To travel full-time, I quit my six-figure software engineering job.

  • Sergio Najera quit his six-figure engineering job to travel internationally because the company wouldn’t allow it.
  • He is now full-time employed at a gaming startup and travels throughout South America and Europe. 
  • As Hannah Towey, Insider reporter, said, he believes that the trade-off was well worth it. 

This essay is based upon conversations with Sergio Najera (a software developer). “Pericle: Gathering Darkness,” an app-driven tabletop fantasy game. His words have been edited for length and clarity.

I was born and raised in Corpus Christi Texas. My dad is Mexican and met my mom in Mexico. We moved to a small suburban area outside of Minneapolis when I was three years old. That’s where my entire life has been. 

I was a software engineer in a large corporation based out of Minneapolis during the pandemic. I had always longed to travel overseas. So, when we moved to Puerto Rico, I asked if it was possible for me to work temporarily there. 

I was very open with my manager. I tried to figure out if there was any reasonable way I could do it over the next few months. The answer was no. 

I decided to be sneaky. I spoke with a few friends and we came up with this VPN setup that would allow me to hide my IP address while working remotely from Puerto Rico.  It was a test run to see if it was something I liked. It was a success overall and it reaffirmed my desire to do this job. 

This was all done on the assumption that no one knew where I was. But I got a little lax — I don’t know with 100% certainty how I got caught, but allegedly the security team could trace my IP address and see that I was not in the United States and in some Caribbean time zone.

On the second to last day of my trip back to Minnesota, I received a message from my director. He was asking me where I was. Although I wasn’t technically lying, he knew that I was in the United States.

He was not thrilled and asked me to quit working until I returned to the USA. I agreed. I returned to Minnesota after I had spoken to my director. He said that I shouldn’t do it again, but it was a slight slap on my wrist.

Because of the company’s strict employee travel policy, I quit the company.

Sergio Najera

My most recent adventure was celebrating Argentina’s win in the heart of downtown Buenos Aires.

Sergio Najera

Fast forward a few months, and I’m planning an even bigger trip: a month-and-a-half in Peru.

My company was very strict. I needed special permission to work in Minnesota if I wanted to. It was not possible to work from 7,000 km away.

I tried very hard to stay the course. I’m not a lawyer. I’m not an accountant or tech specialist. I’m just a guy who loves to travel. Remote workers can’t work in other states or countries because of these dinosaur rules. 

I had my Airbnb booking and my flight booked. Also, I had a Machu Picchu trek scheduled. It was do or die. I had to find a way to either stay with my company and work in Peru, or find another option.

A game I was building with my friends at the same time called “The Game” also happened. “Pericle: Gathering Darkness”This was the beginning of real growth.

We had a great experience KickstarterWe raised $182,000 to hire full-time employees at the company. So I had three options. I could either quit my job and make it work, or (2) cut my salary in half, but keep a cool job I started as a side gig. Or (3) find a contractor job. 

I chose to accept the startup job because it allowed me to work from anywhere I wanted, which I really valued. I started in April and I’m still with them — the game is being released this Spring. 

My old job paid me a base salary of around $115,000, with 401(k), matching and other benefits. This brought my total compensation to about $140,000. Now my cash salary is only $60,000. 

While I don’t save as much money as I used, my “joy for every dollar” is higher.

Sergio Najera

My sister and i in Mallorca de Palma, Spain.

Sergio Najera

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

You can live in Europe if you want to, but it is cheaper to go to places such as Croatia and Bosnia, which are less expensive than Italy. Even Spain was less expensive than Germany, Switzerland, or the Netherlands. 

Europe is my favorite place. It’s so easy for people to find healthy food. The culture is also not so grind-oriented — people don’t work 70 hours a week.

If you are looking for a cheap place to travel, Argentina is a good option. 

Sometimes, eating out every day is more affordable than cooking at home or buying groceries. I went with a friend to this small empanada restaurant and ordered eight good-sized empanadas along with a bottle wine for only four-and a-half US Dollars. 

When people claim they cannot afford to travel, I ask them how much their rent is. I pay more for housing than they do. I aim to spend between $30 and $32 per night, which is approximately $1,000 per month. Flights are the most costly. However, once you arrive at your destination, you can live very cheaply. 

If you’re smart enough to plan well in advance, you can easily find hostels and even cheaper Airbnbs. You can easily find $25 per night accommodations in many locations around the globe. 

It will be expensive to choose London or Berlin. Even Malaga and Valencia in Spain were not too expensive. Or you could go to South America. You can choose any capital city that you like, and it’s cheaper than renting in the US. 

I am still contributing the maximum to my Roth IRA, and I’m saving money to pay down student loans. I’m not spending more on weekends and activities than Minneapolis. I’m not making more money. 

I would say I spend my money better. I get more joy per dollar. I am budgeting well while saving for retirement, and I still have the ability to do most of my favorite things. 

Making friends and working productively are some of the challenges that come with full-time travel.

Sergio Najera

Everything I need for remote work. I have a magic keyboard, magic trackpad and a laptop stand. Also, noise canceling headphones and a microphone.

Sergio Najera

I get lonely even though I’m more introverted than others. Even though you live in a large city, it is possible to feel isolated at times. I have been known to go weeks without talking to my wife or working in my room. 

It’s one thing to go to lunch with a bunch of people, but another to spend time with a friend that you have known for 15+ years who cares about your well-being and loves you. It’s been a great help to call people I haven’t seen in a while and see what’s happening in their lives. 

There are also other challenges, such as having a good setup for work-from-home. You can’t actually work from the beach — I mean, where are you getting your Wifi? How do you see your screen from the beach?

An internet connection is vital, especially when you are in meetings. Office chairs are another important thing. This cushion I bought for my travels so that it can be used on any chair in the Airbnb.

I prefer a separate workspace from my bedroom. That’s all I look for. I can’t work at cafes like some people. I prefer to sleep in quiet neighborhoods. 

Traveling has allowed me to see that there are other lifestyles than the American grind culture.

Sergio Najera

Sergio with his wife, and friends at Machu Picchu.

Sergio Najera

I am very outgoing. Every day I meet strangers on the streets. This idea actually came from a dating book. It said that if you want people you feel connected with emotionally, do the things that you enjoy. I have met some great people while rock climbing. My friend enjoys surfing so he goes to surf towns and meets other like-minded people. I have also made friends through cooking classes. 

To help you get to know the city better, I recommend that you always take a walking tour. It’s an excellent way to meet fellow travelers. Another secret tip is to use shared Airbnbs. Right now, I am in an Airbnb with two other rooms that can be rented out. People are coming and going. I’ve met some absolutely kind souls doing this — it kind of feels like college again. 

My wife’s job requires her to be more flexible. She is still based in Minneapolis, but she travels out to visit family and friends every now and again. She was with me in Spain for a month and my sister for a few weeks. I’ve been alone for approximately two months. 

It can be tricky to navigate the different time zones. We learned the hard way that not talking frequently — which for us means every day or every other day — can be really taxing on both of us. 

However, this doesn’t mean we are constantly texting each others throughout the day. While we may check in with each other occasionally, it’s not a daily routine. Face-to-face video chat is essential. This is how I believe we have been able do this well at a high level. 

My family and friends would be my most precious memories if I were to die today. It wouldn’t feel like, ‘oh! shoot, I really miss code writing.’ It would be like, ‘oh, shoot, I really miss writing code.’ But that would not be a regret. 

Very specifically, what really draws me to leaving everybody behind for a little while — including my wife and my family — is there’s so much to learn about how to live life. 

It was the first time I visited Europe. It was amazing. It’s so narrow that people walk more, and there’s a healthcare system. It makes you realize that there are many ways of living life. I think we can get really stuck in patterns here in the US, or in other places where we were born and raised. It’s a great way to open up to other people from around the world and to have the chance to live a better lifestyle. 

Although we might think life is difficult, it’s not when you visit Argentina where people are literally unable to afford a house or might never be able due to inflation. You begin to wonder if our problems are so serious.

My goal is to see the world, so that I can live a better and more open-minded life. I just want to be happier — that’s really what it boils down to.

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