I never planned to quit my job to travel. When I decided to break away from my cubicle-bound life, I was 23 years old, the daughter of a protective family in India and had graduated from university in Singapore only two years earlier with a not-so-helpful Economics degree and a not-so-comforting amount of student debt. In retrospect, though, my decision was not impulsive: the universe had been giving me signs all along.
I had entered the job market in the middle of the financial recession and felt lucky to land the role of social media strategist at the Singapore Tourism Board – especially lucky because, as it turned out, this was the first sign pointing me toward my true passion.
Having travelled parts of Malaysia and Indonesia as a student, I hoped that working in the tourism industry would lead to more adventures. Instead, I spent my weekdays learning about social media and blogging from my desk. As part of my efforts to help build Singapore Tourism’s global social media strategy, however, I started engaging with online travel influencers – in particular, travel brands and bloggers. I began to understand how bloggers played an influential role in brand building, and how, even though they weren’t that different from me, they really did travel the world for a living.
My cubicle-bound soul could no longer ignore the itch to travel on more than just the weekends. But quitting my job sounded impractical. Aside from financial challenges, I didn’t even know if I would enjoy being on the road for an extended period of time; my longest trip, to Indonesia’s remote Sulawesi Island, had been only two weeks. Even so, I started thinking of taking a sabbatical from work. As though the universe was nudging me along, I participated in a Facebook contest that asked what you would do differently if you had a second chance in life, run by AirAsia – a brand whose social media campaigns I tracked in my professional life. In my answer, I said we get a second chance every day – and that I used those chances to accept myself for who I truly was. I won two return tickets to Paris.
I negotiated two months of unpaid leave from work, spending the first month travelling across western Europe and the second volunteering to develop responsible tourism alternatives in the cold mountain desert of Spiti, located in India’s northern Himalayas. Over my travels, I learned the secrets of Italian cooking, trekked along the peculiar limestone mountains of Saxony and helped curate a “monk for a month” programme, allowing travellers to live in a monastery or nunnery in Spiti’s remote villages, for the social enterprise Spiti Ecosphere.
When my sabbatical ended, my old life and job waited for me – just as promised. But I had experienced and lived more in those two months than in all my 23 years and knew I wanted to make a fresh start. I quit my first and only corporate job within the week. I revived my then-dormant blog The Shooting Star, on which I had ranted about life on and off for the past four years, rejigging it with a travel focus. And I started to travel the world.
I lived off my savings for the first six months, travelled constantly, blogged relentlessly, pitched for freelance work tirelessly and relied on my virtual social networks for support. In 2013, three years after I quit my job, I was awarded India’s Best Travel Blogger at the Indian Blogging Awards. Now, I continue to freelance as a travel writer for Indian and international publications, which often leads to press invites from tourism boards. I also work as a social media consultant, helping travel companies devise and implement social media strategies; this funds the majority of my travels.
When people marvel at the way I choose to live, I tell them that we tend to take life too seriously. I might not have a steady income or a posh apartment – but I wake up most mornings with a sense of freedom and the possibility of unanticipated adventures. I’ve hitchhiked along Turkey’s Black Sea coast; lived with the White Thai tribe in northwest Vietnam; and in 2012 was the ninth Indian citizen to visit the Indian Ocean’s little-explored Rodrigues Island. I’ve even witnessed ancient Indian traditions, including a Rajasthani ceremony where male members of the Rabari shepherd tribe drink opium from the palm of the village elder.
The more I travelled, the more I realised that our travel choices make a difference to local economies, ecologies and cultures – a realisation that gave birth to my own start-up promoting responsible tourism, India Untravelled, which connects travellers with environmentally and socially sustainable travel initiatives.
Ten months ago, I went a step farther: I gave up my rental apartment in Delhi, sold most of my belongings and went location-independent. Despite having an Indian passport, which is notorious for difficult visa processes (and has taught me the virtue of patience), I have been able to call everywhere from Bahrain to the Seychelles home – at least temporarily.
If you dream of quitting your corporate life to travel someday, make your current job count. Use the security of a monthly pay check to hone your skills, build your networks and experiment with types of work that you can do to finance your travels. You’ll know, like I did, when you’re ready to take the plunge. And the world will be waiting.