The journey to this moment began almost 18 months ago. My wife and I had just gotten married. Our combined net worth was around $350,000, and we agreed that this number was somewhere between 25-35% of the savings we need for retirement.
We went out to dinner and had one of our occasional “how are we doing” talks. As always happens when we have one of those talks, we discuss our progress towards our goals, whether or not we should rethink them, and just generally try to answer the question of whether we’re doing everything we can to maximize our happiness, and whether what constitutes “happy” might have changed. As usual, we discussed our love of travel, and wondered aloud: would our one-to-two-time-per-year travel habit be enough to get us all the way to our FIRE lifestyle of slow travel?
As it turned out, the answer was no. We just couldn’t see ourselves working continuously for the 5 or 6 years we believed we would need to hit our retirement number. Though we weren’t dissatisfied with our lives, we both believed that taking steps to be happier, even if it meant slowing our progress somewhat, was the right decision for us.
By the end of the meal, we had mutually agreed that taking a sabbatical to travel was the right solution for us. We further realized that if we left that table without a specific, concrete goal, it might never happen. That night (back in 2016), we set the following goal: Sometime in the year 2018, we will leave our jobs. We will travel and live abroad for a minimum of a year (longer if income allows for it).
It’s important to note that this kind of conversation would have been absolutely insane just a few short years ago, when both of us were crushed beneath the weight of consumer debt. That we even had the ability to consider a sabbatical was because FIRE is a spectrum, not an ending point. Every dollar buys us more flexibility. The amount we had saved to date, and anticipated saving before 2018, gave us confidence that we could change course without fear of starving or becoming homeless.
That night, we began to change our thinking, our saving, and our lifestyle in pursuit of our new goal. We were moving abroad, and we had 18 months to achieve everything needed to reach that goal. The countdown was on!
Who’s Leaving the Country and How Much Can We Spend?
When we set our goal, our arbitrary idea was to spend as much on our total cost of living abroad as we spend on our mortgage here in Silicon Valley. That comes out to about $42,000 per year, or $3,500 per month. Depending on where we ended up and whether we might be able to earn some additional passive income, we might spend up to an additional $1,000 per month on road trips, flights, accommodation, and other travel-related expenses to explore our surroundings, visit home, and bring certain family members to visit us.
We further agreed that we wouldn’t ever leave our dogs behind, as we consider them important members of our family. Wherever we went, they would go too. We needed to be able to safely transport them to our destination and find a home that would suit them– or even make their lives better than they have been, living in our condo lo these many years.
Baby Vagabond Forces a Rethink
Of course, all of this came before Mrs. Vagabond was pregnant with Baby Vagabond. We learned that our little one was on her way one night in March of 2017. Of course, we quickly agreed that our plans to live abroad would need to be scrapped in favor of stability, a minivan, moving to a good school district, and– as most parents in Silicon Valley are obligated to do– two full time jobs, and baby in daycare.
What? No! Hell no!
Whether we would persist was never really in any doubt. If anything, our resolve to live abroad was strengthened, and our dream enhanced, by learning that our daughter would be joining us. What parent wouldn’t want their child to grow up with the richness and depth of experience that living abroad brings? As we began to consider the kind of person we wanted to raise, the words compassionate and thoughtful came up again and again. We know of no better way to develop compassion and thoughtfulness than to allow our baby to see the way that people live all over the world, and to experience their cultures firsthand.
What’s more, we as parents are better served by being able to devote ourselves completely to the task of parenting an infant– and caring for each other– without work competing for our attention and elevating our stress. We hope that we will be able to focus on each other almost exclusively during this time. The one caveat is that I will continue to work half-time for my current client for as long as they would like me to. The half-time schedule should cover all of our budgetary needs (and then some) for as long as the work continues. If it does, we will have the option to continue our travel indefinitely. Even if the work evaporates, every month of part-time work adds the option for another month or more to the end of our sabbatical.
We did need to rethink our destination requirements in order to make sure that we served the needs of our growing family, and they are as follows.
- A country which offers year-long (or greater) visas to Americans at low cost, and which does not require visa runs or other behaviors which jeopardize long-term stays.
- A country with well-developed medical care for baby and postpartum mom.
- A city where we could live a full, satisfying life for a family of three with an overall budget of under $3,500 per month.
- A city with high quality of life, low pollution and moderate or better crime.
- A nearby airport serviced by a budget airline with attractive, inexpensive destinations.
- A city or country with inexpensive flights back to our home country/metro area.
- A country where at least one of us (and preferably both) speak the language.
- Widely available house rentals for $1,500 per month or less.
- Good availability of high-speed internet.
- Dog- and baby-friendly country and city.
- Rich and diverse culture, food, and activities nearby. Quality of life is paramount!
So, which city ended up making the cut? When do we leave? Well… we’ll tell you all about it in just a couple of days! In the meantime, feel free to speculate in the comments!