I 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 (http://www.aaro.org/about-aaro/6m-americans-abroad). 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.