Daniel’s mom bought me a t-shirt.
It was very nice of her to think of me. A shirt is one of the few gifts I can actually use right now, and it’s been a long time since I last went shopping for clothes. It’s the newest thing I own by far.
Can you keep a secret?
Just between you and me: I can’t stand this shirt. When I wear it in public, especially if we’re on a trail or in a National Park, I find myself crossing my arms so that other people can’t read it.
Cute, right? It’s so relevant to our travels! WOOooo, we’re free spirits! We go wherever, whenever. We’ve thrown caution and risk-aversion to the wind. “There’s no need for a plan,” we tell people. “Just go!”
Perhaps this is how our non-traditional life choices appear to other people. Nine months ago, we were gainfully employed – with all the staples of a normal, successful life. Less than a year later, we’re out traveling the world and spending part of the year living out of an old minivan. If you ask us when we plan to return home and start working again, the best answer you’re likely to get is, “We’ll see.”
To some of our friends and family, maybe this whole adventure looks like a snap judgment.
In reality, when I first saw the shirt, I almost gagged. “That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen,” I told Daniel with perhaps just a shred of hyperbole.
It didn’t help that I had just watched Wild, the 2014 biopic of Cheryl Strayed’s ill-conceived attempt to hike over 1,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. The film begins with Strayed making a series of infuriating blunders, from overpacking to the point that she can barely lift her backpack to discovering five miles into the trail that she brought the wrong fuel for her camp stove.
“Who the hell goes into the backcountry alone with no preparation?” I wondered angrily. Out in the wilderness, “just go” is the kind of mentality that gets you killed. If we hadn’t been on an 11-hour flight, I might have turned off the film right then.
Our lives right now might look spontaneous. We hop from one destination to the next at our leisure. We don’t know exactly where we’ll be three months from now, let alone three years from now. But the reality is that we’ve been preparing and planning for this for years.
I’ve been planning to take time off work since I started my first full-time job. From the very first day I set foot in a professional office, I knew there was no way I could spend the next 40 years working full-time with only the occasional vacation. Even before I had any concept of “early retirement,” long-term breaks from work were part of the plan.
We’ve been saving aggressively for the majority of the last decade. Since I deposited my first full-time paycheck, my goal has always been to save at least 50% of my income. Even on a social service salary, Daniel paid off his student loans in just a handful of years. It’s no accident that we were financially prepared to take time off.
We spent nearly a year preparing to quit our jobs. When we finally had a date in mind, we started the long process of downsizing our possessions. Our furniture, clothing, electronics, and most everything else were sold, donated, or given away. I started building a side-hustle business – even offering my services at no cost for a while to build up a small client base and some good references. None of that happened overnight.
We have plenty of backup plans in place. If we’re no longer enjoying ourselves, or if the finances aren’t working, we can change course. We have multiple streams of income. We have room to be more conservative with our spending. And we can always return to full-time work – even if it takes a long time to find it.
“Just go” is not a sound life strategy. Financially speaking, “just go” is the antithesis of good planning and responsibility:
“Just go” is the thought process of the millennial with no emergency fund who buys $15 cocktails.
“Just go” is what gets people into five figures of graduate school debt with no career plan to show for it.
“Just go” is what inflates lifestyles and leaves people thinking they can’t make it on six-figure salaries.
“Just go” is the reason people end up 10 years from traditional retirement age with no savings.
“Just go” is exhilarating in the moment, but it doesn’t often lead to positive long-term outcomes.
What do you think, readers? Has spontaneity helped you make positive life changes or good financial decisions?
Or am I reading just a little too much into a ten-dollar t-shirt?