Retire early and travel the world – the how and why of it

Retire early and travel the world – the how and why of it
A rainbow over Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

I’m frequently asked: How can you afford to retire early? And also: How can you afford travel the world in early retirement?

The answers: saved money, made investments, spent only what was needed, didn’t have kids, took some risks.

Ok. There is a little more to it than that – but not that much.

The short answer is on the About page. Our budget breakdowns are throughout this site.

But I have never given more detailed answers (minus specific financials).

And so, this that.

The how of “retire early”

You don’t have to be an accountant, a financial planner, or day-trading wizard to put a plan together – we aren’t those.

You don’t have to make a ton of money – we didn’t.

There is secret to this is three key premises to live by, long term:

  1. Save early and invest consistently.
  2. Don’t have debt.
  3. Live below your means.
Yes, it is really that simple.

(Here is the ‘but’ you are expecting…) But: you have to stay committed and follow through, and that’s what makes this so difficult for most people. I know this from personal experience.

The pressure to spend money in our advertising-crazy culture can be extra heavy. It’s all so tempting: a new smartphone upgrade, a new car, a bigger home, new ‘name brand’ shoes, expensive vacations and new clothes to go with it, useless tchotchkes, specialty foods instead of more sensibly priced store brands, and on and on and on down the line. It all adds up.

If you took money spent on the latest and greatest fill-in-the-blank, and invested it instead, you’d be so much closer to financial independence.

Some personal information…

When I met Tedly, I was a 29-year-old single woman, drowning in student loan debt and hardly making enough money to pay it down, and also pay the rent, maintain a used car, feed myself, and look ‘nice’ for a job in an industry that held physical polish in high esteem (TV news).

Save for retirement? You’re kidding, right?

Tedly was a guy who lived below his means, yet he also enjoyed life with his own home. He took budget-friendly winter vacations to warm locations, he had hobbies like ice hockey and motorcycles, along with many other nice extras.

We worked in the same industry as fellow worker bees and I knew he wasn’t making a huge salary. So how the heck did he manage to save so much?

He had a handle on his spending.
Young couple with dreams to retire early.
Tedly and me in Cleveland, Ohio, 2004.

On my 30th birthday in 2001, Tedly surprised me with many gifts: a leather purse, a jacket, trendy earrings and necklaces, Starbucks coffee, and other goodies. All name brand. (Tedly being Tedly, he also stuck a package of Depends into the giant gift bag, with a note that said it’s all downhill from age 30.)

I thought: what a good guy, to gift me all of this stuff – how sweet is that?

What I found out later was that he had a ‘gift closet’.

He went to super sales where he found goods for up to 80 or 90 percent off. He stocked up on goods for later disbursement.

I had known people throughout life who had done that, but I had never paused to evaluate the reason and appreciate the effort in the name of saving money by being a smart consumer. Tedly gave me that pause.

He bought groceries from a discount chain.

Same damn items – but at a fraction of the cost from a regular supermarket – the type where I normally shopped.

He didn’t buy or lease new cars all the time.

When I met him, Tedly drove a pickup truck that was falling apart. He bought a new car only after amassing discount points on a credit card and when automakers had a fire sale after September 11, 2001.

His housing costs were low.

Tedly owned his home in a somewhat seedy part of town and paid off a small mortgage, well below his means. It is a great house in an area that has since gentrified and it’s real estate in high demand.

He paid his bills and small debts, he spent wisely, he saved a lot of his money, and he invested it.

I was so curious — here was this sweet, goofy guy who made jokes and had fun with everything he did, and yet when it came to money – he was dead serious.

He had a plan, and he was sticking to it.

When I think back about how I treated money before I reached 30 years old, I cringe. The younger I was, the more foolish I was. Even after 30 years old, I still spent more money than I should have.

Here is a big example: I bought a new 2002 Jeep, and spent years paying that off. I could’ve gone with something cheaper – such as a used Wrangler, which would have satisfied my dream of having a fun four-wheel drive. After all, I had bought used motorcycles and had a blast on them.

Buying new cars every couple of years is not the best idea if you want to retire early.
The ‘Ellie Mae’ Jeep in San Diego, California, a short time before she died.

In addition to the payments, the Jeep was a gas guzzler, so that only added to its total cost.

In the plus column, it was the only new car I ever bought, and I drove her til she died.

As the daughter of former business owners, you’d think I would have been better at managing my spending before I met Tedly. I guess it takes what it takes, and the universe unfolds as it should. I didn’t earnestly try to learn about money and spending until Tedly showed me how to be smart about money – and saving and investing.

What was he saving all that money for? Exactly this.

Our budget world travel adventure in a ‘retire early’ lifestyle.

Tedly wanted to retire early and live life similar to the budget vacations that we had started taking together a few times a year starting back in 2002. These vacations proved to us how little we really needed to live a great life — outside the U.S.

‘Retire early trial runs’ during vacations

We went to many places on vacation each year until we retired: Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, road trips around the U.S., Vegas, etc.

Tedly’s dream was to travel nonstop before he was 65 or 70 years old. I loved that idea. It also became my dream.

Young couple on Tulum Beach in Mexico, who planned to retire early and live on beaches year-round.
Me in Tedly in Tulum, Mexico, on a budget vacation “trial run” in August 2007.

Only … I didn’t want to wait — I was impatient.

I often questioned Tedly in our early days: why couldn’t we drop out and travel right now? We could simply get jobs as we needed them, I reasoned, and that would add to the savings we already had. But Tedly wanted sure footing, and he didn’t want to work again once he stopped.

So I paid attention. I cut my spending, paid off that student loan, made a serious effort to save. He taught me a little about investing.

By the time 2007 came, I had stocks that were doing well. When some of those companies took big hits in 2008, I panicked and sold some of them. That taught me about capital gains and losses.

It also taught me that downturns are the absolute best time to buy, not sell.

That first lived-through recession won’t be my last, and I know I have a lot more yet to learn.

Tedly’s money maturity taught me a great deal. Even though I am not as good at investing and managing my money as he is, over the years I still accumulated a decent sum in retirement, stocks, and savings accounts.

If there is any magic to this, it would be the magic of compounding.

Tedly’s accounts will always be larger than mine – he is eight years older than me, and he started saving at an earlier age — 21 to my 31 years. However, my smaller sums have grown a lot since I started.

Despite my growth, it’s Tedly’s long-term, consistent strategy launched early in his career that made a huge difference. For more than 25 years, Tedly saved at least 20 percent of his income and he continuously invested that money.

How much money did it take for us to retire early and travel the world?

We don’t feel comfortable sharing the specifics of our personal financial information. We do share many budget breakdowns by year and by month on this website. (And I’ll touch on those a little further down.)

There are plenty of other early retirement bloggers and authors who are happy to share their details, if you feel you need a specific yardstick with which to measure your own progress.

Some share more details on how to retire early than others. And some share details, but remain anonymous. See some examples on one directory here.

We also don’t make specific investment suggestions because everyone is in a different circumstance with different goals — we are not financial planners for other people.

Everyone has a unique situation.

For example, we did not want children, and that undoubtedly added to our financial growth. Another example: Tedly’s former home is a now a rental property that helps us pay for places we rent around the world.

There isn’t a one-plan-fits-all approach to this beyond the three key basics we’ve already covered than can help anyone as a guide to retire early.

Remember those?

Save and invest early and consistently. Don’t have debt. Live below your means.

And then, stick to those three key basics.

Anyone can adopt this as a base plan, and tailor it to your specific needs, risk levels and investment preferences.

Countless personal finance sites, blogs, and books detail how you can realistically retire early. But any plan of action you put together should be vetted by a certified financial planner.

Ask around from people you trust for recommendations.

If no one you know can make such a recommendation, find planner who has a lot of reviews over a period of time.

In our case, Tedly paid a financial planner a one-time fee to review the plan and asked, What am I missing? before we were married and we sailed off into the sunset.

The planner didn’t find any holes in our plan but he did make suggestions that made sense.

If those key basics are the ‘secrets’ on how we got here, it’s time to share the secret on how we stay here:

by sticking to a budget.
Two people and two camels in the Sahara Desert enjoy the 'retire early' world travel lifestyle.
Me and Tedly ready to ride camels for a Sahara Desert sunset in January 2018.

Our budget in Mexico and Central America was around $2,000 a month. Our budget in Europe was higher – about $2,400 a month. In Southeast Asia, we are spending less than $2,000 a month.

We are comfortable on these budgets! We get to do amazing things, like Sahara Desert trips, hikes up volcanoes, swims with whale sharks, trips to protected ocean reserves, jungle treks to Mayan ruins, living on a floating house, walking and bathing elephants — just to name a few of the more active adventures we’ve enjoyed.

Aside from those unique adventures, we also get to ride around on city buses in exotic places and check out a new culture. We can also be lazy at “home” and read, or take leisurely trips neighborhood beaches, or go to concerts and museums.

We spend our time how we want to spend our time – and that is really the why of it.

The why of “world travel”

Tedly was 52 and I was (almost) 44 when we decided to retire early. We almost didn’t stop working that early. In fact, one plan we kicked around after I moved to San Diego from Cleveland (we weren’t married yet) was that Tedly could retire first and join me in California as my house wife (my job was kind of demanding) while I kept working a few more years.

Honestly, all of our ‘plans’ felt more like just talk to me. It was difficult for me to really envision a life of travel in early retirement. Remember I shared how I can be impatient?

Well, the universe flowed in a way to help me along and realize the dream. I was laid off. I decided to back out of the rat race with a severance offer added to my coffer. The universe gave me a final shove in the message from a woman dying of cancer. She reminded me of the most important thing: you only live once.

Why did we want to retire early and travel the world?

My answer: I want to see the world! I love being on my own schedule at my own pace as I explore new places and cultures. Life feels like a permanent vacation.

Tedly’s answer: What else is there to do? And also: Because I’m from Cleveland and it’s the ABCs – Anywhere But Cleveland. (He’s joking. Kinda.)

There were obstacles outside of finances that we each overcame before early retirement – this isn’t our entire story, by far. So having the funds to retire early was only part of the challenge to get here. Another big hurdle was finding courage to take the risk and actually do it.

We haven’t looked back. It’s clear to us how fortunate we are — to unwrap and experience this gift of retired budget travel. We both are immensely grateful.

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Bright blue seawater with the words, "earthvagabonds.com - wandering since 2015"

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Ellen

Early retired budget traveler. Earthy Goddess. Former journalist. For humanity. Breast cancer warrior, now living flat. Loves chocolate, coffee, stories, puppies.
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