The dark side to 'quit your job and travel' Instagram no one admits: You'll likely end up broke AF

ByJames Dennin

Imagine if you had a dollar for every moment you've spent wishing you could be one of those people who quits their job to travel the world. You'd probably have more than enough saved up to take an actual vacation.

These stories are everywhere, and usually follow a pretty similar format.

A once-shiftless office drone sells off belongings, gets his or her "financial house in order," and then bids adieu to 9-5 drudgery — for good. 

They then go on to produce envy-inducing social media feeds.

Or at least that's what you see.

There's a lot you don't see. Yes, it's true that if you market yourself well, you can make money off of Instagram. And it's also not terribly difficult to rustle up cash while traveling if you can sell blog posts or videos — or take on gig work.

But building an Insta audience takes time. And gig work has many, many downsides, rarely coming with benefits like health insurance, retirement plans (and employer matching) or generous salaries.

Indeed, for people like Chanel Cartell and Stevo Dirnberger — two former advertisers who famously left their jobs in 2015 to document their experiences — the quit-and-travel narrative is romanticized at best, and reckless at worst. 

Not pictured on their Instagram?

All the grueling work they did to pay for everything. As the couple put it in a post on their blog: "We're toilet cleaners, dog poop scoopers, grocery store merchandisers and rock shovelers. It's painstakingly hard and dirty work."

And that's to say nothing of all the money quit-and-travelers lose out on by not growing earnings and putting a portion away for retirement. 

Millennials are already facing an uphill battle — why make life even harder? Thanks to low wage growth and stock market returns, the once respectable practice of putting away 10% of each paycheck for your golden years may end up yielding only half of what you actually need to retire by 67.

Of course, there are ways to make a life abroad work — it just requires a lot more planning (and yes, some math) to make sure you aren't setting yourself up for financial failure in the future.

Putting away even a bit of cash each month as a broke 22-year-old helps a ton, given your early start. And 10% or even 5% is certainly better than nothing.

But that means you really need to earn enough on the road to save on the side, not just "get by." Compounding interest — which is just the interest you earn on your interest — is kind of a double-edged sword in that way.

It makes every dollar you invest early go further. But, as J.D. Roth notes in Get Rich Slowly, it also means taking time off hurts a lot more than you think it will.

According to Ross' calculations, any $5,000 you spend now — instead of saving it — could end up costing you as much as $14,000 over 45 years.


You can see another representation below, showing how compound interest makes you end up richer if you start early — but helps less if you start late.

The typical retirement advice for millennials is to invest in your employer's 401(k), especially if there's matching, which is essentially free money.

But if you don't get a retirement plan through work — or are really thinking about quitting your job to travel — you'll want to get an individual retirement account: These come in two "flavors," Roth and traditional.

Financial planners love IRAs because of their flexibility and tax benefits, and often recommend that young people open one up, particularly a Roth, even in addition to whatever plan you're getting at work.

You can invest in these type of accounts through brokers, including Fidelity, Charles Schwab and Vanguard: NerdWallet has a helpful ranking for 2017.

"Once you start taking money out in retirement, you're not paying taxes on it," Jeff Rose, a certified financial planner  said of the Roth IRA. "For someone that is young and has potentially 40 years of seeing that money grow, that could end up being a sizable amount."

If you're really unsure of where to start, there's always the U.S. Treasury-backed myRA. Designed for gig workers, these plans are guaranteed, and can be a stepping stone to bigger and more sophisticated investments.

The TL;DR here is that you can still satiate your wanderlust without sacrificing your financial future — you just need to plan carefully.

There are some fields where working overseas might even pay enough that you have some cash left over to save, including teaching.

And research suggests that truly remote jobs are getting increasingly common: Sites that list such work, like Flexjobs, tend to be design or coding-centric, but other fields (like sales) are increasingly remote-friendly as well.  

Within our lifetimes, it might actually become a lot easier to travel widely without having quit your job, or even clock out.

That's something new to fantasize about. 

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