Stories Beyond the 9-to-5: How These Women Travel More While Maintaining Their Jobs (Episode 9)
Happy 2021! Can you believe we made it?
2020 was such an interesting year for this interview series (P.S. if you’re new – start here with episode one!).
Travel and work were both impacted in ways none of us could have predicted. For most of us, travel has slowed significantly or come to a screeching halt. And work? I think it’s safe to say even just having a job coming out of 2020 is a feat in itself. So many of us that are working right now are working remotely. And while working remotely has been a blessing for some (I’m in this crew myself), it’s not to say that it doesn’t come with its own challenges.
Despite all the craziness the past several months have brought with it, I am so hopeful for the next phase of work and travel. In fact, if you’re working remotely right now, I think there’s huge travel potential in your future. Perhaps even more than you’d ever dreamt before!
So while life may look a little bizarre right now, I hope we can all agree that the future will be as bright as we make it. And once travel resumes with full-force, we’ll be ready, laptops and all.
This months’s episode of SB95 features 3 women who….
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?
Sarah: Michigan. I travel back-and-forth to England quite often, though, because my boyfriend lives there.
Greta: I’m technically based in London but spend the majority of the year travelling. If I’m not in London or on a trip I’m usually in Italy (my home country).
Kami: I'm based in Warsaw, the capital of Poland. I've been living here for the past 12 years and I think this is such a great place (although, at first, I haven't been a big fan of the city). Not only is Warsaw pretty cool, but it is also a perfect base for traveling in Central/Eastern Europe (which happens to be my favorite area to explore).
2. 9-to-5 hustle, self-made business grind, or somewhere in between?
Sarah: Somewhere in between. I am completely self-employed, but I work per diem as an occupational therapist in home healthcare, for a large regional hospital. I’m also a freelance heath and travel writer, and I make a small portion of my income from my travel blog.
Greta: Self-made business grind. I worked 9-5 as a management consultant for 2 years, I quit in 2017 and have been travelling and blogging full-time since then.
Kami: 9-to-5, or in my case 7-to-3 (which is even better as it gives me more free time every day). I've been working in the same company for almost 13 years and I really enjoy it. I work for the local railway company, planning schedules and rolling stock for train connections. I have an amazing boss who doesn't have a problem with my frequent travels and I simply like what I do, it gives me the feeling I'm always in a travel world (although my company serves only suburban trains). I would be crazy to leave such a good and fulfilling job to travel the world only. I feel I have a good balance between traveling and regular life and actually have all the best from both worlds. I also treat my blog as a part-time job.
3. What compelled you to make travel a priority?
Sarah: For me, travel is a priority to connect with loved ones/friends around the world. I partially pursued my current self-employed career because of the freedom it grants for travel. As an OT, I can be self-employed, or take on travel contracts. Freelance writing can be done fully remotely.
Greta: I have always loved travelling. As a child I was lucky enough to travel a lot with my parents, so as I got older it was only normal for me to incorporate travel in my life. When I use to work 9-5 I made sure I always used my annual leave days efficiently to get the most out of my time and trips. Since I started blogging travel has become an integral part of my career.
Kami: I've been traveling since I was a kid and it has always been an important part of my life. Once I started working full-time I've tried to naturally fit traveling into my working career, using all opportunities I had to go somewhere and see new places. We are lucky in Poland with days off – when you start you have 20 days off per year, and after a few years you get 26 days. It really is a lot so I could travel almost already after getting the job. I was also super lucky as all the bosses I've ever had understood my passion and never caused any problems when I wanted to take days off to go somewhere.
4. On a monthly or yearly basis, how often do you travel? How do you navigate taking time off from work to travel?
Sarah: I travel pretty often. Since moving back to the USA, I’ve taken 4-5 international trips per year, mostly to see my boyfriend. I also travel locally within Michigan. Being self-employed as an OT and writer means I get “unlimited” vacation days, although I don’t have any PTO so I have to budget for that.
Greta: Over the last few years I spent around 6 months on the road, 3 months in London and 3 months in Italy (usually. But 2020 has been a bit of a different year)! I like to spend long periods of time on the road, so that I can slow travel and really get a feel for the local places.
On these trips I always bring my laptop and try to squeeze in a bit of work here and there, but I take most of my travel time off work. After 2-3 months on the road I usually come back home and work 12+ hours a day to catch up and get out all the content from my last trip.
Being self employed with a mostly passive income business means I can manage my time and decide when and where to work.
Kami: In pre-pandemic times I used to travel a lot, each year I spent over 100 days traveling. As I've already mentioned, in Poland we have a very favorable law with 26 days off per year - if you combine this with all the weekends and holidays you get 144 days when you possibly can travel. My job also allows me to take extra days off when I work overtime and I never said no to that. I often try to take days off around bank or religious holidays (except for Christmas and Easter, those I spend at home with my family) to maximize my time for a trip. In 2020, before the pandemic happened, I've managed to visit eight countries (mostly for short, weekend trips). When it was possible to travel again in the summertime I focused on my own country. Being based in Central Europe, with a major regional airport half an hour away, is a major help, I don't think otherwise I would manage to work and travel so frequently. Very often I go to work for a few hours and then around noon I head to the airport. This way I also save precious days off. Keeping track of my work time (so at the end of the month I have a required number of hours worked) can be stressful and tiring but it's definitely worth all the hassle.
5. How do you finance and save for your travels?
Sarah: I live way below my means, and keep a limited amount of money in my checking account at any one time. I use Mint to budget and set goals, and I use side hustles like pet sitting to earn extra money. This is how I saved over $20,000 this year for a future round-the-world trip.
I also save money when I travel by staying with friends, family, or my boyfriend. Usually I cook for myself quite a bit, as I have celiac disease, which saves money. I’m always looking for bargains. Sometimes I also receive hosted stays or travel experiences through my blog.
Greta: Travel is my priority, and I spend money on little else to be honest. Besides basic expenses like rent, food etc. I’m not a big spender, I’m not big on shopping which allows me to save up for my trips. Now that travelling is an essential part of my business it’s not just saving money for a pleasure trip, but an investment in content creation.
Kami: I wish I could tell you some magic trick but there is none. I work, I earn money, I travel, that's it. Having a full-time job gives me financial stability and if I know I have any major trips to faraway destinations planned I can save the money in advance. There is also the income from my blog but this income stream is definitely not stable, especially in past months. But, generally, it is a good source of extra money too.
6. What’s your biggest tip for balancing work and travel?
Sarah: I’m not the expert on this as I usually end up writing for freelance projects while I’m traveling. I kind of enjoy this though, because I can chill at an Airbnb or local café to work and it gives me a sense of the local scene.
Greta: For me it’s about defining what days are days off, which ones are workdays and which ones are half and half. Being a self employed digital nomad it’s quite common for me to work also on weekends when I’m at home, as well as occasionally when I’m on the road. The night before I usually decide if the following day will be a 12+ hour work day, if I’m taking the full day off or if I’m going to do a few hours work and then take the rest of the day off.
This helps me avoid burnout when I’m at home and enjoy the time I take off more thoroughly. Before I started doing this I found it hard to take time off and enjoy my down time, especially while I was travelling. I often felt like I should be doing more work or creating more content. Having a distinctive division between work and fun days allows me to balance things better and enjoy my travels more.
Kami: Be open with your boss about your passion. Every person has (or at least should have) some interests and if you explain how important traveling is to you and how big of a part it plays in your life, your boss most likely will support you. The same goes for your coworkers – talk to them, let them plan their holidays first (especially if they travel only once a year with their kids), and don't leave them with a ton of extra work that needs to be done when you travel. Simply respect them and don't let your passion come first at work. Once you get the support from (most) people around, you will feel less guilty about taking days off for travels. And, make traveling a priority (or one of the priorities) in your life so you will have the energy to discover the world (or your nearest surroundings) when you don't work.
7. What’s your biggest tip for working while on the road (if you do)?
Sarah: If you have travel companions, make sure they are on the same page about time spent working.
Greta: I always bring my laptop with me on trip but I don’t really work often on the road. If you have to work on the road my tip would be to assign time in your itinerary for work. If you have a busy and packed travel schedule you’ll find yourself stressing that you’re not working enough and trying to squeeze in work at the end of a long travel day.
Kami: I like to start the day early so I can be outside sightseeing before everyone else. This way I can be back in my accommodation early and still have a few hours I can spend on working. I also plan an extra day or two in some of the places so I wouldn't feel the pressure to see all the places I want to and then catch up on work. I try to find local cafes popular among freelancers and work in a creative environment. This definitely helps my productivity.
8. Do you ever get any negative reactions to your travels from friends, coworkers, or loved ones? How do you navigate that?
Sarah: To an extent, but mostly I try to distance myself from people who project their negative opinions or traditional expectations on me. Not many people in my family, or local Midwest circles, understand my desire to travel. However at this point my family and long term friends have come to terms that this is how I am.
Greta: Fortunately I don’t. My friends and family are all incredibly supportive of my decisions, and although they often joke that I’m never around I have never had negative reactions. I usually try to make it a priority to be home for the big events (important birthdays, Christmas, Easter etc) so I don’t usually miss much.
Kami: Fortunately not, probably because everyone has been associating me with traveling since forever and it's natural that I'm always going somewhere or planning my next trips. I'm lucky I have great support in pursuing my dreams from all the important people around me. But if you get negative reactions from people you care about try to resonate with them, pointing out how travel is your passion and an important part of your life. While people might not understand that, they should respect it, just as you respect their passions.
9. Do you have a go-to travel partner, or do you prefer solo or group travel?
Sarah: I really love to travel with my boyfriend, and also with my mom!
Typically, though, I’m traveling solo. Usually when I do this, however, I travel *to* people that I know. As a result of living abroad for years, I have friends around the world. I use travel as an opportunity to stay with them or catch up, so it doesn’t always feel like solo travel, even if I am technically traveling alone!
Greta: I’m not a fan of solo travel, I like travelling with friends and having someone to share these travel experiences with. I love travelling with other bloggers because they understand the need to create content while on the trip, and don’t think it’s odd that I want to wake up at sunrise to shoot a popular location without the crowds.
Kami: I'm a solo traveler, always have been. The situation I was in kind of pushed me into that – I was 18 and ready to discover Europe, and yet no one from my friends could or wanted to go with me. I could either stay at home and be miserable, or go on my own, and that's how it started. Now, all these years later, I'm a huge enthusiast of solo travels and I can recommend them to everyone. Not only can I see whatever I want to or spend as much time as I want to in a cafe, but also, solo travels help me meet more people on the road. I have a few friends that I sometimes travel with as we are interested in the same things and have the same pace but I'm generally very reluctant when someone new wants to travel with me.
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?
Sarah: I spend a lot of time at home working, writing, or doing self-employment accounting. As an OT I spend hours documenting, or getting doused in bodily fluids (lol, no joke!). None of it is really glamorous but it is so rewarding! I hustle so I can afford to travel, but there are things like owning a home, and having a deep local support network, that I have sacrificed to travel this much.
Greta: I wish people realised that Instagram is a highlights reel. Even the average Instagram user wouldn’t share a bad selfie or a day in the office, and for content creators it’s the same. We share curated content that is designed to inspire you to visit a certain destination, we don’t share the countless laptop hours that happen before and after that photo was taken.
Kami: When I don't travel my life is very ordinary - going to work, hanging out with friends, cooking, reading a book, or watching a movie. I don't think anyone wants to see such a normal life on social media, although every now and then I post a bit from these everyday activities so my followers can see my life is not only about travel and I'm just a normal person. I'm also not a big fan of "perfect travel moments" since traveling barely looks like that (especially in the destinations I most often go to). Instead, I'm always happy to share all the mishaps that happen to me.
10. How has the pandemic impacted your work and / or your travels?
Sarah: Work-wise, I was laid off from a pediatric therapy clinic in March, and lost most of my travel writing clients. Since then I majorly hustled all summer and pivoted into the health writing scene. I also got a new therapy job doing home care – it not only pays much better, but it allows me more freedom as I create my own schedule.
Travel-wise, I did travel internationally in August to see my boyfriend in the UK. All other travel was canceled though. Now we are back in our own countries and indefinitely separated – so I’m more concerned with the next time I’ll see him, than any future leisure travel.
Greta: 2020 has had a pretty rough impact on both my work and travels. I had a lot of international travel plans that got cancelled, but fortunately I never book too far in advance so I didn’t have to deal with the hassle of cancellations and refunds. On the positive side it has given me the opportunity to explore more of Italy, something I rarely do as I usually prefer travelling to more exotic destinations.
On a work level it has obviously had a big impact on my blog traffic and income. I took it as an opportunity to improve my site, doing tasks like changing theme and updating old content, all things that I often put on hold when I’m travelling. I had a big backlog of tasks, which I’m glad I had the opportunity to do. I’m hoping that once travel returns to pre-covid levels my blog will bounce back stronger than before.
In the meanwhile I started developing a niche site. It’s an idea I had in the back of my mind for a while, but never had time to work on. It’s been good to have a side project to focus on, and which should one day also become a business asset.
Kami: Before the pandemic, you would see me traveling internationally 90% of the time (or even more). I was planning to travel around Poland too but I always postponed it for later. After March 2020 I've decided not to travel abroad for a while, even when the borders were open again, and instead, I finally explored my own country. I've been to most of the places before (like 20 years ago) but over the years both me and the cities have changed so it was a bit like discovering all these amazing destinations for the first time. I enjoyed traveling around Poland so much that I will continue it this year since I still have so many places to visit on my list.
Work-wise my regular job, fortunately, wasn't affected by the pandemic. Trains have to run no matter what. My blog is another story. When the travel stopped all the blogs were impacted big time and obviously mine was no exception. Now my traffic (and therefore income) are slowly recovering but it's still far from what it used to be.
11. Any can’t-put-down reads (or podcasts) about either travel, career, or personal development that more adventure-loving women should know about?
Sarah: I love The Writer's Co-op Podcast, for anyone interested in the business side of freelance writing.
Greta: To be completely honest I don’t really read a lot of career or personal development books! I have a passion for science fiction and fantasy literature so when I read I like to switch off entirely from work related content and read something completely different.
That said, one book I found very interesting is “The Four-Hour Workweek”. It helped me figure out which things to outsource and how to scale my blog to a proper business.
Kami: I read many books and pandemic has actually helped me to read even more but my favorite books are non-fiction. I love learning more about the world, and not only about my favorite destinations and I've always been interested in difficult issues such as genocides, wars, etc. The majority of the books I read are by Polish writers. But from international authors, I can definitely recommend Thomas de Waal's books about the Caucasus. They are a great introduction to the region, explaining turbulent relations between the countries there.
12. Where will you go first once we can travel again?
Sarah: Hopefully reuniting with my boyfriend – either me in England or him in Michigan. We had dreams to do a round-the-world trip together in 2021 but that’s indefinitely delayed.
Greta: Who knows! It's very hard to plan anything right now. I'd love to do a big South America trip, visiting places like Machu Picchu, Salar de Uyuni and Iguazu Falls, but realistically I'll probably stay closer to home and do road trips in Europe in spring and summer if it will be possible.
Kami: I have many flights rebooked for this year - a few trips to the Balkans, Georgia, Ukraine, and Baltic countries but to be honest I don't really believe I will go to all of them (and even a few seems to be like an optimistic option now). But that's fine. I really enjoyed exploring Poland and I'll be happy to continue it this year.
13. How can others follow your adventures?