I Quit My Six-Figure Software Engineering Job To Travel Full-Time | Jobs Vox

  • Sergio Najera quit his six-figure engineering job because the company didn’t allow international travel.
  • He now works full time at a gaming startup while traveling to South America and Europe.
  • He says the trade-off was worth it, as reported by Insider reporter Hannah Tovey.

As mentioned, this essay is based on a conversation with Sergio Najera, a software developer on the app-driven tabletop fantasy game “Perlik: Gathering Darkness.” His Words have been edited for length and clarity.

I was born in Corpus Christi, Texas. My dad is from Mexico and met my mom there. When I was three, we moved to a small suburb outside of Minneapolis. That’s where I’ve spent most of my life.

During the pandemic, I was working as a software engineer at a major corporation based in Minneapolis. I have been dreaming of traveling abroad for a long time. So when we moved away, I asked if I could work temporarily from Puerto Rico.

I was very transparent with my manager. Over the next few months, I tried to figure out if there was a proper way to do this, and the answer was no.

So I decided to be a little sneaky. I chatted with a bunch of friends and landed on this VPN setup where I could hide my IP address and operate from Puerto Rico. It was like a trial run to see if I liked working remotely. Overall, it was a success and reaffirmed that this was something I wanted to do.

All this on the basis that no one knew where I was. But I let loose a bit – I don’t know with 100% certainty how I got caught, but reportedly the security team can trace my IP address and see that I’m in the USA and some Caribbean time zones was not.

So I got a message from my director the second to last day before I had to go back to Minnesota. He was questioning where I was and, while I wasn’t technically lying that I was in the United States (or at least part of the United States), he knew and I knew, so I just scared

He wasn’t too thrilled and asked me to stop working until he was back in the US, so I obliged. After I came back to Minnesota, I talked to my director and he said don’t do that again, but it was kind of a slap on the wrist.

I left the company because of its strict employee travel policy

Sergio Najera

My most recent adventure, celebrating Argentina’s World Cup win in the heart of Buenos Aires.

Courtesy of Sergio Najera

Fast forward a few months and I’m planning a big trip: a month and a half in Peru.

My company was very strict. If I want to operate outside of Minnesota, I will need a special permit. So yeah, working from 7,000 kms away was not really an option.

At the end of the day, I tried very hard to stay. I’m not a lawyer. I am not a techie or an accountant. I’m just a guy who wants to travel. But these dinosaurs are regulations that don’t make it easy for remote workers to work in different states, let alone different countries.

I had booked my flight and airbnb, and scheduled a trek through Machu Picchu, so it really was do or die. I needed to either find a way to stay with my company and work from Peru or find an alternative.

Around the same time, a game I was making with my friends called “Perlik: Gathering Darkness” really took off.

We had a successful Kickstarter where we raised $182,000 to hire some full time people. So I had a few options: (1) just quit my job and figure it out, (2) I can cut my salary in half, but have a cool job that I originally started as a fun project , or (3) try to find a contractor job.

I decided to take the startup job because it would give me the flexibility to work from anywhere and I really preferred it. I started in April and I’m still with them – the game is being released this spring.

My base salary at my old job was approximately $115,000 with 401(k) benefits and matching, bringing the total compensation to approximately $140,000. Now, my cash salary is only $60,000.

I’m not saving as much money as before, but my ‘joy per dollar’ is higher

Sergio Najera

My sister and I are in Mallorca de Palma on the coast of Spain.

Courtesy of Sergio Najera

I have traveled to Spain, Morocco, Netherlands and Argentina. Next, I’m planning trips to Brazil and Chile.

If you want to live in Europe but want to live a little cheaper, you can go to places like Croatia or Bosnia, which are slightly less expensive than Italy. Even Spain was cheaper than Germany and Switzerland or the Netherlands.

I love Europe and maybe I’m looking at it through rose colored glasses, but I really feel like it’s a better fit for my lifestyle. Nutrition-wise, it’s so easy to find healthy food. The culture is also not so grind-oriented – people don’t work 70 hours a week.

If you want to go very cheap, you can go to places like Argentina, where I am now.

Eating out here every day is sometimes cheaper than buying groceries and cooking at home. For example, I went to this little empanada place with a friend and we ordered eight good-sized empanadas and a bottle of wine for US$4.50.

When people say they are not able to travel, I always ask how much their fare is. Whatever they pay is always more than I pay for housing. I’m aiming for about $30 to $32 a night, so about $1,000 a month. The most expensive thing is flights. But once you reach your destination, you can live very frugally.

If you’re smart and plan ahead, you can easily find hostels or cheap Airbnbs. You can easily find accommodation in many places around the world for as little as $25 per night.

If you choose London or Berlin, it will be really expensive. Valencia and Malaga in Spain weren’t too bad either. Or go to South America and you can choose whatever capital city you want and it will be cheaper than paying rent in the US.

I’m still contributing the max to my Roth IRA and putting money aside to pay off student loans. Compared to Minneapolis, I’m not saving much money because I’m spending more on activities and weekend trips.

But I would say that I am spending my money more meaningfully, in that the amount of happiness I get per dollar is huge. I’m budgeting very intentionally while saving for retirement and still being able to do most of the things I really want to do.

From making friends to making sure you can work productively, traveling full time comes with its challenges.

Sergio Najera

Everything I need to work remotely. I have a magic keyboard, a magic trackpad, a laptop stand, noise canceling headphones, and a microphone.

Courtesy of Sergio Najera

Although I’m more extroverted, I’m still lonely. You may be in a city of 5 million people but sometimes you can feel completely on your own. I’ve gone a few weeks where I’ll only talk to my wife, just working in my little room.

It’s one thing to have lunch with a bunch of people and it’s another to hang out with your friend you’ve known for 15 years, who cares for you and loves you. One thing that has helped me is calling people I haven’t connected with for a while and seeing what’s up with their lives.

There are other smaller challenges, like finding a good work-from-home setup. You can’t really work from the beach – I mean, where are you getting your Wi-Fi? How do you view your screen?

You need a good internet connection, especially if you are in meetings. Office chairs are another big deal. I bought this cushion that I travel with so that I can put it on any chair at Airbnb.

Ideally, I have a workspace that is separate from the bedroom. This is the bare minimum for what I personally look for. I can’t work in a cafe like some people. I try to live in a quiet neighborhood, which also helps with sleep.

Traveling Has Helped Me Realize That Different Lifestyles Exist Outside of America’s Grind Culture

Sergio Najera

Sergio with his wife and friends at Machu Picchu.

Courtesy of Sergio Najera

I’m very outgoing. Every day, I would talk to strangers on the street. I actually got this from a dating book, that if you want to find people you connect with emotionally, you should do what you love to do. For example, I’ve met some really nice people while rock climbing. My friend loves surfing so he hangs out in surf towns and meets like-minded people. I’ve also met friends at cooking classes.

My best advice for landing in a new city is to always explore on foot. This is a great way to meet other travelers. My other secret advice is shared Airbnbs. Right now, I’m in an Airbnb where there are two other rooms that are rented out and people are coming and going. I’ve met some absolutely kind souls while doing this – it feels like college all over again.

My wife’s job is a little less flexible, so she still lives in Minneapolis and occasionally goes out to visit. She was in Spain with me for a month, and my sister came for a couple of weeks. I’ve been single for almost two months now.

Different time zones can be difficult. We learned the hard way that not talking frequently — what matters to us every day or every other day — can really take a toll on both of us.

This doesn’t mean that we are constantly texting each other all day long. Sometimes we see each other once or twice and it just happens, but it’s really important to get face time over video chat. At a high level, I think we’ve been able to do it well.

If I were to die today, what I would miss the most would obviously be my family and my friends. It won’t be like, ‘Oh, shoot, I really miss writing code.’ But I will regret that I don’t see enough of the world.

In particular, what really entices me to leave everyone behind for a while – including my wife and my family – is that there is so much to learn about the way life is lived.

When I went to Europe for the first time, it blew my mind. The streets are so narrow, the people are more active then the healthcare system. It makes you realize that there are different ways to live life. I think we’re really stuck in patterns in America, or wherever you were born and raised. Talking to different people from all over the world really opens up the possibility for you to live a better life.

We can imagine how hard life is, but then you go to Argentina where people really can’t afford to buy homes and will never be able to because of inflation. You start to realize, ‘Are our problems really that bad?’

For me, I want to see the world so that I can hopefully live a better life with a more open mind to what lies outside my little box. to.

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