I Looked Before I Leapt: How I Spent The Last 4 1/2 Years Getting Ready to Quit My Job and Travel the World

By the time you’re reading this, I’ve already made my great escape. I’ve left my job, my family, and my country of origin behind, and I’m off traveling the world (currently: Mexico). But before you ask if I’m taking crazy pills, I’ve prepared for this; it didn’t come out of nowhere. This was not a decision made lightly or instantly, however it may seem to outsiders. 

The truth is, it’s been a goal of mine to travel the world and pursue my passion project (my love of travel, writing and sharing it all with you through this blog, and my soon-to-be-written memoir) ever since I returned from my 4-week backpacking trip to Europe in the summer of 2017. While I’ve done other work, the desire has burned deep inside my heart, a dream unforgotten. And so like any true, lingering goal, I worked hard for years to make it a reality, and made incremental gains where I could.

But first… I spent a lot of money in my 20s and early 30s. I thought nothing of it at the time. I had “made it,” right? My salary had increased over the years, and with it, came an increase in my lifestyle: new cars, new clothes, a new house, nice decor, and home improvements. But there were months that I was living paycheck to paycheck, barely able to get ahead for the next emergency — the storm damage to my roof, the new set of tires.

But flashback to 2017. Why shouldn’t I remodel my kitchen and make a few other big purchases? My savings really, really dwindled, but it was OK, because I was expecting an annual bonus at my company. But my employer wasn’t profitable enough that year to pay out bonuses, and then, I got the shocker of my life. I was laid off.

With the severance package and my newfound free time, I jumped at the opportunity to escape overseas (and talked myself into it when I started to chicken out over money). I had the 4-week trip of a lifetime, which completely changed my priorities and my outlook on life… and thus began my metamorphasis.

First, I got my finances in order: I saved money and I made money. 

When I got back from Europe (after overspending my budget about 20% — oops, too many missed train rides), my first goal was to replenish my savings, which had dwindled to a measly $1,500. 

My severance had run out. I was on unemployment benefits (a measly $240 a week in Arizona), and I was worried about paying my $1,350 mortgage payment. But finally, I found a job — a good one. It was serendipitous: it suited my experience level and interests, and paid commensurately. I negotiated, and got a signing bonus — hello, good start on my emergency fund!

Next, I refinanced my home from a 15-year mortgage into a 30-year, reducing my payment by a little more than $400 a month. I upped my 401k contribution amount at the same time, from the company match amount to about 20% of my paycheck. Since my mortgage payment was lower, I was able to put more towards replenishing my savings and investing in my future. 

Then I put my 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom house (nicely remodeled, you recall) on the vacation home rental market. Phoenix is a verifiable vacation spot in the winter months and attracts people from all over the country (mainly the Midwest) for its golf, auto shows, horse shows, and baseball spring training, not to mention the gorgeous mild winter weather and desert mountain landscape. I was able to rent my fully furnished house from Christmas to Easter, and moved into an affordable studio casita for that time period. (Learn about that experience here.) Before I even moved back into my house in spring 2018, I had saved over $10,000. And I kept going.

I rented out my spare bedroom in the off-season, effectively paying the entirety of my mortgage, and continued to allow bookings for the whole house every spring, including March 2020. Sure, people were in my house, using my things — but they were just that — things. Why should I have any attachment at all to them? My rental business allowed me not only to fill up my emergency fund coffers (goal: $30,000) but it allowed me to contribute the yearly max to my Roth IRA ($6K a year) for three years. In the meantime, my decreased spending meant that I could also contribute the yearly pre-tax max to my 401K for three years. Once I hit all my milestones each year — the fully-funded EF, the 401K, the Roth IRA — I paid off my car, the only remaining liability on my balance sheet besides my house.

During those four years, I had taken a good hard look at my budget habits, and I was determined to be more conscientious about my purchases and live beneath my means: I cut back on eating out, on shopping, on extravagant and unnecessary items, and never spent more than I earned. 

Then, I sold my house and became a nomad, permanently detaching myself from 99% of my earthly belongings.

In the fall of 2020, I sold my house in Phoenix and almost everything in it, making a tidy profit — which went immediately into brokerage for either a future home purchase or — possibly — funding other hopes and dreams around my future lifestyle.

I continued to work remotely and travel the U.S. by car, keeping to a budget. In fact, I spent less in 2021 than I spent living a mostly traditional, homebound life in 2020 (although, missing the rental income, which was significant). Still, I was free — to work from anywhere in an American time zone with reliable WiFi, approximately 40 hours a week. But I felt the itch.

The itch to be truly free.

To not be chained to a desk and a laptop, checking the clock for the next meeting.

To have ownership not only of my time, but all the space in my brain.

To use my mental energies in pursuit of my own priorities and creative endeavors.

Even if that meant giving up a 6-figure salary, company-sponsored health insurance, and A JOB I ENJOYED — which felt like a little piece of my identityand I quit in December 2021.

I quit my job, and denounced the golden handcuffs.

In January 2022, in order to make my savings go as far as possible, I’ve moved to Mexico for 6 months (and there’s a good chance I’ll pursue temporary residency — stay tuned)!

Sure, I could’ve kept working and collecting a paycheck, and continued to save (while traveling and writing in my free time)… but when would enough be enough? For me, it isn’t about making a ton of money. It is about living my life to the fullest, when I have health and opportunity to do so. It is about being happy on a Monday morning, not dreading the work week ahead. I can make more money later, but I can’t make more time.

In fact, I don’t even make money on this blog (the domain and website and email hosting actually costs me money!); my motivation is really to inspire each and every one of you to create the life that you dream of, whatever that looks like — one incremental step at a time. (If you’ve been inspired, drop me a comment or leave me a DM. I seriously LOVE hearing from you guys. It keeps me going!)

Finally a footnote: Before you say, “I’m one of those people who will never get ahead, who will never be able to save, who will never be able to not work”… in 2017, I had no job, a car I owed on, a $1,350 house payment on a house full of stuff I never used, peanuts in my 401K, and only $1,500 in cash. That was my situation, and I made changes. You can too. The sooner the better.

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7 thoughts on “I Looked Before I Leapt: How I Spent The Last 4 1/2 Years Getting Ready to Quit My Job and Travel the World

  1. Hi Julie, Thanks for sharing your path. In some ways, it’s similar to an approach I am taking. I am older than you (47) with teenage children and a husband. However, I think my dream is similar to yours and I’m working to get there. Started 10 years ago and have another two to go (due to aforementioned teenagers). Hauled myself out of massive debts, saving, reduced possessions, sold the house and this year I’m working on my health to ensure I can actually do it. (I might have enough in the bank but if I don’t have enough in the health tank then I effectively have nothing!) Love reading your blog – you inspire me.

  2. So inspiring – you really are making me want to just quit and strike out into the world! But like you said, I think it’s important to prepare. I definitely need to look before I leap… hopefully we will meet up someday in an awesome location (definitely warm, and preferably on a beach).

  3. Hi Julie. I’m following a somewhat similar path. I rent my primary home in the summer and spend 2-3 months in Mexico. After my teens graduate from high school I will have the opportunity to spend more time in mx. I feel like I would need the income from renting my house to live on. Why did you choose to sell your house rather than rent it?

    1. Hi Heather! I talk about this a little on this entry: https://juliedevivre.com/2020/09/12/the-finance-fact-that-guided-my-decision-to-downsize/

      But in short, I did the rental thing, I didn’t want that burden again, and I didn’t know what was going to happen with the housing market (IE: that it would keep increasing in the midst of a pandemic). So I made the best decision I could at the time. Still, I don’t know if I would do it again differently. It’s been great not dealing with tenants, maintenance, and everything else house-related!

  4. I love this story so much. It’s definitely giving me hope. Where I’m personally getting stumped up though is it feels like you got “lucky”. In your story here you state you got a really good job that allowed you to put into your emergency fund. And then you state how you refinanced your home. I’m 31 years old and I’m a hairstylist. I’m self-employed and a small business. I haven’t been able to qualify for a house nor have money to put down on one, ever. No matter how bad I want it or try (especially in todays market) or to make investments, I can never get ahead. I have worked so hard in my business (since 18 years old) and I feel like I run this constant hamster wheel of never getting “there”. I put all my eggs into one basket and I only know/have this one thing my identity is tied to and here I am. Burnt out. I have hardly any money. I have no assets. And my form of investments I’ve had to borrow from and am now starting over. Like I guess I feel like how is this possible for someone who doesn’t have job experience other than the one they’ve been in, and hasn’t been in a position to get a house or have that kind of asset? I’m barely making it and I’m just starting to feel that this level of happiness/success doesn’t truly exist. How can I invest from this. I always feel like it will take YEARS just to be able to save an emergency fund and I’m already super tired physically in my job. I feel completely defeated. 😒

    1. Hi Jess! I’m glad you have hope, you should. I think this blog post might help share some perspective: https://juliedevivre.com/2022/01/12/privilege-luck-or-choice-how-im-able-to-do-what-im-doing/ I also think this one could be helpful: https://juliedevivre.com/2022/12/06/mindset-shifts-that-will-change-the-way-you-think-about-personal-finance/
      I would say, don’t get stuck on having a house or having a high-paying job as prerequisites to getting ahead. My story could’ve just as easily included moving from a bigger apartment into somebody’s basement, or trading in my car for a bicycle. (I’m not talking about quitting Starbucks, I’m talking about radical changes.) I would start by looking in your life to see if there’s room for a radical change, REALLY thinking outside the box, and then… doing it. Maybe that radical change includes a career change!? It’s not going to be overnight, and it can feel disheartening, but… keeping the following in mind has made all the difference for me: 1) radical change isn’t permanent (and can have radical results!), 2) incremental goals are more attainable, and 3) lifestyle creep comes with an opportunity cost to something better.

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