How My Mom’s Battle with Cancer Led Me to Quit my Job, Travel the World & Create the Career of My Dreams

I’m often asked why I quit my full-time job in marketing to become a luxury travel blogger. I have always loved to travel (who doesn’t?), and I have always loved branding and marketing, so it makes sense that creating and building my own brand in the travel industry came naturally to me. But it took four full years after starting my travel blog to quit my job.

Jetset Christina was a hobby. The blog was no more than a fun place to put travel recommendations for friends, and a website to share my experiences of all the trips I went on with my PTO. I knew the blog was my passion, but I never thought that pursuing, and succeeding, in such a radical, ambiguous career like blogging was anything more than a pipe-dream. People would ask me all the time if I was ever going to give it a real shot – my full energy – and I’d shrug them off.

Give up my corporate career in marketing? Me? No way. Are you crazy? Say goodbye to my beautiful San Francisco Marina apartment and live out of a suitcase, away from all of my friends, without my stable paycheck? No chance

But then, out of nowhere, my mom got cancer.

And all she wanted to do during chemo was to talk about all the trips we would go on when she got out of treatment.

I realized that even my mother – a travel idol by anyone’s standards – was dreaming of all the places she hadn’t yet been in her life. Here she was, Senior Vice President of Marketing at Wells Fargo, having traveled to 65+ countries in her life, and all she could think about were all the places she hadn’t been yet. This is a woman who knew how to take advantage of every second of vacation time she earned at her corporate job. This is a woman I looked up to for her ability to be highly successful while still working to live, not living to work. This is a woman who knew when to prioritize travel, and knew more than anyone how to travel right when she took time off. 

We would spend mornings before her chemo appointments walking and talking about all of the luxurious destinations we wanted to go, all over the world. She’d spend late nights that she couldn’t sleep planning vacations to look forward to, in order to get her through the hell that was her cancer treatment. She even booked us all a trip-of-a-lifetime to Bora Bora for when she finished treatment, because it had forever been on her bucket list. When even my mom was talking about all these places she wanted to see, and places she wanted to visit again, I realized how many people out there die never having seen the world. And I realized life is way too damn short to keep putting it off.

Millennials are a different breed of travelers.

The generations ahead of us saw travel as something you did once you were retired. Travel wasn’t nearly as easy or accessible as it is today for us. They worked their entire lives before finally giving themselves the permission to travel. Millennials don’t need that permission. We know that none of us are guaranteed to live to 65 or 75.

We could die tomorrow with a bucket list still left unchecked, and with a world at our fingertips that we’ve never seen. And we just don’t want to.

Even if we do live long and healthy lives, there is NO reason we shouldn’t travel while we’re young. I don’t know about you guys but I don’t want to climb Machu Pichu at 75 years old when my bones hurt and my joints are weak. I don’t want to wait until I’m an old lady to dive with sharks, or go to Coachella. I don’t want to wish I had seen the Maldives in person, instead of just on Instagram. I don’t want to say no to trips with friends, and miss out on lifelong memories, in order to make my boss happy. I don’t want to only go on one romantic honeymoon with my husband our entire lives. I don’t want to wait to travel until I have kids and traveling is more exhausting than relaxing. I don’t want to say “maybe next year” to a destination ever again. I don’t want to wait to see the world until it’s too late.

Making my work work for me

When my mom got cancer, it became clear that life is too short to keep waiting. For her, and for me. A few weeks after she finished treatment, I went to Bali, and realized that my entire perspective on life, work, and my future had changed. My goal in quitting my full-time job was never to stop working (I’m way too type A for that), it was to find a way to work my way, and I finally figured out how to do that.

In Bali, I met so many ex-pats that were living this dream reality. Everyone was doing entrepreneurial, inspiring, awesome things – like running tech companies, starting retail brands, opening up cafes and hotels, completing yoga teacher training, etc., and they were all living their best lives doing it (in paradise).

They seemed more than just happy to have flexible schedules and the ability to go to the beach anytime they wished – they seemed fulfilled.

It was on that trip that I started to think about how we live in such an incredible time, and we’re so lucky to exist in this ever-changing digital world, one where you can be your own boss, from anywhere, and can even pursue and trailblaze new, seemingly-crazy career paths like travel blogging and Instagram.

Many people scoff at the idea that I “Instagram for a living”, and I am very proud to correct them to say that I run my own company. I still flex all of my corporate marketing muscles, and have worked on international influencer campaigns with top brands like Expedia, Marriott International, Four Seasons, Six Senses, Zipcar, Singapore Airlines and the New York Times. I’ve been named as the #1 Luxury Travel Influencer to Follow by Travel & Leisure, a Top 10 Travel Instagram by TripAdvisor, the Top Luxury Travel Influencer of the Year by IZEA, and a Top Influencer Your Brand Should Partner With by Pixlee.

I work harder, and longer hours than I ever did in the corporate world – and I love every second of it. I get paid to travel the world; marketing and consulting for top luxury travel brands, and building my own brand while I do it. I get to influence people to travel more, and travel better when they do. I feel more challenged, more productive, and more fulfilled than I ever have. And I’m constantly being told that I’m making a real difference for people, showing them the world, and helping them plan their own travels. It’s a dream job. But it’s only my reality because I fight hard every day to make it that way.

I’m living proof that the corporate structure of yesterday doesn’t have to imprison you from your dreams. In fact, it can inspire them. 

Millennials aren’t happy with antiquated corporate structure, but here’s what we can do about it

Now that Millennials are becoming the largest population in the workforce, we get it. The best companies want you to have a work/life balance, and they encourage you to get out there and see the world. Many jobs these days even offer unlimited PTO, as well as the ability to work remotely, or from other offices. I have one friend in San Francisco who is currently working from her company’s Austin office for the Fall, and a friend who’s moving to Sydney to start up her company’s new office there. I have another friend who graduated from Stanford and realized, after 10 years in the high-stress corporate world, that all he really wanted was a few months to surf in Costa Rica. So he quit. We’re a dynamic, complicated generation. But one thing we all seem to have in common is the travel bug.

We crave flexibility with our jobs and the ability to travel more, and that doesn’t make us any less high-achieving. On the contrary, we work harder when we’re happier, and given the freedom to do things our way. The companies that understand this, and can leverage it, are the ones that are going to end up ahead as our generation continues to innovate, create, and explore the world while we do it. 

Being a luxury travel blogger, I get reached out to daily by friends and acquaintances looking to quit their jobs, find their passion, travel the world, and figure out a new way of working. They feel confined, unchallenged, and simply floating through their work lives. These are extremely smart, ambitious people, who would be a benefit to any company given the right motivation and flexibility, but they’re not happy. Unfortunately, things aren’t going to change on their own. It’s on us to make our jobs make us happy. It’s on us to take a lesson from my mom – work to live, don’t live to work.

It’s on us to take advantage of our PTO, and to stop saying no to the things that make us feel most alive.

After all, sometimes it just takes one trip to Bali to change your life.

So no matter what age you are, or what job you have, stop worrying that your boss will get mad, that you don’t have enough money, or that you’ll miss out on something back home, and book that plane ticket.

You can always make it work. Life’s too short not to. 

My mom & I in her dream bucket list destination, Bora Bora, just 3 months after her doctor declared her cancer-free. 

Check out my other related blog posts:

How Millennials are Redefining the Travel Industry One Instagram at a Time

The Ultimate Bali Travel Guide 2019

Why You Should Never Shop at Zara 

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Christina is a leading luxury lifestyle and travel blogger with over 2 million readers. Follow her on instagram @jetsetchristina.