I Quit My Job to Travel for a Year — Here's How I Did It

From working in tech to traveling through Thailand.

Helen Lu traveling Asia after college
Photo: Helen Lu

I feel lucky that my career started in a dark, gloomy corporate office. It forced me to wonder, day in and day out, "How can I stop coming here every day?"

I would spend every day figuring out how to not spend 40 hours a week in a 6-by-8-foot cubicle in some corporate center. One day, I googled "how to retire early," and I found the Financial Independence / Retire Early (FI/RE) movement. The more I read, the more I quickly became motivated to save and invest 50% of my income so I could escape the 9-to-5 slog, the office politics, and the paycheck-to-paycheck grind. My investments were going to be my ticket out of the corporate world.

As I continued to pay off my student loans, save an emergency fund, and invest my paychecks, I realized that I was actually doing something bigger. I was making myself financially independent. And that's how I wound up taking a year off. Doing all of these things gave me the financial safety net to quit my job and travel, at a time when I felt burnt out from the looming pandemic and aggressive expectations that came with working in tech.

So, I shifted my goals slightly. Instead of investing aggressively to retire at 35, I pivoted my savings plan and investments with the goal of funding a year off. The new plan: save $15,000 for four months of travel and start a side hustle (or two) to earn income for the rest of my gap year.

Helen Lu traveling Asia after college
Helen Lu

There were a few things that I had to commit to from the jump. First, I was willing to cut down on expenses to save the $15,000 I needed to travel. I stopped buying new clothes, I ended all my monthly subscriptions, and I started taking public transportation over calling Uber rides.

I also moved back into my parents' house for a year. Like most people, rent has always been one of my biggest expenses. When my lease ended in 2020, I decided to move into my parents' house instead of signing a new lease. This helped me divert most of my income into investments and savings instead of a hefty rent payment.

I then sold some of my belongings. I've often heard that "anybody can earn money from their iPhone," but I didn't truly believe it until I sold my first item on Poshmark. It is a secondhand buying/selling platform primarily for lightly worn clothing and accessories. Once I sold one item, I got excited and listed 10 more. Then 20 more. Within a year, I was able to sell almost 100 items, which brought in $1,054.

On a related note, I stopped buying new clothes — and really, stopped shopping altogether. I knew I couldn't bring much with me on my travels anyway. And every dollar I spent meant less money to fund my gap year, so I envisioned my travel year as the ultimate purchase and passed on a lot of shopping opportunities that I probably would have taken in the past.

As I prepared to leave my job, I increased investments in my 401(k). This may sound counterintuitive, but I was attempting to make up for "future" lost time. Since I wouldn't be able to invest in a 401(k)-type retirement plan during my gap year, I really prioritized increasing my investments while I was still working. I also researched health insurance costs. As excited as I was to put in my notice at work, it was daunting to feel responsible for my own health insurance plan. However, doing some research online made me feel more comfortable about the costs and the overall process. I found a plan on my state's health care marketplace website, and there were many different options at various price points. From there, I estimated the monthly cost and added it to the amount I needed to save.

To increase my income, I started writing personal finance articles on Medium and creating content on Instagram. Since launching my blog last year, it has led to speaking events, workshops, and other opportunities to sell digital content online. Between saving on rent, cutting my expenses, and side hustling, I was able to save the $15,000 I needed to start traveling.

And finally, before leaving my job, I created a budget for my year off. I always budget throughout the year, but I knew once I left my job, the stakes would be a lot higher. I especially wanted to be able to fund the four months of travel, so I sat down and created a budget for every month.

Helen Lu traveling Asia after college
Helen Lu

The truth is, a lot of gap year stories may sound spontaneous, but that's almost never the case. I saved and invested my money over the course of five years to put myself in the financial position to take a gap year. Getting my finances in the order allowed me to prepare for a gap year.

I don't have concrete plans for my travels, and that's been very liberating coming from a 9-to-5 schedule. Today, I'm in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and I don't know where I'll go next. Maybe Vietnam or Portugal or Italy? I finally have the freedom to do what I want without having to ask for permission or take PTO, and I have to say, this feels like the right way to live.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles