Escape the Cubicle

A row of cubicles

I spent nearly eight years sitting in this cubicle at IBM, burning up my 20s, and never having an opportunity to see the world.

My job was very stressful (I was on call 24/7/365), and I performed well. But when I wasn’t working, I didn’t have the energy left to live a rich life.

I also realized many of the things I wanted to enjoy (e.g., hiking, climbing, the beach, time with family, etc) didn’t cost that much, anyway! I needed health, happiness, time, and energy more than I needed money.

Later, I learned the money can come, anyway. After researching different ways to escape a conventional life setup, I came across Rolf Potts’s book Vagabonding; it was a serious wake-up call. I levitated around for weeks, planning in secret and not sharing my new dream with anyone.

I sold my house and as many of my unsentimental things as I could. I stopped buying toys and started saving the money instead. Funds add up far quicker than you can imagine once you stop buying stuff you don’t really need!

Finally, on December 31, 2005, I nervously walked out of IBM Global Services and into the unknown. I had no idea what was ahead, but I wanted to see it.

My lifelong curiosity and the desire to learn how things work were applied to world travel.

What Is Vagabonding?

Rolf Potts describes vagabonding as:

“… the act of leaving behind the orderly world to travel independently for an extended period of time” and “a deliberate way of living that makes freedom to travel possible.”

Simply put, vagabonding is the act of choosing experiences and travel adventures over working away your life for material things. It’s about rearranging life priorities.

Vagabonding doesn’t necessarily mean throwing everything away to begin hopping trains and asking strangers for spare change. Vagabonding is more a matter of realigning your priorities in life so you can travel for an indefinite amount of time.

Think about it this way. You could spend $20K on a new car, or keep driving the one you have that runs fine. Sure, a new car would be fun and smell good — who doesn’t love a new car?! But in a few years, as with all material things, the new car will lose its ability to give you excitement. This diminishing return is caused by a process known as habituation in our brain’s dopamine reward center. Once the excitement is gone, you can already guess what happens: you begin looking for something else to buy.

Instead of buying the new car, you could take that same amount of money (a small fortune by budget travel standards) and literally go around the world gaining life experience and memories that will shape you into a new person. There will be way more excitement, too!

My living expenses on my first trip to Southeast Asia were $600 a month. Now, they’re closer to $1000 – 1200 a month, but that includes scuba diving and driving motorbikes around beautiful volcanic islands. Unlike the latest electronic toys and clothes from the mall, life experiences never wear out, go away, become boring, get stolen, or go out of style.

The scars fade, which is too bad, but you’ll still have the stories when you’re old. After the initial investment, life experience is yours forever. And it’s not just about building bragging rights. Gathering life experience helps you grow as a person, which creates success in other areas of your life.

What About Retirement?

Thoreau put it best when he said we spend:

the best part of one’s life earning money in order to enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it.”

In other words: live for now. There is no guarantee you will have the finances or health by retirement age to do the things that you want to do.

You should still prepare for the future, but don’t put off your dreams and pursuit of happiness for a later time in life. There’s a chance you’re trapped in the cycle of working to buy iToys and things to distract you from working in the first place! I know that I once was.

I feel like I’m enjoying all the things I would do during — but I’m doing them right now. When you ask people what they plan to do after retiring, what’s the most common answer? Travel. Some also add fishing, gardening, spending more time with friends — all inexpensive things I enjoy now whenever I like.

Travel Is Expensive, Isn’t It?

Travelers are rich in something that many millionaires don’t have: time, freedom, and happiness. Empires require a lot of energy to maintain. Many of the most successful people in the world still can’t enjoy a long trip somewhere exciting.

You would be amazed at how little money you actually need to travel a majority of the world. Vagabonding isn’t the same as going on an indefinite vacation. We’ve been taught that vacations are expensive, especially long ones. But the more you travel, the more money you actually save. Seriously.

I’m 100 percent sure that my travels are less expensive than remaining at home — and they’re a lot more rewarding! How much money slips through your fingers monthly? We’re not talking vacation-style travel here where money is fire hosed for two weeks in an effort to buy back happiness “because you earned it.”

Sadly, many vacations end with additional stress trying to get caught up on everything after stepping away from a conventional life for a week. That’s why so many Americans don’t use all their available vacation days. In 2018, an estimated 768 million vacation days were forfeited in the United States!

Budget destinations such as Asia, Africa, and South America are full of adventure and culture. They are extremely cheap compared to what you spend to live at home. For the cost of one average dinner-and-a-movie date in the United States, you could eat, sleep, and play for days on an island in Thailand!

An average meal of delicious Thai food can be enjoyed for around $2 in many places. Cut that to $1 if you eat from local food carts. With a lower cost of living, you can sell less of your time for money. That also means you’ll gain more experience and have more energy — two things you can use to become self-employed, if you choose.

Living a Life of Vagabonding Travel

Vagabonding is not for everyone, just as sitting in an office or cubicle is not for everyone. I’m not trying to tear down capitalism; I’m trying to help people find the happiness I found. Working while traveling can be an option.

If you enjoy what you do, stick to it! If you feel the life being sucked out of you in true Office Space fashion, then get the heck out of that cubicle. Despite what we’ve been told, we have the power to choose a better life. Stop complaining about things and make yourself happy!

How to Escape a Conventional Life

First, STOP buying things you don’t really need. In a few months you will realize that material things are a liability rather than a blessing. Save the money instead so you have more of a buffer.

Next, pick up a copy of the book Vagabonding for some good inspiration. It really helped me during my transition to a life of travel.

Most importantly: Stay positive. Keep the final mission in sight. Don’t let anyone talk you out of your dream to experience the world. You don’t have to live the same way they do. You can take control.

Once you get into the right mindset, making your escape to go vagabonding becomes easier — it feels great!

I will see you on the road someday.