I Quit My Well Paying 9-to-5 Job As A CPA To Travel The World


Have you ever considered quitting your job to travel the world?

Need some inspiration?

In fact: In today's article, we have Sharon Kelly, CPA, CMA sharing with us why she quit her job to travel the world.

For 25 years Sharon, a CPA (Canada), worked in finance and accounting roles in several companies within the technology, telecommunications, pharmaceutical, and fintech industries.

She attended Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Canada, graduating in 1992 with a major in Economics and minor in Political Science and in 1993 with a Diploma in Accounting.

She did regular volunteer work as a crisis line counsellor for an organization called SAVIS (Sexual Assault and Violence Intervention Services of Halton), supporting survivors of sexual violence.

Why I quit my job as a CPA and traveled the world

I was the Manager - Financial Planning & Analysis (FP&A) for a foreign exchange broker before I quit my job to travel for two years.

My FP&A job was stressful at times, but it was the work I enjoyed and was good at. I was even recognized for my work in 2016 with a President’s Club award.

I had a wonderful family and amazing friends and enjoyed an active social life.

In fact, my life was going well when I decided to ‘ditch my desk’ to travel for two years.

I always stress this … I did not make this change because I was unhappy or wanted to run away from something or someone.

I didn’t do this to ‘find myself’.

I just decided to take a break and take the opportunity to experience ‘life outside the office'.

So you do not have to be miserable to take a career break; a break can happen even if you are happy and loving your life and job!

Here’s my story:

I was born in England but we moved to Canada when I was 4 years old. I have an older sister who currently lives in the US.

While growing up we were a basic middle-class family.

My Dad had a good job but never wanted one that would take away from family time and my Mum did not work outside the home until I was about 15 years old.

Due to there being only one income in the family, we did not have a lot of extra material things but we had a lot of love and support.

Also due to my Dad’s work, we moved around a few times, which was tough at the time but probably taught me to be adaptable.

By the time I left for University, I had attended 3 different elementary schools and 2 different high schools and had lived in 9 different homes in 6 different cities.

We didn’t have the opportunity to travel outside of Canada as a family, except for visiting Britain twice, so my love for travel was not something ingrained in me as a child.

I didn’t always want to be a CPA. I had an aptitude for math and that started me on my path as a CPA.

At the time I started studying to be an Accountant, there were 3 accounting designations in Canada: CA, CMA, and CGA. A few years ago they all merged into one CPA (Chartered Professional Accountant).

I designated as a CMA, which stood for Certified Management Accountant.  In fact, my official designation is CPA, CMA.

So how did it all happen?

Around April 2017, I decided that although I enjoyed what I did at work, I wasn’t enjoying where I was doing it. So I started looking for another job. 

After a couple of months of what I will admit was a lazy job search, nothing had interested or excited me.

Every other job opportunity just felt like the same thing - because it was.

In June 2017, I was speaking to a very close, longtime friend about my frustrations and he asked me 'what I wanted to do'. I replied ‘Manager/Director FP&A.

And he said ‘no, that’s not you-you're not the corporate type’. He went on to say I was an adventurer and a traveller.

I scoffed at this and reminded him that, like him, I am a CPA, CMA, not a traveler. He said that is what I did as a profession but that is not who I was.

About my friend...for a couple of years, he had been talking about taking a career break (that is how I think of this) and travelling and that day he said ‘why don’t you join me’.

I always said I would join him for a 3 or 4-week vacation but never considered anything longer.

After some discussion on this - mainly me saying things like, ‘No I can’t possibly do that’ - I agreed to at least think about it.

But the seed had been planted and the more I thought about quitting my job to travel - before I even started thinking of how I would do it - the more I could actually picture my life out on the road traveling.

Once that happened I knew I had to at least explore the possibility of taking a break and traveling or I would always wonder.

Did I quit my job immediately and take off on my travel journey?

No, I quit my job almost a year after deciding to take a break and travel the world.

The idea of travelling really started around August 2017 and I actually left on my travel adventure on August 7th, 2018. 

I managed the strategic and financial planning process and Sept-Dec is planning season. So when I was considering quitting my job to travel, I decided to work through the planning season, rather than leaving at the start or at some point during. That just didn’t feel right for me.

And since I wouldn’t want to leave right after without being paid my year-end bonus (which was paid out in March of the following year), I ended up working for many months even though I knew I was leaving, which was a challenge on some days.

I announced my resignation at the end of April 2018, with the intent of leaving around the end of June 2018.

Everyone was very excited and supportive, many expressing sentiments like ‘I wish I could do that’ and praising me for having the courage to actually do it.

It took a bit longer to finalize some details so my last day of work was July 21st, 2018.

And the friend who suggested I join him… his life circumstances changed and he wasn’t able to embark on a multi-year trip.

However, he did join me for a month in November and we traveled in Turkey and Romania together.

How much does it cost to travel the world for one year?

So the first thing was obviously how much would it cost to travel for a year and how would I afford it?

Before I could consider quitting my job and traveling I wanted to plan my finances properly (after all I am an FP&A by profession :-p)!

Luckily there have been many people who have done long term travel before me and have written about it. So by reading various articles, I could gather a rough idea of the cost.

There were several credible sources who talk about a USD$ 50-60/day budget (obviously averaged out). I used that as a guideline.

In my opinion, and from my research, the cost of traveling can vary widely depending on:

  • Location: Central and Western Europe are more expensive than much of Asia and Africa, for example. So an itinerary that spends a lot of time in Europe will cost more
  • Accommodations: What accommodations you are willing to have. Options like couch surfing, hostels or work/live situations will reduce accommodation costs but every traveller will have to decide what they are comfortable with. I am not comfortable with hostels or sharing spaces so I chose to live by myself, again a personal choice which can affect your travel budget.
  • Mode of transportation: How you want to travel? Flying may be necessary when travelling large distances, but if you are prepared to take a train, or sit on a bus for a long time (I did some 24+ bus rides), your costs can be reduced
  • Food: Street food vs restaurants, or balancing additional accommodation costs to get somewhere with a kitchen so you can prepare your own meals
  • Experiences and sightseeing: What you want to do in locations? Those once in a lifetime experiences can be pricey and admissions or tour costs will add up. You will need to decide what’s important to you and allocate your money accordingly.
  • Timing: Timing has a huge influence on the overall cost if you want to consider travelling around the world. Prices in a given location can vary wildly depending on the time of year you’re there (also known as seasonality).

Once I set my budget, I looked at how I could afford it. 

I had some savings but not nearly enough.

I had locked in retirement savings, but I did not want to use any of it (I would recommend others as well not to touch your retirement funds). 

I owned a 4 bedroom home in a suburb of Toronto and I had owned it for 11 years so it had appreciated in value.

I loved my home and at the time wanted to keep it, so considered options such as renting it out and/or refinancing and using the equity to buy additional rental property.  But the numbers on those options just didn’t make sense.

So I knew that if I wanted to make the change relatively quickly, without taking years to save, I had to sell my house.

And surprisingly selling my house was an easier decision than I thought - another sign that the decision to take the break and make a change and travel was the right one.

Since I wanted to stay in the property market, I decided to use the proceeds of the sale of my house to fund my travel and also buy an apartment.

Currently, I am renting out this apartment and will move into upon my return.

While putting together my financial plan, I took into consideration:

  • Before travelling: Looking at what money I had or would I have before I started travelling (including the net proceeds from the real estate transactions) and what money I would need prior to travelling for basic living expenses and expenses relating to the sale/purchase and to prepare for the trip
  • During travelling: What would be the costs involved for my travel and the funds I would need for my fixed costs in Canada
  • After travelling: What would my savings be when I return and how long could I support myself on that while I search for a job. I also looked at what my income would need to be to cover my new cost structure (the apartment will carry for much less than the house) as this will give me more options or flexibility

All 3 parts had to work for me before I made the final decision and started pulling triggers like selling my house and quitting my job.

So, in summary, this is how I decided to fund my travel for two years:

  • Used my savings (not retirement funds)
  • Sold my house and used its proceeds to fund my travelling and buy a smaller apartment, which I am renting out while travelling to offset my expenses

The general consensus from travelers who’ve done these trips is that a year travelling costs somewhere between $20,000 and $30,000.

If you prefer to live in the lap of luxury, flying in business class and staying at the Four Seasons, you’re going to have to pay a lot more than that.

But if you’re a lowly backpacker, you could potentially travel the world for a year on USD $6-17K (it has been done!).

While I won’t disclose what my numbers were or had to be for me to say yes this works, anyone considering doing this will obviously have different numbers that work for them but the general thought pattern will still apply.

And I track all my costs on a google sheet, which allows me to edit offline and make sure I stay on track.

How do I plan my travelling?

I have found that planning about 30 days in advance works for me.

And I have just made decisions as to where to go next or how long to stay based on what’s felt right mainly.

I knew I wanted to start in Europe. It made sense geographically for me and I had been a few times before so it felt more comfortable.

I wanted a mixture of some of the more traditional spots - like Prague, Amsterdam, etc but also wanted to go to some places that aren’t on every tourist’s list - like Riga, Latvia or Kiev, Ukraine.

I also stay flexible - for example, I went to Slovenia and liked it so much I extended my stay by a week.

I decided early on that I like my privacy and space so generally do not book hostels or shared accommodations, except for one or two nights. That will increase my costs over somebody else’s but it’s how I want to travel.

I have also found that I need some downtime every 3 months or so - stay somewhere for 3-4 weeks where I won’t feel the (internal) pressure to be out everyday exploring because I have limited time.

I have also tried to travel in a somewhat logical, geographical manner to reduce travel time and cost.

How many countries have I travelled to?

It has been almost 11 months since I quit my job to travel the world and I have been to 22 countries so far (36 countries in total). 

Excluding Uganda, where I have spent 2+ months (more on that in a bit), I have averaged 13 days per country.

In some countries, I only went to one city - like Prague, Czech Republic.

Others I saw more of the country, either by driving around, like in Slovenia, or traveling by bus or train, like Italy where I traveled by train to 7 different cities.

Because I love a good spreadsheet, I also use a google sheet to track my travel stats so can easily provide a few more for interest:

  • Total distance travelled from Toronto Canada to the current place, Mityana Uganda - 28,000 kms
  • Cities I have stayed in - 41
  • Average nights per city - 6
  • Minimum nights in a city - 1
  • Maximum nights in a city - 21

Also my mode of travel:

  • Buses taken from city to city - 10
  • Trains taken from city to city - 11
  • Flights taken from city to city - 13
  • Rental cars - 7
  • And 2 ferries

Solo travel safety tips 

Personal safety when you travel solo is something most people are worried about, especially women who intend to travel solo.

Honestly, personal safety is not only something you have to consider when you travel. Many people will live in places where you do have to consider your personal safety and practice good habits even when not travelling.

Canada and the US have details on issues within countries on their websites so they can be used as a good reference.

When you travel to a new city or country it is true that some places are more known for petty crimes like pickpockets or scams, but if you apply a certain amount of street smarts, you will increase your chances of staying safe. Note I said increase - no guarantees, unfortunately.

I personally am choosing to avoid more dangerous places, such as ones with active conflicts going on.

And I am also avoiding or seriously considering, which countries to visit that either do not treat women well or where it is well documented that there is a higher occurrence of violence against women.

From my experience here are a few safety tips:

  • Keep an eye - or hand - on your belongings, especially in crowded areas.
  • Be careful when talking to strangers. Don’t divulge too much personal information.
  • Research your destination beforehand to learn about any specific dangers or known scams - sometimes there are unique ones in a specific location - and also to learn whether it is safe or not. Sometimes the countries we think of unsafe are really very safe.
  • Trust your gut and be prepared to change your surroundings if something doesn’t feel right (this is a good reason to have a cushion in your budget in case you need to book another accommodation).

"Am I working while traveling?"

No, I am not working while travelling.

My decision was to take a break - apart from volunteer work in Uganda - and I never looked into what freelance or location independent work I could do.

Just because I decided to and was able to not work during my break, if you decide to or have to work, that’s okay.

A bit about my volunteer work in Uganda:

I committed about 2 ½ months to an organization called Change Tomorrow (Scottish registered charity SC047696), who primarily operate a school is located in a rural village and are focussed on providing the local children with a high level of education and a positive future.

They also run a women’s empowerment group called Stand Up for Women, and due to my past volunteer work, this was of particular interest to me.

Obviously my work relied heavily on my accounting and finance background, but I also wrote booklets for the senior boys and girls classes that spoke about issues such as respect, gender inequality, and violence against women - topics that aren’t really spoken about in Uganda - and a similar info booklet for the women’s group, again addressing issues such as violence, respect, and empowerment.

The girls and women’s booklets also covered topics such as self-respect and self-care, the importance of education for girls, financial independence, leadership and the disadvantages of child’s marriage and pregnancy.  These booklets will be rolled out slowly but it is my hope that over time they will become sort of a legacy.

I encourage anyone thinking of making a change to think about how you can use your skills and experience to help make a difference.

More information about Change Tomorrow on their website.

What it’s really like to quit your job to travel the world

I go back to my statement about this doesn’t have to change you, at least in a monumental way. I believe all of our experiences change us or shape us to a degree.

I did this for a break - was not looking for a fundamental change to who I was as I liked who I was.

I was in my late 40s when I did this so believe I was a fully formed person… lol! Other than being comfortable with a much more limited wardrobe, I don’t really recognize many changes.

I guess I will see what my friends and family think when I go home.

As for emotions I went through, I would say everything!

No emotions that I couldn’t have experienced living my CPA life back in Canada. Happiness, joy, excitement, wonder, satisfaction, loneliness, boredom, apprehension, worry, sadness, doubt…. I could go on and on.

In Conclusion…

I have always kept my options open - I may decide not to go back, instead to travel longer, likely finding employment along the way. Or perhaps decide to settle somewhere else.

While nothing is definite yet - after almost a year I am leaning towards going home and resuming my life, or a variation of it anyway.

I am making sure I stay connected to those in my professional network and am trying to keep my LinkedIn profile Sharon Kelly, CPA, CMA active, so when it is time to start looking for a job (and I will start making contact before I actually go home), I am still remembered!

At this time, I anticipate going back into the finance field but may look for contract work vs. a permanent position to give myself more flexibility.

I think one of the keys to a break being successful is knowing yourself and knowing what works for you. And being open to change when new experiences and circumstances change your outlook.

I’d like to stress that everyone’s experience and circumstances are different. So my choices and my experiences worked for me but might not apply to someone else.

Now It's Your Turn...

Have you ever considered quitting your job and travelling the world?

Or have you embarked on a journey like me?

Please leave a comment and let me know.

Also if you have any questions for me you can connect with me on LinkedIn at - Sharon Kelly, CPA, CMA

Also, check out my website at www.ditchedmydesk.com or follow me on Instagram at ditched_my_desk (I post a lot of pictures)

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