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I quit my job to travel for a year – here’s how I did it

Helen Lu travels to Asia after college

Helen Lu

I feel lucky that my career started in a dark and dingy corporate office. It forced me to ask myself, day after day, “How can I stop coming here every day?”

I spent every day figuring out how not to spend 40 hours a week in a 6ft by 8ft cubicle at a corporate center. One day I googled “how to retire early” and found the Financial Independence / Retire Early (FI/RE) movement. The more I read, the quicker I became motivated to save and invest 50% of my income so I could escape the 9-to-5 drudgery, office politics, and paycheck-to-paycheck drudgery. 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 I was doing something bigger. I was becoming financially independent. And that’s how I ended up taking a year off. Doing all of these things gave me the financial safety net to quit my job and go on a trip, at a time when I felt drained by the impending pandemic and the aggressive expectations that come with working in tech.

So I changed my goals slightly. Instead of investing aggressively to retire at 35, I redirected my savings plan and investments to fund a gap year. 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 travels to Asia after college

Helen Lu travels to Asia after college

Helen Lu

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

I also moved 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. It has helped me divert most of my income to investments and savings instead of heavy rent.

I then sold some of my possessions. I’ve often heard that “anyone can make money from their iPhone”, but I didn’t really believe it until I sold my first item on Poshmark. It is a second-hand buying/selling platform mainly for little-worn clothes and accessories. Once I sold one item, I got excited and listed 10 more. Then 20 more. In one year, I was able to sell almost 100 items, which brought me $1,054.

On a related note, I stopped buying new clothes – and really, I stopped shopping altogether. I knew I couldn’t take 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 many shopping opportunities I probably would have taken in the past.

As I prepared to quit my job, I increased investments in my 401(k). It may seem counterintuitive, but I was trying to make up for lost “future” time. Since I wouldn’t be able to invest in a 401k 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 about giving my notice at work, it was intimidating to feel in charge of my own health insurance plan. However, doing research online made me feel more comfortable about the costs and the overall process. I found that I could simply find a plan on my state’s health market website, and there were many different options at different price points. From there, I estimated the monthly cost and added it to the amount I needed to save.

To boost 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 conferences, workshops, and other opportunities to sell digital content online. Between saving on rent, cutting my expenses, and 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 gap year. I always have a budget throughout the year, but once I quit my job, the stakes would be much higher. I mostly wanted to be able to fund the four months of travel, so I sat down and created a budget for each month.

Helen Lu travels to Asia after college

Helen Lu travels to Asia after college

Helen Lu

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

I don’t have any concrete plans for my travels, and it’s been very freeing coming from a 9 to 5 schedule. Today I’m in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and I don’t know where I’ll be going. afterwards. Maybe Vietnam or Portugal or Italy? I finally have the freedom to do whatever I want without having to ask permission or take the PTO, and I have to say, that’s the right way to live.

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