Before I started pursuing FI, I thought there was only one option in life. That was to work full-time at a job that I hopefully didn’t hate and where I felt like I was contributing meaningfully to the world in some way.
I knew that some people went against the grain, mainly travel bloggers and entrepreneurs. People like Chris Guillebeau (The Art of Non-Conformity), Tim Ferriss (The 4-Hour Workweek), and Paula Pant (Afford Anything) have been inspirational.
But I did not feel like this lifestyle was possible for me, nor was that level of “hustle” required to make a living desirable for me.
Therefore, my only option told me that I’d spend most of my life working. I could spend time with friends and family and travel on the weekends, holidays, and the three weeks of vacation time each year.
To me, this was a life that would never feel balanced because there was always too much stress, too much to do, and not enough time to do it.
The story of my life sometimes felt like: get up, go to work, get home from work, relax from work, go to bed, get up, and do it all over again.
While we have done a lot to try to make this current lifestyle seem more enjoyable (working in nonprofits, making easy meals, easing up on housework, finding meaningful things to do outside of work, etc.), we still had this feeling that we were missing out on the best of what life had to offer.
It wasn’t until I learned about Financial Independence that I started to hear about the unconventional and exciting ways that people were choosing to live their lives.
Through learning about the lives of so many of the early Fioneers, I’ve learned that when people are Financially Independent the world opens up for them. The choices available are beyond what I thought existed or were within my grasp.
There are an infinite set of options. My choices do not need to be limited to the expectations that society has of me.
This is liberating.
Once people reach Financial Independence, whether they choose to retire early or not, they often have intriguing lifestyle choices. I’ve been exploring their stories to broaden my views of what my future could hold.
Slow and/or Nomadic Travel (International or Domestic)
Some people have become location independent and have chosen to travel full-time. While being financially independent isn’t necessarily required to do this, there are only a few money-making options that allow for this lifestyle, such as freelancing, digital entrepreneurship, or an amazingly flexible job that allows you to work remotely full-time.
Jeremy and Winnie of Go Curry Cracker are a great example of this lifestyle. They were able to quit their jobs in 2012 and have been traveling ever since. They’ve traveled to 40 countries so far on their journey. They know they have the rest of their lives to travel, so they are not in a rush. They have embraced the concept of slow travel, which is where you spend a significant amount of time in each place and learn about the local culture.
FIREcracker and Wanderer from the Millennial Revolution became financially independent at 31, quit their jobs, and have been traveling the world for the last three years. On about $40,000/year, they have traveled all over Europe, Asia, and Central and South America.
Michelle of Making Sense of Cents has been living a nomadic lifestyle for years now. While she certainly wouldn’t call herself retired, I think it’s safe to say that she’s Financially Independent while running her online business and traveling the world. She’s spent time living in an RV traveling the country and following great weather. While she’s given up the RV life, she recently bought a sailboat and is preparing to cruise the world.
Steve from Think Save Retire and his wife have been on the road in an RV for over a year now. They have spent time traveling up and down the western United States. Steve says he is “retired from full-time work,” meaning that while he will hopefully never work in a corporate environment ever again, he will take on projects that he is interested in that might pay him money.
What is “geoarbitrage”? Simply stated, it is moving to an area that has a lower cost of living. It’s a place where your dollar will stretch a lot further.
There are many examples of people moving to an area that has a lower cost of living to reach Financial Independence and/or Retire Early.
For example, Dylan and Allison from Retire by 45 moved just 10 miles from San Francisco to Oakland. They sold their San Francisco condo for $1.25 million and bought their Oakland condo in cash for $638,000 for the same amount of space. Because they were able to buy the condo in cash, they decreased their annual expenses by about $80,000! This decreased their FI timeline by 8 years.
There are also examples of people moving to countries that have a much lower cost of living to retire early. This allows them to stretch their dollar while living a comfortable life.
Pauline of ReachFinancialIndependence.com moved to Guatemala where she only needed about $1,400/month to live a very comfortable life. Within this budget, she lives on a waterfront property and is even able to hire a housekeeper. Because of this, she was able to retire early at 29 with a nest egg of about $300,000.
Jason from Mr. Free at 33 moved to Thailand a little over a year ago. In Thailand, he can rent an upscale furnished apartment for $400/month. This is a swanky apartment; it has a pool, a gym, and even fingerprint access. Because of this and the fact that everything else, especially healthcare, is less expensive, he can live on about $1,200 per month.
Even more interesting is Michael and Ellen from Uncommon Dream, who have figured out how to do short-term geoarbitrage by spending their winters in Ecuador and renting out their fully-paid-off house on Airbnb during that time. Not only do they get to create incredible family experiences in another country, but they’re also making more money through Airbnb than they are spending on their trip. Now, this is an idea worth looking into.
Moving to your Ideal Location
I’m sure you’ve heard of Liz from Frugalwoods, whose family gave up their urban life in Cambridge, MA to move to a 66-acre homestead in central Vermont on May 2016. Liz makes it very clear that they did not move to rural Vermont in pursuit of a lower cost of living. In fact, they found that their chosen living situation costs them more. Regardless, they used their Financial Independence to follow their dreams of living on a homestead.
Tanja from Our Next Life and her husband Mark retired from their day jobs in 2017. A few years prior, they chose to move from Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe, CA. Why did they choose this? Certainly not because it was inexpensive. They chose it because they are huge fans of the outdoors and like to get out as much as they can. Around their new home, they can ski, hike, backpack, cycle, mountain bike, climb, paddle, etc.
What does my Ideal Life Look Like?
The short answer is: I don’t quite know yet.
There are so many potential options for what our life can look like after we achieve Financial Independence. There are many things we want to explore, and we have a bunch of ideas about what our priorities will be.
For us, FI is not about retiring early. While we might not ultimately work for an employer, we are excited to work for ourselves. We will most certainly have some entrepreneurial ventures, such as this blog, real estate, and possibly a coaching business, amongst other things.
While I understand that many people make a living through entrepreneurial ventures before reaching FI, I’m not sure I want the pressure of hustle just yet. As of right now, I prefer having a job to cover my living expenses and savings while I can build up entrepreneurial ventures on the side.
This way I don’t have the pressure to ensure my entrepreneurial ventures can cover my expenses. This also ensures that my side hustles are passion projects that I’m doing because I enjoy them not because I need the money.
I’m certainly not against side hustles making money; I just want to have passion projects that I choose to do regardless of whether they make money. If they do, great. If they don’t, that’s okay too.
We will also very likely choose to volunteer or consult with nonprofit organizations or political campaigns whose missions we believe in.
For me, the most critical thing about FI is location independence. Again, I know people can achieve this before FI. I’m just not sure that I would find fulfillment now from doing the things required to do this before reaching FI. If I need to wait for 8 years, so be it.
How would location independence play out for us?
We love where we live, so we identify with choosing a place to live based on what you enjoy, even if it’s more expensive than other locations.
We have built a close community and network of friendships here in the Boston area, so I’m not sure we’d ever give up on calling the northeast home.
While we both love to travel, we would also consider ourselves homebodies, so I think we’d always want to have a “home base”.
I love the idea shared by Uncommon Dream about renting out your house through Airbnb while you are traveling for significant lengths of time. Their story makes me realize that I can still have a home base, travel frequently, and not have it break the bank.
Frequent, Slow Travel
Even with a home base, we want to do a significant amount of travel. I could see us taking 3-to-6 months (shorter or longer depending on the year) each year traveling. We already have a lot of ideas for travel.
We’ve discussed RV travel soon after we reach FI. While I don’t think I’d want to live in an RV for a significant amount of time, I would love to do this for perhaps 1 year or 3-to-6 months at a time for a few years. I know it’s a big goal, but I’d love to visit every national park.
This would likely be our first significant travel after reaching location independence. Why?
We currently have a dog, who we LOVE. I don’t think we’d want to leave her with a family member or friend for a 3-6 month (or longer) international trip. We could still take shorter international trips during this time.
I also want to do quite a bit of international travel. I have a goal of traveling to 100 countries in my lifetime. I only have 14 under my belt so far, so I have a long way to go. I love to learn new languages, see new sites, learn about cultural differences, etc.
While I don’t think we’ll have a fully nomadic lifestyle, we do want to travel frequently and slowly. I could see us traveling for 1-to-6 months at a time, and spending more time in countries where the cost of living is lower.
If we happen to make enough money from the entrepreneurial ventures that we enjoy, it’s possible that we might reach location independence before we reach financial independence. Again, we only want our entrepreneurial ventures to be things we enjoy, so we’re also okay if this doesn’t happen before we reach FI in about 8 years.
How are we going to Design our Ideal Life?
Reaching financial independence and/or location independence is not going to happen overnight. There are many things that we need to do between now and then.
We need to first reach either financial or location independence and we need to determine what our ideal lifestyle is through trial and error.
The three key things we will be doing to reach financial independence are:
- Increase our income through side hustles (that could turn into something more), real estate, and earning more at our day jobs.
- Decrease our expenses by lowering our food spending, using credit card rewards to minimize travel expenses, and just by buying less stuff we don’t need. We are already reasonably optimized on the housing and transportation front – we live in a small condo that fits our needs and are a one car family.
- Invest what we save, so that we can take advantage of compound interest.
Another important aspect of lifestyle design is trying things out to see if you like it.
We know we love to travel. We’ve both done some slow travel in our lives. During college, I spent two summers in Mexico, one summer in Ecuador (I went with Corey on this one!), and studied abroad in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. All of this travel was for extended periods (2-to-6 months), so I think we already know that we’d like to slow travel.
What we don’t know is if RV travel would be for us. As someone who has never been on a road trip in my life, I honestly don’t know if I’d enjoy it. I love beautiful scenery, and whenever I’ve gone on day trips where there hasn’t been a strict itinerary, I do enjoy stopping at places along the way. I’ve only camped in a tent, and the only time I’ve ever even been in an RV is visiting my grandparents at their old folks RV park in Florida when I was a kid.
To learn if this is something we’d enjoy, I think we’d need to test it out. First, I think we’d need to test out a road trip of a week or longer to see if that’s something that we enjoy doing. Then later, we could try renting an RV for a shorter amount of time.
Let’s remember all of life is about trial and error; I’d expect lifestyle design to be no different. Maybe we’ll love RVing and maybe we won’t. Maybe we’d do a bunch of slow travel, absolutely love it, and decide to be full nomadic travelers. Maybe we will realize that we don’t enjoy the slow travel all the time and want to stick to our several-week itineraries.
That’s the joy of financial independence. The world is open to us, and we get to decide.
What is your ideal lifestyle design?