Skip to content

How One Woman’s Cancer Journey Led Her To Sell Everything And Travel 

This post is part of Jessie on a Journey’s Inspiring Travelers series After getting diagnosed with cancer, Melissa Nance couldn’t get one thing out of her mind: Travel, and how she wanted to do more of it. In fact, she and her husband ended up doing something people may find a little crazy: They quit their jobs, packed their bags and hit the road indefinitely, documenting their travels on their blog, Penny Pinching Globetrotter. Melissa is proof that anything is possible, and that if you want something badly enough you can make it happen. Ready to get inspired? In this interview, Melissa shares:
  • How her cancer journey changed her life for the better
  • What happened when she decided to be “selfish” for once
  • What the preparation looks like to sell everything and travel
  • The truth about traveling after chemo and radiation
  • Her strategy for traveling around the world for free and super cheap
  • How she handles traveling with cancer, including her #1 tip for those traveling with chronic illness
And more! Warning: You may get some seriously itchy travel feet after reading.

How One Woman’s Cancer Journey Led Her To Sell Everything And Travel [Video]

Prefer video?
The above is an extended version of the text interview below, which shares how to sell everything you own to travel. You’ll learn what quitting your job to travel is really like, why you shouldn’t wait to live your best life, how Melissa deals with illness on the road, how to plan mentally and physically for a trip with no final date, and more. By the way, I go live regularly with travelers who have inspiring stories to tell. If you’d like to get updated on future Facebook Live events, click here to join my email list. You’ll snag my #BeyondTheGuidebook newsletter — full of stories and ideas for having unique travel adventures — as well as updates on fun online and offline events for travelers. BEYOND THE GUIDEBOOK NEWSLETTER

Don’t Wait To Live Your Life & Travel [Q&A Interview]

1. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview. To get started, can you just tell us a little bit about yourself?

I am Melissa and I am a recovering Type A. Before I started this travel/nomad life I was the executive director of a nonprofit. I have always been a planner — as well as budget-conscious — which works well for the life of a full-time traveler. Additionally, I am married and have a daughter who recently graduated from college, and two cats, neither of which have been to school.
traveling with cancer in south africa

When I was diagnosed with cancer we already had a trip to South Africa planned. My doctors said go, so we did. I had surgery to install a port a week after we returned.

2. While many people love travel, we all get into it for different reasons. For you, it was a cancer diagnosis that pushed you to book a trip. Can you share more about that?

About five years ago I heard the dreaded words: “You have cancer.” It changed my life. For the better. I created a bucket list and most of it revolved around travel. Then after chemo and the medical bills were paid, my husband and I started saving and making a plan to travel for as long as we could. Two years later we left our careers, sold our cars and rented our house so we could hit the road full-time in our RV. We also travel abroad five-to-seven weeks a year. We are starting on our third year with no plans to stop. [socialpug_tweet tweet=”‘About 5 years ago I heard the dreaded words: “You have #cancer.” It changed my life. For the better.’ – Melissa Nance #travel” display_tweet=”‘About 5 years ago I heard the dreaded words: “You have #cancer.” It changed my life. For the better.’ – Melissa Nance #travel”]

3. For many, getting cancer would be a reason not to travel. What was going through your mind that made you land on travel as your next step?

Before cancer I never thought much about my bucket list. I always loved to travel and we took several trips a year. But once you find out you have incurable leukemia things change. I spent lots of time laying on my sofa recovering from chemo. I was told that if this treatment worked my cancer would most likely return in five-to-seven years. During that time I dreamed about what the rest of my life would look like. I dreamed about buying an island — and yes I still have that dream. I dreamed of fulfilling my desire of owning a business. I dreamed of learning to throw pottery. And I thought about lots and lots of travel… In the end, I had three main goals:
  • Start a business
  • Travel a lot
  • Run for office
At the time I decided I didn’t have enough time or energy to start a business and make it successful. As for running for office, I was supposed to. I was selected to be a part of Emerge Tennessee, a program that trains women to run for office. I even had the paperwork filled out to file as well as a committee. But then went traveling. The original plan was for us to travel for three months and then I would come home and run for office; but, just one month into our trip, things changed. I realized travel was really what made me happy. And although I had been of service my entire career, I selfishly decided not to run so I could travel more.
on a plane to pick up their rv

On a plane heading to Missouri to pick up our RV

4. Building on my last question, you even went so far as to not just take a trip, but to leave everything behind, renting out your house, paying cash for an older RV, leaving your career along with your husband, and setting out to travel with $10,000 as long as you could. How did you decide on this adventure, and what was the planning process like? Curious, too, if there is travel insurance for travelers with cancer?

We don’t have travel insurance for when we are RVing, but we do buy it when traveling overseas. Once we decided we wanted to travel more, I spent tons of time figuring out how we could make it work. I was thinking about backpacking across Southeast Asia or Central America, but somewhere along the way I discovered that people actually live and travel full time in their RV. This was the answer! It was a way we could travel for cheap. So we started aggressively saving. We stopped eating out. We didn’t exchange gifts, or buy new clothes. In two years we saved enough money to pay cash for our RV and have $10,000. We originally only planned to go out for three months so I could come back and run for office but the travel bug bit us. So we came home and sold our cars, found a long term renter, got a summer job in Grand Teton National Park and hit the road for 58 weeks before we made it back home again. [socialpug_tweet tweet=”‘My husband and I came home and sold our cars, found a long term renter, got a summer job in Grand Teton National Park and #HitTheRoad for 58 weeks before we made it back home again.’ – Melissa Nance #longtermtravel” display_tweet=”‘My husband and I came home and sold our cars, found a long term renter, got a summer job in Grand Teton National Park and #HitTheRoad for 58 weeks before we made it back home again.’ – Melissa Nance #longtermtravel”]

5. One interesting aspect of the trip was that you learned how to travel, quite often, for free, and actually have more money in your bank account than when you left. What are some of your favorite tips for others who want to do this?

I believe that if you want something bad enough you will find a way to make it happen. A good friend recently said I self-selected poor, and she is right. Because we no longer have full-time jobs we watch every penny — hence the blog name Penny Pinching Globetrotter. Although we are cash poor we are experience rich. I may not have the latest fashion but I am also not working a full-time job just waiting for vacation. We travel for cheap by using credit card points to fly for almost free and stay in nice hotels for free! I also am always looking for mistake fares or deals. We recently purchased two round-trip tickets to Munich Germany from our small town airport for $649 in total for us both round trip! I also use several apps on my phone where I earn gift cards for to cover lodging. Such as?? If we can’t get a free room we go cheap staying at a hostel or Airbnb. And, by the way, if you’ve never used Airbnb you can click here to get up to $40 off your first stay. We also cook meals in our room when traveling, saving us money. When we RV we boondock for free. Last year we only spent $11 on camping and so far this year it’s just $8.
rocky mountains in an rv

Leaving our house behind and hitting the road in our RV for the first time.

6. What were some of the major challenges you faced along the way?

We had a big breakdown near the Mexico border that ended up costing us $3,000. While we were waiting for the tow truck my husband and I decided we were not done and that we would figure out a way to cover the expense and keep on keeping on. We are still at it. [socialpug_tweet tweet=”After getting diagnosed with #cancer, this woman quit her job — along with her husband — and they set off to explore the world indefinitely. Here is her inspiring #travel story.” display_tweet=”After getting diagnosed with #cancer, this woman quit her job — along with her husband — and they set off to explore the world indefinitely. Here is her inspiring #travel story.”]

7. What was the most rewarding aspect of the trip?

I learned through this process that I feel most alive when I am experiencing new things. Whether that be a new place, a new food or meeting new people, with travel I am always discovering new things. I also now strongly believe that you can do anything you set your mind to. Never would I have dreamed we could both quit our jobs and live each month for what our house payment is. But we did and so can you.
mesa verde national park

Camping for free near Mesa Verde National Park.

8. How did you manage having cancer while traveling? Are there any tips for making traveling with cancer easier for those who may be going through something similar?

Unfortunately, chemo killed my immune system and I know have a secondary autoimmune deficiency. Which means I get sick. A lot. The way I see it is I can be sick at home or I can be sick while traveling. Sure, I’ve spent more days than I would like in bed at a hotel while sending my husband out to explore. But if I stayed home I would experience nothing new. My tip for those with chronic illness: Get a good doctor and talk to them about your plans. My doctor allows me to call him with my symptoms and he calls in some medicine. He has also ordered lab work for me to have done while traveling, and he has the results sent to him so I can avoid coming home for my twice-a-year blood work. [socialpug_tweet tweet=”‘The way I see it is I can be sick at home or I can be sick while #traveling.’ – Melissa Nance #travelingwithcancer” display_tweet=”‘The way I see it is I can be sick at home or I can be sick while #traveling.’ – Melissa Nance #travelingwithcancer”]

9. What advice would you give someone wanting to travel, but who is scared or hesitant?

I wish it didn’t take cancer for me to realize there may not be a later. Whatever your dreams are now is the time to go for them. I believe the universe is out there waiting to help you make it, you just have to get started. Had I known I could manage to live so happily off so little money I would have started this life a long time ago. When my cancer returns I can’t imagine I would recall fondly a new TV we would have bought or an expensive handbag. But I will remember all of the experiences we are having and the memories are making. In the end, it’s not about how much money we have or the things we have. For me, it’s about living and travel makes me feel alive. BEYOND THE GUIDEBOOK NEWSLETTER

Would you sell everything and travel?

Would you like to share how your own cancer journey impacted your life?

Other Inspiring Traveler Stories:

How To Start A New Life Abroad How The Near-Death Of A Parent Led One Woman To Say Yes To Travel Kilimanjaro Trekking: A Healing Experience Summiting Africa’s Highest Mountain
ENJOYED THIS POST? PIN IT FOR LATER!How Getting Cancer Inspired one Women to Sell Everything and Travel
Jessie Festa standing in front of grafitti wall

Hi, I’m Jessie on a journey!

I'm a conscious solo traveler on a mission to take you beyond the guidebook to inspire you to live your best life through travel. Come join me!

Blogging Courses

Want to live your best life through travel?

Subscribe for FREE access to my library of fun blogging worksheets and learn how to get paid to travel more!



  1. Ravin on at 5:57 am

    very inspiring article, and thanks for sharing such beautiful post.

  2. Melanie Carter on at 7:57 am

    Thank you for sharing. Reading your words resonate in my own journey. My husband was diagnosed almost three years ago with stage 4 metastatic prostate cancer. We feel the same way about traveling, my husband and I took our first trip 3 days after his last chemo in search for his ancestors throughout England and Scotland. (While he recovered from sepsis, after his chemo he spent countless hours research his family history) I learned to drive on the wrong side of the car and shift gears with the wrong hand. After the 2nd week I got pretty good. We just came back this week from our first European trip. When the going gets rough we take a break, even if it means taking a day or two off from sightseeing. But as you said, “I can be sick and tired at home or while traveling” we find that if we don’t have accommodations where we can cook, we can always find someone willing to help out with rice or toast. Thank you again for sharing what I carry inside.

    • Jessie Festa on at 1:19 pm

      @Melanie: Thank you for sharing your story, as well! And wow — tracing your heritage in England? That sounds like quite a fascinating trip!

  3. Wilma Shaffner on at 12:23 am

    What kind of leukemia? I just buried my only sibling (brother) two days ago from complications of acute myeloid leukemia. I will always wonder if there was something more we could have done as he wanted to live so badly.

Leave a Comment