The Freedom You Didn’t Expect
Life is full of trade-offs. To gain one thing we often have to forego something else. Soon enough, this is something every expat realizes.
The warm waters, sunshine, and relaxed pace of life in the Caribbean is wonderful, but it probably means living with a restricted choice of favorite foods and consumer goods.
The friendly vibe and low cost of living in Thailand makes it easy for you to live like a prince, but it also leaves you many timezones and air miles from your friends and family back home.
Most of us are aware of these trade-offs early in our planning to be expats and certainly find out quickly once we are on the ground in our newly chosen homes. And in the great majority of cases, we are happy with the compromises. Often we wish we’d made them years earlier than we did!
Our Own Story
My wife and I raised a large family in Idaho. Although we frequently traveled domestically with our kids, we didn’t do very much international travel with them. As they got older and started moving out, we began to make plans for our lives as expat empty-nesters.
While in Idaho we were a poster family for American consumerism and overconsumption. We lived on 13 acres, we had about a dozen licensed and insured vehicles including cars, two SUV’s, two pickup trucks, motorcycles, and ATV’s or ‘four-wheelers’ as they were called locally.
It felt like Amazon, Overstock, or Front Gate was delivering a package to us every day. A visit to Costco often cost north of $500 and filled the back of our GMC Suburban.
We had so much stuff it not only filled our home, garage and a big out building on our property, it also filled a large offsite storage rental.
Then we took a trip to San Pedro, Belize and lived out of a couple of suitcases for a few weeks.
A lightbulb went off. And I have to give credit to my wife Connie on this one; she said to me, “How about we sell the house and everything else and just travel for awhile?”
This was an easier decision for us than it would be for many people because we had already built and were operating an online business that provided all the income we needed. So moving anywhere would have zero impact on our income or on our sense of security
It took us 18 months to sell everything in our home (we only kept family photos and some treasured books.) That liquidation teaches its own lesson, by the way. All that stuff we bought at retail prices garnered about 25-cents on the dollar when it was sold off.
Fortunately for us, we completed all of this just before the 2008 financial collapse so by the time that hit we were fully liquidated and able to watch the turmoil from afar.
It felt wonderful to successfully execute a long term plan and move outside the US.
But there were a couple of big surprises we weren’t anticipating.
The New Plan
Our plan was not to sell one home and immediately buy another one somewhere else.
Instead, we wanted to sample several countries on several continents in order to find the right combination of elements that would be as close to ideal as we could manage.
Our first hurdle in our adventure was getting past the psychological conditioning from decades of travel where you’re always asking to your spouse, “How many days do we have left before we go home?”
It took at least three months to mentally adjust to the fact that there was no “home” to which to return. Instead, we had the freedom to decide whether we’d buy one-way plane tickets to Spain or maybe Hong Kong. Or perhaps just stay in Mexico another month.
And that was just a hint of what our new freedom really meant.
Own Nothing, But Enjoy Everything
There’s a quote attributed to Nelson Rockefeller; “The secret to success is to own nothing, but control everything.”
As nomadic expats we were quickly discovering a corollary axiom; “Own nothing, but enjoy everything.”
First of all, it took some adjusting to not having a stack of bills to pay every month. No insurance payments for all those vehicles, no car payments, no new brake pads, no mortgage payment, no property taxes, no utility bills, no landscaping expenses, no trips to Costco.
Of course there were other expenses. Plane tickets, hotel bills, condo rentals, AirB&B’s, taxis, car rentals, restaurants, and trips to foreign grocery stores that suddenly became an adventure of discovery instead of a mundane chore. And they all added up to a lot less expense than our old lifestyle.
And our expenses suddenly seemed entirely volitional. They felt like deliberate choices we were making instead of having relentless obligations tied to the clock and the calendar. Because they honestly were deliberate choices, and they changed from month to month according to what we really wanted.
We felt like we were in total control of our lives! We owned our lives, and very little else.
As you know, when you travel by air you’re restricted to what you can bring. We started with two checked bags each, plus one carry-on each, thinking that was a punishing minimum of items for anyone to have to endure.
Within a year we had jettisoned one checked bag each and ever since have used a maximum of one checked bag and one carry-on each. We once spent two months in Thailand using only one carry-on each.
Such was our awakening; we went from “needing” all the stuff in a four-bedroom house, plus external storage — to needing just one carry-on.
That was a level of freedom we never expected.
Yet, we can still enjoy the experiences we had when we owned all that ‘stuff.’ We’ve rented motorcycles in the Florida Keys, and Thailand, driven rental cars across Spain, Ireland, and Mexico, and rented boats and Jet-Skis on a whim.
And one of the greatest feelings you’ll experience is handing those keys back to the rental guy and just walking away knowing the maintenance, licensing, depreciation, and insurance is all somebody else’s problem! We just walk to a nice restaurant and enjoy a good meal.
Look, I know most people start down the path of being an expat because they want to reduce their tax burden, lower their living expenses, maybe live in a sunny climate, and perhaps slow down their hectic lifestyle.
I get that, I’ve experienced all of those benefits. They’re wonderful.
But having a sense of truly owning your own life, and directing your path by your own volition instead of obligation is fantastically liberating. You have to experience it to believe it.
Ready For Plan B?
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About The Author
Pete Sisco has been a successful online entrepreneur and author for over 20 years, building and operating multiple online businesses generating millions in online revenue. This business is how he helps people like our readers do the same.
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