About a year ago, I quit my job to travel with my girlfriend across Asia for 6 months. When I told the people in my life about my plans, I heard many different reactions. Some thought I was nuts: “How are you going to explain this gap in your employment history?” “Won’t you have trouble finding work?” “Isn’t that irresponsible?”
There’s a lot of fear out there that if you take a break from working, you’ll have a lot of trouble re-entering the workforce, as if the value of our lives and the time we spend is dependent upon the extent to which we make others rich from our labor. But there are alternative notions of value — those that take into account exposure to different cultures, ideas, and ways of thinking, learning to navigate completely new and unfamiliar environments, and the richness these new experiences and perspectives add to our lives.
I’d like to write about my own experience in hopes it might sway someone with similar dreams of traveling for an extended period of time to take the plunge, especially those in web development.
I’m 33 years old and I have been a web developer for a few years. I left to travel with my girlfriend throughout Southeast Asia, Bali, India, and Sri Lanka. I’m also ambitious, so I knew that I really wanted a role that challenged me and didn’t mind putting in some work to get there, even if that meant taking longer to find a job.
The trip was incredible and life changing. We hiked, swam, and walked in places that were so different to anything we’ve ever known. We ate the local cuisine and navigated language difficulties.
Before leaving the United States, I got my motorcycle license, with the goal of knowing a little bit about basic safety and skill before renting scooters in Southeast Asia. This definitely opened doors but also introduced challenges of its own as I learned to drive on the left side of the street and then alternate back and forth as we moved from country to country.
I read a fair amount during the trip. Mostly science fiction but also the entire “You don’t know JS series” and the occasional web newsletters to keep me up to date.
I also thought I would try to do a bit of freelance work so I brought my laptop. As it turned out, I chose to explore my surroundings instead of working! Besides that, getting freelance clients and work that I was interested in doing was more difficult than I imagined. Sure, there are websites like Upwork that cater to the most desperate amongst us willing to work for $5-$10/ hour, but it just wasn’t worth it to me. Many of the projects there were theming or involving technologies that aren’t valued in the marketplace. Perhaps you could argue I was too idealistic but I wanted projects that would increase my skills and improve my chances of getting a fulfilling job when I came back.
What ended up happening was that I would periodically tinker with projects of my own choosing, one of which was this website.
I decided I would beef up my resume by taking a few online React classes, contributing to open source, and coming up with projects of my own choosing. I was also very particular about the job opportunities I applied for because the job I left before leaving for the trip wasn’t as challenging as I hoped it would be and I didn’t want a repeat of that experience.
In addition, I really wanted to appreciate the time I had off to pursue other non-tech-related things like rock climbing, playing the guitar, hiking, baking, and traveling around the local area.
Job Search and Interviews
I know many of you may be wondering what interviewers thought about the large gap in my employment history. Towards the end of my search the length of that gap was about 8-9 months.
The truth is that it wasn’t a big deal. The meaning of the gap has more to do with the narrative you tell about it than anything else. It helps if this narrative isn’t just a story you make up with the goal of representing yourself in the most positive of lights but rather the honest truth of the story you created, wrote, and lived as it happened. Truth be told there is some editorial discretion at the time of the telling of the tale but we have the choice and the power to write the story of our lives any way we see fit as it unfolds day to day, moment to moment.
I told them that my previous company was acquired by a much larger corporation and I took it as a sign to do something I’ve always wanted to do: Backpack through countries I’ve never visited before for an extended period of time. I told them that when I came back to the United States, I really wanted to spend some time learning more about Node, React, and React Native to take my skills to the next level. I told them the truth.
Most interviewers thought it was great. I think they saw it as something interesting that added to my application instead of subtracting from it. There was, however, some explaining to do in terms of telling them what I didn’t like about my previous position, what I was looking for in the next, and demonstrating why I thought the position I was interviewing for would be something I was interested in.
Landing the job
In short, if you’ve always wanted to do some long term travel, you should save some money, come up with a plan, and go for it! It won’t hurt your job or career prospects and the experience is absolutely worth it.