Got wanderlust? Find out what it’s really like to quit your job and set off to travel full-time
Kathryn Bird decided to get out of the rat race whilst she was still young enough to enjoy it. Together with her husband and adorable dog, she explores Europe by motorhome and motorbike, sharing her experiences on the award-winning travel blog Wandering Bird. In less than two years they have visited 19 countries and driven nearly 60,000 miles in their motorhome (not including the times they were lost!)
She is passionate about inspiring others to have their own adventures and create their dream life. You can find tips, ideas and info on their website and Youtube, or follow their adventures on Instagram.
When we bought a motorhome, we never planned to live in it. We certainly didn’t imagine that one of us would quit our jobs and we’d change our whole lives so we could travel around Europe in it. After all, real people don’t do that… right?
We enjoyed spending time in the van. The peace we felt whilst exploring in the van was at total odds with the craziness of life back home, juggling jobs, our daughter, family and everything else. The more we travelled on short trips (around work), the more we wanted to just pack up and never come back.
But it was one night, whilst camped in the Swiss Alps and staring up in awe at the Milky Way, that we realised we wanted adventure and freedom now, whilst we were still young enough to enjoy it.
After all, THIS is our life. Happening right now. What on earth were we waiting for?
Within a few months, I’d left my job, downsized our house and we hit the road touring Europe in a motorhome. That was two years ago.
Now, I don’t want you to read this and think our life is perfect or that everything has been a bed of roses since. Oh no- we’ve made many MANY mistakes and I want to throttle my husband daily as he STILL refuses to put his socks in the laundry bag (NO my darling- on the floor nearby does NOT count…)
We have learnt a LOT- about ourselves, our dreams and what we find important in life (apart from dirty socks!) It’s been, and continues to be, an incredible adventure.
If you’re considering doing something equally awesome (and slightly crazy), here are 10 things I wish I’d known – to help you be more prepared than I was!
You’ll worry the first month you don’t get any money into your bank
And by worry, I mean, seriously panic. It’s terrifying when you look at your bank account and realise this is it. Forever. You either make this money last or you go back to work…
Nothing will ever make you so frugal in your entire life!
You become (even more) uncomfortable talking about money
I’m British, so it was already tough to discuss finances, but now it’s even worse. People want to hear intimate details about how and what we earn, how much we spend and whether you earn anything extra (from savings, investments or freelance work etc)
It can be intimidating and sometimes uncomfortable, especially if I’ve only just met them!
Having said this, if I’d met someone who had done exactly what I was trying to do before I retired, I’d probably have asked some pretty intense questions too, so I understand their curiosity. But it’s not always easy to deal with.
You start to dread the question ‘So what do you do?”
I went from having a well-respected job as an Air Traffic Controller (which most people found interesting and would lead to a further conversation) to have to say “Uh…well… I travel in a motorhome.”
Before I retired I never realised how much of our social identity is based on our jobs- or how often we ask that question as an ice-breaker question.
It took me about a year to learn to say ‘freelance writer’- and now my blog is successful enough that I say ‘travel blogger’ – which generally leads to the question “do you get paid for that?!”
You’ll forget about work very quickly
I couldn’t believe how quickly I adapted to not working. I thought I would feel weird for months, but I don’t think I really thought about work after the first week.
And it’s wonderful not to have to work Christmas or Bank Holidays or weekends anymore – that’s just heaven. My husband still works remotely, so Monday mornings are still a ‘thing’ in our household – we’re counting down until they’re not!
You’ll (sometimes!) feel guilty for not working, especially if your partner still is
We worked our butts off to save as much money as possible and downsize our lives so I could give up work and we could travel more.
But I often feel guilty about the fact that I’m not working and my husband is. It’s hard to feel free-as-a-bird when others around you are still plugged in, so if you are planning to early-retire one person at a time, bear that in mind.
That’s another reason I’m grateful for my blog – now that it earns me some money each month I feel like I’m contributing to the household again. It turns out that was important to me personally and mentally.
You’ll need to find something to do
Which brings me to something important – you will NEED something to do with your time.
Find something you enjoy and do it. Learn a language, travel, learn new skills- what have you always wanted to do?
For me, I’ve started a travel blog to document our adventures around Europe in our motorhome. It’s been a HUGE learning curve – I think I spend longer on my blog now than I ever did in work!
I’ve also taken up crochet (easy to do on the move) and we got a dog – who is amazing. Mac is a cocker spaniel and he’s the best travel companion. Although as I write this he’s cuddled up with me on the seat, wondering if he can reach my biscuit…
It can feel overwhelming
Weirdly, being able to go anywhere and do anything, whenever you want to do it can be overwhelming.
There are SO MANY possibilities that sometimes it’s hard to know what to do. We’ve created a loose timetable for ourselves, so that we still have some structure – as two ex-military personnel, it turns out we need that!
Family and friends will NOT understand your choices.
Not a single member of my family understand our choice. They’re all hard-working people who feel you should buy a house, that you can barely afford, and then work 30-40 years to pay off the mortgage before you have adventures.
My friends and work colleagues were no different. To them, it made no sense to leave a secure job in search of freedom and adventure.
Just remember, this is YOUR life, not theirs. It’s OK to take a different road.
Some people you thought were friends aren’t
Talking of friends, you’ll quickly discover the people who ARE… and the people who aren’t. For me, as a social person, this has been one of the most difficult parts of leaving my job.
My social life was wrapped up with my work. Because I worked shifts, I couldn’t join sports teams or clubs as I worked on different cycles each week. So our team all socialised together.
As soon as I left, that pretty much stopped.
One of the few downsides of travelling so much is we aren’t really part of a community, although we have met some fantastic people on the road.
I don’t say this to deter you, and heck, maybe it’s just me! But it’s definitely been a downside that I wasn’t prepared for at all. I haven’t missed work for a single second, but I do miss the social interactions.
You will say annoying things like ‘I don’t know how I ever had time to work…’
I said this for the first time the other month, and nearly slapped myself!
Yet it’s true – we are crazy busy. Every month, we travel somewhere new and only return to the UK for a short period of time, so we cram in seeing friends and family with all the other important things we need to do.
It’s amazing how many things will come into your life to fill the space work used to take.
We did a lot of research before we finally took the plunge and chose to do something different with our lives. We knew how to budget, how to downsize and we already lived on a boat, so we were used to living in a small space together.
The points above are the things which took me by surprise. The things I hadn’t expected. Some are good, some less so, but all have contributed to this incredible adventure we’re on.
I wouldn’t change our decision for anything. The freedom we’ve enjoyed since I left my job has allowed us to explore over 19 countries throughout Europe, as well fantastic road trips to Mexico, the US and Canada.
We’ve had extra time to spend with family and friends and we feel like we’ve actually LIVED, instead of just going through the motions. To us, that is absolutely priceless.
I encourage anyone thinking about downsizing their life and aiming for early retirement to go for it – really go for it. It’ll be the best decision you ever make. Feel free to find me on social media if you’d like some encouragement or advice – I LOVE hearing from people living their life outside the norm.
I wish you all the luck in the world!