When I was 18, I remember thinking that if I only I could make $15/hour, I’d be set.
At the time, I had just started my first year of college, and was working full-time to pay for it. I was making $12/hour all in, including commission, my hourly wage, and bonuses, and between tuition, rent, and living expenses, I was living paycheck to paycheck.
Little did I know that eight years later, I would be making quadruple that which I was making at 18, and that I would be willingly leaving a job that not only paid far more than $15/hour, but also came equipped with a lucrative pension plan, amazing health insurance and an office I couldn’t have even imagined at my retail job.
If you had told me that I would have not only the funds but the freedom to travel, I’d have thought you were nuts.
But in February 2015, the day after my 26th birthday and my last day of work, I got on a plane with a one-way ticket to Europe and went to go explore a little bit of the world before returning home to pursue meaningful work that I love.
I’m not special or rich or have any unusual advantages. I think that with a little bit of planning, you can do this too.
Yes, even if you have a mortgage. Even if you have bills to pay. Even if you have responsibilities.
I have all of those things, but I still was able to do this. Here are four steps that I took to prepare for the journey.
1. I Ramped Up My Side Income
Michelle talks a lot about side income and earning extra money, and I completely understand why.
Earning a side income is easily one of the most practical ways to find financial and career freedom.
I started making money on the side four years ago with my blog, but because I had a rock-solid career I didn’t think I needed to earn more.
In the middle of 2014, however, I began to become dissatisfied with the traditional career trajectory that we’re all supposed to take. I wanted to travel, and travelling in 3 weeks of vacation time each year seemed ridiculous to me.
I had started another side business – this time, an Etsy shop – which began to earn money right away, and between that and my other online income streams, I had ramped up my side income to the point where I could almost outpace my day job income.
Think you can’t do this because you don’t have a side income?
I disagree. Finding side income isn’t difficult. Stop and think about it: what is one thing you could do right now to earn you $100?
I’d bet that you – and most people reading this – can think of one thing. And it probably wouldn’t take you that long.
If you could earn $100, what is stopping you from replicating that and earning even more?
2. I Held On to More Of My Money
You could earn thousands of dollars extra each month, but that will get you nowhere if you’re just spending those dollars.
When I decided I wanted to quit my job and travel, I also accepted that I needed to make a few sacrifices to do so.
I didn’t do a ramen famine, but I was more careful with my spending.
My husband and I ate at home more often and had friends over instead of going out. We began to carpool to and from work, and negotiated some of our bills down.
I have a mortgage, so I knew that when I went away, the mortgage wouldn’t go away with me. I couldn’t do anything about that bill right away, so we found other areas to cut back instead.
Our savings rate increased, and we held on to more of our money.
3. I Built a Backup Plan
I’m very fortunate in that I haven’t need the backup plan – far from it! – but it was still a very important aspect of my financial “quit” plan to have a plan B.
No matter how brave entrepreneurs seem when they go to quit their day jobs, make no mistake: we’re all shaking in our boots at the thought of leaving a stable income for work we love.
I had dreams about all of my side-business income sources drying up like a watering hole in the desert at the same time, and my husband losing his job or ending up in some hostage situation in Europe that happened to drain our savings (okay.. I didn’t say they were realistic dreams).
Something that really put my mind at ease, however, was having a backup plan.
I always knew that the worst that could happen was that I would have to get another job in my professional field of work.
So I made a backup plan of how I would go about doing that, which put my mind at ease.
4. I Set Myself Up for the Future
When I decided to quit my job, I knew that I would want to travel more extensively when I returned from my trip, and I knew I wanted more flexibility in my work than what my 9-5 allowed.
To prepare for this career shift, I began to build a business that would allow me to sustain a lifestyle as a digital nomad while also doing work that I loved.
I threw myself into building Unsettle, just as I threw myself into building a career by pursuing my degree and putting in long hours at the office.
I could have come back from my trip and found another job, but the point was not only to travel. After all, the trip only ended up being about six weeks in length.
The point was to take my career into my own hands, empower myself to work when, where, and on what I want, and maintain a lifestyle of freedom.
I could have continued growing my side businesses, but I do believe that diversifying your income is important, and my side businesses were best left as just that – side businesses.
The beautiful thing about the internet is that it empowers everyone with access to it to pursue what they love.
Even if it takes you a little longer than it took me.
Even if you have to burn the midnight oil building something on the side while you work your day job.
Even if you are in a position right now where you’re living paycheck to paycheck, paying your way through school and dreaming of $15/hour.
If you start something – if you take action – you absolutely can do what you love.
Sarah Peterson is the author of Unsettle.org, where she helps people stop settling for “okay” lives and careers.