Stories Beyond the 9-to-5: How These Women Travel More While Maintaining Their Careers (Episode 8)
So, you want to travel the world without quitting your day job?
Or maybe you have quit your day job to follow your entrepreneurial dreams, and you want to know how to balance the hustle in addition to the adventure?
You’ve come to the right place!
After pausing for the last couple of months (2020, am I right?), I’m back with another episode of Stories Beyond the 9-to-5. If you’re new, start here to read the past few interviews! Every month, I interview three women all over the world navigating the line between work and play.
In this month’s episode, you’ll hear from two 9-to-5er’s and a freelancer, each of whom dish on their careers, how they save for their travels, how they navigate the stigma of traveling while working, and how they balance it all along the way!
Let’s dive in.
Why Stories Beyond the 9-to-5? Don’t Most People Quit Their Jobs to Travel the World?
I get asked these questions all the time – how do you manage to travel? Don’t you have a job? How do you balance it all? If there’s one thing I became painfully aware of as I joined the working world after college, it’s the tenuous line between “work and play.” Most of us call this work-life-balance. And for many of us, the idea of work-life balance feels like an impossible one to achieve. There are several reasons for this that I’ve encountered personally:
1. Limited vacation days (the standard base vacation package in the US starts at just a mere 10 days per calendar year)
2. Money and/or financial obligations
3. Negative stigma surrounding taking time off
4. Lack of time in general
5. Stress of maintaining, and growing, a career and achieving success
If you’re reading this blog post, I’d like to guess it’s because you are a go-getting woman that wants to travel the world but isn’t as convinced about halting your career goals or losing a salary.
Maybe you do already travel a decent amount but you’re hoping to go even further.
Maybe you work at an office that won’t budge when it comes to granting time off, and you’re feeling stuck.
Or maybe, you own your hustle but have a hard time disconnecting from work and focusing on taking time for yourself.
If you’re any of these women I just described, I am incredibly excited. You’ve come to the right place!
Why? Because no matter who you are or what situation you might be in – whether you are a woman in a new job with no vacation time, a freelance entrepreneur struggling to find balance, or a full-time traveler looking to start a career without stopping the adventure, I can tell you that you are not alone. And that navigating your career or personal ambitions while prioritizing travel is an achievable, 100% respectable pursuit.
But don’t just take it from me. Take it from everyone else – keep reading!
How These Women Travel More While Maintaining Their Careers
1. Where are you based, OR if you’re nomadic, where are you currently?
Nabila: I’ve been living in Los Angeles, CA for over a year and that’s where I’m based currently.
Franny: I am based in Brooklyn, New York -- We GO HARD!
Maria: At the moment, I'm based in Bansko, Bulgaria – a huge digital nomad spot with people from all over the world.
2. 9-to-5 hustle, self-made business grind, or somewhere in between?
Nabila: I’m definitely still on the 9-to-5 grind, I actually just started a new job. However, I love me a good side hustle and definitely have an entrepreneurial spirit.
Franny: I am about that 9-to-5 hustle life. I am a full-time Milken Award winning Assistant Principal of Math & Science at a high school in Brooklyn, NY. My current work focuses on coaching teachers and instructors to maximize students’ academic and socio-emotional growth, as well as advocating and creating spaces for culturally responsive practices that promote anti-racism, equity, and inclusion in schools.
Travel blogging is currently a major passion project, but I hope to one day turn that into a part-time business.
Maria: I am a full-time freelancer which means anything can be a distraction from the work. That’s why I try to set up a 9-to-5 schedule to get work done and close my laptop for the night.
3. What compelled you to make travel a priority, and how did you make it fit with your career?
Nabila: Travel came before my career. I started traveling when I was a student 8 years ago, since then, I haven’t stopped. I’ve been working for the last 1.5 years and I’ve been on two large trips to Colombia and Mexico, but a bunch of smaller ones. Just like everyone else, my travels have been thrown off due to COVID.
Franny: Growing up, I loved learning about various cultures, largely because I did not have the opportunity to travel across the country or around the world. Born and raised in Brooklyn, my mom and I traveled locally, hopping on buses to explore different neighborhoods or on the subway to explore other boroughs or the tri-state area. These experiences alone not only provided me with a greater appreciation for different cultures, but also increased my desire to travel at greater extents. I did not get on a plane until 2012, during my first year of teaching, and have not stopped since.
Over the last eight years, my wanderlust has increased tremendously as travel has become my main means of education and self-care. I have become increasingly focused on my lifetime goal of seeing all 50 states and visiting as many countries as possible, ideally 50 countries and all 50 states by the time I turn 50. As an educator, I view travel as an equal part of my career. The more I travel, the more I am educating myself and in turn, educating others. Educating others goes beyond the traditional classroom -- it is through conversations with adults in my professional and personal life; it is through the stories, photos, and souvenirs I share with students; it is through blogging where I literally share tips and stories to educate and inspire others about travel. Because travel has not become as much for me as it is to inspire others, I have the drive and passion to embed it in my life as equally as my career.
Maria: Ever since my first trip abroad, when I was 22 (now 29), I knew there's a whole wide world out there to explore and people to meet. That thought made me restless – I wanted to travel, get to know how different cultures, experience the world, hear different perspectives and see places and things I haven't seen before. Curiosity became part of my life and once it did, I tried to find a way to make travel a priority.
This is when I started my travel blog. My goal was to learn as much about the world as possible – and combine my career with traveling. Blogging at the time seemed like a great way to do so. After that, many opportunities came out of blogging. I also have a Bachelor's, Master's, and PhD degrees in Tourism Management, which helped me land a job in travel & tourism.
4. On a monthly or yearly basis, how often do you travel? How do you navigate taking time off from work to travel?
Nabila: Before this past year, I was traveling close to monthly but I was also a doctoral student. With my first job, I had 3-day weekends so I’d plan trips within California. California has so much to offer - sometimes, I’d just drive down to Mexico. Since I work in healthcare, I wouldn’t always get time off so I’d have to manipulate my schedule or change shifts with my co-workers. I’d also fly overnight after a shift and come back and sleep on the plane. Sometimes you have to strategize.
Franny: Prior to the pandemic, I traveled about once a month for pleasure -- I usually travel during every school break whether it is a short three-day weekend (such as MLK Weekend or Indigenous People’s Day Weekend) or a longer holiday break (such as Thanksgiving or Mid-Winter Recess). Rarely (but I have), I would take a personal day on a Monday or Friday to create a three-day weekend to travel. In addition I would take multiple trips during the summer -- as an administrator I do not have summers off. However, I have more flexibility to take vacation during the first half of the summer. Using the aforementioned tips has allowed me to save up the majority of my vacation days and use them to have a longer summer trip. I would also travel a couple of times a year for work in order to attend educator conferences, using those as work-cation opportunities to explore.
By the end of a calendar year, I typically have traveled to 7 new countries, at least 2-3 new states, and several repeating USA cities.
Maria: I have been working remotely for the last 7 years which means I could work from anywhere in the world without taking the time off. However, I still have my base in Bulgaria because I had my PhD studies in Sofia until recently. For the last few years, I traveled at least once per month for a long weekend, and longer in the summers (for 1-2 months). I spent half a year in Spain on a student exchange, a few summers in Slovenia for work, and everything else was shorter trips. Since traveling in Europe is super affordable and quick, I was able to visit many places even if it was just for a weekend. My plan for the next year is to be a full-on digital nomad and travel slowly for at least a year around the world, working from different co-working and co-living spaces.
5. How do you finance and save for your travels?
Nabila: I’m always learning how I can save money and be savvy with my money. I used to work so many jobs as a student and I realized it was all about compromise. I’d give up buying new clothes, the newest iPhone, and going out to eat. Even now, I try to do the same. Honestly, I love staying in hostels and picking my destinations based on the price of the flight. I try not to stay in touristy areas to save but also to get more of a local experience. I also strictly save the money I make from blogging, social media, or side hustles for travel.
Basically, I’ll cut corners where I need to if it allows me to travel. I feel like if you want it that badly, you can find a way.
Franny: For me, it is about being strategic. For example, the biggest saver for travel is following the flight deal, not the destination. If you chase after the destination, you may end up booking travel during peak season, which is equal to significantly more money. Following the flight deal has pushed me to be more flexible and open-minded about destinations since I am more interested in traveling to a new location versus where it is, which has led me to places that I would not have considered immediately, but fell in love with, such as Ecuador and Oslo, Norway. It has also led me to save hundreds of dollars. I also save on travels by using Google Flights and Skyscanner to check for pricing -- this helps me find out what locations are cheapest for the dates I need to travel since my dates are not flexible as an educator. I finance all of my own travels -- I have a Chase Sapphire card, which helps me earn lots of travel points that I then use to book flights!
Maria: With university scholarships and my remote freelance work. I usually try to work for one client at a time, on a long-term basis, which means I have a fixed income every month. This makes planning for any trips easier and better. And, as I mentioned, traveling in Europe is pretty affordable with all the low-cost airlines, which made it even easier for short trips.
6. What’s your biggest tip for balancing work and travel?
Nabila: I’d say prioritize your time. On days you work, get your chores and errands out of the way once you sign off or finish your shift so when you do end up traveling, you don’t have a laundry list of things to do on top of packing. It can be exhausting, so if you just use your time wisely, it’ll alleviate that extra exhaustion. Also, I like to fly overnight so I can just sleep and my sleeping schedule isn’t disrupted as much but I know that some people hate that!
Franny: In the words of Senator Maxine Waters, reclaim your time! This means using every single one of your PTO days! In my role, I am often answering emails late into the evenings and on weekends. I am the one who people text when they need to call out while I am trying to squeeze an extra 5 minutes of sleep. However, despite having a career that more often than not pushes me to work over 40 hours per week, I still manage to travel at least once a month because I prioritize it. The same way you prioritize showing up to your job daily or paying your rent is the same way you should prioritize saving and taking that trip! You are worth it!
Maria: Since I work remotely, it's way easier to balance work and travel. So, naturally, my number one tip is for people to find a remote job, if possible – that makes traveling so much easier. And now, when every person and company in the world has experienced remote work, it will be even easier to find a job you can do from a distance.
7. What’s your biggest tip for working while on the road (if you do)?
Nabila: I worked a very traditional role as a pharmacist so this wasn’t an option for me. I’m WFH now and I did go to Mexico where I worked out of a co-working space for a few days and I really loved it!
Franny: Because I completely try to separate from work when I travel, I typically am not working while on the road. In fact, I actually log out of my work email so I am not constantly seeing work email notifications. One major reason that I travel is to take a break from work so I can come back fully energized!
Maria: Ah! That one is always a challenge. It's easy to follow a schedule when you have a routine. And if you are on the road, that routine is missing. My tip is to go to a cafe or a co-working space – you'll be much more productive when you have that "working" vibe around you. And it's also a good way to meet people.
8. Do you ever get any negative reactions to your travels from friends, coworkers, or loved ones? How do you navigate that?
Nabila: Ooooh, this question hits home! All the time. I used to get it more often when I started as a student. I’d get all sorts of comments like, “Save your money instead of traveling”, “Why can’t you be like all your friends who stay at home and work?”, “Aren’t you scared?” and sometimes my friends would poke fun at me for always traveling and being “too cool” for them.
Honestly, I learned to turn all that off. As a South Asian woman, I had to learn to tune people out early on. My parents came around after they saw how much joy it brought me, I found friends who understood me, and I just started talking about how much I love it and why which ended up inspiring people. I actually have a podcast on this and talk about this often on my IG.
Franny: It is not explicit negativity, but it is definitely passive in the sense that it comes in the form of questions such as, “Where are you going this time? I can’t keep up!” or “Again! Do you even work?” or “You are never home.” I just chuckle and keep it moving, and rarely announce my trips until either I am already on the trip, posting on social media, and/or people see my coming with my suitcase to work.
I had to shift my view so you see me living my best life and low key hating. I take that hateration to be a motivation.
Maria: Most of my friends and coworkers are super happy to see my travel stories. The only negative reactions were from my family if I'm visiting less-popular destinations – obviously, they're worried about me and trying to keep me safe. But they quickly find out that everything goes well and the world is not as scary as it seems on TV.
9. Do you have a go-to travel partner, or do you prefer solo or group travel?
Nabila: I go on like 85% of my trips solo. Truthfully, I prefer solo for most of them but there are times where I love going with my gal pals. I went to Palm Springs with some of my closest friends and we rented a house which was fun. When I backpacked through Africa in 2018-2019 for 4 months I was so thrilled to be doing it alone. I felt like I learned so much about myself and my experience wouldn’t have been the same if I’d gone with someone. I also dream of going to Greece with a significant other someday.
Franny: While solo travel is my preferred method of travel, I also enjoy and prioritize travel with my fiancé and mom as well. For example, my fiancé and I travel internationally every February mid-winter break for our anniversary as well as every summer when we both have off and try to do at least one smaller domestic trip. In addition, I plan an extended domestic trip with my mom every Christmas break and a shorter one during the summer. All the other times of the year, I am traveling solo. I love it this way!
Maria: It changes all the time. Currently, I prefer to travel alone but to visit places where I can meet people easily – co-living spaces or digital nomad hubs. That way, I can be alone but still meet and hang out with people when I want to.
10. Social media creates a world of 'perfect travel moments' online. What do you wish more people would know about what goes on in your life and work behind the scenes?
Nabila: Deep down, we all know that life is not always peachy. I’ve been pretty open about the struggles of my life, especially when I was working 7 days a week when the pandemic started. At the end of the day, I’m an individual who works to pay her bills but also finds a way to make travel happen. I have student debt just like you, I go into work just like the majority of people, and I don’t come from money. Also, I definitely have had some hard times when traveling too. Like two months ago, I booked the wrong flight and when I got to the airport in Portland to come home, I didn’t have a flight. I had to pay 4x more to get home so I could make it home to work my shift the next day.
Franny: I wish people realized the extent of the hard work, time, and energy that I put into ensuring my life is equally being an educator, traveler, and blogger. I share some of this, but I do not think people truly realize the sacrifices I have made -- whether that is my 1+ hour commute one way every day to work or weekly working 3-4 hours on my blog on a weekday evening after having been working a full day or working late on Fridays sometimes so that I can actually enjoy a work-free weekend. It is exhausting, yet exhilarating!
Maria: I share Instagram stories almost every day from my hiking trips, "adventures" in the office, or even things I find interesting on my walks in the town. I think people experience my day as it is but, of course, there are plenty of times when I feel sad, apathetic, or even heartbroken and I don't show it.
11. How has 2020 impacted your work and / or your travels?
Nabila: This year really has done a number on us. To be honest, I started a new role that I’m excited about and may allow me to travel more than my old role. Working in healthcare during the pandemic has been equally exhausting and rewarding! My travels were all called off but I’m eager to get back at it. I’ve maintained my travel spirit by exploring locally which I might’ve not done before, so there’s the silver lining!
Franny: It has impacted my work and travels in a huge way! Work wise, I have been working remotely since March. Can you imagine running a full functioning school from home? Can you also imagine school being remote for so long? Neither can I, but it is happening! That has meant that I feel less separation from work and school -- I find myself on the computer nonstop, about 12 hours a day between the workday and blogging.
However, in other ways, I feel like I slowed down since I no longer have a long commute or constantly run to events or to meet people. It also has meant that I have not done traditional travel since February 2020. Instead, I shifted my travel to local explorations this summer. The same energy I put into researching and planning a USA or international trip is what I have been doing so far for New York City and New York State travel on a consistent basis. This has given me some of the same joy that I would get while traveling! The best part is that I have discovered some amazing gems leading to greater appreciation of my own backyard.
Maria: Since our team has been completely remote for years, my way of work wasn't affected. The type of work changed and is now leaning towards way more online events. My travel plans completely changed – I planned to visit many new countries and places. Instead, I "rediscovered' my home country Bulgaria and hiked almost every weekend. I also did a spontaneous month-long road trip in Croatia.
It was frustrating at the beginning that I couldn't do what I planned before, but now I am absolutely content with my travel experiences in 2020.
12. Any can’t-put-down reads (or podcasts) about either travel, career, or personal development that more adventure-loving women should know about?
Nabila: Shameless plug, I started a podcast that I haven’t kept up on but plan on resuming. I’ve also been writing a lot so maybe, there’s a book in the future?! I honestly love listening to the "How I Built This" podcast and my favorite travel book is "Tales of a Female Nomad" by Rita Golden Gelman.
Franny: Yes! I have gotten super into podcasts over the past year. I highly recommend the following for travel inspiration:
Let’s Go Together hosted by Kellee Edwards for Travel & Leisure
I also love listening to “Race2Rise” for personal development!
Maria: I'm a big fan of Dave Ramsey's podcast – he shares financial advice in a language we can all understand. I'm also listening to Digital Nomad Cafe Podcast, and of course, the Travel Massive Podcast.
This summer, I also created my own travel podcast but it's only in Bulgarian at the moment – The Road Trip Podcast. I interview people who have been to exotic destinations (Antarctica, Madagascar) or done some interesting adventures around the world (bike trip in Iceland and Faroe Islands, hiking in Lapland, etc.).
13. Where in the world are you headed next?
Nabila: I’m headed to New York to see family and probably some East Coast road trips, I can’t say for sure how I feel about air travel yet but when it’s safe, Bali and Morocco are high on the list!
Franny: Great question! I cancelled so many trips in the Spring and Summer 2020 that I have not planned a trip since. I hope to do some domestic trips to Washington, DC and Boston to dip my toes into domestic travel before doing international travel. I am hoping that my next international trips will be for my Bachelorette Party and Honeymoon, since I had to postpone my wedding to next year. To where, to be determined! Everything will depend on which countries are available to travel, the restrictions in place, and COVID-19 rates of destinations.
Maria: I'm staying put in Bankso, Bulgaria for the winter. After that, hopefully, I'm headed to Sun and Co. – a co-living space in Spain. And, a long-time dream of mine is also South Africa.
14. How can others follow your adventures?