Why I Chose NOT to Quit My Job, but Still Travel the World


Thoughts from a Nuclear Scientist...

It seems like every day I read just one more article about another young woman, man, or couple that have written an essay describing why they have decided to quit their jobs to travel the world. They write that life is too short to spend working. They write that they can “get by with” little, don’t need much, and as long as they have a small income from blog postings and donations, they can survive. Oh…what’s more? You feel like a chum for not doing the same. They call out to you, “Look at you slave, oh slave of capitalism! What do you have to show for yourself?!”

Don’t listen to them.

I’ve talked with many of these so-called “homeless adventure travelers” and nearly all come back full circle. They write these blog pieces a couple weeks into their travels: wide eyed, adventure hungry, longing for bigger things. The problem is that it’s unsustainable. It’s not so much that they're poor (they are), or they are tired (they are), nor even that the sights they use to be blown away by look a little less…impressive (they are). It’s the fact that they realize that humans weren’t made for the nomadic life alone. Nay, even with a partner, you still feel utterly alone. Technology helps, but not enough. Write to any one of these bloggers and I will guarantee you every single one will say they miss having close friends. Eventually, reality begins to set in to these jobless nomads, and one by one they return home. They realize they are dirt poor, they realize they want to start a family, they realize this lifestyle is unsustainable, they realize they miss everyone they left behind, they realize that few people actuallycare about them traveling alone…what’s one more in the sea of millions?

So how about this instead: keep your job and still see the world. You can be an adventurer without being a tourist. Camp, instead of renting a hotel. Hike, instead of taking bus tours. Cook your own food instead of eating out. Just because you don’t spend months in a city doesn’t mean you can’t immerse yourself in it, short term. Plan well and do the things you want to do. Too often a lack of planning (or too much planning) leads to a stressful trip. Do what you can and enjoy it, be flexible! You can keep your 401K (and not empty it to travel), you can keep a steady resume (and not blow it by quitting mid-job), you can keep your close friends close (and not have to leave everyone you love), you can continue living a productive life to society and volunteer your time, you can give money to charities, you can give to your home-town community, you can inspire others to do the same as you! You don’t have to give up everything in order to see everything. You can be a working-class citizen, and still be an adventurer. You don’t have to choose one or the other, and you shouldn’t feel pressured to!

Most people who know me, know that I am a nuclear scientist for the Department of Energy. I love my job. I love the people I work with and work for. I can collaborate on projects related to Solar Energy, Nuclear Energy, Wind, Environmental Corrosion, Erosion, and host of other projects. My job involves helping create new types of energy that are less harmful to the environment, so that all the beautiful things we all want to go see “someday” will still be around “someday.” Go visit the places in the world that are beautiful, but come back and serve too. So, next time you read one of those articles and feel a little pang of jealousy, remember that they are also feeling the same way about you and your close friends having a “night on the town” or you serving your local food bank, giving to those in need, or having the freedom to be flexible with your time, energy, and resources. Remember: you don’t have to give up everything to see everything.

Published: September 20, 2016

Matt Van SwolStoryteller

Matt Van Swol is a self-taught landscape photographer, writer, and nuclear scientist for the US Department of Energy. After personally struggling with depression for many years, he is passionate about showing others t...

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