The Cost of the First Step

“We quit our jobs, sold everything, and left on a world trip.”

That’s how our future selves will sum up their decision, over drinks in a foreign land, with nothing but their backpacks to call home. People listening might admire their courage, but they might not know how much they left behind.

Voluntarily Unemployed

When I explained to my boss at BioWare my decision to leave, I damn near broke down in tears. I’m not sure which one of us was the most surprised. Here we were, sitting in my office, having closed the door at the first sign of gravitas. I tried to explain why I was doing it, and I couldn’t find the words. Looking back, my choked attempts were more convincing than anything I could have articulated.

Until I closed that office door, there was some theoretical way of backing out of this project. I had sealed my escape route.

I’ve taken leaps of faith before, but this is the first without a bungee cord. As of Friday, June 26th, I’m voluntarily unemployed, and not looking for a job. That kind of life-changing decision usually leads to sleeping on a park bench. Hopefully, it will be somewhere tropical.

I closed that door on eleven years of continuous employment, including six in the game industry. I didn’t just quit my job, I quit the corporate world. I quit the 9 to 5 and the steady paycheck. I try not to let my mind wander to it.

The Weight of Stuff

Here’s something you find out real quick when starting a vagabonding lifestyle: owning stuff sucks.

‘Selling everything’ sounds like such a simple thing. I have daydreams – steadily turning pornographic-intense – where I snap my fingers, and all the furniture is replaced by little piles of money. Instead of that, I harass my friends with an insistence right out of a carpet bazaar. “You’re sure you don’t want a used guidebook to the Netherlands? How about a mattress?”

With two weeks to go before we leave Edmonton, you’d think I’d be stressing over the contents of my backpack or how to avoid roadside robbery and malaria. Instead, I wake up worrying about the fate of my couch. (“Just $250, how can you say no to a friend!”)

Ownership is slavery. Every piece of furniture drags at my ankles as I try to walk away. I stare at the piles of seldom-used clothes cluttering my wardrobe, and it dawns on me: freedom is owning three pairs of underwear.

International Hobo

Another source of malaise lingers deeper within me: two weeks from now, I will be unemployed and homeless. In a society where success is measured by career and ownership, the alternative is at once terrifying and exhilarating.

I’m working hard, not always with success, at referring to my videogame career in the past tense. I was a videogame producer. But what am I?

At the same time, I watch some cherished items – game consoles, books, furniture – disappear from our apartment, and it transforms our home into a place of transit. We sold the coffee table, so we put down our beer bottles on the floor. Soon, we will probably join them there. The emptiness of space reclaims what we worked so hard to coax into a home.

Friends now hesitate before saying goodbye, calculating the odds of this being our last time together. Sometimes, we lie to one another and promise to make time before I leave. Other times, we shake hands firmly and wish each other luck, only to do it again when next we run into one another.

My New Self

I am percolating under the forces of this emerging reality. Some unknowable alchemy transmutes my sense of self-worth, the way I see myself. I am not a traveler yet, but neither am I a videogame professional. I don’t really live in Edmonton anymore. I have no home, only destinations.

In suspension between my past and my future, my present is a footnote in the narrative of my life.

The fleeting ghost of a videogame producer moves in exact synch with my body. Someone else than him will do the travel. Some other form of me, having shedded me, will board a plane a month from now.

Such is the price of the first step: you feel the wind mess up your hair as you slip off the cliff, not knowing yet the thrill of the jump.

Helene and I are hard at work selling everything, and will be leaving Edmonton on the 23rd and 25th of July, respectively. In the meantime, if you live in the Edmonton area, I know a great couch looking for a new home.

About Daniel Roy

Daniel is a writer, backpack foodie, slow traveler, and endurance runner. He is the author of the upcoming book, "The Way of Slow Travel: A Hands-On Guide to the Best Travel of Your Life."

15 comments

  1. Bravo! It’s now … or never.

    I can’t count the number of people who assured my husband and me we were crazy to “give up everything” to move to a far-flung Greek island to write books. (Who’s laughing now?)

  2. Wow!! Awesome!

    The weight of stuff can be so heavy sometimes but we don’t realize it. You are about to embark on this incredible journey and really do something that we forgot to do a long time ago: live. Our society is based on the career and family and everybody is stressed out because of the traffic jam, money they don’t have enough and much more. But you have the chance to just let go. I know it must be a huge step but just keep your eyes on the price. In your case, the price is life, freedom and discovery.

    Congrats to you and Helene!

  3. Thank you both for your words of encouragement!

    Roberta, seeing your list of published work gives me strength for this jump into the unknown. I’m hoping to kickstart a career in writing, so seeing your success is a great inspiration.

    Marie-Ève, I think you understand why I’m doing this… I hope you’re right, and I will find all these things!

  4. I did it 23 years ago. I’m still a nomad, though I’m taking a leave from nomadding for the next year to start a movement in the U.S. (see my website). I am probably the happiest person in the world. The joy of a life of connecting around the world is extraordinary. I still have no home and no possessions. Have a look at my book, Tales of a Female Nomad (Crown/Random House.) Lots of luck.

  5. Handing in a resignation and making the decision final to leave is scary as hell…and exhilarating. I always tell people it’s the hardest part of long-term travel – making the break official. After that, the to do list of what needs to get done before getting on the airplane is huge, but it all somehow gets done.

    Congrats and good luck with your journey!

  6. Hi Audrey,

    Thanks for the kind words! Yeah, I think of this very moment as the hardest of it all. Once we’re in that plane flying over the Pacific, only the exciting (and yeah, sometimes hard) will be ahead!

    I appreciate your comment. Your blog is one of my favorites, and seeing your humanity and thirst for adventure, after 3 years on the road, is a real inspiration to me!

  7. Good stuff. Welcome to the club.

  8. Liz @ extremetelecommute

    “Freedom is owning three pairs of underwear.” I *love* that. I’m currently struggling with the idea of selling my stuff (versus a storage unit) before I head off to South America…in a week. Chances are not good. 🙂

    Being unemployed and homeless is an incredibly free feeling–I did it last year for a while, and I felt it as soon as the plane took off for Hong Kong. Amazing. Good luck with your

  9. …somehow I managed to publish my unfinished comment. What I was going to say was good luck with your last couple of weeks. Focus on enjoying your friends and family!

  10. Good Luck!! Just found your blog and will be following along…

  11. Thank you Gillian! Helene and I are right behind you. 🙂 Can’t wait to be on the road, and I will follow your blog as well! I hope we can make it to South America later in our trip, though it might be only in the 2nd year…

    Happy trails!

  12. Wow.

    Just found your blog on travelblogs.com and you really hit the nail on the head. I have been struggling with the same ideas in my head and have been unable to eloquently put them on paper. That is how it feels.

    When I quit, I cried too. Like a baby, couldn’t believe it.

  13. Hi Bethany! Thanks for writing here, I’m glad I got to know your blog as well. I’ll be following your travels!

    I’m really glad to see I’m not the only one who went through this. I’m not on the road yet, but looking back, I think I’ll see that this was the most significant and difficult part of the trip: the trip itself will be the reward for this.

    At the same time, it’s a great way to know yourself better. And that’s always a glorious thing.

    Happy travels!

  14. Edward J Douglas

    Your books are safe still with dear friends of mine who are enjoying them as much as I did. When I shed my belongings, I knew to find a good home for them , as you did 🙂

  15. As long as I know my books are living a good life, I’m happy. Thanks for looking after them. 😉

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