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How Much Does a Year of Happiness Cost?

This is a guest column from travel and personal growth enthusiast, Lily.

This past spring, I made a huge investment in my happiness. I left my secure corporate job to pursue my interests in travel, web design and personal growth. My entire year off would be funded from hard-earned personal savings. The financial implications were initially hard to swallow. Not only would I be using a huge chunk of my savings, I would also be sacrificing a year of steady income.

Why I quit my job anyway

I had a great management-level position, a knowledgeable boss, respectable responsibilities and a good salary. On the surface, everything looked great. Yet there was something nagging me from the inside. I didn’t feel passionate about what I was doing and I knew I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t try to explore what I might find more fulfilling.

I was my own biggest asset, and if I was to generate more income and wealth in the future I would have to tend to myself first. Giving up money now might feel hard, but not doing what felt right for my personal growth would be even harder.

In thinking about how I arrived at my position and salary level without being completely passionate about my field, I believed I should be able to achieve at least the same amount of success and income if I pursued something I was more interested in.

How I funded my time off

I’d been working for just over 3 years as a young professional and through frugal habits I had saved a decent amount of my income. I hadn’t purchased a home yet, didn’t drive, so the majority of my assets were cash or cash equivalents spread among various savings accounts, RRSP accounts, and TFSA accounts.

Initial budget for the year, $25,000

This amount was based on my current living expenses, the cost of classes I wanted to take, and my guesstimate of reasonable travel costs.

Living expenses: $15,000

Funded through personal savings (cash)

  • Housing costs: $1,000/month of (for 7 months)
  • Housing costs: $700/month of (for 5 months)
  • Utilities, phone: $80/month
  • Food: $300/month

I was sharing an apartment in downtown Toronto that had 7 months left on the lease and planned to find a lower cost room farther from downtown once the lease ended.

Full-time web design classes: $5,000

Funded through my RRSPs via the Lifelong Learning Plan, which lets you withdraw up to $10,00 per year (max $20K) to fund education costs without having to pay income tax on the withdrawal.

Travel budget: $5,000

Funded through personal savings (cash)

  • Trip to Europe: $1,500 (staying with a friend)
  • 2 month trip to Asia: $3,500 (backpacking)

I actually had enough personal savings to fund more than a year off, but one year felt long enough to explore, but short enough to force me to focus on finding an income stream at the end of the year.

7 Month Budget Update

Budgeted costs for the first 7 months: $16,200

  • Living expenses: $9,660 (Housing $1,000 + Utilities/phone $80 + Food $300) * 7 months
  • Full time classes: $5,000
  • Trip to Europe: $1,500

Actual costs to date (7 months): $17,700

  • Living expenses: $9,660 (on budget)
  • Web design classes: $5,000 (on budget)
  • Trip to Europe: $1,600 ($100 over budget)
  • Unplanned/unbudgeted costs: $1400 (includes increased utility costs for the summer, mini weekend trips, and wedding and birthday gifts)

Actual costs were about $1,500 over the budgeted amount ($17,700 – $16,200).

Because I knew I had enough funds to cover the entire year of expenses plus cushion room, I probably wasn’t tracking my expenses as rigidly as I could have. I gave myself some flexibility to deviate from my budget and also had a peace of mind knowing I’d be okay if any unexpected costs came up during the year.

Projected Costs for the Next 5 Months

4 month trip to Asia (India/Southeast Asia): $7,300

  • Flights: $2,800
  • Food, lodging, activities: $4,500

Housing and utilities: $0 (see note below)

Re-forecasted expenses for the year: $25,000 (overall, still on budget.)

In my initial budget, I was planned on paying rent during my last 5 months of my year off. This expense is now $0 because I decided to spend my last 4 months traveling and living with friends/family for a month prior to departure. The last 5 months of budgeted housing costs of $3,500 ($700 * 5 month) would be used towards my travels.

Other inflows:

  • Sale of furniture and belongings: $2,100
  • Possibly small amount of income from basic freelance web design/marketing work, as I will have my laptop with me while I travel.

After deciding to travel for the remaining months of my year off, I debated between storing my furniture/belongings and selling everything. Once the moving and storage costs were considered, clearing all my possession made more sense for my situation.

Reflecting on the Last 7 Months

It’s been just over half a year since I quit my job. I was nervous when I left, but now I can’t imagine having made a different choice.

In the last 7 months, I’ve traveled to Europe, got a Certificate in a new field, dedicated more time to my health, self-directed my learning, spent more time with friends/family, and met more people and attended more events than I could have if I was working. I’m looking forward to my upcoming extended travels, which will be a whole new experience for me.

It’s not about money, but it’s not not about money either

I was lucky that I saved diligently in the few years I worked. I was never accumulating money for the purpose of taking time off so I’m grateful that I had enough savings to comfortably fund a year off to explore my interests. While money isn’t sufficient for happiness (as I found out during my employment), money can open opportunities to great experiences.

What do you think?

Have you ever wanted take extended time off from your 9-5? How much money would you need to cover your expenses on your time off?

About the Author: Lily has a background in banking, finance and marketing. She is on her year off from working to pursue her interests in travel, web design and personal growth. She writes about personal development, clarity and happiness at Explore for a Year.

If you would like to read more articles like this, you can sign up for my free newsletter service below (we will not spam you).

About the author: This is a guest post. You can read more about the author in the biography above.

{ 56 comments… add one }
  • C November 17, 2010, 9:24 am

    I was a web developer that got tired of working 9-5. I took 8 months off, traveled and did what I wanted. I used my emergency funds to fund this 8 month sabbatical. I don’t regret it for a moment.

    Enjoy the break.

  • OttawaGuy November 17, 2010, 10:26 am

    I am currently savings up to do the same thing. I plan on taking a year sabbatical to South East Asia & Europe with 30K in savings. Really glad to hear someone do the same thing and have such a positive experience.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Money Smarts Blog November 17, 2010, 11:15 am

    Great story. Do it while you are young!

  • Lily Leung November 17, 2010, 11:21 am

    @C: You’re right, it’s fantastic! I’ve learn many new things and meet lots of people I couldn’t have met if I still in my traditional 9-5. Glad to hear your had a great sabbatical :)

    @OttawaGuy: That sounds like a beautiful adventure, I hope you have a wonderful journey!

  • revert November 17, 2010, 11:57 am

    Awesome, I’m really thinking about doing this myself.

    Where did you go to take your Web Design course?

  • Echo November 17, 2010, 12:07 pm

    I’ve known a few people who have done exactly this. They really enjoyed their experiences, however they ended up working right back where they were originally…not doing some brand new exciting career. I guess the travel experience for them was more of what was missing in their lives, not the mundane 9-5 job that they eventually returned to.

    Of course there are others who enjoyed the travel bug so much that they just stayed overseas permanently.

  • Lily Leung November 17, 2010, 1:17 pm

    @revert – I took my web design classes at a Toronto studio called Toronto Image Works. It was a nice, small, laid back environment and my instructor was fantastic. I was thinking of taking classes at a college, but I already have 2 degrees so as a supplement to my existing education, a small welcoming place felt more right for me.

  • Corey November 17, 2010, 2:52 pm

    Fantastic article! Currently trying to convince my GF that working 60h/week isn’t worth it. We’re burning out working so hard and “the corporation” doesn’t give a crap, so why? Downloaded and will be re-reading 4 hour work week. If this article hits home with you as well… find this book.

  • sco November 17, 2010, 3:34 pm

    I’m sorry, this is irresponsible from a financial point of view. You don’t take into account the future value of the money you spent/didn’t earn. The future value of $75k-$100k (the lost income) runs into multi-million dollars in a 20-30 years time frame. Smart people save/invest when they are young and spend when they are slightly older. You did the exact opposite.
    Also overspending on education in searching for the dream job is not smart. The dream job is one in which you are not a wage slave.

  • FT FrugalTrader November 17, 2010, 3:41 pm

    @sco, that’s a bit harsh don’t you think? I’m confident that once she finds something that she’s passionate about, she’ll more than make up for the temporary lost revenue.

  • Lily Leung November 17, 2010, 4:44 pm

    @Corey Good luck with your girlfriend and finding the balance between work and personal time. Thanks for the book suggestion too! I’m actually giving away a copy of The 4-Hour Workweek on my blog this week, if you’re interested in entering: The 4-Hour Workweek: Book Review & Give-Away (ends Sat Nov 20) :)

  • Chris November 17, 2010, 5:02 pm

    For the people who have done this, I’d like to know what happened after. From what Echo said, it sounds like some do end up exactly where they left off.

    Idealistically, I see this as a “discovering yourself” sort of thing, where once done, you go and start a new career path that you really enjoy. It seems this might be unrealistic, and what’s happened is you’ve just managed to “escape” for a year, to go back and work some more at the same job that disenchanted you in the first place.

  • UpNorth November 17, 2010, 5:07 pm

    I’ve got a 7 month leave coming up in this June. Both my wife and I work for employers who have Deferred Salary Leave programs. These programs allow us to reduce our salaries by a percentage to fund a leave at a later time. The money we’re setting aside isn’t taxed by CRA until we use it for the leave – this reduces our tax burden big time. We continue to pay into our pensions at the rate of our gross salary (not the reduced amount) and we’re both buying back our pensions when we’re on leave. We can both return back to the same jobs after the leave without penalty (no break in service, our seniority accrues during the leave period). It’s a really sweet deal – I never thought it would be possible to take a 7 month mini-retirement at age 33 but it will happen by this summer.

    As an aside, I don’t see this as financially irresponsible. My wife and I are both young and without kids for now. We have defined benefit pensions, contribute to RRSPs, are debt free and have a very modest mortgage. Even though our salaries have been reduced considerably over the last 3 years we still wiped out $45,000 in student loans during that time and paid for our wedding in cash. It’s about priorities. I want to hike the Himalayas now, not when I’m 65.

  • revert November 17, 2010, 5:18 pm

    That’s a really awesome benefit UpNorth. You mentioned hiking the Himalayas, and amongst other physically challenging activities is something I’d like to do while I’m young not when I’ve got kids who rely on me. Which is the reason why I’m seriously considering doing this in a couple years.

    I plan to get a couple Cisco certs and possible take a web course much like Lily as it’s something I’ve always been interested in but never had the time to pursue.

    I work at an at awesome place, love the people I work with but I feel like there’s something missing still…

  • Ed Rempel November 17, 2010, 6:19 pm

    Hi Lily,

    That sounds like so much fun!

    Are you thinking of this as mainly a “year of happiness” and a “year off”? Or is the main purpose to find what you are passionate about?

    How is your research for possible future fulfilling careers going? Are you working on other ideas, or will it be web design?

    We design is quite competitive. When we had our web site redone, we had a long list of people and companies wanting to do it. It could be far less lucrative than your old corporate job and you would have to compete for business. What makes you think it would be more fulfilling?

    I have known a few people that took extended holidays like yours, mostly in order to “find themselves”. Most of them returned to the same job and found the travel was fun but told them nothing about what they would want to do. They felt even more lost afterwards. In retrospect, it was an escape from actually finding themselves.

    One did find himself. He learned that he like travelling and getting odd jobs along the way. He has not held down a steady job since! :)

    We do have clients that both quit their jobs, took their 3 kids out of school and spent a full year travelling around the world. They home-schooled their kids and considered the trip part of their education – plus an amazing family togetherness activity. Of course it was hugely expensive and something few people can even consider, but It made them appreciate life and relationships.

    I can’t wait to hear how this works for you, Lily.

    Ed

  • BadCaleb November 17, 2010, 8:31 pm

    @sco Maybe, but the title does reflect there is a cost. I think its better to do this while you are young then regret it at a later date when its more difficult to do it. My friend’s mom lives very comfortably with more disposable income than she knows what to do with but regrets not spending more in her youth to enjoy life. Lucky for her heirs I suppose.

  • Dan - BankVibe November 17, 2010, 8:46 pm

    Hey Lilly,

    Where have you been traveling? I have been outside the US for a little over a year now and just got back from a 2 month stay in Africa. Im in Madrid right now…are you in Europe or somewhere sunnier?? :)

  • Briana @ GBR November 17, 2010, 9:11 pm

    This was a beyond inspirational post! I’m motivated to do something similar but not anytime soon unfortunately. I want to be free of debt and have a nice savings amount (I’m thinking about $20,000) before doing this. I think that will be my goal; to pay off my debt and save a significant amount of money to do exactly what I want to do.

  • Lily Leung November 17, 2010, 10:57 pm

    @Chris: I’d love to share with you what happens after my year off, just keep following my blog :) I guess the great thing about life is that you never know where you’ll end up. I might find myself in a similar job or environment again, or I may end up doing something totally different and fun. But if I don’t try, then I’ll guarantee I’ll be in the same place as before!

    @UpNorth, @revert: I am cheering you on for your Himalayas trek! I’ve only done high altitude treks in Ecuador and Peru (which were breath-taking and National Geographic-like), but I have friends who did 2-3 week treks to Everest Camp. If you’re curious about their experience or how they trained for the adventure, just message me :)

    @EdRempel Good question on if I see this as just a year off or to find what I’m passionate about. It’s both, I think. I felt I was already growing a lot right before I left my job and I’ve continued to grow in my time off. I’m not sure how the web thing will play out, I know I really believe in the power of the web in general, but I feel I could do much more than just be a “web designer” because of my previous experience. I feel I can be passionate about many different things, and job-wise, knowing “why” you’re doing it is just as important as what you’re doing. For example, I could do the same job as I was doing before but in a different environment (maybe a startup, social business, or a different company) and totally love it because I feel connected with why I’m doing it. So, there’s lots of uncertainty in the air, in a good way!

  • Rock077 November 18, 2010, 12:23 am

    I did this two years ago. I had a great job working for a major energy company in Calgary but I always felt like there was something missing…In the end, it took a major breakup from my girlfriend of 5 years to give me the push to go. I took 30k and traveled for 18 months around southern Asia. You would be surprised how far money can go in India and Nepal, I could have stayed for much longer.

    At first it takes some getting use to…living out of a backpack, sleeping in as late as you want, eating where ever, not knowing what town you’ll go to the next day. You collect small groups of friends, travel together for a few days, part ways and never see them again. It became my life and was all I knew. I loved every single day of it.

    As you can imagine, coming home was the hardest part…I didn’t want to go back to my 9-5 on the 32nd floor. I was scared of the organization of our city and couldn’t stand how much things cost.

    In the end I stuck it out and went to a job that paid significantly less but provided me with the opportunity to travel more, meet more people and utilize some of the knowledge and skills I gained in that year off.

    When I left I was 26. I had graduated from college less than 2 years earlier and was hooked up for the rest of my career if I wanted it.

    I wouldn’t trade in what I did for a million dollars. I mean that.

    I use to live to work. Now I work to live.

    Great story by the way.

  • Jungle November 18, 2010, 12:37 am

    Well taking a year off takes a lot of courage and I hope it meets your expectations. I could never do that. Good luck and let us know how you make out!

  • youngandthrifty November 18, 2010, 12:39 am

    Hi Lily!!!

    When I read your post, I was wondering if it was you! Cool that you guest posted on MDJ.

    I totally admire you for taking a year off. I would take 6 months off in a heart beat to travel if it weren’t for my boyfriend (haha) and allergic dog. I know, no excuses, no excuses!

    My friend took 6 months off twice to travel to Asia and Europe, and I envy her for that! Though she envies me as I have a nice sizable down payment saved up.

    I guess it’s all about really finding out what your core values are in life. Money is representative/ and symbolic of your core values, sad to say.

  • SilverEggplant November 18, 2010, 1:07 am

    Hi Lily,

    This is an inspiring post- I always wonder if I should have taken some time off in my 20s to travel. However, looking back, I’m glad I did not as I have recently purchased a home for my parents and there is no way I could have saved the down payment if I had taken some time off. Of course, hindsight is 20/20 so if you’re young and have no financial commitments and you don’t mind potentially working extra years, why not?

  • Calvin November 18, 2010, 3:13 am

    Great post. If there’s one thing I regret I haven’t done so far, it’s exactly this sort of travel experience. I was planning a ’round-the-America road trip when I graduated but instead I got a full-time job, a car w/ loan, repaid my student loan, then got married and got a home, the “typical” rat race. Granted financially I might have done a right move but who knows what such trip would bring me?

    Well I can always start saving more and take a sabbatical in the future… it’s still not too late. I can always hope…

  • Lily Leung November 18, 2010, 3:18 am

    @Dan – BankVibe
    Hi Dan, I went to London, UK for 6 weeks earlier this year. But even more exciting – I’m starting my trip to India/Southeast Asia/South Pacific next Tuesday! I’ll be skipping the Canadian winter for once :)

    How’s Madrid? I’ve never been!

    @Briana – GBR
    Hi Briana, I think that’s fantastic you’re saving up to reduce your debt. That was my priority as well when I was a student/graduated. I just checked out your website and it’s great you’re sharing your financial journey with others. Best of luck!

  • Lily Leung November 18, 2010, 3:29 am

    @Calvin Hm, wouldn’t you be in a better position now to take a sabbatical than before? You probably have a lot more net worth/assets than when you were in your 20’s. It’s not too late! :)

  • Future Money-Bags November 18, 2010, 6:35 am

    Hi Lily,
    That is a great post and very inspirational, ofcourse!
    There are obviously many different ways to live your life.

    I have worked hard and long hours and saved much of my income for the last few years. This has enabled me to save up a decent amount of money to do whatever I want with. I could buy a brand new car and pay no interest, I could put it as a D/P on a property, I could buy many investments and not worry about how they do, or I could travel the world and not work for more than 1 year as well.
    The choice I will go with is going to be to purchase a rental property though. I figure this will put all my hard work and frugality to best use.
    Sure I would love to travel the world, and take ampt amounts of time off of work (my gf asks me to do it every day!) but than what was the point of all that discipline for the past 4 years?
    I am a chef and I work in financial services. These are 2 things that I enjoy doing and that have many different areas I can go in. I know I will be earning more in future, And I plan to earn more each year. I know I will enjoy what I am doing for years to come.

    Who cares about the meaning of life, we all make the best of life as what we put into it. But, do we actually ‘LIVE’ our lives NOW? or… later..?
    The way I look at it, I work my ass off now, I learn many things and meet MANY people along the way to network. I can live my life at much more leisure in 10 years. I will be able to work when I want, and where I want, and as hard as I want.
    In the mean time… I will have to make as many mini-travels as I can without denting my savings habits too much, but enough to keep me SANE!

    to answer the question, a year of happiness would cost me much more than a year of work. I would say 1 year of savings, plus 1 year of earnings, plus set me back 1 year in my business and in my culinary future. I know many people that travel the world when their young. Where are they now? I lost track of half of them, and the other half.. back home they came to continue dead-end jobs.

    Good Luck to your future endeavours. :)

  • dnaman November 18, 2010, 1:13 pm

    Hi Lily,
    Reading this made me feel inpsired once again. My wife and I did the whole travel thing before we had our 3-month old. We lived in the UK for almost a year, travelling and working. My wife was a consultant so she lived in the US pretty much for 6 yrs during which i ‘travelled’ every other weekend to live it up wherever she was.
    Now that we have a child, it’ll be really hard to just ‘pack up and go’ these days but i completely agree with you that HAPPINESS is more than just making more money and being trapped in a 9-5 job where all you think about is the weekends and no work.
    We have pretty good jobs, both over 80k but i feel something is missing and i dont actually like going to work anymore, if i can just leave this and find my passion I’d do it in a heartbeat but alas, other priorities come into play (mortgage, child) – when my wife goes back to work and earns a steady income again, im going to make my ‘move’ and she fully backs me up on this. Your story is a good inspiration and motivates me to find what i love doing, rather than working for $$.

  • nobleea November 18, 2010, 1:43 pm

    Good post. I’ve always preached the benefits of spending your money on ‘experiences’ rather than stuff.

    I can’t believe someone would suggest this was financially irresponsible. So is having kids. But both would provide value and happiness throughout your life.

    Both my wife and I enjoy our jobs, so we don’t feel like something is missing. But we travel a lot. One big international trip per year (peru in 2011). Sure we could have invested the money instead or paid off the mortgage faster. But for what? The experiences are the ones you remember through life, not paying off the mortgage 5 yrs early or buying that big screen tv. Thirty years from now, do you think you’ll look back fondly at that fancy car or new tv you bought and used for 4 years? Or the time you haggled with a street vendor in hong kong for a knock off fashion label (that you still have). Or the time you bunjee jumped in new zealand, or sang Auld Land Syne with 50,000 other people in the middle of Times Square. Our memories are the only thing that bring us value for our entire life. And they don’t depreciate.

  • Geh November 18, 2010, 1:48 pm

    Been there, done that. Took a year off after graduation (was 23). Lived on less than $10,000. Did “it”.

    Was it worth it? Absolutely.

    But, I agree with those who said this is something you do once. “Find yourself” / indulge yourself, whatever you need to do while you’re in your (early) 20s, then get over it, and get on with it. And by “getting on with it”, I mean, it’s back to the 9-5/career and being a responsible working adult. But it’s ok, because you did “it”. You stop being the pretentious git whining about “living to work”, or vaguely regretting “is there more than this?”. Instead, you can be 100% productive and focused in your work, knowing that while all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, there’s also a time for play (early 20s) and a time for work (25-65). If you’re smart, you’ll schedule another “play time” somewhere around 40-45.

    Stefan Sagmeister, design rockstar, rationalized this by stating he’s shaving 5 years off the end of his career (65 > 60) and spreading those 5 years out as 1-year sabbaticals every 5 years throughout his career. University professors are also familiar with the concept of a professional sabbatical.

    6 years after my “year of happiness”, I’m happier than I’ve ever been. Some would say it’s time for another year, but I say, I’m just getting started with real (exciting) traction in my career. I’m sticking with the work gig now, because that’s where the real living is now.

    By all accounts, I’m back in the “typical rat race” — I sit on the same subway as everyone else on the way to work in the morning. I’m paying the bills, paying the mortgage, blah blah. But it’s ok, because I know what a so-called “year of happiness” is like, and I also know that that kind of “year of happiness” is not sustainable (despite some people who try… you’ll meet those types!).

    Instead, what I have is a life I can be fully happy with… I work hard, but I am well-rewarded. And, believe it or not, I don’t actually want to take time off — not like before. It would be redundant.

    The only thing I don’t agree with in your plan is the $5,000 for “web design classes”. You could have learned everything you need to from Smashing Magazine, for free. Seriously. I’m a self-taught web designer/developer and also now teach this stuff… Where do you think I get my lesson plans? That $5,000 is just paying my salary, not making you a better web designer! :)

    Also… for anyone else… one thing. DO THIS WHILE YOU’RE YOUNG. Man, there is nothing lamer than someone over 30 trying to “find themselves”. If that’s you, sorry, but you’ve missed the boat. Please don’t be Lester from American Beauty, trying to socialize (creepily) with 20-year-olds, making up for lost time. Just pop out some kids and get busy working to make their lives what yours can never be. Yes, that really is your only option now. You had your chance, suckas. ;)

  • Geh November 18, 2010, 2:58 pm

    By the way, leaving for a “year of happiness” is not the hard part.

    Coming back is. Trust me as someone who’s done it.

    For all the big talk in this article about what it means, and the weightiness of the decision, it’s not actually that hard (or noble) to “quit the 9-5” and leave for a year of sipping coconut milkshakes while getting endless oil massages on a southern Thai beach. I mean, seriously.

    What’s hard is assuming the full consequences of doing it — and I don’t mean just the financial considerations. There’s a huge psychological toll you pay for this experience.

    Let me walk you through it.

    Stage 1: Elation.

    You quit your job today!!!!!! You bought your open ticket for one year!!!!!! You set up your travel blog!!!!! You bought a new digital camera!!!!!! You ended your long overdue dead-end relationship!!!!!! This is really happening!!!!!! You can’t believe you are doing this!!!!!! Life is exciting again!!!!!!

    Stage 2: Wonder.

    Everything is new again. Everything is different. Oh my god. The sights! The sounds! The smells! Why didn’t you do this sooner??? You are born again. Life is amazing.

    Stage 3: Curiosity.

    You have to try everything. You tell yourself, “You only live once!”. You probably do some really stupid things you’ll possibly regret later. Drugs. Sex. Parties. Nights you don’t remember. Days you don’t remember. Weeks you don’t remember. Faces in photos you don’t remember. Faces in photos you’ll never forget. Days you’ll never forget. Hopefully, you survive. There are no consequences. Money is no object (even though you obsessively record every minutae of the day, especially how much you spent on food). If there’s an “it”, you do it. You explore everything. Life is freedom.

    Stage 5: Pontification.

    You experience profound thoughts. You write them down in a journal or blog. You feel the need to tell everyone about your newfound philosophy on life, especially how everyone else is doing it wrong. You compose epic emails for hours at a time in shoddy Internet cafes to all the suckas working back home, like your friends and family. You are so deep. Life is a journey.

    Stage 6: Bonding.

    You meet like-minded travellers. For “the first time”, you feel truly connected to a community. These people “get” you, like no one every has before. You feel closer to someone here than to your own family, who are distant memories. Your email contact laxes. You fall in love. More than once. You experience new found religion — sorry, “spiritualism” (religions are close-minded institutions to you). Life is complete.

    Stage 7: Nesting.

    Almost despite yourself, you get settled. You get your little routines. You know the locals’ names. The locals know your name. You have favourite spots. Your “room” has become “home”. Life is comfortable.

    Stage 7: Fatigue.

    Maybe it happens at 2 weeks somewhere. Or 3 months. Maybe 5. Maybe 7. Eventually, one day, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, you wake up, and you feel tired. The kind of tired like you did before you left, when you had to get up and work every day. For the first time, even though there’s no doubt still amazing experiences happening all around you, you are fatigued with it. Life is… boring?

    Stage 8: Restlessness.

    You feel the itch. Although you like your new friends, and you like your new life, something’s gotta change. You make the decision. It’s probably dramatic. You pack up your things spontaneously one day and say tearful goodbyes. You’ll never forget them. It’s time to move on. The grass is greener on the other side. Life is somewhere else.

    Stage 9: Journey.

    You move. By train, by plane, by boat, by hoof… You shuffle the deck. New places, new friends, new life, new you. Life is new again.

    Stage 9b: See step 1-9. Repeat x 7+ months.

    Stage 10: Loneliness.

    You hit the fatigue again, but this time it’s different. You don’t just want a new life. You want your old one. You miss your friends. You miss your family. You miss your ex. You probably don’t admit it out loud, especially not to your new best-friends-for-life or fellow cult members. You try to smile anyway, even though you don’t really feel like it. Maybe you cry a little. Or a lot. Life is empty.

    Stage 11: Guilt.

    You have it really good. This is everything you ever wanted. But it’s not enough. Why aren’t you happy? You must be selfish and greedy. Life is guilt.

    Stage 12: Resolution.

    You know what you have to do. Maybe it was your choice. Maybe you have to (ran out of money, family emergency, etc). Either way… it’s time to go home. Life is returning.

    Let’s pause here.

    So far, probably a pretty predictable journey. Definitely all experiences worth having. This is the part that everyone focuses on, especially the first three stages.

    So what happens next?

    Stage 13: Grand Return.

    You come back home. It’s probably dramatic. In your mind, you are your own legend, returning after a long and noble journey of enlightenment. To everyone else, you are mostly a burden to bare with faux enthusiasm (“oh REALLY? wow, tell us MORE about that adventure”). Ya, your friends and family are happy to see you, but your very sun-kissed presence no doubt irritatingly reminds them of how crappy their winter stuck working was. They’re mostly glad you’re back so you’ll stop making them so jealous. They’re never tell you that though. They’ll just hug you and say, “Oh my god it’s so gooooood to seeeeee you!”. Life is reunion.

    Stage 14: Wax Philosophic.

    Like Stage 5, only in-person and drunker. Life is nostalgic.

    Stage 15: I’m Special.

    Enjoy it while it lasts! For a while, people genuinely care about your stories, because you are Special. You feel compelling to tell everyone about your grand adventure… if not, your friends will (of course) ask. You are a war hero, an exotic diplomat, the Mark Twain of your generation. Everyone wants to hear your tales. You write blog posts. You write a book. This can go on for months. Life is an attention-high.

    Stage 16: I’m Not Special.

    You meet up with all your friends for the first time. And the second time. And the third time. All your best stories are told. Several times. Sometimes to the same person (you can’t remember who’s heard which story). One or two are infamous at this point. You’ve gone through the B-roll too. And the embarrassing things you thought you’d never tell ANYONE. Yes, that one too. Eventually, everyone’s heard it. Someone was inspired by your big trip and is now leaving on their own. Everyone’s excited for them… No one’s excited for you. You’re not special. It’s back to the grind. Life is a chore.

    Stage 16: Wait, I’m Not Special?

    That’s right, you gotta pay the bills. You’re flat broke from your big adventure. You have 0 job prospects because all your contacts are stale (and possibly bitter that you ditched them to go have a big adventure). You move back in with mom & dad while you “look for a place” (read: can’t afford a place). Remember that great paying corporate job you resented so much? You hate to admit it, but you sure wish you had that now. You look at your friends: they have stuff. Money. Cars. Condos. Wives. Kids. Careers. What do you have? Oh, right, “memories”. Those don’t depreciate, right? It’s all about the experience, right? But you can’t bank that… Suddenly, you can’t help but feel kind of stupid. Being broke doesn’t help either. Where’s your big adventure now? Life is bitter.

    Stage 17: Hell

    Get ready for the real adventure. You see, for your “year of happiness”, you’re gonna have to pay a price. It’s like a 0-interest deal… it’s not a free lunch, you just pay after. What goes up must come down… To balance out that “year of happiness”, you’re going to have a “year of hell”. Welcome back to your life as you knew it… except with none of the good stuff you had before. Get ready to feel insecure and inferior to all those friends who you previously mocked in your emails with your (smug? don’t lie!) superiority while you were off galavanting around the world. Now they’re ahead, and you’re behind. Worse, you’re “different” now, aren’t you? You don’t eat meat anymore. You don’t “believe” in “corporate America”. You can’t go back to that job you hated… You don’t belong. Your friends don’t “get” you. You miss your cult; they “got” you. You want to be back where you were. You want to be anywhere but here. What’s here anyway? You’ve got nothing. Life is depressing.

    I’m gonna stop there. You get the idea.

    There’s more stages, but… hey, why spoil the fun? :) If you wanna know how this story ends, you gotta live it out.

  • bettyvee November 18, 2010, 5:07 pm

    hahah ive been lathering for a couple years at stage 16now (with the job though) and refuse to go to stage 17. Im about to rinse an repeat but im much smarter and wiser this time around..my employer is paying for it all thank you very much earned deffered leave muahaha..

    who’s the sucka now ;) and i will be nearly 30 and don’t care what anyone says

  • ITS November 18, 2010, 5:41 pm

    I don’t know whose story is more entertaining Lily’s or Geh’s…

    Whether they both seem to have figured out this grind that we call life nobody really knows.

    We can’t all go on an “Eat, pray, love” tour, yet we can afford to watch a movie about it (smug) and make fun of confused divorced middle aged women who think they can relate to Julia Roberts! If you weren’t happy before you left, you will be even more miserable on your journey. If you chose to be happy because of your travel good for you (I doubt this can happen).

    For some people being desk monkeys pushin excel cells 9-5, while having a decent bank account makes them happy. It makes them happy to have their loved ones taken care of at any moment.

    Nobody really knows. They all make this stuff up as they go… You can’t buy happiness, but you can surely rent it at small doses…

  • cash November 18, 2010, 8:22 pm

    doing this, is a luxury
    it is too risky for later on in life
    it is only good for people who don’t plan on having a family
    or planning to work till they die

  • scott November 18, 2010, 10:13 pm

    I have a “friend” who took…close to 2 years off.

    He was/is a tradesman.
    After getting his ticket he offered a stable, well-paying, but severely monotonous manufacturing job.
    He declined and instead went on EI.
    (I still call it UI!)

    So 2 months at school plus another 14 months on “the dole”…yup, 14 months of doing nothing but….doing nothing. He honestly did not do anything!

    And yeah, he was one of those “man, society is so messed up. the rat race is for suckers” type of unemployed people –even though he declined to take a perfectly good job and was now living off MY tax dollars…and I work TWO jobs!

    Now the government (my tax dollars/labour) is paying for another 6-month round of school (and living expenses) in a different trade. How nice for “friend”.

    Take all the time off you want, but don’t do it on someone else’s dime! GAH!

  • Howard Hare November 18, 2010, 10:29 pm

    Oldest son took a year off before going to Law School, went over to China, that was 12 years ago and he is still there.
    No concerns about RRSP’s etc, living and loving, has swum with Dolphins and met many ladies.
    He supports himself, concept of TFSA’a, mortgages etc not in his vocabulary.
    Life is for living.

  • morgan November 18, 2010, 11:44 pm

    EXCELLENT entry, the best I’ve seen on this blog, something that actually matters in life, as opposed to stacking our RRSP, TFSA and every other account available.

    I’m in the same boat, early thirties, make good money but hate the company, not the job I do. I will be quitting my job in the very near future as well and taking some time for myself, not for a year but for a couple of months. After that I will start my own biz in my field of work.

  • Geh November 19, 2010, 1:44 am

    I don’t understand why everyone takes this post to be anti-RRSP/TFSA…

    Taking a year off when you’re 23 doesn’t make much difference, because if you’re anything like I was, you aren’t/weren’t making a heck of a lot of money at that time in an entry level position anyway.

    Doing it when you’re 30+, married and with kids?? Are you kidding me?? Aside from the lost salary, there is a huge opportunity cost in terms of messing up your momentum and stability. Not to mention that heavy psychological toll I mentioned above (don’t think you’re immune — if you do anything worthwhile as a trip, it should change you, profoundly, and I guarantee you will have trouble coming back to “normal life”).

    Your 30’s meant are for focusing and getting down to business, setting yourself up for a good life and then a good retirement. Ya, it takes 20-30 years to do it right. I don’t care if you think this is just my opinion. I say it’s fact.

    To that guy who’s son has “met many ladies” in China for 12 years — sorry, but swimming with dolphins ain’t gonna help him (or you) out when the time comes.

    Take the time when you need it, but don’t be foolish.

    This isn’t about “escaping” life. It’s about doing what you need to do when you’re young and stupid so you’ve done it and can get down to the real business of life without the worry that you’re somehow missing something.

  • Lily Leung November 19, 2010, 1:50 am

    @nobleea: I couldn’t agree with you more about the value of experiences. You’re right, they don’t depreciate.

    @Geh: Thank you for the wonderful story you’ve written in your comments! I actually want to read the rest of the stages to see what happens in the story next because you bring up a really good question about what happens when people come back from their year off (or whatever period of time).

    I don’t know what will happen for me yet, it’s plausible I’ll work in a 9-5 again, but who knows. “Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent.” I certainly didn’t imagine myself as the person I am now, 4 years ago, but in a good way!

  • Chris November 19, 2010, 2:27 am

    I find it disheartening how many people are so negative towards this. Life doesn’t have to be the prescribed “School, Work, Family, Retire”.

    Some people commenting sound like they’d be highly offended if I said “You don’t need to be loaded at retirement, and you don’t have to work at a job for the money.”

    I like the idea of working at a job you love, and working at that as long as you’re able. I could easily take a year off, or several, and still be qualified for a decent job I love, and retire modestly.

  • A.Rajah November 19, 2010, 2:44 am

    Lily- Great post!!! Now you made me thinking of doing something similar in the future too. You live once so enjoy and do what you love.

    I have a mortgage and other expenses. I need to wait till I pay it off in few years. We love travelling and we do travel once or twice each year and we have learnt so much about the other cultures. Our best trips were trips to Colombia and India. We will be visiting south east asia again in December.

  • dusen November 19, 2010, 10:53 am

    Great post. To share my experience, I took a year off to do Europe and the Middle East between undergrad and my Master’s, then another 6 months to Oz/S.E. Asia post-Masters. Coming home at 27, broke and living back at home was tough, especially looking at my friends who were a few years into their career, attached and buying homes.

    10 years later though, I “caught up” and then some to my peers in terms of career success/family/net worth/etc., and most of my friends now wish they had not jumped into the corporate world so quickly. It’s a heckuva lot harder to take a year off in your mid-30s!

    I (half-jokingly) like to say I pre-empted my mid-life crisis by taking that time off in my twenties, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

  • Karen November 19, 2010, 2:09 pm

    I also have taken time off. It has been a spiritual journey. I am a Math/Science Teacher as well as Computer Programmer. I have self taught myself both the 4x market as well as Feng Shui and relationship consulting. [I am secretly hoping to never have to go back to full time.] I cashed in on a small teacher pension [took it early, so it is small], and sold my house — I have been off for 5 years coming up on December 9th/2010.
    I too am very happy to have made it on my own this far. I am now 55, and have enjoyed my grandchildren much more because of this.
    My website is one of my spiritual journey.
    http://www.1wp.com/go/up2u

  • Zip November 19, 2010, 5:04 pm

    WTG Lily!

    I’ve done similar in my 20’s. Experienced a lot, learned a lot, and humbled me much more. Just many beautiful memories to share to this day.

    Yes, I was broke when I came back, but that was okay. I have no regrets. I believe the experience shaped me for who I’m today – hopefully for better :) . As long as you are travelling without creating debt, I’m all for it. Do it when you are young, NOT when you have a middle life crisis. :)

    Despite the travelling and all, my wife and I are still on target to retire by 50. I’m looking forward to re-live the memory when that time comes. But this time I’ll be sharing with my loved one.

  • LEH November 20, 2010, 2:59 am

    Great post Lily!

    I’ve got almost a year off scheduled next year, when I’ll be 34, for travelling, taking some focused training/lessons in a particular hobby and of course general relaxation. Married but no kids. The travel I’ll be doing will be a bit less glamorous than some might choose though (mainly spending time with family and friends who live in various part of the world – no backpacks or the Goa beach track). I’m valuable enough at this point in my career to the firm that my employers are very supportive of it and I have the contract saying they’ll pay my professional dues while I’m gone and my job will be here for me when I come back and so forth. So despite the bizarrely aggressive tone in Geh’s comments it seems to me very doable in your 30s when you have a larger financial cushion just in case, and the advantage of “coming back” to the 9 to 5 as an experienced professional with a wide network. There’s definitely a financial cost to this stuff, but there is to taking a maternity leave or two as well, or relocating city, or making the wrong career choice somewhere along the line. You can’t know where you’ll be in a few years regardless of doing something like taking a year off work, dog knows my life has taken some interesting turns over the years!

    I work for a large international firm and there are often articles on our company intranet about folks in different offices who took several month breaks to volunteer at something or take long sailing trips or whatever. It’s not that unusual, so if it’s something that appeals I’d say do some planning.

  • Howard Hare November 20, 2010, 12:06 pm

    My Dad is 91, and after my Mother’s early death, had several lady friends until He settled with current one.
    In all cases, the Husbands of these ladies had died within two years of Retirement.
    John Lennon said, Life is what happens, all the future planning in the world goes out the window when reality checks in.
    NOW is the only reality, plans are OK, but don’t micro manage.
    $40,000 and No Debt will meet most couples needs in Retirement, FA’s throw big numbers arround because the more you save, the more they earn.
    I am almost 70, Retired for over 10 years, half year in Canada, Half year in sunny climes.
    Million dollar journeys are sometimes interrupted when half the estate goes with the now Ex.
    Live, Love, Laugh, Be Happy.

  • Ned Cifric November 21, 2010, 10:02 pm

    Really hard to put a price on happiness. I think that most of us work ourselves to death. Life today is consistent of work and some more work. This will never change.

  • Lily Leung November 22, 2010, 1:09 am

    @Zip
    Thanks for sharing your story – it’s encouraging to hear that you weren’t in financial ruin due to lots of travelling :)

    @LEH
    I hope you have a great time off next year, allowing employees to take mini-sabbaticals to recharge and rejuvenate sounds great for both the employee and also for the company’s productivity as well. Even during previous time off (e.g. <1 month), I always come back to work with more clarity, focus and ability to see the bigger strategy.

    @Howard Hare
    Love your quotes! “Life is what happens, all the future planning in the world goes out the window when reality checks in” and “Million dollar journeys are sometimes interrupted when half the estate goes with the now Ex”

  • Proseries November 22, 2010, 5:01 am

    hey Lily.. i am with you.. i liked your idea of enjoying once given life to its full.. its very enthusiastic to live like that.. i am feeling energetic after reading your post.. stay happy:)

  • Howard Hare November 23, 2010, 11:35 pm

    Today’s Youth are challenged in ways not known by their Parents, but will also be beneficiaries of a huge generational transfer of wealth.
    Take a year to learn survival skills,you will benefit immensly by learning how to navigate the challenges life throws at you.
    CPP will be raised to 70, OAS to 75, people will work longer, seize the moment while you can.
    A Rut is a coffin with the ends kicked out.

  • Brett December 2, 2010, 11:39 am

    This is a great post, and I’m glad I found it. I like the idea of taking time off, but really I would take it a step further and work during that time towards building a business that would then be my source of income to live off. I work 9-5 (more like 8-630) right now but am spending all my free time working on building businesses that will hopefully help buffer the “fall” when I make it at some point in the next few years.

  • cannon_fodder December 12, 2010, 2:50 pm

    It is pretty common from my experience to see people who are retired and had hoped that travel would be in their future to eschew it. These people just don’t have the health, energy nor desire like they used to.

    Travel now while you can enjoy it the most rather than wait until you are too old.

  • cannon_fodder December 12, 2010, 2:52 pm

    Oh, and when I try to access Lily’s blog it asks for a password. Any ideas how we can get access to her site?

  • Lily Leung December 19, 2010, 5:01 pm

    @cannon_fodder: My blog exploreforayear.com should be working again – had some technical difficulties :)

  • linda August 13, 2016, 2:15 pm

    I was laid off of work and got married and went to miami for my honey moon and purchase a home with my husband. I had a substantial amount in my savings. I recommend taking a year off if you are debt free and can rely on other sources of income such as pensions, cds or savings. It also helps if you are married to a person who makes descent money.

  • Howard Hare August 13, 2016, 6:09 pm

    I came from a generation that worked hard to buy a home,raise a family, and provide savings that would ensure were either of us to require extra care in our senior years, the money was there.
    I was fortunate that I was employed doing something I enjoyed doing,traveling got boring, reality checks in fairly quickly.
    Life happens,you may make all these glorious plans, but if a Black Swan eevnt happens,you may regret not having planned more seriously.
    I never understood people who hid in School ,escaping from reality, never really figuring out what life is about??
    I understand going to Medical School or an M.Ba to further your career,but multiple degrees and then to a College????

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