Ever dreamed about quitting your job and travelling full-time? Ever joked to your partner about not returning to work and running away? If you've ever wanted to know what it feels like to act on that crazy impulse, instead of just dreaming about it, here's our story.
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How it all started
When we bought a motorhome and we crossed the English Channel in it for the first time in 2017, I never dreamed that within a year I’d be homeless and unemployed. By choice.
I vividly remember standing on top of a mountain in Switzerland next to the motorhome on that first trip, in the dark, staring up at the Milky Way in awe. I remember turning to my husband and joking about running away from the ‘real world’ and never going back to work.
Even then, it seemed impossible. I mean, come on, how many people in their 30s actually leave a secure and well-paying job… to travel.
Why we loved travel so much
In 2017, we were in a mess. My lovely mother in law had just passed away totally unexpectedly, we were homeschooling our daughter through her GCSE exams and we worked totally incompatible hours. My husband, having been deployed for many years, was now at home working regularly Monday to Friday hours, while I worked shifts as an air traffic controller. I’d either start really early, finish really late or, the worst one, arrive home after a night shift, too tired and grumpy to want to talk or spend time together.
We’d go days in a row sharing little more than a quick handover on our daughter before heading our separate ways. Having spent years paying off debt and child maintenance, we finally had money, but very little time. So it’s no wonder that the simplicity of travelling with a van and motorbikes and the fun of exploring, spending time together both as a couple and a family, appealed to us so much.
Still, standing on that mountain in Switzerland, the idea of making this a permanent way of life was so out of our realm of possibility that we laughed it off- one of those jokes people make when they’re on holiday.
Until the next morning.
Thinking outside the box
Starting the long drive back from Switzerland to England, we started talking about HOW we could get more time to have adventures in our lives. What needed to change and what could we do differently? What was holding us back?
We were just passing the time on the drive, throwing ideas around and thinking outside the box. My husband and I have always been good at that.
That’s how we ended up living on boats for 15 years- initially as a way to save money, but afterwards just because we enjoyed the simplicity of the lifestyle and the feeling of being a little bit ‘weird’. We liked making choices few other people could understand.
In fact, we only got a house recently, when my mother in law was sick, as we expected to have to care for her.
The problems we faced
There were some things that seemed easy to fix, and then some which were bigger. The biggest was my job. People prefer air traffic controllers to be in the ops room, not camping up a mountain while they’re working!
And although we had days off built into our working cycle, it was tough to get a good chunk of time where we could really go exploring. So the obvious answer was to ask for a sabbatical from my work for a short time so we could travel.
What about money?
Another big problem was money. We now had a house, with all the bills that came with that, plus we still had our boat and several other commitments. We’d been talking about buying a house instead of renting and had been saving to build up a deposit for that.
If I decided to leave my job, what did we do for money?
About 3 hours into our fun game of ‘how can we change our life’, I started a spreadsheet. A spreadsheet I still update to this day. A sheet showing our income and our expenditure.
This sheet changed everything.
One simple thing changed our view
Suddenly, we could see how much money we were wasting each month, even on seemingly little things like Costa or takeaways. We could see how much this house was costing us to run, plus other expenses we’d started paying for without really thinking about it.
We were both passionate about being debt-free, and we’d worked hard to pay off all debts and credit cards which we naively run up in our 20s. We’d spent 10 years living thoughtfully and frugally but, now that we had better jobs and more disposable income, it was clear to see we had started spending a lot of money mindlessly again.
Could I take unpaid leave?
This led to the next step in the game. If we were spending so much money needlessly, we should be able to save enough to allow me to take a sabbatical. Would we be able to save up enough for 3 months unpaid leave? 6? Heck, what about a whole year?
By the time we’d finished our drive back from Switzerland, we’d spent 3 days talking almost non-stop about this plan. It had gone from being a distant dream, to being something almost possible, if we stopped spending.
Was a year free from work worth not having the luxuries we enjoyed every day? Could we stop spending enough to make it work?
How we stopped spending
So we did. Immediately. We were militant and obsessive. We stopped eating out, we stopped buying clothes and we cut our daughter’s allowance (she was less pleased about this change!)
What’s both amazing and terrifying is that within 3 months we hadn’t just met our goals, we’d blown them out of the water. Within 3 months, we’d given up the house, moved back onto our boat, sold all our furniture and cut our expenses down so that we were living entirely on just my husband's wage.
Meaning everything I earned went into savings.
Suddenly, the year-long sabbatical seemed not only possible, but easy. So I applied to my work for a year off.
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My terrifying decision
Except that my work said no. They weren’t going to give me time off.
Actually, they didn’t say no, they just said “we’ll let you know at the end of the year and it was unlikely to be allowed for a full 12 months.”
Which left me with a terrifying decision.
By now I was so excited about the thought of travelling for a while, that the idea of not doing it was soul destroying.
Still, the only option we had left was for me to quit my job. As in, permanently.
It’s not a career you can pick up again in a few years, or go elsewhere to do with another company. I was either in, or I was out.
Not only that, but my social life and my identity was tied up in my career. I liked having a ‘cool’ job. I liked chatting to people at parties or events about what I did. And I liked earning my own money.
Did I REALLY want to give all that up?
What if things went wrong? What if we’d miscalculated? What if we got sick? What about my pension? What if…. The list went on. There were so many unknowns in the future and I was scared to go back to a time where we had no money and too much debt.
On the flip side,
For a while, I’d been unhappy in my job. I liked most of the people I worked with, but things were changing in management and also in the way we handled the aircraft in our airspace.
Whenever people hear I’m an air traffic controller, the first thing many say is ‘that must be stressful’ and honestly, most of the time it wasn’t. But it was beginning to be.
My sleep was affected and my health became affected. This decision was weighing on me. After 13 years and really hard training, was I really going to walk away from a stable, secure and well-paid job with an amazing pension?
The quote which changed my life
At around this time, I read a road trip travel quote from Robin Sharma which changed my life: “Don’t live the same year 75 times and call it a life”
It’s EASY to stay in the known. It’s EASY to stay safe and do the same things again and again each year. But we had a unique opportunity where our daughter was almost old enough to go to university and we hopefully had a few years before my parents needed us around more to help support them.
We wanted to travel whilst we were young enough to enjoy it. We wanted to tour our bikes and live a little. Tomorrow, as they say, is promised to no one.
So, in November 2017, I handed in my 3 months notice. I was terrified and elated all at once. I had no clue if this was the right decision. So many people I worked with told me I was crazy. That this was a huge mistake. That I’d regret it.
The most terrifying part
And the most terrifying part was, I had no idea if they were right or not. All we could do was plan as best we could and hope it was enough. Besides, I did know that staying here, although familiar and safe, wouldn’t be the adventure we craved. We wanted to live a different year.
I worked my last day in February 2018, and a week later we set off for a motorhome tour of Europe. Since then, we’ve visited over 15 countries, travelled over 60,000 miles and we’ve not starved yet.
I missed this…
Sure, I’ve missed the money and sure, for a few months I struggled whenever strangers asked ‘what do you do’. But the experiences and memories we’ve been able to make, both as a family while our daughter travelled with us, and as a couple who have reconnected again, have been, to quote Mastercard, priceless.
We’ve since stood on top of hundreds of mountains and stared up at the Milky Way countless times, and never once have I regretted my choice- not even when the world turned upside down in ways we could never have predicted.
If you’re dreaming and debating a decision like this for yourself, I can’t promise you a happy ending. It’s not easy changing your life and it’s REALLY not easy giving up financial security. We don’t know what might happen in the future or how the world might change.
But I guess that’s the same even if you stay in a job. I know many people who have been made redundant unexpectedly, or the company they work for has closed down. NOTHING is guaranteed in this life.
What I do know is that our years are definitely not the same as all the others anymore and we’ve had more adventure in the past few years than the 15 before them. So, wherever you are, whatever your dream, I hope you find the courage to ignore the doubters and go for it and I wish you all the luck in the world.
Feel free to find me on Instagram or Facebook and let me know how it's going 🙂