How I Planned My Travel Gap Year

At the age of 30, I made a pretty bold decision, something I’ve always dreamt of but didn’t have the gut to do — quit my job and go travel the world.

I remember my last day at work saying goodbyes to my colleagues, it didn’t feel real. It was not until I’m on the plane to Peru did it finally hit me that this is really happening.

It has been over half a year since May 2018 when we first started our travels. Many people have asked me how did I come about making the decision to quit my job and go travel. So I thought it would be worth sharing my thought process with you here.

I did some thinking before I made the decision to quit my full time job to go travel. I asked myself these 3 questions:

  1. If you were given some free time to do whatever you want, what would you do?
  2. From now until the day you die, when is the best time to do this?
  3. What do you need to do now to achieve this?

After answering these 3 questions, things become much clearer. The idea to resign and go travel became more realistic and not just a whimsical but unattainable dream.

  1. I love traveling. It’s no doubt my #1 passion. I would totally go travel around the world if I had the time.
  2. Now it’s the best time to do this. I have the minimum of responsibilities and maximum of freedom in my life now than I’ll ever be going forward.
  3. Travel fund and an execution plan.

Now that I’ve made up my mind, the next step is to come up with a plan and execute. About a year in advance, Jed (my husband) and I began to discuss the feasibility of how we can make this travel gap year work. We tried to come up with a plan that’s rational and actionable (although I really wanted to just quit and hit the road right away). Some examples of things we considered:

  • Arrangements for travel funds, investments and retirement funds
  • Trip length and when to start
  • The best time to resign, so that we can maximize bonuses and other company benefits etc.
  • Jed’s work arrangements. Jed has two jobs and we decided that he will quit one of them so he can travel two weeks each month with me
  • Whether to keep our rental apartment
  • Places we want to go (this is pretty spontaneous, we didn’t plan out the entire year in advance)
  • Misc (travel insurance, vaccines, passport, visas, etc.)

Once we have the plan in place, executing it was rather a smooth process. Based on our timeline, we started to check off our to do list one by one to prep for our travel year. The truth is, a dream will never come true by itself unless you take actionable steps toward it.

After nearly a year of preparation, the day of our first trip finally arrived. I can feel the blood pumping through my veins from all the excitement that got built up over the year for this moment. Sitting on our flight to Peru, I had the biggest smile on my face. I can literally laugh out loud just from thinking that this is actually happening — damn, we just kicked off our travel year!

I felt the kind of joy that I haven’t had for a very long time. It’s like when I was a kid, I earned enough money and finally saved up to buy that pair of sneakers I’ve always wanted. It’s such a small thing but brings this heartfelt happiness that can last a long time. Well, as for the grown up life, we are better off financially, we can easily satisfy ourselves to buy most of the things we wanted, but really, the satisfaction from buying a designer purse only lasts a few days. Something was missing.

In the past 8 months, we traveled to 5 continents, 28 countries and 102 cities. We left our footprints in South America, North America, Europe, Africa and Asia, and we brought back memories that will last us a lifetime. We met up with many friends and family that we rarely get to see. I celebrated my mom’s birthday in the same city with her for the first time in my life. We also got the chance to travel with some of our families and friends during this year. And of course, making many new friends along the way.

This year, we watched countless sunrises and sunsets. We climbed Machu Picchu with a headlamp before dawn and saw the first beam of sunlight shining on the ancient Inca ruins. We encountered so many exotic animals that we’ve never seen in our lives in the Galapagos Islands. We watched the Eiffel Tower sparkling upon us in a charming early summer night in Paris. We cheered, sang and danced with the soccer fans in Croatia after they won the 2018 semi-final world cup games. We camped under the milky way in the Sahara desert, sent our wishes to each shooting stars we spotted. We witnessed the most adventurous couple we know getting hitched in beautiful Phuket. We fired up our lanterns to the sky amongst thousands of lanterns to celebrate the Yi-Peng festival in Chiang Mai. These sparkling memories are like hundreds of fireflies that lit up our 2018.

Ever since we started our travel year, I woke up feeling as excited as I can ever be every morning. It didn’t take me long to realize, that happy kid in me is back. I’ve found the missing piece.

The world is a wonderful place. There are so many things we can go after. Money, career, family, love, friendship and more. But if you want them all, most likely you’ll find yourself exhausted and struggling to meet the expectations you set for each. You are nowhere close to being happy. What I’ve come to realize is that it’s important to focus your energy on things that matter to you most, and let go of the rest. By let go I mean to set lower or no expectations, so that you don’t feel discouraged or stressed when things don’t go the way you wanted.

We all have different priorities during the different life stages we are in. What makes one happy differs from another. What is the thing that make you tick? What are you most excited about? Find those things, do what you can to make time for it and go do them. Because when you do what you love, even if it’s just for a short while, you will receive this fulfilling satisfaction deep down your heart, and it usually lasts much longer than what the material things bring you. It’s like when a kid finally ate the candy he had been longing for, he can’t help but smile even in his sleep.

There are people that are successful in life but are struggling to find happiness. There are also people who live the ordinary life yet are perfectly content with what they have. Happiness is the ability to internalize the positives and deplete the negatives. I hope no matter which life stage we are in, we can always find that “candy” that gives us the long-lasting happiness from within.

Goodbye 2018. 2019, can’t wait for the new adventures ahead!

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1 Comment

  1. May 15, 2020 / 10:58 pm

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