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!
I’m so excited for you three!! And now is the time to do it because your daughter will be too young to be stuck to a school schedule (though of course the homeschooling option makes that a moot point if you ever decide to go that route).
Thank you! We can’t wait! More details in the next few posts, but it’s happening soon. REALLY soon. We are headed someplace where we would actually be psyched to have our daughter in school, if she was ready for that… but you are right, this is even better!
This is a decision that you will not regret!!! After teaching in Melbourne, Australia, my wife and kids (aged 4 months and 2 .3 years] departed for Europe for a year… and had an amazing time— so much so that, in another 10 years I would depart from Ottawa— and 26 years later I still travel 6+ months a year.
I currently live in a place that would easily satisfy all of your (listed) requirements, plus others not listed! Penang would satisfy all– with a great quality of life. There are 2 visa options that would work— and there is already a vibrant community of people who work (part time) at “internet related” jobs.
Mark, thank you for the congrats and the encouragement! Penang sounds amazing! The only thing that kept us away from Southeast Asia (which we love) for the time being is the general cultural attitudes towards dogs. We’re very, very likely to spend some time in the neighborhood once the dogs pass on, though.
The “dog issue” [other than quarantine in Oz etc] isn’t much of an issue here [we do not eat them as is done in Vietnam] and we even have very professional Vets….
I don’t doubt it! I wasn’t worried about them getting eaten, not to worry… we just went a different way, but will surely find ourselves in that neighborhood before too long.
Sweet ass! Hope you blog about your traveling life here so we can follow along!
We will definitely be blogging (and possibly also a new medium!) about it! Stay tuned on that!
So excited for you guys!! Plus now we have a new international destination to visit
We’ll have a place for you to stay for sure!!
Congratulations! I can’t wait to read about where you’ve chosen to go!
Thank you! We are seriously out-of-our-minds excited to start sharing this adventure, and it will be soon!
“$42,000 per year, or $3,500 per month” . I’m planning to do the same, in 2 years, and i’m trying to decide how much we need saved up. w/ a kid…seems like 42k/yr is nowhere near enough…but i look forward to seeing the details as you embark. $45kX25 is around $1.1M? whew!
$1500 house rental leaves $2k/mth for: insurance, food, plane tickets, internet, electric bill (in hot places), and a budget for unexpected and touring/car rental/having fun. not to mention if there are taxes to pay and accounting for inflation. that doesnt seem like enough of a budget? guess it depends on how good at frugal a family is…. 🙂
Is working 1/2 time for a client abroad risky? (for most, it very much is…the design/web/programming/SEO/etc fields are very competitive and it’s so easy to find hungry cheap young programmers around the world to do the same for less). This happens to be my risk (i’m a web app programmer…wish it wasnt so hard to keep 1/2 time somewhere).
Yeah, I think if this was going to be a long-term thing with no work, we’d want to be somewhere between $1-1.5M invested. A possible hint on where we’re going- $42K represents about 3x the minimum wage for a local, and it’s in a developed nation. The locals benefit from nationalized healthcare, so of course we have insurance costs that they do not have. That said, since we’re insuring with a local private insurer, the cost to insure our full family with zero copay and zero deductible is actually less than my high deductible coverage just for myself here in the US. If we were to forgo our plan to travel extensively within the country and to neighboring countries, 42K would be a massive, safe amount of money per year. While we will probably spend $1500 on an actual house to get parking, a lot of space, a garden, etc., nice apartments with terraces with 2-3 bedrooms are available for 1/3rd to 1/2 of that amount. A lot of our cost comes from the fact that we are choosing to have a car and we need to account for our dogs. For a family with fewer “gotchas,” $3500 would be enough to really live it up.
There is some risk that the work could evaporate, but we’ve set aside the cash needed to get us through the year, move us back to the US, and get us set back up somewhere, so we’re not going to worry about it. Our ~50% FIRE status gives us some flexibility to weather a job loss or downturn in the economy, so we felt like this was a level of risk we were comfortable with.
Having left professional level jobs in 1982—- my partner/wife and I had “massive savings” of about $35,000— we have managed to live very well since. First we lived for 6 years on a sailboat in the Eastern Caribbean— at annual costs about $9,000. Then we moved “on shore” (in Barbados) where our annual costs we less than $ 20-24,000— and we had at least 4 months holidays in Europe and North America/year. After another 22 years (with the arrival of the :financial crisis”) we moved to another great Island– Penang, Malaysia. Here, the quality of life is amazing— very affordable Medical Insurance, ultra low incidence of crime,competent state government, multi- ethnic, religious and cultural… and great food, very hi speed internet. Costs of travel in SE Asia about $1,500-1875/month [we now travel 6+ months a year]— and own a 3 br, 1500 sq ft seaside condo. Annual costs for travels and living are about $25,000/year!!!
Very cool, and sounds like an amazing adventure! I’m assuming you ultimately went back to some form of work, since the originally $35K is probably long gone? Sounds like there’s a great blog in this, if you don’t already have one!
Actually, we never did “go back” to anything near FT employment…. BUT, we did decide to invert the “work/leisure formula”— i.e. instead of consulting 11 months a year and vacationing 1— we consulted 1 month/year over a 20+ year period…. Then I decided to be my own client— and we started 9 small businesses (all succeeded) — but we worked 2-3 days/week while vacationing 4-6 months/year. for over 30 years— and now we “clip coupons” 9 minutes/quarter!!!
First of all… CONGRATULATIONS !! It takes a lot of PELOTAS not only thinking about it, but executing the dream. I recommend you look into Ecuador and possibly Costa Rica.
I highly recommend you read/join International Living https://internationalliving.com/ as an excellent source of info on the topic (I get nothing back from them for promoting them, just my pleasure of helping out another Vagabundo !!) Suerte !!!
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I’m curious if you are still on track for your early retirement abroad. We revised our pans due to Covid.
We moved abroad in 2018 and still live in Spain. If anything, it has accelerated our FIRE trajectory. We are FI and will probably RE in a couple of years, depending on the market, our appetite for travel, possible plans to spend a year in a HCOL city here in Europe, and a few other factors. All things considered, it has been an incredible choice for us. Thankfully we were here and settles long before the pandemic.