Gina Dowd was
standing on Washington DC’s Pennsylvania Avenue, near the White House, when an
idea that had been swirling around in her head crystallised into a decision.
She would quit her high-paying, high-pressure job as a DC-based financial lawyer
to travel the world.
It was January
2009, the night of US President Barack Obama’s first inauguration, and after a nearly
24-hour work day, the people crowding DC’s streets and filling its cabs and
trains for the event were making the task of heading home impossible. Dowd’s
life had become engulfed by her work, and this was her breaking point.
her plan to buy a house, and instead spent the next 12 months saving money and selling
nearly all her possessions. She gave her employers a month’s notice – double
the customary two weeks. “I knew I didn’t want to go back, but I thought if I
have to, I want good references,” she said.
Along with her
good career sense, Dowd started off with a healthy sense of adventure. “I had a
couple of Lonely Planet books and I wanted to go to Australia – that’s all I
She began her
trip in Hawaii and island-hopped her way to Fiji then Australia, taking surf
lessons, diving the Great Barrier Reef and visiting eucalyptus rainforests
along the way. A highlight was driving around Tasmania for two weeks with
a traveller she met on the road, seeing the wildlife, enjoying the culture and
sleeping in their rented car most nights. Together they took a boat to Maria
Island off Tasmania’s east coast, where they stayed in a converted prison. One
night, Dowd woke up and walked out to a clearing in the middle of the grounds to
discover a group of kangaroos and wombats sleeping, nestled in the grass.
amazing, I’m so lucky to get to experience this,” she thought at the time.
months, Dowd knew she needed to go somewhere less expensive if she were to
continue her journey. Though she had no initial interest in going to Southeast
Asia, many fellow travellers encouraged her to visit for both the experience
and the comparatively lower cost.
Dowd’s first stop was Phuket, Thailand,
where she began taking on freelance clients, spurred on by the fact that friends and acquaintances had
started contacting her for legal advice. As she continued travelling through
Asia, exploring Malaysia, Singapore and onto Europe, including living for seven
months in Seville, Spain, she branched out to freelance websites oDesk and Elance
to find foreign clients who needed an attorney for US matters. She focused her services on business,
intellectual property, financial regulatory work and e-commerce, which
consisted of tasks like contract negotiation and drafting – work she could do anywhere.
“In addition to being a great way to fund my
travels, these projects were very interesting in some of the same ways that my
travels were – they gave me glimpses into lives and cultures that were very
different from my own”, she said, giving the example of a Nigerian client who
shed light on the struggles of running a business in a country plagued by
To keep her new business afloat, Dowd relied on
technology and advance planning.
“All I needed was my laptop and a wi-fi
connection. For phone calls we would talk via Skype,” she said. “If I had a
deadline or needed to talk to a client, I would make sure I was staying
somewhere with a reliable, secure wi-fi connection (and not too expensive),
where I could have some privacy.”
stable of clients meant accounting for time differences, so she often found
herself working odd hours. However, this suited her new lifestyle perfectly. In
fact, many of her clients were world travellers themselves, and they liked the
idea of using a lawyer who understood their world.
Though Dowd said she
was never able to turn finding new clients into an exact science, she worked to
maintain long term relationships with the ones she took on. When she finally returned to the US in September
2011, she was able to support herself with the stable of freelance clients she
It wasn’t long before Dowd met someone who
shared her entrepreneurial spirit and love of travel. She met and married a
former Navy Seal who owns a software development company – one of the areas of
practice she focuses on. Together they have a young daughter and plan to travel
long term again in a couple of years, armed with the knowledge and experience
Dowd has already gained.
“I never once
regretted leaving my job,” she said.