I Left My Job to Travel Solo for Three Months: Here’s What I Learned
BY MIRANDA HLAING
Today marks six months from the date I told my boss, friends, and family that come spring, I would leave my job and everything I knew in Boston—my home for the last decade—to travel alone to Central America and Southeast Asia for three months.
Taking the steps to separate myself from a comfortable day-to-day routine in order to plunge into brand new territory was big for me. I was happy with the time and energy I put into a marketing career that I loved…but it eventually became difficult to know myself outside of the identity of my profession. Like many in a similar position, I began to crave change, growth, and greater self-awareness—all of which I ultimately chose to find by temporarily removing myself from the environment I knew.
Fast forward to April 2017, the start of my new journey. Not only would this be the first time in seven years that I would spend several months away from my job, it was my first attempt at solo backpacking, free from obligations to anyone other than myself.
Since returning from my trip, many friends and colleagues have asked: What was the best part? My answer is simple: Overcoming fear. From having a discussion with my boss about taking extended leave from work to arriving in cities where I knew not a single person, there were many moments of uncertainty that turned out to not be so scary after all. I’m sharing some of my greatest lessons along the way to help others who are itching to find a bit of recalibration (and adventure) in their own lives.
Asking for that three-month vacation
Bagan, Myanmar was one of the stops on Hlaing’s three-month adventure through Central America and Southeast Asia. Image courtesy of Miranda Hlaing.
Honesty goes a long way. One of the most difficult parts in my desire to travel beyond the two-week norm was feeling like I had to choose between my work and my trip. I remember the moment that I decided I wanted to travel for a significant amount of time. The two scenarios that entered my mind were: a) There was no way I could go without putting my job on the line; or b) I would definitely have to quit my job if I really wanted to travel.
I spent weeks running through both options, which is when I decided to dig a little deeper. Like many companies, I found that mine offers extended unpaid leave for up to three months. This is something I had always associated with events in which I had to take time away from work—life events, personal emergencies, etc.—but could I use it to take an extra-long vacation?
I sat down with my manager and presented my case as honestly as I could. I could either work remotely while away, take the three-month unpaid leave knowing that I would return to my company, or I could not go at all—and I openly expressed that I was willing to work with my colleagues on arriving at the best situation for everyone.
The big lesson here: Don’t be afraid of hearing no. All I could do was be transparent about what I wanted, share a variety of options, and make the best decision for myself based on the response. Luckily, honest communication with my manager set the stage for us to figure things out together so that I was able to take my dream trip without sacrificing my dream job.
Subletting my apartment
Hlaing taking in the sights and sounds of Pai, Thailand. Image courtesy of Miranda Hlaing.
Another major item to consider when planning extended travel is leaving behind an apartment, furniture, and in my case, pets. Instead of going through the trouble of putting all of my belongings in storage, moving my two cats to a family friend’s house, and losing my apartment, I got to work on interviewing potential sublease tenants whom I would trust to take care of my entire home while I was gone.
My Craigslist ad asked for an animal-loving tenant looking for a temporary lease on a furnished apartment. Lo and behold, my very specific apartment listing worked and I quickly found the perfect tenant who made my home her own for the months I was away.
The less money I spent, the better my experience
Hlaing stayed in hostels like this one in Chiang Mai, Thailand, to save money and to meet new people. Image courtesy of Miranda Hlaing.
My best piece of advice for both saving money and getting the most out of your experience is to stay in hostels. A few things surprised me about hostels: They were nicer than some hotels I’ve stayed in, they were safe, they were very affordable (the most I spent was $25 a night for a private room in Nicaragua), and they offered the perfect balance of privacy and sociability. Many hostels are also equipped with full kitchens, which allowed me the ability to shop at local markets and cook alongside fellow travelers—a great way to both save money and meet other backpackers. (In fact, if not for meeting new friends, I would have missed out on many adventures, like surfing Playa Amarillo in Nicaragua, feeding elephants in Chiang Mai, and practicing yoga in a tree house.)
I recommend checking out hostelworld.com, which ranks hostels from all over the world by rating, price, and features like cleanliness, location, and WiFi access.
Why no plan is the best plan
Cows and horses in Ometepe, Nicaragua, where Hlaing spent the first leg of her journey. Image courtesy of Miranda Hlaing.
I returned from my trip with new travel friends, memories of places I hadn’t even heard of just months prior, and the confidence to spontaneously go anywhere at any given time—all thanks to my lack of planning.
One of my most valuable pieces of advice: Schedule as little as possible. Upon departing from Boston, I booked the bare minimum, which included my flight to Managua, a hostel for the first few nights of my trip, and a yoga retreat. This allowed me the freedom to explore each city I visited in real time and didn’t set a timeline on how long I had in each new place. Instead of Googling where I should go next, I asked locals, fellow travelers along the way, and even got onto a bus one day with no destination in mind. At one point, I spent three weeks in one city because I felt so at home—something I wouldn’t have been able to plan for had I paid for flights and hotels in advance.
The lifelong lesson
Hlaing feeding elephants in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Image courtesy of Miranda Hlaing.
Now that I’ve moved around for three months, I ironically feel much more rooted. Prior to embarking on my trip, I experienced what many of us go through—I limited myself to my immediate surroundings, found my identity in the anchors of my routine, and had a difficult time seeing past daily problems.
Taking a step away from my job, my city, and even my dearest friends not only gave me perspective on my life, but it gave me a sense of pride in my ability to thrive in unfamiliar circumstances, something I will carry with me even back in Boston. As one of my favorite sayings goes: “A ship in the harbor is safe, but that’s not what a ship is built for.” Today, more than ever, I know that to be true.
Miranda Hlaing is the Social Media Marketing Manager at Zipcar. You can follow her adventures on Instagram: @watchmirandago