Why Everyone Should Work A 9-5 Before Travelling

published by Bren

Last updated: May 31, 2020

how to avoid the 9-5 life

Yep, that’s it. See that photo up there? ^

That’s my old cubicle. I didn’t like it very much. 

You probably already know that; I trash having a 9-5 pretty regularly on this blog.

Well today, things will be a little different. I’m going to soften my 9-5 hating, and here’s why.

Often I get emails from people, looking for 9 to 5 job alternatives to fund their travels, torn between the decision to travel or work while they’re young, or maybe just wanting to know how to avoid the 9-5 life altogether.

Just the other day I got yet another email from a reader who had just finished university. He had been working an internship the year before and the resulting misery had him conclude there was no way he would start a 9-5 career after he graduated (I get a lot of emails like this).

Yet, he didn’t have other plans. He knew he wanted to travel, and knew he didn’t want a job. But it seemed he didn’t have a clear idea of what he actually wanted to strive for. Travel seemed to be a way of running away from something (a job), rather than running towards another dream or goal that he wanted to pursue.

I can’t blame him. A lot of my travels were due to the same thing. But I can say with certainty it was the times when I wasn’t ‘just travelling’, but rather pursuing something I was passionate about (learning Chinese in China, learning Spanish in Spain, learning to fight in The Philippines, dancing in Ecuador, surfing in NZ) that have been the most enjoying and fulfilling.

If you don’t want to get a job, what are you going to do instead? What are your plans? What do you want to dedicate your life to?

Without a clear answer, you will probably just end up drifting on the road for longer than you should, which can be a lot more damaging than sitting in a cubicle hating your life.

People often look at a 9-5 as a life-long thing. Start at age 25, work until age 50, retire, then sit around and play golf and stuff.

I prefer to think of a 9-5 a different way. I think of it as a stepping stone, something that can be used to move onto something better. Jobs are often seen as employers getting employees to do crappy things, but with the right motivation you can get a lot more out of your 9-5 if you focus on the ways it can benefit you. Put yourself first and your boss second. For example:

Do not get a 9-5 to simply earn and spend money on a consumerist lifestyle.

Instead, use it to live as frugally as possible and enjoy the regularity of a paycheck to build a war-fund of savings. My travels have only been possible due to the money I saved during my time in corporate. I still have some of that money, so in a way, three years after I quit my job my old boss is still paying for my travels around the world.

Do not get a 9-5 to learn how to do a job. 

Instead, use it to network, develop social skills, and build some discipline into your life.

The job itself is unimportant.

You are not there to earn money for your boss. You are there to grow and develop new skills. The real value of my years in corporate was not learning to use Excel, but rather the skills I learned with things like networking, dealing with conflicts and time management. I also made many great friends/contacts with whom I still stay in touch with to this day.

If you have the choice between sitting at your desk on Friday to get in your boss’s goodie books or going for a drink to network, go and network! You’re going to quit in a few years anyway.

Do not get a 9-5 job with the intent of building a career of multiple decades.

Set yourself a limit of maybe 2-5 years, and work hard to maximise your time there; constantly negotiate salary increases, save aggressively, and don’t be afraid to leave for a bigger payday.

Put maximum effort into optimising skills that will be useful in your future endeavours (negotiating, selling, research) and do the bare minimum on ‘office monkey’ skills that only provide value to your boss (data entry, outdated softwares, running reports).

Give your time to the employer that treats you best (pays you the most) and make sure you spend time developing the skills that benefit you.

Do not let a 9-5 job be the main focus of your life.

It may take up most of your time, but remember it is only a means to an end.

Use these years of security to figure out what you really want to do. Constantly seek out other endeavours and consider the options you can pursue once you leave. Where are you going to travel to? Why? What do you hope to achieve? Quite often, you might actually find the thought of eventually chasing these ambitions are the only thing that gets you through the day.

Instead of enduring a 9-5 and hating your life, look at your time there as a way to set yourself up for something better. Build yourself a solid financial foundation. Decide what it is you really want to do. Concentrate on developing the skills that have life value and give only the minimum to tasks that don’t.

In a few years when you’re finally ready, you can write your resignation letter, fire your boss, and move onto your travels (or whatever else you desire) with passion and purpose.

It doesn’t end there.

You will find that long after you leave, your time in corporate will have a huge effect on your travels. You will see things and travel differently to those who never went through the same experience. You will share an instant bond with other corporate runaways.

Just the other day at my hostel here in Ecuador, I met an Aussie guy who told me he saved up three years for his round the world trip. In his exact words, “It was like a prison sentence”.

We both laughed at this, because we understood each other completely. We both knew how it felt to wait longingly for that moment to break free. We both knew the joy of handing in that four weeks notice. To us, the freedom of being on the road was just that little bit sweeter.

Very often I meet young people travelling around the world, usually not much older than 18 or 19. Some are in the middle of university, and some didn’t even begin at all. But they are there, sitting on the bus next to me, journeying down the Tanzanian coast or the Cambodian countryside. I always love meeting these people, because they are young and generally share my same carefree outlook on life, but I don’t click with them in the same way as I do with a fellow cubicle refugee.

They didn’t grind through the same years of corporate chains.

They didn’t go through the misery of early morning commutes in winter.

They didn’t go through the years of breathing stale office air, rushing through one-hour lunch breaks and enduring Monday afternoons hunched over a cubicle.

They didn’t experience trying to squeeze an entire year of wants into 4 pitiful weeks of annual leave.

They didn’t enjoy the thrill of roughing up your voice and pretending to call in sick.

They don’t know what it’s like to wake up in the morning, put on clothes you don’t want to wear, and sit in a desk that makes you miserable for 8 long hours, every…single…day.

Interestingly, this is probably a big factor in the key differences you’ll notice between those who worked before travelling and those who didn’t. Those who travelled straight after graduation are almost always planning to either return home and ‘get a job’, or end up drifting aimlessly on the road for too many years.

But those who escaped a 9-5 always have bigger plans. They end up starting hostels, restaurants, tour companies, online businesses, freelance careers, blogs, or other entrepreneurial ventures that gel with their skillset. They find ways to build travel into their life and their career. And while part of this is probably due in part to business skills learned in their corporate life, I suspect most of it is due to a vicious motivation to maintain their freedom and avoid a return to the 9-5 at all costs.

It’s because we’ve been in the cubicle. We know what it’s like.

That’s why we make sure we never have to go back.

When I look back at the moment I finished my last university exam, it was a strange time in my life. I was so relieved that it was over, but it was also filled with uncertainty. I already had a signed job contract for the following year, but I had no idea what I actually wanted from life. Accounting career? Entrepreneur? Marriage? It was all a big unknown.

In that sense, a 9-5 was probably the best thing that could’ve happened to me. It gave me time to think and plan, to experience the corporate world, and build a strong foundation financially. It also allowed me to determine a clearer picture of what I did and didn’t want from life. It wasn’t enjoyable, but it was beneficial in many ways and definitely set me off in the right direction.

So to all those in that state of post graduation limbo wondering what on earth to do with their life, whether to travel or work, how to cure the wanderlust they keep feeling every day, is this:

Get a job.

Use the time to save and plan. Get everything you can out of it. Use it as a tool to help you grow and develop. Don’t work for your boss; work for you. You’re going to be miserable and you’re going to curse every morning when you alarm clock goes off, but when it’s finally time to leave, the freedom and joy of travelling the world will be sweeter than ever.

Did you leave a 9-5 to travel the world? How did it change your journey and perspective? What would you recommend? Let me know in the comments below.

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  1. I’ve been waiting to read something like this! This resonates with me so well. I’m in the midst of switching jobs, and the thought of that long overdue sabbatical did come to mind, but the next job hints on the opportunity of travel so let’s see how that goes. But like you said, I’m still saving up, not just financially, but also mentally, so that when the time comes when I finally pull the 9-5 plug, it’ll literally be a mind-blowing experience.

  2. This is brilliant and something I agree with completely! Whilst I didn’t have the same journey, this still resonates so much. I did quite my 9-5 back in Auckland, but because my partner was offered the chance to work overseas, making our swap more of a 9-5 to expat life. I wouldn’t change it for anything else though. I may still work, but I have the opportunity to work in countries I never thought I would, learning and growing as a person as I go!

  3. I am 5 months and 2 weeks after resigning, just wrote about quitting my former life only this week 🙂 at 35 it’s a little harder at first to sleep in the party hostels, but you learn to accept that too (and find likeminded souls, for instance 🙂 http://manupalooza.wordpress.com/2014/10/04/progress-report-5-months-into-my-sabbatical/ …I agree though, those that went from school to travel often don’t appreciate and just “do” countries, a term I hate. You “go to”, “visit”, and “travel to” instead, it’s not about ticking off a bucket thrill list you copied from the next 20yr old 🙂

  4. Straight out of university I landed a 9 to 5 and was unsure of what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, so I built up that war-fund of savings you mentioned, networked, and learned as many applicable skills as I could. After 3 years of working in my cubicle, I fled to teach English in Spain and do something that I have always dreamt of. I can honestly say that I would not be where I am today without my working experience, both at a professional and, more importantly, personal level. I’m new to your blog as of today and am going to recommend it to my followers and follow along myself. Great post!

      1. I actually read this and I’m all for a M-F, 9-5 type of job. I like the stability and a set schedule. All of my weekends, and possibly holidays, free. Going to sleep and waking up at the same time, so eventually I won’t need an alarm to wake me. Having the ability to earn and actually use vacation time. These all sound like great things to me.

        I’m just having trouble finding it now because it seems everyone wants “flexible”. I Googled “what if i want 9-5?” and all I got was anti-9-5 posts. I feel like there are a lot of benefits to 9-5, but now it’s trendy to go against it.

        I wish there were more posts detailing the pros and cons of ALL types of jobs AND how to find them, if you that’s what you are looking for. You say that your 9-5 job was a great stepping stone for where you are today. If you haven’t already, could you do a post about finding and getting that 9-5 job? Whether someone wants to use it as a stepping stone or turn it into a lifelong career, I think it would be good. Thanks.

  5. Hi Bren,

    I am also a blogger but, with a day job. Sad. LOL! Your post truly resonates with me, to set my goals and focus on that. Still can’t leave the corporate life yet but I know in time, I will. And while I’m still here just like what you said, I’m gonna work on myself and not for my boss.

    Honestly, It’s really hard to write and travel using my vacation leaves and weekends, but I am willing to do the hardwork. I am focused on my goals. Thanks for this reminder Bren.

    Jon from the Philippines

  6. Hi Bren,
    Most blogs about quitting your job and travelling mostly place the “9-5” in a very negative light. True, it does feel like a prison, but as you mention, it can be also used as a stepping stone. I, at the moment, have no idea what I want to do or how to do it, so I might as well keep myself preoccupied. What I do know is what I DON’T want to do for the long run. And I pretty much discovered these “don’t wants” while I am working. You are definitely right about planning and saving– the “9-5” pretty much provides this for us, not-trust-fund-kids. 🙂
    I guess I want to say thanks for making this post. I really do believe that what I learn from my “9-5” is not about the work itself but to prepare me with the skills (discipline, etc.) and monetary foundation to when I am ready to pursue whatever it is I am meant to do.
    Hope you are doing well in Poland! And hope you are enjoying Europe as much as I am 🙂

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