Thoughts on life changes
Many years ago I had a blog on one those shared hosting websites. It didn’t get any traffic or comments but I enjoyed writing and putting down my thoughts (my biggest blogging mistake was not getting my own website until 2013). Recently, out of curiosity, I went back to that blog. I found this old post, written in 2008, that made me reflect on where we were at that time, where we are now (9 years later), and how life sometimes throws you curveballs. You have ideas about the future, about how you want to live and travel. Sometimes things don’t work out how you expected or even wanted.
Anyway, before I get into that here’s that old post.
Montreal – Hockey game from a Lodge box.
December 12, 2008
Last night I was lucky enough to get invited to watch a Montreal Canadiens game from a lodge box at the Bell Center. Montreal is a crazed city when it comes to hockey, I know people who would willingly donate internal organs for such an opportunity. The lodge belonged to Scotia Capital and we were about 10 invitees – free beer, Australian wine (Linderman’s Shiraz), and tons of food; smoked salmon, roast beef, chicken stuffed with something…then the desert buggy came and I had cheese cake and Grand Marnier.
Lissette and I won’t live this life forever; we both look forward to quitting our jobs and doing some travelling and settling overseas for a while. Routine kills, no matter how good life is, people need changes and new challenges. Being there last night made me realize how lucky I am and how others would think we are totally bonkers to even contemplate leaving a comfortable lifestyle for the sake of new experiences. Travelling in South-East Asia when you can stay here and be invited to soirees where you get free wine and chicken stuffed with things? Yup, we must be crazy and stupid. But we’ve also been living this life for almost 20 years now and looking around, at similarly-aged banking aquaintances who are suddenly gray-haired and aging prematurely only reinforces my thinking. You only live once.
So I’ll appreciate these great perks that come with the job when they come, and remember them with no regrets in a few years when we’re travelling through the Philippines or Indonesia or Thailand, finally living on our schedule and doing things we’ve always dreamed of doing.
How we did it
The road to our current lifestyle wasn’t a straight line. I had a comfortable well-paying job with good people that I had been working with since 1993. When I wrote the above I figured I’d get another 5 years out of it. That’s what I had budgeted for when planning to “leave it all”. Things didn’t work out that way. In 2009 the company was sold to Swiss interests. I was put in charge of restructuring all the new company’s corporate and financial operations. It started great, they loved me and I enjoyed the new responsibilities. There was even talk of moving to Geneva. Things changed about a year into the new job when the ‘newness’ faded and day-to-day routine set in. I started realizing that I couldn’t work for these people. The relationship deteriorated and 6 months later, in April of 2011, I quit/was fired. I left the company with a settlement. I was 44 years old and officially retired. And just like that, my dreams of travel were back at the forefront.
It took another 3 years before we actually left Montreal. During that time I kept busy setting up my own company, doing renovations on our Montreal condo, and planning all the details involved with leaving our lives behind. All these things have contributed to maintaining our present travel lifestyles: the company never did as well as hoped (but it still brings in monthly income), the condo was rented out when we left Montreal, and all the other details were a necessity. Living overseas itself is not at all hard, the hardest part of travel is managing all the stuff back home (taxes, paying bills, storage of your personal belongings, insurance, health care, drivers licence, banking, credit cards, etc etc). “Normal people” don’t travel for years on end and the system is not set up with our lifestyles in mind.
Lissette’s job was the last outstanding thing. Her boss didn’t want her to quit. They asked that she continue working from overseas. It ended up being a blessing.
We’ve had some people ask us recently about ‘our story’ and how we made it happen. The above covers some of that. But it doesn’t cover the years of planning, saving and investing that went into making our present lives possible. Over the last 20 years most of the decisions I made were with the idea that we would one day leave Montreal to travel and live overseas.
Expectations and changes in course
I found it interesting re-reading the above post because our travels haven’t really gone as planned or expected.
– “Travelling in South-East Asia”. Based on our budget and previous trips to SE Asia, I figured the region would be where we would be spending most of our time post-retirement. 6 months in Thailand in 2014 was enough for us, we’ve decided that SE Asia is fine for “trips” but that we didn’t enjoy long periods of time there. If we have to get really tight with money we’ll go back and probably stay in Nong Khai again. But given the choice we prefer Eastern Europe, a region that had never been on our radars.
– Money. I remember a conversation with my ex-boss Tony a few years before leaving where he said “you can never have enough money. You can budget as much as you want but things always come up“. It’s true. It also affords you a lot more possibilities. Money has meant travelling to places never in our plans, like our 7 weeks in Japan or 3 months in South Africa. Or now setting up our base in Split. Having monthly income from various sources, plus our savings, has been the key for us. We’ve met travel bloggers who gave it all up to live in corrugated metal shacks in rural Thailand. Can you imagine?
– Lifestyle. You don’t want to give up all the good things from your previous life in order to travel. You might think you can (like living in a corrugated metal shack) but why would you leave your lifestyle in the developed world to live a 3rd world existence? Lissette came to Montreal from New York, we both lived in Montreal 20+ years. We like good food and wine. I don’t miss the fancy work dinners and cocktail parties and all that came with that – but we still enjoy going to a restaurant a couple of times a month. We have certain standards. You don’t want to suddenly give up all the good things in life to travel.
All I’m saying with these last two points is don’t underestimate the need for savings and how you’ll live once overseas.
– “others would think we are totally bonkers to even contemplate leaving a comfortable lifestyle”. One of the questions we get is “how did friends and family react to your plans of leaving for this lifetyle?”. The honest answer is that you won’t get much support. Family, especially if older, will most likely consider you frivolous. It’s understandable I guess – they don’t want to see you fuck your life up. Others might look at you funny, say “why would you want to do that?”, or just evade the issue. It might be jealousy in some cases, in other cases they just don’t understand why the heck you would want to pack up your life and leave to travel. We basically learned not to talk about it with others, it just left us feeling uncomfortable. When the time came we just announced it. No discussion. In the end it’s your life and you have to have the conviction to carry out your hopes and dreams (whatever they may be). We’ve spoken to many people like ourselves and they’ve said the same about their family and friend’s reactions. Don’t expect support.
I wrote that post only 9 years ago. In many ways the way we’ve travelled, the places we’ve been, and our lifestyles have been very different than what I had thought they’d be back in 2008. I think this is important because I sometimes read posts by younger people who talk of travelling and making money doing odd jobs, freelancing or becoming “travel bloggers” without having the financial means, a backup plan, or considering their lives further in the future. Just because someone wants to travel today it doesn’t mean they’ll want to do that indefinitely. What if they want to start a family down the line? Or buy a house? Or have savings? Where will you be in 25 years? I see the changes over 9 years in our lives, even in the way we’ve travelled over the last 3 years, and I think people wanting to travel have to leave their minds open to possible changes down the line. Are you leading yourself down a one way street choosing a life of travel? Coming from a financial background one of the terms I like to use is “opportunity cost” ie. the loss of other opportunities when one opportunity is chosen. Are you sacrificing good income producing years in order to travel? I’m just saying that leaving at the right time, with enough money saved up, is important.
One last thing from that old post:
– “We’ve also been living this life for almost 20 years now and looking around, at similarly-aged banking aquaintances who are suddenly gray-haired and aging prematurely only reinforces my thinking. You only live once”. Lissette hadn’t really travelled much before meeting me and she was more nervous than I was about leaving everything behind to travel. Over the last year I’ve heard her saying “I only wish we had started this lifestyle earlier” more than once. Our plans may not have gone exactly according to plan but this is for me the ultimate confirmation of our choices. We’ve lived more in the last 3 years than in the previous 9 years together. It may not always be easy but it’s never stopped been stimulating. I’ve voiced my misgivings about people prematurely leaving their lives behind to travel – done right it can be a fantastic and rewarding lifestyle. Neither of us could ever go back to working in an office, doing the usual 9-5. Never. Nobody wants to go backwards in life. Would I want to move back into that small apartment I had when I was a university student? No. Being back in an office working 9-5 would be equivalent to that.
What I really take away from reading old posts however is how things change. Documenting our lives and our travels is why I started the blog. I think it’s why some people keep diaries. You might have certain ideas of what you want at a certain point in life but those change with time. Attitudes change. And stuff happens in life that you can’t change even if you wanted to (back to my guiding principle of “Shit Happens”). 9 years from now I’ll probably be looking at this post and reflecting on how much life has changed from the present. Expectations and hopes for the future will most likely be totally different than they are now.
I just hope I’m not living in a corrugated metal shack in Thailand.
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