Fear of Financial Ruin: The Stress of Finding a Job While Traveling

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Travel ain’t cheap.

Hotels. Restaurants. Buses. Planes. Trains. Automobiles. If you’re going to travel long-term you need to make a strict budget and you need to plan ahead. Otherwise one day you’ll wake up, find your bank account empty and you’ll have to do the last thing you want to do: go home.

It’s strange how quickly a mindset can change when you’re traveling. One week you can be on top of the world seeing new places, experiencing new things. The next week you can be pulled into a pit of despair when you realise your money is running out.

In the past when I traveled, I never even considered my finances. When my money ran out, I would just go home. Get another job. Start to save again. Rinse and repeat. It never dawned on me to make money as I travelled, that if I just looked after my money more I could hop from place to place, a constant moving machine, always going forward.

Long-term travel isn’t really traveling. It’s like a puttering car. Go forward. Stall. Go forward. Stall. My life is a constant cycle of moving and settling, moving and settling. See a place, stay in a place.

A week ago, Jamie and I finally decided to do some settling. We’ve been traveling from place to place for around 4 months and it was time to stop in a place for a bit. Get a house, get a routine, get some friends. Make money. Make money. Make money.

One week of job hunting was enough time to drive me insane.

I started the week feeling positive. Getting a job would be easy, I thought Just email a few resumes off and voila, the jobs will come rolling in.

After a few days my happiness started to waver. The only replies I was getting were the type that started with “Unfortunately.” “Unfortunately we’ve found somebody that’s a better fit for the job.” “Unfortunately we’re not looking to hire anybody at this time.” “Unfortunately you’re a useless idiot and we’d rather give your job to a monkey!” “

By the fourth day I was starting to panic. Every few minutes I would check my emails. Somebody must be sending me one. Surely?

I went over my budget again and again in my head. If we don’t make x amount of money to pay y amount of bills then we’ll go broke. We need a job or we might as well kill ourselves right now!

On the fifth day I was plunged into a depression. The house was freezing cold, so we had to buy a heater. Money. We were running out of food so we had to buy more groceries. Money. The gas stopped working so we had to get somebody to come out and reconnect it. Money. Money, money, money.

Only when you’re not making money can you truly appreciate what money gives you. Without a job it seems like dollars just fall through your hands, every day there’s something more you need to buy.

Without money each meal tastes bland, all you can think about is the cost. You walk through town and every waft from a restaurant mocks your nostrils. This is what you could have, but you can’t afford it, it’s not in your budget!

By the sixth day you’re sending off emails for every job you can. You’ll even apply to McDonald’s. The fear that you’ll be unemployed forever spurns you on. Still nobody replies. You start to question yourself. Maybe it’s me? Maybe I’m just unemployable. Maybe I’m not good enough. Yes that’s it. I’m not good enough.

At the end of the day you receive a phone call. “Hi, it’s Emma from Anxious Recruitment. I’ve been looking at your CV.” You want to cry with happiness. You’re in. You’ve done it. You’ll be making money soon. You can live again. Then when you speak the lady says, “Sorry, I can’t hear you. Your reception is bad.” She hangs up and never calls back. You try to ring her, but the office is closed. You want to cry with despair.

The seventh day is a weekend, nobody is working. No new jobs to apply for. You decide to leave the house to keep yourself sane, but everywhere you look there is the painful reminder of your lack of income. You buy a two dollar cup of tea and feel a deep sense of guilt. You’re wasting your money and you should know better.

All you do all day is worry about what you’re going to do if you can’t find a job. Soon you’re questioning your existence. Wondering if any of this struggle is worthwhile. You come up with theories in your head. Ways to make sense of your situation. Too many young people looking for jobs. The economy. Lack of skills. You think about your successful friends back home with envy and you punish yourself for not having the foresight they had in choosing their paths.

You look back on the time a few weeks ago with longing. Why did you ever give up all of that happiness for this? Why didn’t you just keep traveling? Keep spending?

You can’t help but laugh at your own predicament. You travelled to the farthest point from England on Earth to explore the world, but all you see all day is your computer screen as you apply for job after job.

When you leave the house, guilt attacks you. You should be at home, working hard, finding a job. Going out means failing.

The worst part is you’re not in control. When I’m not in control of something that’s when I worry about it the most because I can’t do anything about it. All you can do is simply hope that it will all get better. That somebody will see your resume. That you’ll get a job.

You’re not a traveller. You’re just another member of the unemployed. It’s only been a week and you’re already giving up. You’re simply waiting for all of the money to run out so you can become a penniless tramp on the street.

No matter how much you convince yourself it will happen though, a part of you clings to the belief that it won’t. Each part of you hopes you’ll find a way.

This is a struggle few long-term travelers will even consider exists. Long-term travel is a risk. Make money or fail. Still, this is a risk we all go through at home anyway. The difference is that this is the same amount of risk, with such a better payoff.

I might be wrong in saying this, but I think most people aren’t satisfied with their jobs. I’ve never been completely happy with where I’ve worked or where I’ve been in life. When you’re traveling though you can push that to one side. Your job gains more meaning when it allows you to live in a new place. You’re not working for The Man, you’re working for yourself to earn enough to keep going.

You suddenly start to comprehend the real value of money, you appreciate making it. You know that each dollar earned is another dollar to keep you going.

At the end of the week you’ve gone crazy, but you haven’t quit. You’ll never quit, only fail. Quitting means the decision is yours, failing means it’s beyond your control.

You hope the risk pays off, if it doesn’t at least you tried, it’s more than most would do. And wasn’t it worthwhile after all, for the memories? For the moments you’ve had before?

Have you ever worked while traveling? How did you feel when you last searched for a job?

Photo by published under a license.


  1. says

    I loved reading this… the thoughts, the fears, the way you took me, as the reader, step by step through your process.

    Something that jumped out to me was this:

    “I might be wrong in saying this, but I think most people aren’t satisfied with their jobs. I’ve never been completely happy with where I’ve worked or where I’ve been in life. When you’re traveling pursuing your passions though you can push that to one side. Your job gains more meaning when it allows you to live in a new place. You’re not working for The Man, you’re working for yourself to earn enough to keep going.You suddenly start to comprehend the real value of money, you appreciate making it. You know that each dollar earned is another dollar to keep you going.”

    You’ll see I made a couple slight edits. That’s because I think that even if people AREN’T traveling, a lot of people find contentment the same exact way, just with something else they enjoy. Maybe their work isn’t 100% satisfactory, but maybe it gives them the time and resources to be able to things that they love or live where they want (even if it isn’t a nomadic lifestyle).

    I think sometimes we see jobs as these MAJOR THINGS THAT MUST BE THE CENTER OF OUR LIVES. (I know I do.) But maybe for some of us, it’s better to seem them as helping us to find a way to live more comfortably and pursue our happiness. They help us in achieving our goals, whatever they may be.

    I’m not really a nomad anymore at this point in my life — looking more to settle down (just not in the city I am currently), but I do have to contend with this same issue… and I’m realizing that rather than be about climbing a corporate ladder, I just maybe need to find a pleasant job that helps me to live how I want.

    Good luck with everything and the job search! It can be frustrating and exhausting, but the right thing will happen! :)

    • Dan says

      Thanks again for the comment, Erika.

      I completely agree with you. Actually I’ve written about the subject a little before on my other blog. My theory is that our generation is the first that has let our jobs define us. You know this whole concept of “The Dream Job” has probably only existed for 20 years or something. For our parents there wasn’t so much consideration to where they were working. Our happiness now seems very much entwined with our work which is unfortunate because as I’ve said, so many people are dissatisfied with what they’re doing.

      Really most people shouldn’t feel dissatisfaction but they’re told by the media and their friends that they should feel dissatisfied, so eventually they cave in and start to question their choices. When I worked as a postman, I felt awful about it. What am I doing with my life? I’m nothing but a postman. However there were plenty of men who had been working there for over 20 years and they were happy to have done it, it helped them raise a family and get a house. It just shows you the change in perspective through the generations.

      I could write a lot more about this and possibly will at some point!

  2. says

    Hey girl, good luck for the job hunt. Has it panned out well? I work and travel on the road -hooray. Although I’ve been home for 1.5 years with the maaaan ( with a brief stint to Asia in between) but we’re off again. Thankfully for the immediate future I don’t need to worry about working for anyone else, hooray! You could look into freelance writing if you’re interested, on sites like Elance.com etc. There’s a lot of competition and some low offers, but I was getting paid pretty well and found myself enough work to be full time.

    Just a thought :)

    • Dan says

      Haha. So I wrote this, not Jamie, so no “Hey girl” I’m afraid. We’ve both looked into freelance writing but I’m not too impressed by the rates. It’d be alright if we were living in Thailand or somewhere, but with our high rent in Wellington I’m not sure it’s enough! Plus I know it’s a hell of a lot of hard work doing freelancing. I’ve signed upto a few agencies now so should hopefully find myself in a job soon enough.

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