Guest post : Our gap year for grown ups

financial independence

What if there were a secret community of people roaming the world on gap years…or even on perpetual holiday?

Last year I got an intriguing email from Jason, a reader who explained how what had started as a gap year for grown ups turned into something more. 

When I was in the Prison Camp, I had no idea that people are travelling round Europe in comfort on £8,600 per person per year or less. Who knew?

So I asked Jason (who blogs at ourtour.co.uk) to tell their story. Enjoy!

The Escape Artist

Jason1.JPGMy wife Julie and I are financially free aged 43. Our lifestyle now revolves around travel, and we’re currently winding our way slowly across Europe in a motorhome. As I write this* we’re in Rimini on the Italian Adriatic coast, and the sun is shining.

We chose not to have children, a decision which made financial independence (FI), much easier to achieve, although that choice wasn’t about money since neither of us had even heard of FI before we turned 40.

In our old lives, we worked as salaried employees in the offices of corporations. I worked in IT, Julie worked in marketing. I started off as a technical author and worked my way up to project manager. Julie started off as a receptionist and ended up as a marketing manager. We both studied outside of work, worked daft hours and took on team manager jobs to get promoted. By the time we quit, we were both managing teams and earning £90,000 per year between the two of us.

I’m from a working class family and the shift into management was hard for me to handle. I really struggled to understand the skills needed to manage people. We can’t claim to be brave for quitting work; I had a work-related breakdown and initially we just stopped work to take a year out and recover. Things took an interesting twist from that point onwards.

Before the gap year, we lived in a three bedroom detached house on a corner plot with an extended garage, in Nottinghamshire. A hot tub bubbled away in the garden, perpetually heated. The garage and loft were well stuffed with years of accumulated belongings. Counting them up, we were surprised to find we had at least seven computers and two games consoles. Our evenings would be spent sat in front of a wall-mounted plasma TV browsing through the Virgin+ listings with one eye on a tablet. I’d set up a night vision web cam which enabled us to monitor our dog’s sleeping habits over the Internet. We had two cars, a camper van and a motorbike. All fairly standard, middle class behaviour I guess, but we were far from feeling fulfilled.

I became desperate to exit work. I felt the darkness of depression pulling me down me into what felt like a deep hole in the earth. Julie was in better shape, but wasn’t immune to the stresses of her work environment either.

A TV series about people paying their mortgages off in two years prompted us to attempt the same. We started to clear out our stuff, and as more of it went on eBay, the more we realised our precious things had little value. Our buying slowed as a result, and all the money previously spent on ‘stuff’ now went towards paying off the mortgage. Momentum built until one day, amazingly only three years later, the mortgage was gone. With the mortgage gone, and our buying habit with it, our savings went ballistic.

We worked out roughly what a year traveling in a motorhome would cost us, based on previous two week holidays, and as soon as the bank account hit that level, we pulled the trigger, handed in notices and started serious planning for a year on the road. We bought a second hand motorhome and spent the evenings sticking ‘go here’ post-it notes on a map of Europe. Moving our remaining belongings into the loft and a storage facility, we let our house out.

The trip was intended to give us time and space to find new vocations, a mid-life crisis of sorts. We’d worked hard to be able to take this once-in-a-lifetime adventure, and had every intention of returning to our home and work after the year was up. Of course neither of us knew it, but this act of travelling would eventually set us on the path to FI. The travel proved we could thrive on limited resources, since everything is limited in a motorhome; space, weight, electricity, water, gas, diesel, even the capacity of the loo!

It proved we could happily live together, in a small space, 24/7. It proved that we valued experiences over possessions. It was proof that spending £17,216 a year was enough for the two of us to live a great life (we’ve met people who are comfortable on far less). And, most importantly, fellow travellers we met introduced us to the ‘pre-retirement’ FI concept, such an outlandish idea we’d possibly have never been exposed to otherwise. The gap year continued beyond 12 months as we found ways to stretch our time on the road by reducing our costs, but eventually we spent all but our emergency fund and needed to head home and find work.

At this point we’d been free for two years. This kind of freedom was something neither of us had experienced in the past. No deadlines. No commutes. No pointless slide packs. No 6am flights. No bosses. No reorganisations. No office politics. No fighting for days off. No performance reviews. All of it gone, leaving us free to decide where we went, what we did.

The most formative experiences for me were probably in the financially poorer countries, Morocco, Tunisia and Ukraine, where we realised that even on our self-constrained budget, we lived a life of kings.

One day walking a market near the Libyan border, a local tried to buy our dog. On reflection we realised this was quite a reasonable thing or him to do, since we were leading an animal around a market on what looked like a piece of string. Attempting to explain we couldn’t sell him as he was part of our family yielded a very confused Arab, and drove home to me just how luxurious a life we lead.

At the end of all of this, as our wheels touched the earth at Dover, I burst into tears. The burning desire to regain freedom, what I referred to as our ‘blinding light’, was ablaze. Nothing would stop us getting that freedom back.

Only now did we start to truly pursue FI. A friend we met on the road introduced us to Robert Kiyosaki’s book Rich Dad Poor Dad, which shifted our consciousness sideways. Although it stated what now seems quite obvious, none of the ideas came naturally to me. I rummaged around the Internet looking for inspiration, finding the outstanding Early Retirement Extreme and Mr Money Moustache blogs and devouring them.

We dusted off our personal pension plan statements, something we’d never looked at previously, to discover we’d been investing in them for 18 years. Combined and compounded, they’d grown to a sizeable investment. Since we were too young to access them though, we needed an alternative approach, and set about finding the best ways for us to achieve additional income. Going back to corporate life to earn the money for our investments, we set up our own business and worked as consultants in our chosen fields.

We bought and renovated another property to rent out and also started a ‘trial investment’ in Vanguard funds, since neither of us had directly invested in the stock market before, and were nervous of it.

After only two years at home, we’d hit the crossover point – we had enough passive income coming in to cover our outgoings.

In retrospect, we did it too quickly, and this time Julie suffered depression, since cured with help from the fantastic NHS.  We don’t know what caused it; probably us pushing too hard. When we weren’t commuting or working, we were renovating. By that point our living expenses were so low and our passive income was already flowing and by the end we were saving 100% of both our salaries. With hindsight, we’d take a gentler approach.

Do we still worry about money? Sure. There’s a leap of faith required to quit regular jobs, a worry that you’ve somehow missed something. But we don’t agonise over safe withdrawal rates. I’ve modelled our personal cashflow out based on varying rental yields, interest rates and inflation rates. We have an emergency fund big enough to cover at least 3 years even if all other income sources dried up.

Now our investments are based on rental properties, personal pensions, two roof-mounted solar arrays, Vanguard ETFs and cash ISAs. We track all our spending and, even though we no longer work, we’re still steadily building up our emergency fund from passive income, so we’re getting safer and safer. We consider the whole thing an experiment though, ultimately. It might “fail”, in which case we’ll find work of some sort.

Freedom for us means we’ve joined a community of people from all walks of life who travel for various lengths of time in a motorhome. Airline pilots, builders, doctors, business owners, paramedics, teachers, policemen, lawyers, you name it, they’re out on the road wandering. Continental Europe is far more geared up for his kind of community than the UK, and many countries have hundreds of low-cost or free official or semi-official overnight stopovers available.

Many people opt to overwinter somewhere warm in Greece, Spain, Portugal, Sicily or Morocco, and campsites there will charge as little as €6 a night for the privilege. Our wanderings haven’t seen us stay still for long, and we tend to move every day or two, which makes it difficult to become bored. Our time is spent on research, driving, planning, walking, taking photographs, swimming, updating our travel blog, writing, reading and whatever else takes our fancy. We even wrote and self-published two books on taking a motorhome to Morocco, which we enjoyed massively, not least because it helped prove to us we could earn from sources other than a salary.

Our current plan (which changes by the day) is to take a ferry from Ancona to Croatia and travel up the Adriatic coastline as spring emerges. We’ll then most likely cross Slovenia into Austria, and through a route which has to take in the Czech Republic (so I can stock up on lager there), we’ll head though Poland and the Baltic States to Finland. Our goal this year is to head into the Arctic in the summer months and reach the North Cape in Norway, before exploring the islands and fjords and working our way back to the UK via Sweden and Denmark. By the time we arrive back in the UK, we’ll have spent three years on the road, and slept in around 750 different places.

We plan to come back, see friends and family, eat fish and chips and maybe do some interim work before going travelling again. Plans are afoot for another winter tour of Morocco with another FI couple we know. What happens after that, we don’t know.

We still have our base in the UK. We have storage for the motorhome at a nearby farm, so we could opt to come back at any time, if we decide to do more paid work or want to be near family for example. The idea is to maintain a good level of flexibility to deal with whatever circumstances the future brings.

Life has taken some twists and turns for us. We’re both from hard working families. My father was a coal miner and I’m proud of him for the long years he worked at the coal face, although I wish he’d been able to support his family without wrecking his health. We worked hard too, but working hard wasn’t fulfilling our basic need to be happy, so something had to change.

As smiling Moroccan’s would tell us as they attempted to sell us everything under the sun: “you Europeans may have watches, but we Moroccans have time!”. Now neither Julie nor I wear a watch. Given a choice between a watch and an unforgettable local meal out, we’d choose the experience every time.

Nope, no watches, but we most certainly have time.

Beynac, France.JPG

*TEA note: this article was originally written in 2016. Jason & Julie returned to the UK recently and here is Jason’s July 2017 update:

What next? Well, I’m getting geared up for a three month contract, doing some technical writing for an old manager of mine, who is also a friend. We don’t need the money, but I need the focus of work for a while, and the money will no doubt find a home. Various ideas are bouncing around as to what we do in the coming year, but nothing has firmed itself up yet. Having a purpose is important in life, and we’re turning attention to finding that purpose again.

26 comments

  1. AdventureRich · · Reply

    I love the Moroccan wisdom “you Europeans may have watches, but we Moroccans have time!” What a quote! I may need to start ditching my watch on my days off. What a great adventure, Jason and Julie! Thank you for sharing!

  2. Brilliant

  3. Steveark · · Reply

    I felt odd when I read this post and it makes me wonder if I’m the strange one here. I get early retirement and actually did retire a little early but it seems that life would be a much better journey if you absolutely loved your job and even getting up on Monday mornings so you could get to go to work, like I did, and then still retired early to reinvent yourself a second time. So many in the FIRE community seem to have an aversion to the full time work world when I loved that part of my life nearly as much as I love the retired and financially free part I’m living now. I don’t miss my old job at all but neither do I regret it in the least, it is just a bunch of fond memories and gave me most of the life skills I still use every day.

  4. Chris and Peter · · Reply

    I stopped working ten years ago and my husband has worked half time since 2010. We are 58 now. We also have a saying: you cannot make time, but you can buy it! ;-))

  5. Hi Steveark,

    I’m the author of the article. I couldn’t agree with you more. I would have loved to have loved my job, but I simply didn’t (there were few in my office that did, although my dad loved his work on the coal face). I envy you for what you had, and I envy others who also have a passion for what they do for work. I didn’t have an aversion to full time work, I had an aversion to the anxiety and ultimately the depression I was feeling, the sensation of sinking alone into a deep dark hole. By hitting FI we’ve bought ourselves options, self-control over what we do and when, we haven’t ‘given up work’. I’m off back to the office next week for a few months, while we work out what to do next, which will probably be more travel. In a sense I guess, you could say that the travel and associated blogging and book writing is a form of work, something which I’ve finally found I’m passionate about?
    Cheers,
    Jason

  6. Steveark · · Reply

    Jason, I get that and I really didn’t meet many people in my career or life for that matter, that enjoyed their jobs as much as I did, or at all for the most part. I always wondered if I was just a weird duck or if other people just hadn’t found the right job? I think engineers in general are a little happier than many other workers because the nature of the work gives the kind of creative outlet that the kind of people that major in engineering enjoy. I say that but neither of my two engineer kids really enjoyed their engineering jobs and switched to other careers. The great thing is you’ve figured out what works for you and your spouse instead of just accepting a lifetime of toughing it out. Great blog!

  7. I love these guys and have been following their blog for years. In fact it was via their blog that I found TEA’ s blog. I am also taking early retirement from my job…a job I love. If you are interested on why I am leaving a job I love, read my latest blog post😄

  8. Like Gilda we love these guys, even though we never met them. We are planning to pretty much copy them, but Im still in a state of shock that Jason is going back to work. Yet, I can see myself do the same thing, but I have to be able to quit first. 🙂

  9. Thanks Gilda and Simon! Hey, I’m a bit in shock too that I’m going to work too! But a few points might clarify things a bit:

    1. I’ve found working as a freelancer/contractor/hired gun suits me far better than being an employee. I do the hours, I give it my all, and then I leave. I tend to have a defined scope to deliver to, which I can easily measure myself against. I quite like working in this way; I fully commit to what I’m doing, but I don’t fully commit to being an enduring part of the organisation. This feels like a more truthful working relationship to me.
    2. We don’t really need the income. That feels good, we’re not being forced to do work we don’t want to do, it’s entirely optional (I was asked to come and do the job, not the other way around). The money won’t (if we can stay strong) go into more investments, but into a Full-On Fun Fund to blow on an even more outrageously luxurious lifestyle than we currently enjoy. Or at the rate Charlie’s going, on ever-more exotic medications to fend off old age for a few years more!
    3. We were (read as: I was) getting jaded from travelling. We’d seen so many ‘big sights’, new places often couldn’t compete, and there was no ‘stretch’ in what we were doing: driving to the Sahara? Done that, three times. Northern Lights? Twice. Country in a State of Emergency: yep, for 6 weeks, travelling alone. Sounds ungrateful, I know, but we need a break from it to give us perspective again.
    4. Before we pulled the trigger and ‘retired early’, we had an email conversation with someone who’d done it already. In it we explained all the things we wanted to stop doing: commuting, rushing, PowerPoint, managing people, working 70 hour weeks, and so on. An insightful response came back: “but what do you want to START doing?”. My answer was travel. Looking back 18 months and half a continent later, that’s an appropriate answer still, but we need to do some other stuff too. To work out what the other stuff will be requires us to engage our imaginations, which is going to take a bit of mulling time. In among working, we’ll do some beer-fuelled scribbling sessions in the local beer gardens to get our ideas formulated for the coming months. Having had work and then travel to occupy our 100+ waking hours a week for decades, thinking up new stuff and then having the gumption to get out there and do it is a challenge.

    I still fully endorse the state of being financially free, but Ju and I deliberately engineered and entered this state with the intention of working more in the future, just working on our terms. I’m currently also pondering the ideas of being a barman/handyman/book writer/charity shop stuff sorter/dog whisperer/wood whittler/long distance uni-cycler (a mate suggested this one), volunteer beer taster…

    Cheers, Jay

  10. Survivor · · Reply

    Now that should have been the centrepiece of a financial independence documentary. As an aside it never fails to amaze me when I meet people all the time who tell me with absolute certainty that it cannot be done. I just keep quiet now because they seem to really need to believe it badly for their world view to be safe – I used to gently try to explain, but gave up when the most common response was increasingly agitated cognitive dissonance. If a person wants something enough, they never stop trying new ways to get it, whatever the received wisdom …..it used to be heresy & quite dangerous to beg to differ with the flat-earthers.

  11. Jason: I thought that your comment on that retire at 40 programme was the most worthwhile take away (as a lot of TEA’s contribution was mangled by stupid editing) – “‘follow your own path and don’t listen to the negativity of others” – something along those lines ? Inspirational story and have enjoyed your blog for sometime – since finding it, whenever I see a motorhome, I see freedom now as opposed to something that I need to overtake.
    Is learning to drive them on the continent a steep learning curve ?

  12. […] What’s another term for “mini retirement”? Gap Years. In a guest post @ The Escape Artist, the Our Tour couple shares their awesome story in More Gap Years for Grownups. […]

  13. I love the idea of an adult version of a gap-year. I never took a real gap year to travel after university and it’s something I regret. I feel like I didn’t have the travel bug back then but I certainly do now…right when work is always in the way!

  14. FrugalFox · · Reply

    I have 6 years left until I retire (42). This just motivated me to push even hard. Being done by 40 would be an amazing achievement.
    I never took a gap year because I started a job straight from University (drop out not degree 😉 ) Luckily work now pays for me to do a lot of travelling around the world.

  15. Great to see these inspirational case studies of people that have escaped the prison camp. Well done Jason and Julie.

  16. John Bray · · Reply

    I did a 8 month RTW trip at 35, and a 6 month one at 40, before FIRE at 49. Travel is one of my key drivers, but so now is gardening, and will be hard to combine the two. Work was never a driver… One blessing of travel is you can remember what you were doing each year, much harder if you were just at work. Mind you I guess raising a family gives that sense of time location too.

  17. Love this article. I have been reading posts on their site over the past month.

    I feel like I am going through the beginnings of the same dark cloud that pushed Jason to leave his job. I must exit work soon. I work in a toxic workplace and just don’t enjoy going to work every day. I just want to quit and walk away to something more interesting before I have a complete breakdown. I am on the edge…lol…

    I am trying hard to save and cross the line to FI freedom – nearly there! Travelling on £18k across Europe sounds great. Finland is on my list of places I want to travel.
    Keep posting your progress and travels, its great motivation for me.

    1. Hi Sparklebee….all the best on your journey to FI freedom. All I’d add is that for anyone else who is more than say 1 year from the finish line, its probably not very sensible to risk depression, illness etc by just trying to “push on through” when they are truly miserable. Better to start by making some other changes (sleep, exercise, diet) and considering a change of job!

  18. I’ve previously worked in the same large utility company as Jason and I’ve always been an advocate of financial education and sound financial management. I turned 45 last week and I’ve been financially independent for about 5 years. Through hard work I was able to pay off my first mortgage in 5 years and and bought my second house for cash ( just before the extra stamp duty rules kicked in). I’ve been stoozing for years and always gained satisfaction in borrowing one bank’s money at 0% and then lending it to another bank at a higher interest rate. I’ve got a 3 year old son and I’m now pretty much at the point where I think it’s time to leave full time employment but making that final jump makes me rather nervous even though my trusty spreadsheet indicates I’ll do just fine even in a worst case scenario. Having read many many FI blogs and articles it seems that you need to know what you’ll be doing with your “extra time”. If I left today it would give me a year to spend with my son full time before he heads off to school.

  19. Steve Patrick · · Reply

    My wife and I have been FI since 2009, were (not we’re) 50 & 48, thanks to finial salary pensions taken early. We looked at and very nearly bought a motorhome back then, but talked ourselves out of it. We’ve been travelling and housesitting since, but somehow manage to spend way more than our joint income on a monthly basis. Obviously this can’t go on without having to return to paid employment at some point. We are currently revisiting the motorhome idea, and have just happened upon your blog, especially the bits about living within a budget, something up until now we have struggled with. Great reading, great ideas and thanks for posting. Good luck to you both for the future.

    Steve & Clare Patrick.

  20. Love it, very inspiring. (Might want to change the picture though, Julie is wearing a watch)

  21. I took a gap year in 2015 to build our house. It would have been nice to sightsee like you guys were able to, but, being able to literally save tens of thousands of dollars in labor was an awesome tradeoff.

  22. Love your story. We are currently in a 20 month mini-retirement. We also enjoy travel, but not full time. It’s great to find the right balance of things that matter to you. And most of it we just have to learn as we go!

  23. Prometheus · · Reply

    I find it interesting that many comments here are from graduates, Jason isn’t, so has, most likely had to work far harder to attain the result he has acheived,

    I’d rather not publicise my ability to exit the rat race due only to a successful start (assuming I had one). After all there are plenty of people who are half way to having it all through no effort of their own. For many well paid workers FI is just forgoing a few luxuries…..

    Perhaps hearing more from those who have had to work from the most difficult starting points would be the most inspiring?

    Regards
    Prometheus, expecting to be flamed, such is a Titan’s eternity…….

  24. Jason,

    I’d be curious on your advice to your younger self or perhaps those in their 20s? I’m assuming good financial habits abound so I’d be more curious about how you view work now and perhaps what you would change looking back? It sounds like you are enjoying the freelancing life, looking back, do you wish you had started this earlier? Perhaps wish you hadn’t bothered with managing people and focused on a craft like you will in your next contract?

    I only found your blog through the infamous TV programme, kudos as it’s a joy to read, much like that of TEA.

    Regards,

    Nick

  25. @Prometheus – I’ve a degree in Physics. As noted above, I came from a working class family, but they supported me in being the first to get A levels and then a degree. Ju doesn’t have a degree though, she worked her way up without it. I worked my way up with it. Either way, just having a degree doesn’t guarantee success – working your nuts off, endless study and believing in yourself does. I certainly had a good start in life though – without the sacrifices my parents made for me, I’d not be sat where I am.

    @Nick – freelancing suits me well. The risk associated with it was enough to put me off for years, and my advice to my previous self would be to understand that risk, to research it, to believe in your self and take a chance. The advantages of doing it are both financial and non-financial. I’m not meant to be a company man, it never suited me. Managing people didn’t suit me either, but taught me a great deal, I don’t regret getting into it. In the end it made me more than I was before.

    Cheers, Jason

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Mr. Money Mustache

You can escape to financial freedom...

Altucher Confidential

You can escape to financial freedom...

Monevator

You can escape to financial freedom...

Mad Fientist

Financial Independence

jlcollinsnh

The Simple Path to Wealth

%d bloggers like this: