to have sufficient funds
to travel for one year, plus have money to find my footing upon my return; based
on research, this equated about $15,000. When deciding on which purchases to
make, I found the most important consideration was travel opportunity costs: I
could purchase a pair of beautiful shoes or I could buy a plane ticket. It was
an excellent incentive. Budget breakdowns from fellow travellers come
in at around $12,000 to $20,000 per year, depending on how much time is spent
in Australia, New Zealand and Europe, which are more expensive. My year ended
up costing closer to $10,000, because I skipped those destinations, opting for prolonged
time in Southeast Asia and South America instead. It also helps that I love to
eat street food, so my on-the-ground expenses were kept reasonable. I tended to
stay in hostels or small guesthouses, where single rooms can still be found for
a reasonable price.
My travel resources page includes a lot of
information on the nitty gritty details of travelling, including insurance,
first aid kits and must-bring tech gadgets. But there are some essential
packing items worth mentioning that I don’t leave home without:
A safety whistle: great for camping or hiking, or when
trying to fend off monkeys, such as the ones that chased me up a mountain in
A sarong: it doubles as a towel, a pillow cover, a
blanket or a scarf. Useful for men or women, regardless of climate.
A headlamp: you never know when the power will
A doorstop: it adds peace of mind if you wedge
it in your door to help keep out intruders when alone in a guesthouse room.
Duct tape: used to tape window screens, bag
tears, shoe holes and more.
Jeans: don’t listen to people who tell you to leave
your jeans at home. You’ll want to feel like you normally do, and if you like
your jeans, bring them. There are scores of lightweight jeans that dry quickly.
I realise that I am privileged to be
able to build a life in this way – and I am very thankful to be here. I didn’t
quit my job as a lawyer to “be”
a travel and food writer. But when opportunities came my way, I took them,
curious about where they might lead. I look forward to seeing what comes next.