How to Become Location Independent When You’re Not Yet Financially Independent

In today’s world, thanks to globalization, fast modems, and cheap airfare, it’s increasingly possible to live anywhere. So why don’t we? Mr. ThreeYear and I live in New Hampshire because of his job. We live in the US because it’s an English-speaking country where I was born and raised.

It’s been a dream for some time, though, to become location independent, not to be tied down by employment to one particular city or town,  so that we can move abroad, or even split our year between Chile, where his family lives, or the Carolinas, where my family is.

santiago graffiti--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Mr. ThreeYear and the boys in front of some prime Santiago graffiti

Dreams are fun, and they inspire you to think big and imagine. They can also inspire a certain amount of dissatisfaction with your life, if you let them. When I was always dreaming about moving abroad, but felt it was impossible, it was very frustrating.

However, when Mr. ThreeYear and I sat down and figured out how we could become location independent before we were completely financially independent, within a three-year time frame, those dreams again became phenomenally motivating and this blog was born.

So how is it possible to become location independent, like GoCurryCrackers of the world, without being retired?

The good news is, in today’s world, it is infinitely possible. There are many books written on the subject, like the gold standard, Tim Ferriss’s The Four Hour Work Week. There’s an entire subset of travel bloggers who make their living through their writing and are eternal travelers (some I follow are yTravelblog and GoatsontheRoad). More and more people are taking breaks between jobs to travel for months or years.

Buen Retiro Park Madrid--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Travel the world or hang out at home? Or both?

Making the Decision

The hardest part, in my opinion, is psychological. Making the decision to leave your comfortable surroundings, uproot your family, and move to an unknown locale, takes a lot of courage. It might be hard to hear comments from friends and family who wonder aloud at your choices. You may worry that uprooting your kids would be upsetting, especially if you have kids with learning disabilities or other needs.

If your family is in a bad financial place, with a lot of debt and uncertain employment opportunities, I understand the fear. But many of us are stuck in a rut, living out lives that aren’t necessarily satisfying to us, because we’ve never thought long and hard about what we really want. Most of the time, travel opens our eyes and expands our horizons, and living in another culture gives our kids incredibly, eye-opening, life-changing perspective. Living in an international location can often be much cheaper than developed countries like the US, and there’s much less pressure to have all the latest gadgets (after all, you’ve just moved abroad) so with proper planning and the right job, you might be making a better financial move.

popsicle mercado--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
‘Cause popsicles in other countries taste better.

Figuring Out What You Really Want

A few years back, I sat down with a piece of paper, and wrote down everything I thought I wanted. I wrote for a long time, as per the instructions. My initial wants were materialistic and silly–a new car, a big house (this was before my financial enlightenment, mind you). As I wrote over a few pages, my true wants became clear: a loving family, memories together, happiness

Travel has always factored into my deepest wants. I’m a wanderlust, a soul who needs new vistas and experiences in my life to help me feel alive.

I’m also a person of routine. I love to have the safety and security of a house of my own. It took our family several years to figure out that we wanted to move, and we still haven’t figured out where. But we took the time to think about what we wanted for ourselves–what we really wanted for our children–and we know that involves travel, seeing and experiencing other cultures, and also living close to our families. 

All of those desires may seem contradictory, but here’s our plan: the travel that we’d like to do will probably be “settling down” for a year or two in one place, and taking weekend exploring trips, before perhaps moving back to be closer to one or another of our families. But making the decision to structure our lives so that we’re not attached to any one locale for very long is very important, so that we can have the flexibility to travel and see things for longer than two or three weeks at a time. Or the flexibility to change our plans. 

Grabbing Opportunities

Two years ago, before we’d come up with our location independence plan, Mr. ThreeYear and I realized that our family was suffering because of my job in the summers. I had gone back to work in 2014, after my youngest was almost four and I’d been a stay-at-home-mom for seven years. I had a part-time job with a local opera company as their Marketing Director. It was a fabulous job and I loved it–during the year, the hours were workable around school, I could work in the office or remotely if the weather was bad, and I was always doing something new.

lake picture working--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Working through the summers with opera singers (yes, they sang from a boat)!

However, in the summers, I was working a full-time schedule, nights and weekends. Our season happened during August, and summers were beyond busy. The last year I worked, I took the boys swimming only once the entire summer. They were in camp the rest of the time, or hanging out with their dad at night. I was never home.

We sat down, after that crazy summer, and decided I had to find a job that allowed me to be off during summers. The only problem was, where? And how?

It turns out, the answer came to us. In September, just a month or so after we had our discussion, I was contacted by our elementary school’s principal, inquiring if I knew anyone who would be interested in a position as the school’s ESOL teacher. Since I had experience teaching English as a Second Language, I promptly recommended myself, and a new career was born.

If we had not determined, with such clarity, that having summers off was key, I would inevitably have let that opportunity pass. And this touch of “freedom” that I and the boys had last summer–the freedom to spend as much time as we wanted visiting family in the Southeast–definitely ignited more wanderlust. Let’s go for longer, and farther away! Months, the school year, years!

Singapore--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Where to, next?

Your own desires might be different. You might want to travel the world for a year like Tsh Oxenreider’s family. You might want the opportunity to take long regional vacations, like Physician on FIRE plans to do when he starts working part-time. You might want to move to a homestead in the woods, like the Frugalwoods.

The most important step in your journey to location independence is deciding. Decide what you want. Write down what you want on a piece of paper. Keep writing for three pages. Write until you can write no more. You may decide you’re deliriously happy right where you are. You may come to know you need to make changes.

So How Do We Start?

After you’ve defined what you want, you’re opening up your creative mind to figure out how to make it happen. With me, I had a stroke of good fortune–I was given an opportunity, and I took it. It wasn’t an easy opportunity, mind you. I had to study, start a Master’s program, and become a novice at my profession again (the most painful part of the process for sure!). The first year I taught, I spent hours meeting with other teachers and ESOL experts in other districts to figure out what and how to teach to elementary English Language Learner students.

When Mr. ThreeYear and I decided we’d like to become location independent, we began to consider possibilities we hadn’t thought of before. For example, I decided to pursue my Masters in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) when we realized that could provide us with income, schools, and health insurance in another country. Mr. ThreeYear began to look into the possibility of transforming his job into a remote one and considering whether that would be feasible. All of these steps involve work, and some sacrifice. But when you have a crystal clear goal in mind, the sacrifice becomes all the sweeter.

Becoming a Remote Worker

These days, with the advent of Cloud-based interfaces, more people than ever have the opportunity to work remotely. If you’re an individual contributor (i.e., no one reports to you–you’re no one’s boss), or even if you’re not, but you complete the majority of your job with a computer and your brain, chances are good that you can either a) convert your job into a remote position or b) find a job within your industry that allows you to work remotely.

Working remotely--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Working remotely–all you need is a computer. No fancy dress required.

There are many companies who only hire remote employees. Two that come to mind are YNAB (You Need a Budget) and the I Will Teach You To Be Rich guys (Ramit Sethi). If you have any kind of technological, design, marketing, or organizational expertise, chances are you can find yourself a remote gig.

Are you a writer? A journalist? Heck, even teachers can work online. For ESL teachers, like me, there are companies like English Town or Higher Ed Jobs.

To be honest, many online jobs require a decent modem speed and reliable connection, so if you’re looking to take a trip around the world with your family, it will be more difficult with part- or full-time employment. Such employment would also entail putting your kids in school internationally, if you have kids, since you’ll need quiet and focus for a large portion of the work week.

If you and your partner are both teachers, you could spend your summers traveling. I’ve always thought this would be an amazing way to see the world. Unfortunately, Mr. ThreeYear doesn’t get the ten weeks off in the summers that I do, so that option won’t work for us currently. But we have considered that possibility, opening our minds to potential opportunities that may come our way. 

If you’re a doctor, you might consider taking a sabbatical, like fellow blogger Dads Dollars Debts did right after his fellowship. He spent a year in Argentina decompressing after an intense number of years training.

There are many families who have taken sabbaticals and taken trips around the world. We’ve even considered this. For example, if we were to sell our house, I anticipate netting about $150,000, after fees. We would be able to travel for at least two years with that sum to almost anywhere, and a lot longer in cheaper cost-of-living areas like Southeast Asia, even considering putting aside a down payment for a future house once we moved back to the US.

water stop in Pulua Ubin--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Southeast Asia, go!

Sure, from a financial perspective, it makes more sense to wait until we’re completely financially free before we leave. If we lived off our savings, we’d return to the US with a bit less net worth, but a heck of a lot more memories. Amazing experiences we’ve lived together as a family. Waiting until we’re completely financially independent might take six more years, and unfortunately, at that point, it would be too late–our oldest son would be sixteen, and finishing up high school.

Finding ways to travel before financial freedom is more possible now than ever. Yes, it takes creativity. More importantly, it takes courage. But we believe the memories we’ll create as a family will make it so worth it.

Where are you on the location independence spectrum? Do you prefer two week jaunts? Would you journey around the globe for years at a time? 

Author: Laurie

Hi. I’m Laurie, and my family and I have set out to double our net worth and move abroad in the next three years. Join us on our journey!

4 thoughts on “How to Become Location Independent When You’re Not Yet Financially Independent”

  1. My company has a number of full-time remote workers, or people who work remotely for months at a time. Since we all work in IT this is a really good option to have a well paying job while working from anywhere. I’m not sure if it would work outside the US, at least with my current company. I’ve given it some thought but I’m not sure it’s for me. The older kids are 13 and 9, and the 13 year old is entering high school next year. I have considered working remotely over the summer and using the time to travel around the US in shorter trips.

    1. First of all, how cool that option exists in your company! That is the beauty of working in IT (I’m sure there are some not-so-beautiful parts, too!). Part of our hurry for becoming location independent is exactly what you just described–wanting to do it before our oldest enters high school. I think it would be really difficult for him to attend a bunch of different high schools. Middle school, though, I feel like is worth skipping (it was for me!). I love your idea of working remotely in the summers and traveling–if you could find reliable internet and some quiet space, I bet it would be awesome. 🙂 (But I’m a bit biased, admittedly!).

    1. Thanks for visiting, Ms. Frugal Asian Finance! Yep, increased connectivity has made so much possible! Too possible, sometimes! We all have so many choices–that can be a good thing or a real challenge!

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