Could You Afford to Drop Out of Life?

Earlier this month, a co-worker quit so he could spend a year traveling the world. Then this weekend the LA Times covered a family who spent six months traveling the world with a toddler. It got me thinking: could I ever do something like that? What would I need to do it?

Both my co-worker and the family from the newspaper had two advantages: contacts in foreign locations that allowed them to do some work while traveling, and lots of money saved up.

Now I’m not sure I would actually want to drop out. I’m not really one to spend a year traveling and my goals lie in other areas, but could I if I wanted to? Right now, I’d have to say no.

What You Need to Drop Out
If you want to drop out of life for a year, and have something to come back, you need to have a few things in place.

Money. Yeah, it’s not cheap to travel the world, even if you do it frugally. The traveling family spent $30,000, but they were able to trade work on a llama farm in New Zealand for three months of room and board. It helped that they were llama farmers here in California before they left. I’m not sure how much money my co-worker saved up, but I’m guessing it’s more than $30,000.

No Mortgage. If you own a home, it’s much harder to drop out because you still have to pay the mortgage and take care of upkeep. If you’re a renter, you can sell your stuff and leave when the lease is up. It’s really not feasible to sell a house for just a year, although I suppose you could rent it out.

No Car. Unless you’ve got a friend who will let you leave your car with them for a year, or plan to lease it out for a year, you’ll have to sell your car before you jet off.

Transferrable Skills. In this economy, it’s not a good idea to quit your job to travel unless you have skills that will allow you to quickly get a job when you return. On the other hand, if you’re about to be laid off or working in a shrinking industry, it’s probably a great time to drop out. No one will bat an eye at a gap in your resume during 2009.

Bravery. It’s easier for men to travel alone. I think it requires a certain bravery, or naivety, for a woman to set out on her own for a year. However, if you plan ahead and choose relatively safe destinations, it can be done. Unfortunately, safer destinations are usually more expensive to visit or live in.

Gregariousness. If you’re an introvert like me, then traveling alone for a year could be difficult. This is definitely something better suited to outgoing people who network and make friends easily. Otherwise it will be lonely on the road.

Good Guidebooks. This one is key. Before you buy that round-the-world ticket, invest in good guidebooks to ensure that you don’t drop yourself into a warzone. Check out potential destinations and find locales that are both interesting and stable (unless you specialize in landmine removal.)

Internet Access. This one’s pretty easy. Yes, you could swear off all communications for a year, but what if there’s a family emergency? What if you just want to stay in touch with family and friends? What if you need to move money between bank accounts or pay bills to further fund your trip? Fortunately, there’s an internet café just about everywhere on the globe. Staying in touch has never been simpler.

So, are you ready to drop out? What would you do if you did? If you’re considering dropping out, I recommend reading The 4-Hour Workweek. I don’t normally recommend the book, but he has great advice for setting up your life for some time away from it.

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