My Transformation from Corporate Hostage to Full-Time Traveler

full-time traveler

It’s two years since I made the decision to change my life. Two years since I took a leap from the supposed security of an executive career and comfortable home. Two years since I started prioritizing happiness and began changing my life for the better.

My story is a pretty typical tale of pursuing the American Dream. After my university education, I entered the workplace and stepped onto the first rung of the corporate ladder. I fell in love, got married and bought a home. My husband or I earned various promotions or received job offers to move to other parts of the country, or in one case across to the other side of the world. We bought bigger homes and newer cars and acquired all the other trappings of success.

I was particularly ambitious. I found my work style especially well-suited to my chosen career in strategic marketing and I rose up the ranks. But as I climbed higher up the ladder and as the corporate landscape changed after the financial crisis, I became increasingly disillusioned. I found companies became focused on short-term thinking with an insatiable appetite for instant gratification and sales promotions, rather than good strategy and strong execution. Their expectation was that my every waking (and sometimes sleeping) hour should revolve around them. But I had a California-sized mortgage and matching lifestyle to pay for – so it seemed I had no choice. I felt trapped in the corporate world.

My respite from this was my love of travel. For vacation, we would rent apartments in fun places and pretend to live like locals if only for a week. We fantasized about leaving all the corporate nonsense behind us and having the time to visit all the national parks we had read about and to travel the world and experience different cultures. Then a lightbulb came on and we realized it wasn’t our jobs that were stopping us living the life we wanted, it was our financial obligations. Without the costs of a mortgage, property tax, condo fees and running two cars, we could afford to earn considerably less, and stretch our savings to travel long term.

It was like a reset in our thinking. We thought our desire to travel long term was hampered by our need to have a full-time salary to pay for our house but realized that if we traveled then we didn’t really need a house. Our desired lifestyle actually fit perfectly with the idea of selling our home and most of our possessions. The deal was sealed. We put our house on the market, we got rid of most everything we owned, I quit my job and we bought an Airstream Trailer and hit the road.

We now split our time between traveling in the US and renting apartments in other places in the world. I work part time to supplement our savings, but our lifestyle is so much less expensive than it used to be, we hardly notice the reduced income.

So how do I feel about my new life?

I am a much more mindful consumer: Traveling light and living small have taught me to appreciate everything more. When living off the grid I am acutely aware of the weather, wondering if the sun will shine enough on our solar panels to charge our batteries or if the incoming storm means I have to hunker down and secure our home. I only buy things that have more than one purpose, don’t use too much water or electricity or generate too much waste. When we travel overseas we pack light and make sure our clothes and shoes are practical and meet a variety of climates.

I have better relationships: The pressures of my work could make me irritable and short-tempered with people who didn’t deserve to be treated badly. On the other hand, I also had to work with people who I didn’t like, who were jerks or who were just a negative force. I am now lucky enough to be able to work with who I want and quit working with people whose values I don’t share.

The quality of my work is better: It’s a strange phenomenon but now that I work as a freelance consultant I am less concerned about career progression and I am less vested in a single product or company. I have an outsiders view which allows me to be less emotional, more candid and I provide impartial direction to my clients that I may have been intimidated to bring to the table as an employee. Also because my schedule is flexible and my plate is not as full I am more responsive than ever

I feel in control: When you talk about selling everything and quitting your job, many people question how you could leave that security. But with a mortgage, a stagnant economy, and the fact that I’m getting older, i.e. less employable, I didn’t feel I was leaving much behind. Now I can turn my life on a dime. I can adjust my expenses easily by locating myself in areas with lower costs of living, I can take more work if I need to. I feel fully in control of my life and I’m not beholden to an employer for my financial stability.

I am excited about the future: My nomadic lifestyle always gives me something to look forward to. It’s hard to be bored when you move a lot. You are either experiencing new things, or you are planning what you are doing next. Sometimes you are just relaxing and enjoying where you are. It’s almost impossible to not be filled with optimism if you have endless possibilities in front of you.

I am making great memories: Many people talk about how quickly time passes, I used to be that person. Time does fly when you do the same things day in day out. But now when people say “can you believe it’s March already”, I say I can’t believe it’s only March. In the last 6 months I have traveled to 3 continents, I have hiked in national parks, kayaked in mountain lakes, and tried to communicate in a language I don’t understand. I’ve done so many things I can’t believe that I fitted it all in. I am a great believer in the ethos – if you want to lead a memorable life you have to do things worth remembering.

I am so much happier: Full time travel is not all plain-sailing and it certainly isn’t a permanent vacation. It can be uncomfortable, unsettling and frankly sometimes just a pain in the ass. Finding somewhere to do laundry, dealing with cultural confusion and wondering if I’ll ever have a decent haircut again are just some of my first world problems. But I would never trade my old life for the happiness I feel and the freedom I have to schedule my own day to decide where and how I want to spend my time.

So do I have any regrets from the last 2 years? Do I miss the executive title, salary or expense account? Do I regret selling my home and most of my possessions? Absolutely not, it was the best decision I have ever made and it’s hard to imagine living any other way now. My only regret is not doing it sooner.

Not all life changes have to be quite so drastic. What changes have you made that have made you happier? What do you think would bring more happiness to you? Why do you think we prioritize things over experiences in our society?

20 thoughts on “My Transformation from Corporate Hostage to Full-Time Traveler”

  1. Kate and Iain are really living their word, not dilettantes sampling this new life but embracing it with full body contact! Our heroes…we just wanna be waterborne. Thanks for this excellent insight – again!

  2. I love this story! Why does it take us so long to figure out what we really want in life? Our culture? Our upbringing? Knowing what we don’t want first? Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks for reading my story Michelle, Yes it’s a mystery why we feel so bound by expectations or conventions even when it is at odds with our happiness or what we know in our heart we truly want. I guess humans are complicated!

  3. Thanks Kate! Learning through travelling is entirely a different experience, few of us got the chance to do it by tearing down circle of our busiest life and its responsibilities.Life is based on learning new things day by day and time to time. So try to learn most of it.

    1. Thanks for your comments. I agree, it is a constant process. Learning what experiences challenge or excite you, what it is that you really want to do. Also accepting that it may change over time. At the moment I am loving traveling, but at some point I may want to stop moving for a while. The key is having the freedom to be able to learn and adapt.

  4. Great story I really do love to read about life changing moments as I had a life change a while back as well.

    Personally I developed my life change one I got my online business to take off for real. Being able to work from anywhere in the world is something that few people achieve but yet something that almost everyone dram of.

    Keep up the good work :)

    1. Thanks for reading my story Sven. Congratulations on getting your online business going and all the freedom that comes with that. It takes a lot of hard work to get something like that going.

      Good luck for the future.

    1. Yes we have found less is definitely more. Thanks for checking out my story and sharing. Hey we all suck at Twitter, apart from maybe Kanye West!!

  5. I like this perspective “we could afford to earn considerably less”. Instead of thinking how much you could buy with a bigger salary, think of how much you can’t experience because of everything that goes with a big salary.

    Well done on taking the step. It is brave.

    Mortgage: Mort = Death, Gage = Pledge

    A pledge until death.

    No thanks.

    1. Thanks for checking out my story John, I like your alternative definition of a mortgage. I agree we are always taught to believe that a growing salary is the main goals but earning more can come with a very heavy price.

  6. I really admire your principles and the courage you have to live by them. For one a little older than probably most on this post, I’ve lived the corporate life for far longer than I dare to remember and would dearly love to follow your example. However, the reality is I have to have an eye to the time when I can’t work anymore and how I am going to fund any lifestyle.

    Has anyone had the experience of living true to oneself going through to older age and the impacts this lifestyle ultimately has?

    Anyhow, all the best to you!

    1. Thanks for reading my story. It can be a tricky transition away from corporate life. My best advice is to simplify your life as much as possible, and try to cut out things (stuff, people) that are really not contributing anything positive to your happiness. Even though I had savings the ability to leave work behind was enabled primarily by reducing my expenses to a minimum. This allowed me to work much fewer hours. Even if that doesn’t enable you to stop working altogether, it may help you to save money so you have some funds when you do cut back on work.

      Maybe some other people can comment on their experiences. It is great to get a lot of different viewpoints.

      Best of luck
      Kate

  7. Thanks for sharing Kate! Many times, it pays to stop and ask ourselves “what do I really want?” If you ever find yourself in West Africa during your travels, you are welcome stop by!

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