Blog: Why I quit my full-time job to travel the country

When I am asked how I approached the decision to quit my full-time job and travel the country, I always choose to begin with my childhood. I grew up in the Midwest (born in Southern Michigan and raised in Northeast Indiana), but my parents exposed me to all kinds of travel from an early age. By the time I graduated high school, I had climbed red rocks in Sedona, whitewater-rafted class V rapids in West Virginia, tubed and fished in central Canada and the Great Lakes, jetted across the Everglades in an airboat, and soaked in sweet Florida sunshine numerous times. My favorite adventures involved crystal-clear pools with man-made waterfalls, water parks with snaking lazy rivers and wave pools, golden beaches with foaming waves, and relaxing fishing excursions on the Great Lakes, while my least favorite trips involved rafting and camping. Anyone who knows me now is aware of how pivotal those “outdoorsy” experiences were in shaping my adulthood, and that camping and rafting would turn out to be two of my favorite adventures later in my life. 

Full-time traveler Alexys Esslinger kayaks in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan.
My love for the Great Outdoors, and specifically hiking, really blossomed in 2015. Up until that point, my idea of an adventure included a sandy beach under striped towels and umbrellas, a turquoise ocean stretched out in front of me, and a frozen pina colada in my hand while the sun-drenched my skin. For our honeymoon that summer of 2015, my wife and I made the spontaneous decision to swap the beach for the mountains and hit the trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I remember impulsively selecting a trail simply because of its name—Rainbow Falls—and that the trail turned out to be a real skill-testing, thigh-burning hike with a spectacular waterfall awaiting the “winners” at the finish line. 

Though I was highly unprepared in my Converse sneakers, jean shorts, and cotton tee shirt, that hike left us breathless and craving for more adventures just like that one. It was that trip that really opened my eyes to the outdoors and made me fall in love with jagged mountains, cascading waterfalls, and endless miles of forested trails. I romanticized the tranquil sound of the trees rustling, the birds whistling, and the water rushing; I knew those were sounds, feelings, and experiences that I would grow to need just as much as oxygen, hydration, and nutrition.

Full-time traveler Alexys Esslinger explores Matthiessen State Park in Illinois.
Fast forward to 2021. My wife and I had embarked on countless adventures, even hiking in a new destination almost every week one year. We spelunked through the world’s longest cave system, kayaked through underwater sea caves and slot canyons, summited mountains, and checked off dozens of State Parks and National Parks along the way. Every relentless mountain summit I climbed, every dark cave dripping with stalactites I explored, and every roaring waterfall I splashed beneath had me itching for more. I’d begin planning the next adventure before we arrived home from the previous one. It was in Utah that I knew our lives were about to change.

Full-time traveler Erica Esslinger relaxes mid-hike at Canyonlands National Park in Utah.
Over the years, I had watched friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and social media followers make risky decisions to pursue their passions. I listened to many podcasts and read many articles about ordinary people doing extraordinary things: Chasing dreams, quitting jobs, and living in cars and vans. My dreams seemed unreachable and frankly, pretty frightening when I’d think about chasing them; I didn’t think I could follow through. Quit my stable job to travel the country? The dream seemed impossible at the time. But the longer I waited to make the leap, the more precious time I wasted. I truly had a wake-up call in Utah. I made the decision in the middle of the desert that I was going to quit my job and trade financial stability for ultimate freedom. I made a vow with myself and my wife that we would no longer do things that made us unhappy; we would pursue our dreams and alter our lives to match our true desires. 

Once I quit my job, everyone, including myself, could see how the new lifestyle was affecting me. I was happier, less stressed, and more relaxed. I knew that I was meant to be doing this, and though I let myself wish I had made the leap sooner, I could only look forward to all of the adventures that were to come. 

Camping at Red River Gorge in Kentucky, Alexys Esslinger relaxes outside her tent.
I now work for myself. I am proud to be a freelance ghostwriter and travel blogger. Writing and traveling are my two passions in life, so I am blessed to be able to combine the two to make an income for myself. My travel blog is focused on motivating, inspiring, and helping others to get outdoors. I write National Park travel guides, share personal stories and photos of my adventures, and help others get started hiking, camping, backpacking, snowshoeing, and more. I am a passionate advocate for the outdoors; everything in my blog is geared toward encouraging others to get outside and respectfully and responsibly explore the beautiful world that we are blessed to live in. 

Alexys Esslinger hikes through Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Colorado.
Aside from my travel blog, I am also a freelance writer. I work with clients to develop content for their blogs and websites. Part of the beauty of working for yourself is the freedom and flexibility that magnetizes to the lifestyle. If client work is slow, I can deliver food or groceries or care for dogs or children on my own time. I am not tied down to one company or one specific stream of revenue. Being my own boss is empowering and freeing, but it has definitely taught me many valuable lessons. I’ve learned not to rely on just one form of income. I’ve learned that working for myself means I’ll put in more work, but the work is much more rewarding than any 9-5 job I’ve ever had. I’ve learned that exiting my comfort zone is where amazing things really start to happen. 

Alexys Esslinger (right) and her wife, Erica Esslinger, with their dogs, hiking in Ricketts Glen State Park in Pennsylvania.
I currently reside in Grabill, Indiana, which is right outside of Fort Wayne. I’ve lived in Northeast Indiana for almost 25 years, so with my newfound freedom, I intend to move South with my wife within the next year. Tennessee was home to our first real outdoor adventure as a couple, and since it was that trip that revealed and sparked our love for hiking, it felt fitting to make the decision to move there. We feel as though we’ve conquered the Midwest in terms of travel and adventures, so we are ready for the next chapter in a new geographic location. Tennessee has always been one of our favorite states; we are in love with the mountains, the waterfalls, the mild temperatures, and all of the outdoor recreation that the state offers. Aside from the move, my wife and I have many hiking, camping, and backpacking trips planned for the year in places like Arizona, Washington, Oregon, New York, Kentucky, Florida, and Virginia. We are also considering purchasing a van and decking out the interior to use for long road trips. My ultimate goal is to continue to grow my travel blog until I can live off of that income alone. 
Alexys Esslinger hikes through Arches National Park in Utah.
The most exciting part about working for myself is the freedom that it gives me to make travel a priority. On a whim, I can decide to take a road trip or go camping. I don’t need to ask a boss for a day or a week off; I can just go. I no longer just have two weeks out of the year where I am allowed to travel. Though working for myself can undoubtedly have its difficult days, and the lifestyle certainly isn’t for the lighthearted, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. In lieu of a stuffy office, a loud warehouse, and forty to 60-hour workweeks, my new norm consists of backpacking up mountains, camping under the stars, and kayaking through lakes and canyons while working remotely and helping others venture outdoors in the form of words and photos. After all, I only have one life to live, and I intend to live it to the fullest, one adventure at a time.

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