Turning Down My Dream Job to Travel the World

I blinked myself out of a hazy snooze and squinted at my vibrating phone. It was the call I had been waiting for, but secretly dreading.

I had applied for the job of my dreams, but contrary to everything I had been working toward, I found myself praying that I wouldn’t get it. Counterintuitively, the job that I wanted was actually the job I was hoping not to get. I was about to make a major life decision, and I didn’t know what to do.

Just a Backpack and a Dream

Six months ago, in the scorching heat of summer, I arrived in New York City with nothing more than a backpack. I had just completed a six-month stint in Asheville, NC, where I spent the strangest time of my life reacclimatizing to the United States after three-and-a-half years of travel around Asia Pacific.

Following 13 months in Asia, the transition into the isolated culture of the South was unnecessarily harsh. And as a world-traveling cocktail bartender, Asheville simply wasn’t the place for me. The way I saw it, if I could travel the world, I could handle New York.

So off I went.

Within a week of touching down in NYC, I hit the streets with my resume, stopping in at all the best cocktail bars in the city. It took a solid month, but I found a bartending job at one of the city’s most notable speakeasies. I was beside myself. I found my way to New York and I landed on my feet.

The Brooklyn Bridge, New York City
The Brooklyn Bridge, New York City

An Interview with Google…Basically

Five months later, I received an offer to bartend at a luxury hotel in Beijing. Though I had already traveled to China, and though I love it there, I had my sights set on new locales. I wanted to see South America and Europe.

The offer was for six months, and the money was better than good. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that taking this offer would allow me to visit the places that I wanted. I could work for a pre-determined amount of time and then take off with a bulging wallet to anywhere else in the world. This was shaping up to be a pretty spectacular plan.

Until one particular email caught my attention…

Jeremy, It’s been a bit since we last chatted, but I wanted to reach out to see if you were still interested and available for consideration for a newly-opened position…I would love to set up interviews for this week and training not long afterward…Please let me know if this sounds like something you might be interested in. Hope all is well with you and looking forward to hearing back from you at your nearest convenience.

It was a message from the manager at another one of New York City’s best cocktail bars. One of those places that release those bespoke coffee table books. One of those places that is an industry leader and that everybody knows by name. One of those places with street cred and invaluable industry perks.

Honestly, it’s like working for Google: once you’re in, you never leave.

I responded with no hesitation, and two days later I was sitting down for an interview. Our dialogue quickly turned into an in-depth character analysis. They wanted to be sure that whoever they brought on board would be the type of person they could grow with. They were serious about finding the right talent with the right personality and the right attitude. They were looking for someone to be a part of their family.

And they were looking for a 1-2 year commitment.

New York City Skyline
New York City Skyline

The Phone Call From Hell

A little bit of dribble had caked itself onto the corner of my mouth as my head hung backward over the headrest. I was dead asleep in the backseat of an undersized VW on the way to my mother’s house when my phone yanked me from my slumber. I looked at the caller ID and, when the blood finally rushed out of my face, I answered the call.

“Hi, this is Jeremy,” I mumbled, still not fully in control of my vocal chords. To be honest, all I wanted to do was ignore the call. I never wanted to know the answer because, as soon as I did, and as soon as I heard the words “good news” through the speakerphone, I realized that I was going to have to make the hardest decision of my life.

The offer was, indeed, a good one. I would make mediocre money but I would be doing something I loved. I would be living in New York City and I would be learning and working with some of the best in the industry. I could have been a relative success story—the type you hear about where you show up homeless in New York and actually make something half-decent of yourself. I could envision the next two years of my life and I could see them taking me to some very exciting places in my career.

On the other hand, Beijing was calling. I would be living in a luxury hotel, expenses covered, working at a brand new bar with an up-and-coming consulting group. It was a six-month contract and I would get to travel back to one of my favorite places on earth.

And I would make enough money to be able to travel even more extensively after that.

Jinshanling, Great Wall of China
Jinshanling, Great Wall of China

How to Make Hard Decisions

I was given three days to decide, but before I had even hung up the phone, I already knew my answer. Despite that, I banged my head against the wall for the next 72 hours. I wrote pros and cons lists. I talked incessantly about my options. By the time the second day rolled around, I was convinced everybody had stopped listening to me.

The job in New York would be difficult to walk away from. As a traveling cocktail bartender, it was exactly the type of job I had in mind for myself. I came to NYC with my sights set high, and this was one of the first venues that I walked into when I arrived in the city. If they had offered me the job six months earlier, I would have snatched it up in a heartbeat, and I would never have second-guessed my decision.

But now it felt a little too late and my mind was already beginning to wander.

Hiking in the Mountains of Southwestern China
Hiking in the Mountains of Southwestern China

Both were excellent opportunities and I was incredibly lucky to have them. I could have taken either and done well for myself. Neither one of them was wrong.

This was the first time in my life that I was presented with two open doors and I would be the one who got to decide which to walk through. But up until this point, I don’t think I knew how. I had always been the one seeking a single opportunity, never deciding which of many to take. But now, I had two unbelievable options and this decision was going to be harder than any I ever had to make.

Should I stay in New York, pursue a career and make a name for myself? Or should I fly to a different continent, travel, and pursue my personal goals and a less traditional career path? It was a classic case of having to choose between long-term and short-term benefits.

I did a lot of reflection and, what I concluded was that, down the line, some late night at work, when my head begins to wander, it won’t be New York that I’m dreaming of. It will be the bright hues of Palawan, yurts in Mongolia, and Yacht Week in Croatia. It will be bowls of Indian curries, French cheeses, and Peruvian ceviche. It will be the sleepy mornings in crowded airports and the sweaty chicken buses in Mexico.

It will be the adventures that were never had.


About the Author

Jeremy Scott Foster

Jeremy Scott Foster is an adventure-junkie, gear expert and travel photographer based in Southern California. Previously nomadic, he’s been to ~50 countries and loves spending time outdoors. You can usually find him on the trail, on the road, jumping from bridges or hustling on his laptop working to produce the best travel and outdoors content today.
  1. Wow, Jeremy,

    This must have been soooo hard for you to decide. But if you feel you need to travel, then do it.

    Could you contact your dream job again this time next year?


    1. Hey Ed! I don’t know if the exact same job opportunity will present itself (who knows, maybe an even BETTER one will come along), but I do know that the chance to go to Beijing and the chance to go travel is potentially a one in a lifetime offer. There will always be jobs in NYC 🙂

  2. Great article that hits on something I think many of us face, having 2 equally amazing options before us and not knowing which one should be taken. It can be hard getting outside counsel when many look at this situation as beyond something they themselves ever get, so quit whining. That’s from my own experience because I’ve been in the same boat. You don’t explicitly say it, but I think making the choice comes down to what your gut says. Yours knew you’d find yourself daydreaming of travels unrealized. Kudos to you for following your gut! Sometimes, that’s the only answer we can expect.

    1. Thanks, Albert. That was, indeed, the advice I got from most people. “Go with your gut,” they said, but it’s hard to know what your gut is telling you sometimes! At the end of the day, it’s about deciphering what you really want!

  3. Good for you, man! Following my gut has never led me astray, even though my head sometimes tries to play the “woulda, coulda, shoulda” game. Seems like China should set you on the path your heart longs to follow!

  4. Amazing choice, Jeremy! You will never look back on your life and wish you worked more 😉
    When you’re ready to come to Europe, hit up Madrid, there’s loads of English jobs here and plenty of opportunity!

    1. My logic exactly! Though I do love what I do for work, I can always put it on hold for a little while and set out to explore just a little bit more.

  5. Hey Jeremy!

    I can totally rely to your situation. I’ve been there too. Why don’t you take it form a perspective that someday, somewhere you’ll open your own cocktail bar – with the photos & stories from your travels. Let me know if you’ll come down to Mexico or El Salvador. Safe travels!

  6. Had no idea you were a bartender in Beijing! Will have to stop by come springtime — or let me know if you’re ever down in Shanghai, I’m friends with some of the great ones here!

  7. Nice mate, walking away from those things is hard and life is full of “what ifs”, but I’m sure you know in your head that you made the right choice. Enjoy Colombia – it’s everything people say it is and more!

  8. What a tough decision to make, Jeremy! I’m at cross roads myself right now and boy, is it hard to make life changing decisions! Sounds like you made the right one!

    1. It really is! Those decisions where you get to choose your own life path are something the hardest, but also the most rewarding!

  9. Congratulations man! Sounds like a great opportunity in Beijing! I’m living down in Yangzhou now, near Shanghai. It’s great so far. In many ways it’s similar to Korea. Anyway, happy travels!

  10. Hey Jeremy! I’ve only recently started following your blog but I must say I really love your writing style! And as someone who’s really terrible at long-term commitment and planning, I relate to this more than you know. It sounds to me like you made the right decision. I live in Colombia at the moment and coincidentally will also be in Barranquilla for Carnival! Would be cool to meet up! Cheers!

    1. Haha I think I have the same problem! Looking forward to meeting up with you at Carnival. I’ll shoot you a message 🙂

  11. Congratulations on making a tough decision. I find that that always seems to happen in life. When you open yourself up to new opportunities, great things happen. You probably wouldn’t have been presented with the tough choice six months ago because you weren’t ready. The universe has a way of giving you exactly what you need. The more open you are to things, the more great opportunities come your way and I have a feeling this is just the beginning of more great things to come!

    1. Thank you, Deb! It’s a wonderful mantra to live by. I always try to keep myself open and allow the universe to show me the right way. You’re right–maybe I just wasn’t ready for it six months ago. But it appears, now, that I am. And I can’t wait!

  12. Wow, what a tough decision! I can definitely see where your coming from, when you have an opportunity that you know is great but your heart is pulling you in another direction. That is definitely how I’m feeling now that I’m about to graduate college, the road can be split in two totally different directions, and even though I know that one way will be beneficial to me, the other way is where my heart is calling. Thank you for the great post! 🙂

    1. If your heart is calling, then that direction is also beneficial, just in a different way. It’s hard to choose, but at the end of the day, you always have to go with your gut, and remember that you only have one life to live!

  13. Congratulations on your decision! You’ll never regret the adventures you’re about to have. Best of luck to you 🙂

  14. Tough call, but you can always settle down. You can’t always travel. Health, life, family, are things that can halt your travel in the future.

    1. Very true, Mary. It’s crazy to me that people waste so many of their healthy years just so they can relax when they are older. It should be the other way around!

  15. Congrats on the big life decision! Sounds perfect for you and your goals! Luxury hotel livin’ and endless noodles and dumplings, wow.

  16. Tough choice! But I think I would have done the same thing, honestly! Good for you for following your heart and not your wallet.

  17. So happy for you! Like you said, you were dreaming about travel and would have been “what if-ing” if you picked NYC. It will always be there if you want to go back. Hope you make it to Costa Rica in 2016 and if we’re still here, maybe we could meet up! Rainy season starts in May 🙂

  18. Thanks, Jenn! I hope to never live a life of what-ifs. I’m sure we’ll cross paths somewhere, someday!

  19. Congratulations on making the right decision!
    I have hummed and hawed for the past month about quitting my wonderful career job, which I love very much, in order to do something I love even more-so: travel. It feels great knowing that I’m not alone in turning down great jobs; my family thinks I’m crazy.
    So, in a few weeks time I’ll be quitting and then shortly after I’ll be climbing Mount Everest Base Camp, traveling around Europe, and teaching abroad in hopefully Asia!


    1. Wow, amazing! Have a great time! Even if your family thinks you’re crazy (maybe you are, just a little bit?), I think you made the right choice! 🙂

  20. Jeremy, it is good to have options but, even better, when you do listen to your passion and don’t cut your dreams short. Congrats!

  21. Woohoo Jeremy! Congrats on your freeing choice! We’re all about making the freeing decisions to fulfill yourself here so yep, I gotta say, you made the right decision. Keep on inspiring!!


  22. That’s a great and exciting news! China is a lovely place (I certainly fell in love with the country). Don’t worry about the other job, Big decisions always require some sacrifices and I bet you won’t regret your choice.

    If by any chance you’ll be going through Hong Kong or Guangdong province, please let me know. It would be cool to meet up.

    All the best!

  23. You made the right choice, Jeremy. Had you stayed in New York you’d have taken the safer, more conservative route and would have spent your life going “would-a, could-a, should-a.” A life of regrets is terrible.

  24. I love, love, love this article! Wow, so inspiring. Good for you for following your heart – had you taken the NYC job, you probably would’ve spent the next couple of years (gulp!) being just satisfied, or, unhappy. When you’re following your “personal legend”, everything runs smoothly and I’m sure China will be amazing – as will Europe, South America, etc. etc. lol.

    Can’t wait to hear about your adventures in China.

    All the best 🙂

  25. Wow Jeremy, what a great post!

    As inspiration for so many that are stuck in rut, on the hamster wheel, you demonstrated that not only is there a life “outside the box”, but that in order to continue to grow and develop, you are making choices that too many are afraid to make!

    Opening yourself to possibilities and not being desperate, or seen as needing the offer, no doubt shone through in your interviews. It was this confidence which you exuded that made your job application even more desirable to an employer, and ironically the same free-spirited confidence enabled your “gut” decision to be made – as you know (from within) that your decision is the right one!

    Good for you, and All the Best.

    1. It’s the choices that we are afraid to make which are the most worth it, though! Thank you so much for the kind words. I couldn’t agree more!

  26. So awesome that you decided to move to China! I just recently decided to quit my job and am moving to Beijing in July, I’d love to grab a drink sometime and get some advice/hear all about your travels!

  27. Wow! What a story. In my experience, opportunities when travelling come not only once but many interesting exciting times. You won’t regret it. YOLO my friend. YOLO!

  28. I am so surprised, I thought as I read along, that you were planning on going to China. The bulging wallet sounded so good. If you land in Croatia be sure to say hi.

  29. Jobs will always be there. If they offered it to you once, they will definitely want you again! You know you will never regret choosing travel!

  30. We always know in a single moment what we really want, what we need to choose versus what we should choose. And more travel is almost always a good choice 🙂

  31. Enjoyed the post. What a difficult decision to make, but at the same time what a great problem to have! I’m currently in Chiang Mai on sort of a gap year and trying to figure things out for myself. Oh, how I would love to have a difficult decision like yours to make! In the end it sounds like you went with your heart … and you can never go wrong following your heart. Great post, cheers!

    1. I realized how lucky I was to have such a hard decision, and I knew that either one would bring me something good. Good luck figuring out your own decisions–I know how difficult it can be!

  32. Great read Jeremy. I have had few of those moments of key decisions. Based on those developed a great corporate career only to drop it and travel. One thing I found in life is that if the opportunity was there already, it will be there again. You probably just need to ask, if one day you decide that this is your path! Can’t wait to follow your journey and amazing time in China!

  33. What an enviable position to be in. Either way you can’t lose really, and it comes down to what is going to make your heart sing. If you think like that you should always be happy

  34. As a bartender at a craft-cocktail bar and traveler myself, I totally relate to this. I recently got offered a job as editor of the spirits section of a lifestyle magazine, but it required me to be in the office Monday through Friday all day. Adding the commute to Los Angeles with traffic. I had to turn it down. I felt dumb for saying no to such an awesome job, but it would take me freedom to travel as I please away. I couldn’t give that up. So, for now I freelance, tend the bar and leave town as often as I can!

    1. I know EXACTLY what you mean, Amanda. Good for you for choosing your happiness above all else. Drinks on me next time I’m in LA! 🙂

  35. I can relate, my wife can too. We have both been in similar positions of having to choose one opportunity over another. We more often than not get these blank stares when we try explain the lifestyle we have chosen. Then the same people proceed to tell us how miserable they are with their lives. So we try, again, to explain how they can get out of it, and live like us, in a way. It’s a vicious cycle, sadly, that some people just can’t seem to get out of, or they have lost the will to even try.

    But through our blog, and yours and others we hope people can be inspired to just do it!

    “If you are not living good, travel wide, you gotta travel wide” – Bob.

    1. Some people just need a bit of a kick in the ass. That’s what I’m hoping to do here. Kick people in the ass.

      1. Or they must stop complaining about how hard life is…with their huge houses, luxury cars etc. I think one of the most humbling experiences I have ever had was volunteering in Liberia and Sierra Leone…I’m planning a full series of articles on that, never mind the rest of the places I’ve been and things I have seen.

        1. Wow, I would love to read about that! Be sure to send them my way–that sounds interesting. I’d definitely be interested in why, specifically, it was so humbling.

          1. In short, it was humbling to the point that after one of the most horrific civil wars this world will ever know (Blood diamond, TIA) the people of these countries will still invite you into their homes and give you a meal, with a smile on their faces, you can walk the streets of Freetown and Monrovia and actually feel safe…and to think I turned down dream opportunities like working on a super yacht for this experience. One of the best decisions of my life.

            Volunteering is one way of turning down that dream job to work your way around the world. You won’t get rich, financially, but you will get rich in life experience.

  36. I meant to add, when you are in Europe, and you are in the Belgium area from early next year, look us up. Perhaps you have heard of the beer in Belgium….and the chocolate….and the waffles…..and Manekin Piss.

  37. You had me on the edge of my seat reading this. Lol
    You made the right decision, clearly.

    I made my decision to give it all up only a few weeks ago. So excited to hit the road.

    Happy travels!

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