Ask Kate: Should I Give Up My Great Life To Travel?

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What happens if you’ve always planned to travel — but you end up with a great life at home that you don’t want to leave?  And what if the clock is ticking on your ability to do so?

Hi Kate,

A friend of mine has asked me to go and work and live in Australia for a year (or possibly longer) in October. This is something I’ve always wanted to do in the past but last time the friend I was going with let me down and I subsequently didn’t go.

As I wanted to shake my life up a little bit at the time, I moved to a new city and got a great apartment. I have really made a life for myself in this city, I love my job, have made some really good friends and have a fantastic social life.

However I don’t want to regret not trying out working and living in another country but the same urge to do it isn’t there. It’s hard because one part of me wants to go as I know I would love it yet the other part of me doesn’t want to leave this great life I’ve made for myself in the city.

I worry that when we get back from Australia, I won’t find a job as good as the one I’m in now and having previously worked in jobs I’ve hated, I know how rare it is to find one you enjoy!

I’m now 28 and am only eligible for the working holiday visa until I’m 30 hence why it’s a now or never situation. I’m also plagued by the fact that I feel I SHOULD be settling down at this point (at least that’s what my parents think!) I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this.

Oh, reader.  I can relate to this so much — feeling like you absolutely SHOULD want something desperately, but the feelings just aren’t there.

I want to tell you that you’ve got more time than you think.  I want to tell you that this isn’t your only chance to live abroad.  I want to tell you that it doesn’t matter what your parents think.

But most of all, I want to tell you that you don’t have to go to Australia.

You didn’t think I’d say that, huh?  🙂

Our lives turn in directions we don’t expect.  And if you always planned on living abroad someday, it may be shocking to realize how content you are with your current life.

The important part is that you have at least two years to make your decision.  What a lot of people don’t realize is that the Australia working holiday visa is eligible until you turn 31, not 30.  You could arrive in Australia the day before your 31st birthday and you would have no problem securing that visa.  (Of course, I urge you to leave more than one day of buffer room, just in case!)

If I were in your position, this is what you’d do: I’d drop the idea of leaving for Australia with your friend this October.  I’d stay in touch with her, follow her journey closely, and learn about what the working holiday experience in Australia is like.  Meanwhile, I’d take one year to think and evaluate and decide whether I should ultimately go abroad.  I’d take a look at other options besides just Australia — teaching English, long-term backpacking, other work abroad programs that aren’t age-restricted.  And I’d save money like CRAZY.

In the meantime, I would throw myself into my job, do amazing things at work (and keep documentation of all my accomplishments), and make myself indispensable to the company.

And then I would meet with my boss and broach the idea of taking a yearlong sabbatical.

Not every employer will go for this — but some will.  And even if they don’t and you decide to leave your job, you’ll be leaving on excellent terms and the door may be open for you to return someday.  In the meantime, your apartment can most likely be subletted.  Your friends will still be there — but keep in mind that age 28 is the time when people are getting married and having babies, and many of your friendships will inevitably change during these years, regardless of whether you go abroad.

If you do decide to go to Australia, I guarantee that you won’t regret it.  Your previous life will pale in comparison.  You’ll have the time of your life, and these are the stories that you’ll be telling when you’re older.

And remember that Australia isn’t the only option.  You could work in New Zealand.  You could backpack Southeast Asia or Central America.  You could teach English in East Asia and make good money while doing so.  Or you could find a job abroad.  You could spend a year doing a combination of these things — maybe work in Australia for six months, travel Australia and New Zealand for two, and backpack Southeast Asia for four!

And one last thing — it’s tempting to go with a friend, but going on your own will allow you to customize your trip to you alone and it will open you up to infinite possibilities.

The decision is yours.  You’ve got a good life.  Only you can decide if going abroad is worth the gamble.

Wishing you all the best of luck.

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52 thoughts on “Ask Kate: Should I Give Up My Great Life To Travel?”

  1. Sound advice.

    I was afraid of the career impediments leaving for a full year would have, so I did a significantly shorter trip as a “test run”. I was only gone for 6 weeks, but I WOOFed in that time, and in the end, it satisfied my life-long desire to go. For me, I realized a full year in Australia was unnecessary. Maybe this reader would benefit from a similar compromise.

  2. I’m in a similar boat as this reader. My life is going pretty well, except that I cannot stand my job. The cubicle life of spreadsheets and data is wearing on me, even though I’ve only been doing it a year. The salary is nice, but the limited vacation and lack of adventure has worn on me. I decided to take the leap and go and teach English in Spain. Education has always been a passion of mine, and I need to make some money while traveling so this was a great compromise! It’s still 6 months away, but I cannot wait! Good luck to you in whatever you decide to do, but ever since I made this decision I knew it was the best thing for me. I feel so much better because if hadn’t gone I knew I’d always have regretted not doing it.

  3. If it were me, I’d stay in the great job and take a few really nice vacations. Make use of holidays and long weekends. Traveling doesn’t have to be a full time commitment. Does the company have an office overseas? If not, would they consider opening one? I was in talks with my company to move to one of their European offices when I met my now husband. As fate would have it, his job enables us to travel the world so I was able to quit my own job and tag along. If living or spending time abroad is meant to be, it will happen. Sometimes you just have to be patient and be open to possibilities you never considered.

  4. I can definitely understand, the bottom line is that you can make you’re life whatever you want it to be :-). I read a great blog post the other day that talked about how in every decision there will be some “right” and there will probably be some “wrong” too. I’ve also had that feeling of what “should” I be doing and every time I get try to shake it off and remember that there is no should, it’s just what I want for my life. I know it’s easier said than done, but as I get farther away from that construct of what our lives “should” look like – the happier I am.

  5. Don’t do it!! If you don’t have the passion that was once there to go than don’t just do it because it’s the right time for your friend, you will end up regretting it. I agree with Kate it won’t be your last opportunity, there will be many more in the future.

    I love the idea from the reader above about seeing if your company has abroad offices. And it isn’t like you are going to be on holiday for a year, you will be working. While Australia is an amazing place you could quite easily get a crappy boss that makes you rethink leaving your current one. Don’t be a workaholic, use your holidays, travel to amazing places and find your passion again 🙂

  6. Great advice! I agree, there are so many options to consider that it’s not necessarily a now or never situation. Evaluate what you really want and not what you “should” want–they are not always the same for everyone!

  7. Leaving my job to backpack in South America was the best decision I ever made. It was the experience of a lifetime and I wouldn’t have regretted it even if my job before I left had been perfect. As it turned out, my old work invited me straight back in to freelance for them as soon as I got back to the UK, and I’m currently in the process of planning my own year in Sydney (I got my visa through last week).

    Travelling has made me realise that I’m much happier earning less in a more basic job and having the freedom to introduce a bit of variety into my life than concentrating on a career. You might feel the same way and wish you hadn’t spent so long in the same job – no matter how great it seemed. By all means, having those years of work behind you will made it much easier to find work in Australia or in the future, but don’t be afraid to leave one job, because there are so many different opportunities out there and you never know what you might discover you love more.

    I think Kate’s advice is spot on. Give it a little longer to plan and see how you feel, and ask around people who’ve done it before. Then you’ll be better informed to make the decision. But whatever you do, don’t miss the visa application deadline!

  8. From what I’ve been told, you can apply for the 417 or 462 work/travel visa until you turn 31. You then have a year to enter the country on that visa. Here’s a link:

    WWOOFing doesn’t need a work visa since it’s volunteer work, and you could do that for a few weeks if you don’t care about making money. Australia has similar mannerisms to the West and you can make a lot of money working in other jobs there either related or not to your current career-type job.

  9. I agree. If she’s not that keen to go right now, why go? She does have the luxury of time, having until age 31 to get approved for a WHV. As for me, I turned 36 last month and as a Canadian, there are only five countries that offer a WHV up to age 35. (Maybe she could look into this for Americans, too. I know for NZ, Americans 18 to 35 qualify via a Bunac program.)

    I applied last fall because I knew once I turned 36, I would not be eligible. That was my main motivating factor, my age, and the fact I want to travel more than three weeks a year (my allotted vacation time). Keep in mind I didn’t leave North America at all in my 20s either. Well, I got approved for NZ and now I’m like, how can I not go? I have a good job I enjoy for the most part, with great collegues, benefits, pension, all that, plus I love my neighbourhood (and have cheap rent) and my city. I’m not unhappy here or dying to escape my cublicle, but I will not have this opportubnity again (a WHV), so I am going to go for it!

    But, I can relate to feeling torn about leaving a great life. Luckily, time is on her side. It wasn’t/isn’t for me.

  10. What a wonderful, thoughtful answer Kate! I am in a simiar boat–28 years old, feeling like it’s a ‘now or never’ sitation to travel long term, though I realize that’s more something that *I’m* telling myself–not a reality. I think a lot of that has to to with American ideas about travel and life in general–that it’s frivolous, that your career comes first, that you should be settled down by age 30.

    I’ll admit I’m not as happy with my current life as the letter writer. All the more reason to go and shake things up, right? I was talking my travel plans over with a friend of mine who said “I’ve never heard someone say ‘I wish I had travelled less.'”

  11. Great advice, Kate!

    Sounds like a nice problem to have…

    Sometimes people box themselves into artificial “one side or the other” decisions. I think a large # of people would be super surprised by what is possible just be telling your work and friends what you are considering. Maybe work will grant her a year sabbatical. Maybe they will let her work remotely for a year in a different capacity. Who knows?

    I do know that staring at a decision like this always seems scarier than it ultimately is. It is easier to stay at in your current position then it is to take the leap. But after you leap, most often you find yourself in a gentle glide as opposed to a screaming free fall… most of the time:)

    I would tell your reader to think extra hard about her reasons for not wanting to take a year to travel. If it is truly because she is in a great place at work and home, then maybe stay. But if fear of the unknown is a part of the equation, then she needs to weigh how much this is affecting her. The best things that have ever happened to me in life have been from venturing into the unknown and doing the uncomfortable.


  12. I say go now. You might put it off and then never get the chance. Don’t feel pressured, obviously, but going to Australia was one of the simultaneously best and worst decisions in my life but I wouldn’t change anything about it.

  13. I am leaving my life here in Seattle Washington for an unpaid internship this for the summer in Portugal, I leave May 14th. I am 26, I have a great apartment in a great location with a cheap price, a great (but very dead end job as a bartender/manager ) , good friends, a super sexy man who I am just getting to know who I met after I already decided to leave and I have no idea what i will do after, if i even come back.
    I say go for it, you are only young once, if Australia isn’t for you, try someplace else. Try Wwoofing, try, teaching, try an internship in your field that will further advance you. Seeing new things and meeting new people are what make a rich and full life that much better.
    you never know…

    1. I just turned 26 and am freaking out about becoming 30 one day and never leaving MN.

      You have given me hope to leave my job and foucs on something that will make me happy in the ‘right now’

  14. Great advice, Kate. I can completely relate to this reader’s dilemma too; the feeling of wanting to want something is one I often experience!

  15. Hi Kate,

    Great post thanks for your wisdom.
    Something I would like to point out is that Australia is not a cheap place to travel let alone live. People seem to under estimate our little Australia 🙂

    Best to save like a crazy person and try to get a job and a place to stay before you leave, the job market is very competitive (for example in Adelaide – SA – 1000 lawyers graduate at Uni… there are not enough jobs to support people who have spent 6 years are uni.)

    Min wage isnt too bad but depending where you live eg Mebl or Sydney. If you decide to work in the city you may not be able to afford to live in the city, a friend of mind travels an hour or 2 just to get to work each morning because she has a great job but cant afford to live anywhere near the city.

    1. Sam, thanks for the great advice! It’s true for lawyers everywhere, I’m afraid. The law school bubble is bursting. And yes, Australia is a very expensive country now, especially with their currency doing so well. The best thing is to earn a salary there.

  16. This post has helped me so much. I have been in a rough situation. I am about to graduate college and I was deciding to teach English in South Korea until my parents told me they would cut me off and sell my car. If they do this, I’d have to go to Korea with no money and in debt. Today, after reading this blog, I decided to drop Korea and take more time to think about it. I’ve decided to establish myself, SAVE MONEY, and then decide if it is worth it. (And also consider more options besides Korea!) I will be a teacher (if I find a job..) here in America, so traveling abroad in the summers is an option for me too.

    Anyway, i just wanted to say thanks for posting this at the most perfect time for me. It helped me make a huge life decision and also feel good about it.

    1. Met lots of folks who went to South Korea especially because they could pay off their debts quicker than they could back in the US. You can also apply for an Aussie/NZ WHV while in South Korea. Money is rarely the problem.

    2. Kaitlyn, my heart goes out to you. I think you are making a very smart decision by taking Korea off the table for now. If I were you, I’d make this year about making yourself financially self-sufficient, down to your housing and car. Whether or not you end up traveling, it will be good for you.

    3. If you are still planning on going to korea, and if you hadn’t planned on doing it this way anyway, I would highly suggest which starts on a six month contract. I had the best experience of my life and kept extending my contract until I had stayed for 2 years and then used a portion of my saving from this very well paid job to travel around asia for 5 months. I planned to spend the rest travelling south america for 3 months but plans have changed and that has been postponed til after my pgce. you have nothing to lose with going to south korea, the money is so good and they pay for all flights and your flat!! 😀

  17. Good, solid advice Kate! As you say, if you enjoy the job you do, prove yourself a valuable member of the team and talk to your boss about a sabbatical – I’m finding that companies these days respect long travel adventures way more than they used too. I guess it’s the GEN Y growing up thing.

  18. Only you can decide what to do with your life! But, always remember that is better to try when you feel like it, then to live the rest of your life with “what ifs”!

    We travel and lived on 3 continents From Europe to South America (lived one year and a half), left everything behind and went to live in Canada, Toronto for 6 years. We (me and my husband) had good careers, great salaries..Guess what, we left everything and moved back to Europe. And we started everything from zero and we never regret it. If I will go back in time, I would do exactly the same!

    The choice is yours!

  19. As a life-long traveller and travel blogger, I’m quite weary of the notion of travelling just to travel. I think travel for its own sake is something everyone should do to broaden their perspectives and become more tolerant well rounded people. However, I think there is a limit where “quitting my life to travel” becomes akin to pursuing a “liesure lifestyle,” where one offers nothing back to the world in exchange. I think its really important, if you are going to make consistent or perpetual travel a life choice, to ensure you’re working all along the way, either as a volunteer or in a professional capacity, to give back to the communities you are seeing.

  20. I have always found that happy people tend to be happy wherever they are. Happiness is not about winning the lottery. Happy people are winning “the lottery” everyday they are alive. The question is, can you live with the regrets that come when you don’t live your dream. Everyone has some regrets, it comes with only having 70 of so years of living, and not having enough time to do everything.

  21. Wow, that’s some great advice. I love how you gave her all sorts of options as well. Nice work!
    So much can change in our lives in just the blink of an eye. It’s great to leave all doors open. Saving money before going abroad is very important and not rushing into any plans is also a good idea.

    Most importantly though is to be happy and live the lifestyle of your dreams.

    Oh, and I can personally say that Teaching English in China is a great way of making money abroad!

    Cheers Kate!

    1. Thanks, Dariece! If I decided to teach, I’d go to China hands-down. Best combination of making money, good benefits, fascinating culture, and becoming culturally aware in one of the most important countries in the world.

  22. I agree with Kate, you have to quit your job for good. Many employers now offer sabbaticals. In the end they get something out of it as well: a refreshed, motivated member of staff. And if you are good in your job, your employer will be happy not to let you go for good. I am in my second year of a sabbatical and haven’t regretted it so far. I was really lucky to have been working for the government, so I can take up to three years if I want.

  23. Great response Kate!! To the person who asked the question, I just got back from Australia a couple days ago and meet so many people working there for a year. I’ve always wanted to take a year off and travel. The people I meet said its so worth it!! I would defiantly follow Kate’s advice!

    – The Fashionista Tourist

  24. I am currently on a working holiday visa in NZ and loving it! I too quite my job to go travelling long term and would also recommend it but I have to look at things one step at a time! The thought of me still living out of my already disgusting backpack in let’s say, 5 years time makes me feel sick! Love the blog 🙂

  25. I am currently in exactly the same boat as the writer. I am 27 and having been working for the same company since I was 16. The dream of travelling has always been with me since I went to Thailand when I was 17 but I have never been in a situation where I could just leave.

    Now I can.

    I came across the Australia WTV when I was researching travelling. I am now seriously considering it as I feel it will be an adventure of a lifetime. I am giving myself the next year to save money and think about what I really want to do.

    I will admit I am terrified at the prospect of leaving a relatively secure job and then not being able to find anything when I get back but the way I see it is “what will be will be” I just have to make sure I am the best I can be.

  26. Hi,

    As the poster of the question I thought I would update everyone on my decision. Well I decided to be brave and ask my boss for a career break. She has agreed to give me 6 months off and my job will be here for me when I return! So I get to go and try out life in Australia and still have the option to return to my life in Liverpool – the best of both worlds! Thanks everyone for your great advice – I am so excited 🙂

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