My story is a pretty typical tale of pursuing the American Dream. After my university education, I entered the workplace and stepped onto the first rung of the corporate ladder. I fell in love, got married and bought a home. My husband or I earned various promotions or received job offers to move to other parts of the country, or in one case across to the other side of the world. We bought bigger homes and newer cars and acquired all the other trappings of success.
I was particularly ambitious. I found my work style especially well-suited to my chosen career in strategic marketing and I rose up the ranks. But as I climbed higher up the ladder and as the corporate landscape changed after the financial crisis, I became increasingly disillusioned. I found companies became focused on short-term thinking with an insatiable appetite for instant gratification and sales promotions, rather than good strategy and strong execution. Their expectation was that my every waking (and sometimes sleeping) hour should revolve around them. But I had a California-sized mortgage and matching lifestyle to pay for – so it seemed I had no choice. I felt trapped in the corporate world.
My respite from this was my love of travel. For vacation, we would rent apartments in fun places and pretend to live like locals if only for a week. We fantasized about leaving all the corporate nonsense behind us and having the time to visit all the national parks we had read about and to travel the world and experience different cultures. Then a lightbulb came on and we realized it wasn’t our jobs that were stopping us living the life we wanted, it was our financial obligations. Without the costs of a mortgage, property tax, condo fees and running two cars, we could afford to earn considerably less, and stretch our savings to travel long term.
It was like a reset in our thinking. We thought our desire to travel long term was hampered by our need to have a full-time salary to pay for our house but realized that if we traveled then we didn’t really need a house. Our desired lifestyle actually fit perfectly with the idea of selling our home and most of our possessions. The deal was sealed. We put our house on the market, we got rid of most everything we owned, I quit my job and we bought an Airstream Trailer and hit the road.
We now split our time between traveling in the US and renting apartments in other places in the world. I work part time to supplement our savings, but our lifestyle is so much less expensive than it used to be, we hardly notice the reduced income.
So how do I feel about my new life?
I am a much more mindful consumer: Traveling light and living small have taught me to appreciate everything more. When living off the grid I am acutely aware of the weather, wondering if the sun will shine enough on our solar panels to charge our batteries or if the incoming storm means I have to hunker down and secure our home. I only buy things that have more than one purpose, don’t use too much water or electricity or generate too much waste. When we travel overseas we pack light and make sure our clothes and shoes are practical and meet a variety of climates.
I have better relationships: The pressures of my work could make me irritable and short-tempered with people who didn’t deserve to be treated badly. On the other hand, I also had to work with people who I didn’t like, who were jerks or who were just a negative force. I am now lucky enough to be able to work with who I want and quit working with people whose values I don’t share.
The quality of my work is better: It’s a strange phenomenon but now that I work as a freelance consultant I am less concerned about career progression and I am less vested in a single product or company. I have an outsiders view which allows me to be less emotional, more candid and I provide impartial direction to my clients that I may have been intimidated to bring to the table as an employee. Also because my schedule is flexible and my plate is not as full I am more responsive than ever
I feel in control: When you talk about selling everything and quitting your job, many people question how you could leave that security. But with a mortgage, a stagnant economy, and the fact that I’m getting older, i.e. less employable, I didn’t feel I was leaving much behind. Now I can turn my life on a dime. I can adjust my expenses easily by locating myself in areas with lower costs of living, I can take more work if I need to. I feel fully in control of my life and I’m not beholden to an employer for my financial stability.
I am excited about the future: My nomadic lifestyle always gives me something to look forward to. It’s hard to be bored when you move a lot. You are either experiencing new things, or you are planning what you are doing next. Sometimes you are just relaxing and enjoying where you are. It’s almost impossible to not be filled with optimism if you have endless possibilities in front of you.
I am making great memories: Many people talk about how quickly time passes, I used to be that person. Time does fly when you do the same things day in day out. But now when people say “can you believe it’s March already”, I say I can’t believe it’s only March. In the last 6 months I have traveled to 3 continents, I have hiked in national parks, kayaked in mountain lakes, and tried to communicate in a language I don’t understand. I’ve done so many things I can’t believe that I fitted it all in. I am a great believer in the ethos – if you want to lead a memorable life you have to do things worth remembering.
I am so much happier: Full time travel is not all plain-sailing and it certainly isn’t a permanent vacation. It can be uncomfortable, unsettling and frankly sometimes just a pain in the ass. Finding somewhere to do laundry, dealing with cultural confusion and wondering if I’ll ever have a decent haircut again are just some of my first world problems. But I would never trade my old life for the happiness I feel and the freedom I have to schedule my own day to decide where and how I want to spend my time.
So do I have any regrets from the last 2 years? Do I miss the executive title, salary or expense account? Do I regret selling my home and most of my possessions? Absolutely not, it was the best decision I have ever made and it’s hard to imagine living any other way now. My only regret is not doing it sooner.
Not all life changes have to be quite so drastic. What changes have you made that have made you happier? What do you think would bring more happiness to you? Why do you think we prioritize things over experiences in our society?