People like us?

Back CameraI have introduced “us” as a young family with a very limited budget, but also the ability to travel and possibly live outside of the country – but that wasn’t always us.  Not so many years ago, I would have described us as a very typical American, two income family with a mortgage, car payments, and two weeks of vacation a year.  We were civil servants working towards retirement, even though it was about 30 years off.  We were happy-ish.  Then life intervened.

An injury, a forced retirement, a mad scramble to decide “what next?”.  The ensuing couple of years brought about changes that we never could have anticipated.  There were a lot of tears, a lot of late night planning sessions, and more than a couple of false starts.  One of us had been unexpectedly forced off of a very clear road, and the other one decided to chuck it all and go off-roading too.  We became two unemployed parents with no real idea of what to do now.  Ultimately, we ended up downsizing and moving back to the University to take classes and try our hand at new careers.  (Why not?)  We were sort-of, halfway successful at this endeavor, but much more successful at something far more important – a change in perspective.  Leaving the safety zone of this career-track life proved to be the most humbling, positive and life-altering experience we ever could have imagined.  Not only did we acquire new knowledge and new friends (and new debt – lots of new debt), but we were suddenly surrounded by people who were not afraid.  Universities are chock full of individuals who are dirt poor, travel extensively, and bank experiences rather than money or vacation time.  It’s not that they are lazy or lack ambition (rather the opposite, I would argue), but they have decided life is so much more than suffering through a miserable job for 30 years so that you can, hopefully, take that all-expenses-included trip when you are too old and too broken to enjoy it.

When we first started exploring the idea of travel as a family learning experience rather than a luxury, we started where everyone starts these days – internet research.  We wanted to see how “people like us” with kids and a very limited budget (or poor – if we aren’t mincing words), with more flexibility than money go about exploring the world.  There is so much information out there, but most of it is geared towards retirees, or Americans who have been transferred overseas for a job.  There isn’t much for people who are younger, with families, choosing to live and travel, either temporarily or for good, outside of the US.  But don’t let that convince you that there aren’t a lot of “us” out there.

There are, by some estimates, over 6 million Americans living outside of the country  (  Wrap your head around that number for a minute – it’s roughly 2 percent of the US population – and that’s just an estimate.  A pretty lowball estimate in my opinion.  There’s no real way to track American expats unless they are receiving social security checks overseas.  The rest are basically living “off the grid”.  (Actually, I’m sure the government is attempting to track them somehow, but the data isn’t readily available.)  Some are still paying taxes in America, as you are required to do no matter where you go.  Some aren’t.  In our research and our travels to date, we have met people who have careers that allow them to work “from home” anywhere in the world, families who have cashed it all in to take a year or more out, people who have retired early (either from the military or another similar agency), families who are living off of an inheritance, families supporting themselves with rental properties, people working as English tutors, entrepreneurs setting up shop in new locales, etc…  If you can imagine it, someone has tried it and made it work.

So, if you are considering packing up your family and traveling to a new place, don’t be discouraged.  No one is going to hand you a guide on how to make that happen.  But, I would argue that making the leap towards imagining that you could actually *do this* is the biggest step.


9 thoughts on “People like us?

  1. Hi,
    I am part of the “us” group. My husband, son and I are both Americans living in Melbourne, Australia. He got a business opportunity and we jumped at the offer to live and travel the world together as a family. We now have another son but he is Aussie–Kinda cool. In my experience, a lot of Americans say that they would do the same but if the opportunity came up…I don’t believe that they would take the leap. But since I’ve lived abroad, what we have done is common. It surprised me at first that I wasn’t the only courageous, adventurous wife out there. I do think though that it was challenging to learn about a different lifestyle or culture, even though in Australia they speak English they do things differently here. Having no family support and 2 kids under the age of 4 is sometimes a challenge. Thank goodness, I have made some friends that support me and help me when needed. Since half or most of the time my husband is flying around the world.(Sometimes we go with him)
    Have you come across the same thing?
    I am glad that I’ve found another adventurous family! In Australia they would say “good on ya”. Looking forward to reading more about your adventures.
    PS My story is on my home page: “My Life: Living the dream with my little ones in tow.” My American friends ask me all of the time how do I do it on a plane with my two. They always ask me about two hour flights and I just respond 2 hours….don’t worry you’ll be fine. There are not to many places that I go that are only a two hour flight. 😉

    • Thanks for the comment – and sorry for the late reply! We are frantically trying to sell our things and prep for our upcoming trip. I agree with you that most people would never take that leap of adventurousness – or faith – or whatever you want to call it! Right now, we live in University Housing and are surrounded by families from all over the world. They think our travels with the kids are a great idea, but by and large, our American friends think we’re a little coconuts. I commend you for making a new life for your family in such a far-flung spot, with no family support. I believe that the mark of a true traveller is someone who could be plucked down in the middle of anywhere, and in a small amount of time be able to scrounge up some friends, some good food, and a place to make your nest.I look forward to following your adventures! Heather

  2. Hi there! We’re an Aussie family who have also decided to reassess our lives, and well to be blunt ‘our priorities’ as well. A year ago we decided that we wanted to quit our jobs and sell our home and to travel with our children. As stated, you are not alone, there are a lot of ‘us’ out there, but once you make the decision and take the leap of faith, it’s liberating! The hardest part will be convincing your friends and family that you’re not nuts, and that things will work out OK. The way we saw it, what’s the worse that could happen? So what if in a years time we return home and need to start all over? At least we’ll have some great stories to tell. If you see us out there in the world one day, make sure you come over and say ‘Hi’ 🙂

    • I can’t wait to follow your blog and hear all about your travels through Europe! We sold our home a while back when we moved back to the University, but now we are in the process of selling all of our “stuff”. Honestly – you never know how much stuff you really have until you try to get rid of it all! So true about convincing your friends and family that it will be ok. I think about 80% of ours aren’t completely convinced that we are actually going to be doing this. Occasionally, I have a mild panic attack thinking about all of the things that could go wrong – but in the end – we will come back with stories to tell no matter what 😉 – Heather

      • Good luck with it all! If there’s one thing that will convince us NEVER to fill a house with ‘stuff’ again it’s how hard it’s been to get rid of it all 😉 This whole experience over the past 12 months has really changed the way we think.

      • I totally agree! When we left the states, we had six bags. Our other stuff was in a container. But for 6 months we lived out of those bags. It made me realise what things were important and what wasn’t. Our 10 month year old survived in his pack n play and it wasn’t a big deal. We slept on an air mattress in the middle of our living room. It was actually quite fun. We did have my cousin and her family visit us which was pretty interesting. I had to get plates, forks, glasses etc. They too slept on air mattress’ all over the house.

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