travel road trip mountains

I can’t believe it’s been over two years since Josh did his first Slow FI interview. At that point, Josh had recently quit his Uber side hustle. At the time, this provided him with a lot more free time.  

As people gain more financial freedom, they often want to take advantage of more options. Because of this, I’ve always been interested to see what next steps Josh would take as he designed his ideal life along the way to FI.  

Earlier this spring, I learned that he was planning to take a gap year! I know this is often something young people do between high school and college. But, it’s almost unheard of for adults to take a gap year. 

So, of course, I needed to do a follow-up Slow FI interview with Josh to learn more. Instead of me talking more about Josh’s plans, let’s just get into the interview! 

1. What recent decision have you made to deliberately slow down? Why did you decide to make this decision?

As I’m sitting down to write this, it’s been 5 weeks since my last day of work. I recently quit my job to take a gap year, sabbatical, career intermission, or whatever you want to call it. 

My plan is to take this time off to decompress, destress, and spend time with family. I’m also planning to take some road trips that wouldn’t be possible within the confines of a “1-week vacation.” Because I live in South Florida, it takes 5+ hours of driving just to get to the Georgia state line! 

The main reason I decided to quit my job was the stress. More and more work kept being piled on my plate. I worked for the local government’s building department. My job focused on reviewing building permits for compliance with floodplain regulations. I was also fielding dozens of phone calls and emails each day about flood zones, flood insurance, etc.  

As the workload piled up, I was constantly rushing from task to task trying to keep up with deadlines, both short-term (like daily permit reviews) and long-term (like our audits for FEMA’s Community Rating System every 3 years). I was doing all of this amidst constant workflow interruptions. 

At the end of every day, I would be exhausted. I’d crash onto the couch or take an afternoon nap just to feel human again. I realized I was living to work, not working to live. The amount of workload and pressure kept piling onto me. I knew it was time to make a change. 

My last straw was when my boss wanted me to tackle one more huge project that wasn’t my responsibility right before I left. Those last few extraneous requests proved to me that I made the right decision to leave when I did.

2. How has the decision to take a gap year impacted your quality of life? 

As I mentioned above, it has only been 5 weeks so far. So, in some ways, it still feels like I am on vacation. In other ways, I am already feeling improvements in my quality of life, especially my sleep quality and energy levels.

Without the stresses of work and upcoming projects bouncing around inside my head, I am able to fall asleep more quickly and stay asleep until I naturally wake in the morning. Because I am feeling rested, I am less lethargic throughout the day. 

I have been easily hitting my daily 10k steps goal either through walks around my hometown or by hitting the golf course with the ‘traditional’ retirees in town. I have found that since I am more active through the day, I feel tired at bedtime and get another restful night’s sleep, completing the virtuous cycle!

I’ve also been able to spend quite a bit of time with my parents and my 3 remaining grandparents. My parents are allowing me to stay in my childhood bedroom to use their home as my “northern home base” for my travels. Indiana is much more conveniently located than south Florida.

This means I am within 3 miles of my parents and grandparents for the first time in a decade. We’ve had several meals together, pool days, and drop-in visits while out walking through town. This is a very positive difference from when I normally live 1000+ miles away from “home” in Florida.

Black Canyon outdoor adventure
Actual photo from Josh’s travels through the Colorado National Monument

After a few weeks back home in Indiana, I hit the road. So far, I have been through 6 states (3 of which I had never visited before), attended CampFI Rocky Mountain in Colorado Springs with 65 other amazing FI-focused folks, drove Pike’s Peak, and have been to 2 national parks and 3 national monuments.

3. How will taking a gap year impact your financial goals or timelines?

It is hard to say with certainty, but it will definitely delay hitting my FI number. 

Fortunately, I was able to cash out more than 3 weeks of vacation time which will cover me through most of the summer before I have to start tapping into my savings.  

As a government employee, my income was in the public record. So, I have no problem sharing that I made around $74,000-75,000 in each of the prior two years. This year, my final pay stub shows that I made around $38,000 in the first 5+ months of the year (thanks to the vacation payout), which is similar to what I made in a whole year as recently as 2013. 

Even though I’ve only worked half of the year, I was able to contribute $9,000 to my 457b plan, $6,000 to max out my Roth IRA, and over $1,000 to my pension plan. I still helped out my long-term financial picture this year even on half the income of last year.

What remains to be seen is how much my spending will increase during this year of rest, relaxation, and travel. I still have to pay my mortgage and utility bills for my home. And, I will be spending much more on gas, hotels, and park/museum entrance fees. Plus, I will likely spend a lot more on food on the road since I won’t have the ability to stock food in a pantry and refrigerator, like at home.  

4. What enabled you to take a gap year?

One of the main reasons I am able to do this is because I am a single guy, with no pets or kids. I can imagine this would be much more difficult to pull off if I had a spouse or kids dependent upon my salary to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads.

Secondly, I have low fixed expenses and a high savings rate. My mortgage payment equals what I paid for rent back in 2006 when I bought my home. This allows me to save more than most homeowners because I spend so much less on housing. It’s another virtuous cycle!

You probably also want to know more specifics about how I prepared financially for this gap year. At the outset, I had approximately 1-year of spending in cash in checking and savings accounts. I also have 1 year of expenses in a taxable brokerage account.  

I surpassed the Coast FI milestone in 2019, so my retirement accounts are all operating in the background. They are continuing to grow toward my traditional retirement date.  

One great thing about working in the government is that I also have full access to the money in my 457b accounts, penalty-free. I would only owe regular income taxes on any withdrawals. 

All of these accounts provide me with several years of cushion, if I needed to tap into them.  

Finally, my car is a paid-off 2015 Toyota Camry hybrid. I get great gas mileage and have very low maintenance costs. This will allow me to drive thousands of extra miles this year without impacting my budget too harshly.

5. Were there things in your life you adapted so you could continue to work toward your goals?

The obvious one is that I removed myself from my job. It was the source of most of my stress and required me to sit at a desk for 8+ hours a day – a very sedentary lifestyle. I haven’t stepped on a scale, but I can already see results from getting out and being active, plus the fresh air and sunshine are doing wonders for my wellbeing.

The more interesting adaptation has been that I’ve changed my goals. I’m no longer interested in racing to the “FI finish line” if there ever was such a thing. Sticking to the racing metaphor, even the best race car drivers have to stop for a pit stop every once in a while, getting a fresh tank of gas and new tires, plus make adjustments to their car setup.

I see this time off as me refilling my energy tank, working on my health/fitness (both physically and mentally), and making adjustments to my plans moving forward. 

I’m not sure if I will ever go back to full-time work. I seriously doubt that I will go back to work for the local government again. Furthermore, I am not sure if I will “go back to work” at the end of this break, or if I will find some work I can do “on the side” of my travels to keep covering my costs. This would allow me to adopt a Coast FI lifestyle for a while.

6. How did your pursuit of FI help or hinder your decision to take a gap year?

This shift would not have been possible if I had not been pursuing FI/RE for the past 8 years. I have maintained a high savings rate (hovering over 50% the past few years) and kept low fixed expenses to give me options with my money. This in turn has afforded me the ability to have options with my time.

I know that I will have my existing investments working for me in the background, so it is entirely possible that my net worth will continue to rise during this time out of the workforce.

The vast majority of my funds are tied up in retirement accounts though. So, over the past year, I made a conscious decision to start putting more into a high-yield savings account and taxable brokerage accounts. This allows me to have money available to me before the traditional retirement age.

Part of my FI journey has also been learning about travel hacking and using hotel and airline points to help defray travel costs. I have accumulated a lot of points that will help me defray costs this year.  

7. What does the future hold for you? What ideas are you exploring after your gap year? 

For the next year, I will be “test-driving” retirement. I am going to get plenty of rest and exercise, read books, travel, and spend time with family and friends along the way.

I have a few events on my calendar, such as: 

  • CampFI Rocky Mountain in Colorado Springs
  • A family wedding to attend in Indianapolis
  • The annual FinCon conference in Austin
  • The EconoMe Conference in Cincinnati. 

In between those, I will be hitting up national parks and visiting my FI friends in various states.

mountains Zion national park
Another photo of Josh’s from Zion National Park

For the next year, I’m also staying involved with my career. I am the Chair of the Florida Floodplain Managers Association and will be involved in planning the 2022 national conference in Orlando.  

But, I am also exploring potential career pivots. I don’t know what I’ll do yet, but I have a few ideas I’m considering: 

  • Using my existing knowledge and skills in a consulting role. 
  • Taking a position in the private sector that would include travel (not just sitting in a cubicle every day).
  • I’ve also recently been taking Salesforce training through the Trailhead platform and exploring doing work to improve customer experiences.  

In terms of housing, I’m also considering either selling my house or renting it out. This would dramatically shift my living expenses. I’d either get one lump sum if I sell or turn it into a monthly income stream. I’ve decided to keep it as my southern home base for this year, so I can return home whenever I want to escape to Florida. If I decide to do either of those things, I might also explore becoming a digital nomad in some ex-pat community like Playa del Carmen, Mexico, or Cuenca, Ecuador.  

8. Why and when do you think someone might consider “downshifting?”

If you start to think you are burnt out, you probably already are. 

Life is too precious and too short to stay in a job that makes you miserable, whether that be an unbearable daily commute, an overbearing boss, gossipy coworkers, or whatever makes your job feel like a chore. 

I want to do something that I’m excited to wake up and work on each day. To be honest, I haven’t felt that way about anything since my college years, when I spent the summers coaching the local swim team and teaching swimming lessons. 

I’m excited to give myself time to explore different options.  

9. What advice do you have for someone considering taking a gap year?

If you are contemplating a similar sabbatical/gap year, the first step is to make sure you have some money or a way to make money during your time away. If you are already on the FI path, this probably won’t be too hard, since you’ll have an emergency fund, investment accounts, perhaps a side hustle, or other skills that you can monetize to keep you afloat financially. 

Hopefully, you’re also debt-free (except perhaps a mortgage), which helps reduce essential living expenses. If you’re inclined to travel, getting involved with travel rewards can be an awesome way to accumulate an additional war chest to deploy towards travel expenses, and keeping your cash in your pocket.

If you are currently living paycheck to paycheck, without an emergency fund or “F-You Money” to fall back on, I’d recommend looking for another job that fits you better. Then, you can use that better job situation to pay off debts, sock away money in savings, and build your “opportunity fund.” That will provide you with options for the future, like taking time off, buying a home, or investing in property.

Thank you so much, Josh, for sharing more information with us about your gap year!  

I absolutely love that Josh decided to take a year off BY CHOICE. While I took a 6-month career break in 2018, it, sadly, wasn’t by choice. I took the time off because my body forced me to take the time off. I started experiencing severe anxiety and panic attacks.  

I’m so happy to hear that Josh made this decision for himself simply because he wanted to! While he definitely had stress at work, there wasn’t something external that made him have to change. He chose it.  

I love one particular thing that Josh said in the interview.  He said, “If you start to think you are burnt out, you probably already are.”  

This resonates with me so much. Often these feelings are a lagging indicator of how we are actually doing. For example, I think of this as similar to dehydration. If you start to feel thirsty, it typically means that you are already dehydrated. 

What if we could be so in tune with what we wanted and needed that we could take a break to prevent burnout? Rather than recover from it?  

I also know that part of the reason why many of us don’t make changes in our lives is that we have an irrational fear that everything will fall apart. I think that Josh shows a great example of how to prepare for something like this without (irrationally) overpreparing.  

3 things provided Josh with the peace of mind needed to take his gap year: 

  • He saved 1 year worth of expenses in cash 
  • He saved 1 year of expenses in taxable accounts, in case he needed the money before going back to work 
  • He reached Coast FI in 2019. This gave him the confidence that he isn’t jeopardizing his traditional retirement.  

I love seeing that Josh was able to work through his fears of scarcity and figure out what would be “enough” for him to take action.

Maybe you:

  • Aren’t sure how much money you’d need to take action toward your goals, OR 
  • You don’t feel comfortable taking action regardless of how much money you have 

If either of these resonates with you, I’d encourage you to check out our Meaningful FI Metrics Calculator. It will help you understand the financial freedom you’d need to make a variety of different choices and how to get there.  

If you’d like to continue to follow Josh’s journey, you can find him in the following places:

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