A few days ago, I left the job I'd been working at for the past four years...for the second time.
The first time was back in 2014, before I spent eight and a half months backpacking across Asia. Over the course of 11 different countries, I discovered deep truths about myself, and the world around me. I fell in love with some of the best cuisines in existence, and and met people from over 100 nations. I saw some of the most beautiful (and ugliest) destinations on Earth, and visited sites that most people only dream of. Some might call it a "trip of a lifetime." Only I knew I didn't want it to be a one-and-done.
So I saved up some money, renewed my passport, got a couple of visas, and put in my two weeks notice. My sights are set on New Zealand, where I intend to live for a year. Along the way, I have trips planned to a few exciting destinations, the first being Egypt.
People have asked me, "Why are you doing this?" The truth is, I’m not entirely sure. I simply have a passion for exploring and discovering different cultures and regions, and don’t want to be stuck at a desk job for decades at a time. Perhaps a better thing for people to ask themselves is “Why am I NOT doing this?” Which brings us to the second question:
“How are you doing this?” Well, as someone with no dependents or major financial burdens holding me back, very easily. I simply wait for my apartment lease to expire, save up some money, buy a plane ticket, and go. It’s that simple. Your family and friends will likely still be there when you return. Withstanding an economic collapse in your wake, there will probably be employment opportunities upon your return as well. You know what won’t be around when you return? Time. It will pass, whether you are sitting at a cubicle, or wandering around the Amazon rainforest.
That’s not to say one should be stupid about leaving one’s job. For instance, when I first traveled around the world, I spent around damn near every penny I had. I returned to New Jersey, broke, and had to crash on friends’ couches for several weeks before getting back on my feet. Since then, I have learned better financial habits, and have saved up a solid emergency fund, on top of what I’ve set aside for travel. Quitting your job to travel doesn’t need to be a risky, brash decision. Plan ahead (but not too much!)!
If you have no dependents, some extra savings, and want to see the world, traveling is a no-brainer. Regardless of what society might tell us, we are not beholden to our jobs. Chances are, your company has hired you to use you to make money, and you have taken the job for a similar reason. It's all business, not personal. Unfortunately, people often feel like they "owe" something to their employers, neglecting to realize that most businesses will kick you to the curb as soon as you are no longer profitable for them. Life is too short to not pursue your passions and dreams.
So to sum up, here is how to quit your job to travel (assuming you are in a position to be able to do so). Step 1: Take a deep breath. Step 2: Do it. Step 3: Profit. Step 4: Repeat.
Here's wishing all of my loyal readers the best on your future travels. It's a pleasure being back!
Traveling allows you to see truths about the world and humanity that were impossible to see before. A number of these truths are pleasing to behold: beautiful landscapes, diverse cultures, and delicious food. However, many of those truths are incredibly unpleasant; once you see them, you will never forget them. I’m talking about the dark side of humanity, the side of rampant poverty and corruption, as well as the animalistic drive to survive. As the most recent portion of my trip has been in India, I’ll be focusing primarily on that country. However, many things I am about to say are prevalent throughout much of the world.
The truth is, there are more desperate people in the world than I ever could have imagined. These are people who know nothing about the kind of life I live in the USA. All they see is a guy who goes to an ATM and pulls out their entire year’s salary in one go. They look at me and make assumptions about my privilege, level of wealth, and social status. To be fair, they are mostly right. I am privileged because the color of my skin. I am (inside an impoverished country) a wealthy person. Some of these people have absolutely nothing. Money is so scarce, that it starts to become the only goal in people’s lives. Let me share a very disturbing conversation that happened to me recently:
I was sitting on a rooftop restaurant with a group of fellow travelers, and our waiter began talking to us. I’ll paraphrase. In the creepiest way possible, he said “I didn't have any friends until I started making money. Now I am earning a wage and finally I have friends.”
He said this quite seriously, and it bothered me for many reasons:
1) The fact that the only way this man could make friends was by having money.
2) Anyone who befriends you just because of your money isn't a real friend.
3) Quite possibly, this is a common mentality to have, where it isn't worth being friends with someone unless they can benefit you financially. There is so much poverty, that people have to frequently resort to using others for survival. I know it happens in the USA as well, but the way this man described it sounded disturbingly parasitic.
4) There were five of us trying to enjoy a meal, and what the guy said totally dampened the mood. As privileged travelers, we could not truly relate to what the man was saying. I noticed the vibe in the room go dark all of a sudden.
5) The man stood creepily by and watched us for a good portion of our dinner.
You may think, ah whatever. Isolated incident, right?
Nope, I run into people like this on a daily basis. Men will just come over to me and ask incredibly personal questions about my financial, personal, and romantic life. The whole while, they leer at me as if they expect me to tell them I’m a billionaire playboy who throws cocktail parties every weekend. Benevolent tourists have created an expectation (at least among uneducated people) that everybody from the West is Jay Gatsby. I might as well wear a tuxedo and throw $100 bills from my hotel window. Also, too many of my fellow female travelers have been harassed while walking about. They have been groped at, stared at, and even been crudely asked for sex by passers-by.
How can I go back home and ever look at my life the same way? I've seen some really sad things: things that cannot be changed without a complete overhaul of the system.
Sure, you’d think the government could do something. No. Many governments are corrupt. It is very common for police officers and government officials to take bribes. Heck, if you have money, you can probably get away with anything. I've met several travelers in Southeast Asia and India who have had encounters with police. Not one of them ended in a conviction or acquittal; they all ended with the foreigner paying a few dollars in bribe money. I’m not saying that every single police officer and government worker is corrupt, but it is a serious problem. If you’re interested, there is a site called ipaidabribe.com, where you can get a taste of the problem’s extent.
Now, all of this stuff I said may sound negative, but I’m about to throw a positive spin around it. The above spiel is one of the reasons why you should travel. Sure, go for the beaches. Go for the food. Go for the fun. But most of all go to expand your horizons. You should see the good and the bad stuff, because it will help you understand the world in a richer, fuller way. The more you can see the big picture, the less things seem “weird” or “difficult.” You can learn to appreciate what you have, on an even deeper level.
I've always been a pretty avid thinker, but I have seen things while traveling that have entirely changed the way that I think about the world. There are things that have to be experienced to be understood. To be totally honest, I can’t find the words to put everything in writing. Some things cannot be summed up into a few words. However, by exposing ourselves to the realities of life, we can face the world head-on with an open mind. If you are already somebody who thinks outside the box, consider travel to be the next logical step in your development.
I was sitting in a bar in Daman, India, when it hit me: I’ve become completely accustomed to traveling.
The first few months were something of an initiation process. I’d never really been away from home before, and had never truly been on my own. Regardless of whether you work full time and have an apartment, the fact remains: When you are in your home city, you usually have a steady group of friends and/or family to fall back on. Whether it’s your relatives, your roommates, or even your co-workers, somebody is always there to bail you out.
There I was in some obscure Indian city, likely the only non-Indian person for miles (seriously, nobody spoke English, and everybody stared at me), and enjoying a drink with the local people. It was a stark contrast from Mumbai, a city full of tourists, modernity, and Western amenities. Although I love Mumbai, this bird had decided to fly. I was now off the tourist path, and back on the road.
I think that getting off the beaten track is an extremely important thing to do. The whole “backpacker” route is fun, but it doesn’t quite teach you independence. You usually stay at hostels full of other foreigners, have easy access to wi-fi, and can call on anybody for help. When you travel off the beaten path, it’s different. Sometimes, you will be the only foreigner in a city. Sometimes, you will not be able to talk with anyone, outside of non-verbal communication. Sometimes, you have to stay at the most shady-ass hotel on the face of the Earth. Sometimes, it can get lonely. But most of the time, it is an incredible, rewarding experience.
By getting off the tourist path, I had created my own path. Nobody could stop me, and nobody could help me. Whether I had dug my own grave, or jumped through the gates of Eden, this was the road I had chosen.
New situations take time to adjust to. I think until I had this realization, I had subconsciously relied upon returning home to a comfy bed, warm shower, and personal safety. Sure, it probably won’t be long until I see my family and friends again. However, I will never think about home the same way again. Even when I must take on a steady job, steady friends, and a steady living environment, I’ll always feel somewhat removed from the situation. True independence is doing exactly what it is that you want to do. No more will I live for other people; this is my life to with as I see fit. Deciding to travel was step in the right direction. Actually traveling and being on my own, has solidified the theory.
The motto of this website is “Home is Everywhere.” I have never believed that more than I do now. “Home” is all in my head. If I can be confident and happy in any environment, the world is my stomping grounds. When you learn to take your own path in life (not one that others put before you), everywhere becomes home. You become king or queen of your castle, and nothing can stand in your way.
At this point, I’d consider a three hour bus ride a short bus ride. Seriously. I've taken so many 10+ hour rides by now, that I don’t think I’ll feel annoyed by transit times, ever again. Also, after repeatedly trying to get directions out of people who don’t speak English, I don’t think I will ever be nervous about getting lost again.
While I've always had a strong sense of independence, traveling pushed me to that next level. I've had to figure out how to save money, and make that money stretch. I've had to book hundreds of flights, trains, buses, and guesthouses: often through people who don’t speak any English. Although I have learned to depend on the kindness of strangers, I've also learned a tough lesson. Nobody is going to make my plans for me.
I've slept in some of the most disgusting rooms you can imagine. We're talking: stains on the walls and bed, bugs, freezing showers, etc. I've ridden some of the most crowded buses and trains in the world. We're talking about sitting on luggage racks, no fans or A/C, sardine-tight crowds, etc. No more will dirt and grime and bugs and cold showers faze me. Nevermore.
It’s hard to see thousands of people living in little shacks (or worse), then hear someone complain about their house being “too small.” With all due respect to the thousands of struggling American families, our notion of “poverty” in the United States (and most Western countries) comes nowhere near the realities of a country like India. I’m sure you've seen homeless people in (insert generic large city). Now imagine a situation 50 times worse. 180 million people in India live below the national poverty line (less than $1.25 per day), and nearly half of children under the age of five are malnourished. A similar situation is present in Cambodia.
My realization is this: almost everyone in the USA (even middle and lower class people) is living in luxury. It’s one thing to read about it, but it’s another to actually see it before your eyes.
I left this one as a bonus, because it is an exception to the article’s title.
Before traveling, I probably couldn't even point out China on a map. Seriously, I was never taught geography in school. Now that I've caught the travel bug, my options have widened. I can now probably point out most of the world’s countries on a map.
Sri Lanka (duh) has been added to the "Nationalities I've Met" page, bringing the total to 57!
I've recently hit a mini-landmark in my traveling career. Now that I'm comfortably situated in Sri Lanka, I have officially been to ten countries.
There are roughly 200 countries in the world, so I know ten means very little in the long run. However, it still means a lot to me. Less than one year ago, I had never left the United States. Now, I am ten times as well-traveled as I was before!
It's very easy to pop into a country just to pick up a stamp, but I'm not interested in that. I think that it's entirely possible to visit every single country in the world, but still have learned nothing about any of them. Therefore, I've made it a priority to thoroughly explore each place I visit. It's not necessary to visit every single city within a country, but one should at least stay long enough to get a general feel for it. What is the food like? What are the mentalities like? What can you learn from this trip?
I can honestly answer those questions for each country I have been to. Well, almost every one. I did arrive recently to Sri Lanka, and still have a lot to see and learn. However, I've allocated a solid 2-3 weeks for that. I am confident that when I leave (returning to India), Sri Lanka will have left an impression on me, just as every country has thus far.
Sri Lanka is an island nation located directly to the south of India. They had a 25 year civil war which finally ended in 2009, causing a resurgence in its tourism industry. I arrived in Colombo, the country's de facto capital, and immediately headed to a city called Kandy. My first impression of the country is that it feels like a less hectic version of Southern India. The food is very similar, and some people even speak the same language. However, it is definitely a more tourist-friendly place. Despite its relatively small size, Sri Lanka feels densely packed, with a slew of places to see.
Here's to the next ten countries!
There I was, eating dinner at a restaurant in the Maldives. The past few days had been quite boring. Not only did the rainy weather preclude me from doing fun oceanic stuff (such as snorkeling), I also had no fellow tourists to talk to. Indeed, during my stay I was the only Westerner in the hotel. Tourism was down, probably because of the rainy weather. In search of something to do, and to avoid the ridiculously overpriced hotel fare, I found myself eating all of my meals at a local restaurant. I would walk in, order my meal, and eat in silence. Sometimes there were others in the establishment, but they always spoke to each other in a local language I didn’t understand. In many ways, I felt disconnected: alienated from the culture around me. The television caused that all to change.
One thing I didn’t mention was that the restaurant had a large flat screen TV in it. People would usually sit around and watch television shows and movies, none of which were in English. Ok, whatever. It provided some mild entertainment, and kept the restaurant lively. I barely paid attention to the screen, that is, until Tom and Jerry came on.
I’m sure most of you are familiar with Tom and Jerry, but I will clarify for those of you who don’t. It is an animated American cartoon from the 1940s and 50s, about a cat and mouse who are enemies. Tom (the cat) usually tries to capture Jerry (the mouse), usually ending Tom being injured or killed in increasingly cartoonish ways. The short films are very funny, and are frequently aired on cartoon television channels.
You may ask, what makes this show so different from the dozens of others that the Maldivians were watching?
There’s no dialogue.
That’s right, folks. With the exception of sound effects and music, Tom and Jerry is completely silent. When the first episode came on, I found myself laughing uproariously; this time, it was with a roomful of people. We sat there for an hour, watching the hilarious exploits of the animated cat and mouse. For once, there was no language barrier to divide us.
Right then and there, I realized something very important. In general, we all laugh at the same things, cry at the same things, and seek the same things out of life. Sure, sometimes our culture or upbringing instills us with different values and life choices. Sometimes, language and misunderstanding creates obstacles and stops us from communicating properly. However, deep down we all want to laugh. We all want to feel good. We all want to do the things we love.
The simple act of watching a cartoon in a restaurant, made me feel a kinship to my fellow man. It reminded me that language is nothing more than a barrier for humanity, a roadblock that the greatest forms of expression can knock down.
There’s a man who follows me around while I travel, creepy as that might sound. He rides the rickshaws with me, eats at all the same restaurants as I do, and sometimes, sleeps in my room with me. When it’s been awhile since I've met another traveler, he makes me feel lonely. When I’m on a long train ride (as I am right now) he tells me I’m wasting my time. He says I should have stayed at home, because there is nothing to be gained from being overseas. He makes me doubt my own actions, ambitions, and feelings, and laughs at my naivete. The man makes me downright miserable.
Yeah, yeah you get the picture. No, depression does not go away just because you’re on the road. In fact, it can be at its worst. Travel forces you to face your vulnerabilities, opening the path for your inner demons to strike. In the long run, this may be a good thing. It allows you to discover yourself: what makes you happy; what makes you sad; what sets off your emotions. Heck, maybe you’re even still figuring out what your emotions are. However, in the moment, depression is no fun. It can put the damper on an otherwise boisterous occasion. I understand that.
Travel won’t cure your anxiety. It won’t cure your laziness. It won’t cure your self-doubt. It most certainly won’t cure your depression. Whether you’re visiting a temple or riding an elephant, the man can strike at any time. Keep in mind, travel cannot cure ailments, be they physical or mental. Know your limits; know what you’re getting yourself into. Don’t wait until you are miles from home to face your problems. Treat every traveling day with self-love, just as you would back home.
To all you travelers, who suffer from depression (and I know I can’t be the only one), I salute you. Keep doing what you’re doing. You’re not alone.
The best experiences, in my opinion, happen off the beaten path.
It was morning I arrived in Mangalore, a fine, albeit standard Indian city. I walked about for a couple of hours, eating and checking out various guesthouses (no, I didn’t eat the guesthouses). After a while, I had an idea. Why not move on to a smaller city? Usually I would stay a few nights in each place, but as of late I’d been getting sick of big cities.
I chose a city at random: Kasaragod. It was in the state of Kerala, and took an hour by train. I disembarked and…meh. Once more, it was a fine city, but not one I felt like staying in. So I had my second brilliant idea of the day. I was going to hike to a nearby town. I hit the road, with absolutely no idea where I was going. With just a backpack and nerves of steel, I trekked for the good part of an afternoon.
Midday, I found myself in a residential neighborhood. It was fascinating, as I had not yet seen the suburbs of India. The big cities have many slums and apartments, and numbered houses are something of a rarity. So here I was, the only person on a long and winding street; it was an extremely calming, peaceful experience. The sheer number of citizens in India can be enough to drive you mad. You are constantly surrounded by people, so good luck ever finding some alone time. There’s a good reason I mentioned that I’m sick of big cities; it’s because Indian crowds are stimulating in all the worst ways.
So here I was in a moderately remote area, possibly the first white person to ever be there. A few residents were tending to their lawns, and gave me incredulous stares. As I passed by, I noticed something interesting about the houses. Some of them were absolutely beautiful: huge and polished, with a couple of cars in the driveway. However, their neighbors would often be small, disheveled, dusty-looking shacks. I have a separate article planned about the class divide in India; let’s just say for now that it’s very “in your face.”
Right as I was getting ready to throw in the towel and head back, a kindly man and woman invited me to rest by their house. I took them up on the offer, and chilled outside their humble abode (it was one of the “shackier” houses). The woman brought me a cup of water, which I pretended to drink (foreigners aren’t supposed to consume tap water). Neither of them spoke English, but we managed to communicate with a few broken words. The man, whose name I don’t remember, was an electrician. He told me of a nearby Hindu temple, and offered me a ride.
After Thailand, I’d considered myself all “templed” out. So this was the first time I had been to a temple in India. It was interesting, with many beautiful paintings of Hindu gods. We stayed for about five minutes, and then he dropped me off on the side of the road. I bade farewell to my new friend, and continued my trek.
In the end, I met another cool dude who was working at a roadside restaurant. He gave me a ride to the train station, and I ended up going…back to Mangalore. That’s right; I spent the entire day trying to escape the city, only to arrive there again at night.
Moral of the story? Hit the road, bud. Guess how much fun I would have had if I’d stayed at a hotel in Mangalore? I’d be willing to bet, zero. When in doubt, move on. You never know who you will meet and what you will see.
Ethiopia has been added to the "Nationalities I've Met" page, bringing the total to 55!
I recently shipped home two of my artistic outlets: my guitar and my camera. I’d had enough of trudging around with the extra weight, and decided it would be best to ditch the items. Sometimes, to travel you have to temporarily give up things that you love.
I’d had the guitar since Bangkok, where I purchased it to replace my old, broken one. Many a hot afternoon was spent practicing, writing, and messing around. I started an (unsuccessful) Kickstarter campaign to record an album with my guitar, and even wrote two original songs with it. However, as of late I’ve been too busy to play every day, and the instrument doubled the weight I had to carry around. In three years of musical dedication, this will be the longest break I have ever taken from playing guitar.
I’ve shot over a hundred rolls of film on my trusty Pentax K-1000 camera, and had hoped to continue my photography overseas. In Thailand, it was no problem. I shot a couple of rolls and had them (shoddily) scanned for me. Unfortunately, film did not prove easy to find in other countries, and processing labs were rather rare. Due to the inconvenience and high costs of shooting film while on a budget adventure, the Pentax had been lying at the bottom of my bag for a few months. To lessen the weight of my backpack, I shipped it home as well. I’ve been shooting all of my pictures with my IPod, but will go back to film when the trip is over.
With a heavy heart, I brought my items to the post office, where I was directed to the packing room. A man sewed together a wonderful fabric sleeve for my guitar case. As I watched him work, he pointed to some signs on the wall, which showed he had been recognized as a professional in his craft. In a morose sort of way, I found it interesting that he was getting ready to send away my crafting tools. I brought the finished package back to the shipping room, paid $65, and was on my way.
On the walk back to my hotel, something dawned on me. I was a lucky guy. The majority of people in India could not afford a $200 guitar or $50 camera, or have the luxury of traveling the world. So what was I doing, complaining about a mere few months’ inconvenience? The pit that had been forming in my stomach suddenly disappeared. It was ok that I had to temporarily give up my artistic pursuits, because now traveling would be easier and more enjoyable. Sometimes, giving up the things you love actually makes you love something else even more. With just a small backpack to carry, I can now focus more on the task I have at hand: seeing the world.
While trying to find a guesthouse in Bangalore, I came across not one, not two, but three dead rodents…within the span of half an hour.
Let me backtrack.
After spending three marvelous days in the experimental town of Auroville, I decided it was time to move on. I set my sights on Bangalore, capital of the state Karnataka. The idea was to head back to Pondicherry (a very busy city), then catch the overnight train to Bangalore. Unfortunately, I had some trouble booking a train at night, and ended up having to stay an extra night in Pondicherry. The next day, I booked my very first overnight train in India.
For those of you who don’t know, India has a world-famous railway system. It’s efficient, comfortable, and inexpensive. One of the things I was most excited for about the country was to ride its trains. I purchased the cheapest kind of ticket (sleeper class) for my destination, and boarded what was to be a very uneventful ride. The trip took ten hours, and I must say: I definitely prefer the trains to the buses! Not once during the trip did I assume we were going to crash. The traffic in India is ridiculously congested, so road travel can be something of a frightening experience.
I arrived in Bangalore at five in the morning, and began walking. Unfortunately, I don’t sleep very well while being transported, so I wanted desperately to find a guest house. While hiking through a neighborhood, it became apparent to me that guesthouses wouldn't open for another hour or two. I decided to set my bag and guitar down, and chose a street corner to sit down on.
It was then that I saw the first rat, lying dead on the ground.
OK, so no big deal; I've seen plenty of dead animals before. I thought nothing of it, and watched the sun rise. Across the street was a stray cow, poking her nose in a pile of garbage. I amused myself for a few minutes, until the cow realized nothing of value was to be found in the heap. She trotted away, and my eyes snapped back to the morning light.
Suddenly, a crow flew by, a rat trapped in his beak.
I must admit, it gave me a little shock. I hadn't been expecting a bird to fly right by my face, let alone one brandishing a rodent. With a chuckle, I leapt to my feet. It was prime time to find a guesthouse.
I had walked only a few meters when I saw it: the third dead rat.
What I got out of that morning, has very little to do with the deceased animals. Rather, the scenario caused me to reflect fondly about the country I was in. In India, you can never be sure what you will see. In a couple of hours, the street I was on would surely be bustling with crazy sights and sounds. The precious half-hour that I sat there was the “calm before the storm.” The “calm” involved a cow poking through trash, and three dead rats.
God, I love this country.
My name is Yonah Paley. I quit my job in the United States to travel. I also write music and do photography. As I backpack across the world, I share stories, philosophy, and travel tips.