Our journey certainly sounds romantic when I talk about our new travel lifestyle. When I say my husband and I sold our home, closed a business, and bought a sailboat to travel the world, people look at me with a far-off look in their eyes and whisper, “That’s my dream.”
We made our plans to travel full time almost two years ago. Naively, I thought we could sell our things, pack, and head out in a matter of months. I guess the roots run deep since we have both lived our entire lives in Texas, much of it in the same area. We find there is more to making big changes than what shows up on our social media highlight reel!
Soon enough, we will have stories of adventure and be able to talk about the interesting people we encounter while roaming the planet. However, right now, we are still in the preparation phase for this travel lifestyle. Since we now live aboard our sailboat, I see it as progress since we are past the pure planning stage.
I certainly want to be supportive of others’ dreams of adventure and my own, but it also helps to know beforehand some of the feelings and circumstances that one may encounter. As I tell about my personal experiences, I’ll offer suggestions to make your transition to a downsized, travel lifestyle easier with these mindset shifts.
1. Get clear about why you want a change.
Our story starts like many others of a certain age: we owned a suburban home and led a comfortable life. We had our share of business success, but all too often, it felt like we were just one step away from disaster. Some years back, we refinanced our home to clear away debt and keep our business functioning. In hindsight, we probably should have just let the pieces fall where they might instead of pushing forward.
We had to make a change. Working day and night didn't seem to keep us from falling further behind. Initial attempts to sell our business were unsuccessful. Eventually, we decided to sell our home and close up shop. It worked out well enough in the end.
When making wholesale changes like these, it’s important to spend quality time working through one’s thoughts and feelings. Consider what works best for you individually and take the time to journal, talk to a friend, or meet with a counselor.
Making big life changes seems like the best solution to an over-stressful life, but make plans so the transition to a travel lifestyle is successful and your problems don’t just follow you into the next phase of your life.
2. Understand that downsizing is hard work.
Unexpectedly, the hardest part was selling our belongings. As humans, we place great value on what we own and believe that others will find value in it, too. In truth, other people do not value the same things and don’t want used stuff unless it’s free or cheap. In the last days before, we sold our house, and again when we cleared out our office space, we threw away, gave away, and donated more than we sold.
Moving from a house—regardless of its size—to a boat requires an enormous amount of downsizing. It’s a type of forced minimalism. Think tiny house, but leave room for things like tools, extra sails, foul weather gear, and life preservers.
Even if your big move is a year or more in the future, plan for downsizing. The sooner you begin clearing out possessions, the better. It’s hard to make good choices about what to keep when you are facing a deadline.
3. Make one major decision at a time.
We moved aboard just six months after we decided to make a change. With such a compressed schedule, we made many major decisions simultaneously, including selling our house while negotiating a sailboat purchase.
After the whirlwind of moving, I needed a break that just wasn’t possible. We immediately began boat repairs thinking we could set sail in just under three months. It’s an old boat that needed—and still needs—much attention. It took us two full weeks to clear everything out of the boat left behind by the previous owners and clean it! It needed sails, new interior upholstery, navigation equipment, and a long list of other improvements to make it safe and livable.
I wish we had taken some time off to let things settle before buying the boat in hindsight. I think a short break before starting again would have helped. Setting a realistic schedule for repairs would have also helped relieve some of the stress. Boat repairs are made in confined spaces with materials that are often difficult to source. What this means is that repairs often take twice as long as you anticipate.
4. Decide how you will make money.
Back when I was still clearing out closets and dresser drawers, I fully intended to start a blog and have it monetized by the time I needed a portable income. However, the process of sorting, packing, and donating felt overwhelming. Getting the work done was all I could do. I didn’t feel like I had the extra time, energy, or creativity to write, too.
I know some people would thrive on documenting their big decision and life change online. If you are one of those people, you will have plenty to share. Start now!
Even if it seems like you will have enough cash stashed to keep you flush for a while, have a plan in place to make money while enjoying your new travel lifestyle. There are many opportunities online, even for the most introverted person, to generate an income.
5. Adjust your definition of home.
I remember a few days after we moved out of our house, I picked up my phone, and it flashed a message on the home screen that said, “14 minutes to get home…traffic is light.” I sat in my car and cried—again, a regular occurrence during that time.
Be gracious with yourself as you learn a new definition of “home.” Home is not a house, it’s not an address, and it isn’t a boat either. Think of the adage: “Home is where the heart is.” My daughter, a true traveling nomad, wisely told me that I could be happy anywhere if I learn to find “home” within myself.
It’s easy to look at the life change we made and think it romantic. In the middle ages, everyone dreams of escaping the daily grind and finding a simpler way of life. We did escape a too expensive mortgage and a business that wasn’t giving as much as it took. The small amount of equity we had in our house was enough to buy the boat and make our life portable. Repairs come slowly now as we do them ourselves and work to replenish what we spend.
The upside to this midlife change is that living aboard our sailboat drastically cut our expenses. Lower expenses mean less stress. Less stress means a clearer mind with which to approach the future. A future that looks brighter than it did before.