The Essential 4-Step Guide to Escaping the Ordinary

If you want to escape the ordinary doldrums of life, you need a plan. Here's the ABCD's of living a life of freedom, away from the cubicle.


escape the ordinaryYou want to escape the ordinary …

But you also want a practical plan.

You’re as pragmatic as you are adventurous. You’re a rebel with a retirement plan.

How do you start?


After last week’s post, several Afford Anything Rebels asked me how to prepare for a massive leap into the unknown.

Some want to travel. Others want to start their own business. Some just want to ditch the cubicle and see what happens next.

In response, I’ve created The Essential 4-Step Guide to Escaping the Ordinary. The steps have an easy acronym: the ABCD Game Plan.

We’ll tackle the steps in reverse order: DCBA.

The “D” Step: Dive into the Details

(And Set a Damn Deadline!)

What do you want to do?

Travel the world? Launch a business? Become a real estate tycoon?

Whatever your goal, you might have some false assumptions about how to get there.

To shatter those assumptions, delve into the subculture of people who are doing the same thing you’re trying to do. Read books, browse Internet forums, and don’t be afraid to ask silly questions.

  • World travel isn’t done through organized tour groups, all-inclusive resorts and Priceline hotel deals. There’s a whole subculture of travel hacks that you should explore.
  • Launching your own business isn’t done by printing fancy business cards, renting a nice office and wearing an impressive suit. You need to dig some trenches.
  • Real estate investing isn’t confined to the neighborhoods where you yourself would live. There are probably plenty of areas within a 50-mile radius of your home that you’ve never driven through, but that are ripe with profitable opportunity.

Once you take this step, you’ll discover new information that will change for plans — for the better.

  • You wouldn’t (shouldn’t) open a boutique just because you “love clothes!” You’d check out the demand. Figure out the overhead. Look at the local industry growth.
  • You wouldn’t (shouldn’t) buy stock in Coca-Cola because you love the flavor. You’d check it’s price-to-earnings ratio, it’s book value, and its ticker trends.
  • You wouldn’t (shouldn’t) launch a podcast just because you love to talk. There’s a ton more that happens behind-the-scenes. Dig a little deeper. Do some homework. Delve in.

Let’s take travel as an example:

At this early stage in planning, you might be thinking: “I love the beach. Maybe I should go to Aruba.”

But as you dive deeper into the long-term traveler subculture, you’ll begin to understand that your experience in a particular place is created not just by the photogenic attractions, but also by the average prices, infrastructure and amenities.

If you want the privacy of a spacious villa for less than $10 per day, for example, Southeast Asia might be ideal. But if you prefer a jam-packed hipster party hostel, Europe is your zone.

There’s one more essential component to the “D” Step: Set a Damn Deadline. If you don’t, you’ll never make the leap.

The “C” Step: Bust Your “Commitment Cant’s”

This is the most critical step.

Most people who don’t take a dramatic leap into the unknown cite commitments as their reason.

  • “But I have a mortgage!”
  • “What about my job?”
  • “Who’s going to take care of Fido?”
  • “My lease doesn’t end until March.”
  • “My car payment runs for another three years.”
  • “But I just joined this dance troupe …”
  • “My boyfriend / girlfriend / spouse isn’t interested in joining me.”
  • “Who’s going to water my plants?”

Here’s the hard truth: Most people enter into commitments without thinking of the long-term consequences on their future flexibility and freedom.

(Hence why so many people are in debt.)

You need to do two things: Break the commitments that you can ethically sever, and renegotiate the ones that you can’t.

This is the most crucial step. I repeat: MOST crucial.

Here’s how this would look:

  • Mortgage: Find a renter. Or sell the house. If you’re traveling, you won’t be living in the house anyway; why leave it vacant?
  • Rent: Ask your landlord if you can replace yourself with a sub-letter. If you can’t, then you know your Damn Deadline – you’ll quit your job at the same time your lease expires. (That’s what I did!) Speaking of which …
  • Job: Negotiate to work remotely and part-time. This will give you the freedom to launch a business, travel, or focus on other more interesting pursuits. If your boss says no, fire your boss.
  • Pets and Plants: Find a trusted long-term petsitter/plant-sitter, like a close friend or family member.
  • Sports Teams, Dance Troupes, etc: If you can ethically leave the team mid-season, do so. Otherwise, you know your Damn Deadline: when the season ends.

Debt and relationships are two types of commitments that get special attention, due to their gravity.

Let’s Tackle Debt:

Freakin’ pay it off already!! OMG people, is this really a question?

Okay, if you have a mortgage, I get it. There’s no rush to pay down your mortgage before an epic round-the-world journey. Stick a renter in your house while you’re traipsing across the globe, and if you bought correctly, that renter should be covering every dime plus extra.

(If you didn’t buy correctly, sell the house. It’s a chain that’s preventing you from traveling and experiencing the life you love.)

If you have a student loan at some stupidly-low interest rate, like 2 percent (less than inflation), and some token monthly payment, like $40 per month, you also get a pass. There’s no massive rush to pay that off.

But if you have any debt that’s higher than 6 percent interest, start living on ramen noodles and stop making excuses. Decimate that beast.

Next, Relationships:

I hear from a lot of people that they want to do X (become their own boss, spend a year in Italy) but their significant other isn’t on-board.

Now, I’m not a relationship counselor. But I see this as a massive problem in your compatibility. You two have a serious divergence of values and priorities, and those need to get aligned.

Before I began dating Will, I ended a relationship with someone purely based on the fact that I was going to travel for two years. This other guy had a thriving career as a magazine editor and wanted to stay stateside. He had zero interest in traipsing the globe.

I’m proud of him. But we’re not compatible. In my world, “I never want to travel” is a deal-breaker.

So our relationship ended, and I prepared to travel solo. And at the last minute, along came Will. He had recently sold his business and was looking for his next adventure.

Whatever. I impatiently jetted off without him. Paula waits for no man.

Will surprised me by popping up unexpectedly in Thailand, where he asked if I’d become his girlfriend.

The rest is history.

(… Wait, where was I going with this?)

Oh yeah, relationships. So the moral of the story is:

  • If your partner supports the concept, but can’t participate, then you’ll have to negotiate the freedom to embark on this adventure solo.
  • If your partner doesn’t even support the concept, well, you’ve got mismatched values.

The “B” Step: Budget

This step is pretty straightforward.

Now that you’ve delved into the details (i.e. you’ve done your homework), you have a rough idea of how much your undertaking will cost. And you know your Damn Deadline.

Divide cost by time.

Easiest. Step. Ever.

For example:

“I want to spend 12 months traveling Southeast Asia. I know I can live comfortably on $35 per day. Multiplied by 365 days, that’s $12,775.

“That sounds like a lot, until you consider that it’s WAY cheaper than my cost-of-living here at home.

“Okay, now let’s add a 10 percent buffer to that estimate. This brings us to $14,052. My Deadline is one year from now. This means I’ll need to start saving $270 per week.

“Hmm. My freelance / consulting / teaching side hustle brings in $200 per week. If I cancel my cable, cook from scratch and stop getting plastered at bars, I bet I could save another $70 per week.”

Boom! That’s how it’s done.

Let’s try it for aspiring entrepreneurs:

“I’ve been working this awesome side hustle in the evenings and weekends for the past year. It’s already bringing in $475 every week, or $1,900 per month. And I only work at it 10 hours a week.

“I really think that if I ditched my crummy cubicle job, I could make this a full-time gig.

“Let’s think through this. My cost-of-living is $3,000 per month. I want to save enough to support myself in full for six months.

“That’s $18,000. If I save all the money that I make through this side hustle, I could build those reserves in a little over 9 months. I’ll use cash from my regular day job to pay my estimated taxes during that time.

“Those 9 months will also give me time to seriously ramp up my efforts – to 15 or 20 hours a week – and see if that extra effort yields more income and opportunity.

“Of course, I probably won’t need to tap that $18,000 reserve. After all, when I ditch the cubicle, I’ll already be pulling in almost $2,000 per month or more. Still, I’ll sleep easier knowing that it’s there.”

The “A” Step: Be Ready to Act Alone

This is going to seem like the scariest step. But it’s crucial.

You can’t waste your life waiting for someone in your existing network to join you on your adventure. Your current friends are not necessarily the most reliable, qualified or desirable people to accompany you (or to partner with you) on your travel or business idea.

You must be prepared to start this journey alone.

Yeah … alone.

Scary, right?


But don’t worry. You’ll never truly be alone.

Once you start along your adventure – whether that’s entrepreneurship, investing, travel, or any other escapade – you’ll meet be plenty of people who will befriend you and help you along the way.

By definition, you’ll meet people who are journeying the same route.

Some of these people will become mentors. Leaders. Trusted friends. You’re on the cusp of bonding with some of the most brilliant, interesting people that you’ll ever encounter.

You just haven’t met them yet.

And you’ll never meet them if you keep wallowing in your living room.

Your success, in fact, will hinge on your connections with this new rockstar network. In business, this is self-evident. But you’ll discover that this is true in non-professional pursuits, such as travel, as well.

In travel, your adventure will be characterized by the people you encounter, not the postcard-gracing attractions you see. Your fondest memories won’t be visiting the Pyramids. Instead, at the end of it all, you’ll remember that time that you got into a water-balloon fight with those goofy twins in the Czech Republic, after which you all went out for banana toffee cake and a cup of lemon tea.

Doesn’t it sound awesome? I can’t wait to enjoy a slice of banana toffee cake with new friends I haven’t met yet.

Or to start that business that I haven’t imagined yet.

Or buy the rental property I haven’t seen yet.


Or, if you’re a contrarian like me, D-C-B-A.

That’s the key to getting started.


  1. says

    What great timing on this post! Simple steps laid out very clearly. I was specifically having this conversation with a friend not 5 minutes ago. (Well more like 15 cause I had to read the post). Setting a deadline is the biggest step that I’m most scared to take. That means I’ll actually have to put in the work to succeed instead of blaming things on some vague happenstance.

    • says

      @LaTisha — According to a theory known as Parkinson’s Law, work expands to fill the time that you give it. If you don’t set a deadline, you have infinite time, which means that the work never comes to an end (e.g. the goal never gets accomplished.) If, however, you stick a deadline on it, you will almost certainly finish the goal exactly by that deadline.

  2. says

    Commitment cant’s can be such a difficult obstacle to get over. However, once you get passed it, you realize that all these things were pretty easy to get past.

    Good guide. “ABC(D), its as easy as DCB(A)”. That’s what Michael was trying to say…

  3. says

    I cannot tell you how grateful for I am for this list- when you get to this place when you are screaming in your head “SOMETHING HAS GOT TO CHANGE” but the prospect of overhauling your entire life seems way too overwhelming…and being more of the “responsible bohemian” that I am (if only in my mind hiding in a sensible blue suit) I have never fancied setting all my possessions on fire and skipping away gleefully- I need a plan- a responsible one… and this list is the closest I have seen- thank you!

    • says

      @Idara — You’re welcome! I believe that the image of an irresponsible, flighty adventurer is a media myth. Most adventurers that I’ve encountered are “responsible bohemians,” like yourself. :-)

      And if overhauling your entire life seems overwhelming, start one step at a time. Make one small change. Then another.

  4. says

    When I was traveling on my own, I often had people ask me why I would ever want to go alone. Wouldn’t it be lonely? Wouldn’t I be sad not having anyone to share the experience with? But I wasn’t alone, I just hadn’t met my friends yet. And I’d rather share the experience of travel with newfound friends than stay at home because no one in my current network wants to travel.

    • says

      Right on! The first time that I ever traveled solo — I was 18 years old and backpacking through Japan — I was terrified by the notion of being alone. But I ended up meeting so many more people than I ever otherwise would have met, and having WAY more fun than I probably ever would have had if I stuck with one or two hometown friends.

  5. says

    Thanks for a great post. Timely for me – I’m currently working on creating enough work to be a freelance writer full time, and it is really tough getting started. I think I have the right mindset and I’m doing what I need to get where I want to be, but the one factor I just don’t have on my side right now is time. I started out just a few months ago, and I know building up a portfolio of work – and a reputation as a writer people want to hire – takes a lot of dedication and time. I’m trying to stay positive and believe I’ll get there one day. I’ve got the determination, the drive, and (I think!) the talent. Now I just need to give it the time :) Thanks again for sharing, I’m bookmarking this one so I can come back to it.

    • says

      Good luck in your freelance writing career, Kali. I’ve been a full-time freelancer since 2010 and it totally rocks. You’re right: time management is crucial. In the beginning, you’ll spend a lot of time building contacts and clips. But after a few years, you’ll get so much referral business that you’ll start cherry-picking your projects and turning away (or outsourcing) a lot of work. In other words: stick with it. If you can push past the first few years, the muck, you’ll be rewarded with the “dividends” that come later.

  6. says

    Paula, this is a seriously inspiring post. I’m currently building a passive income stream through real estate so, in a few years, I can be free to live anywhere, do anything and only work when I feel like it. The thing about passive income, as I’m sure you know, is that it’s the opposite of passive to set up. But I agree, it’s all about deciding to do it in the first place and then taking many, many baby steps to get there. What keeps me going when I have to make difficult decisions and sacrifices along the way is knowing why I’m doing this. I’ll be sharing this post. :)

  7. says

    I seriously love your posts. I save them up to read on Sundays so that I have more time to dwell on what you’ve written and how it could apply to ma life. Thank you!

    • says

      Thank you, Nomes! If you ever have any questions, or want to share any of your own stories, just drop me a comment. I’m glad these posts are meaningful for you … Afford Anything is here to change lives.

  8. says

    Thanks for the great read, Paula! Inspiring as always.

    I’ve got my exit strategy in place and it feels great. I’m laying myself off from my nine year career as an esthetician at the beginning of May 2014.

    You’re right, making the commitment is THE MOST important step. Without deciding that you want a change, nothing else matters. You’ll never be “ready”, so you might as well sack up, decide, and do it!

    Thanks again. I’ll hit you up if I have any questions ; )

  9. says

    I’m working my way through your posts Paula and each one I read brings a little more realisation, inspiration and answers another question(s). It’s synchronicity – when you’re on the right path, the next steps appear one by one. You don’t have to see the whole road straight away … Thank you Paula and all. I’m 58 and have decided that at 60 I’m going to Italy. It is a long held dream. Quite what I’m going to do there is what I haven’t yet decided. My mortgage will be paid off then and I could rent out but there again I may just sell the house and remove the attachment /commitment. The thought of being free of my current job, commute, car, house makes my heart sing… “Responsible Bohemian” is appealing !
    From here I need to spend less and live more frugally, like the student I never was! I Also need to identify how I can earn more at an extra job that isn’t the one I’m doing now, part time so that I can become a saver rather than a spender! Little steps.. They present themselves at the right moment and build your dreams.

  10. says

    Anything with the phrase “Decimate that beast” in reference to debt is worth reading – although your post was worth reading for so many more reasons than that!

    You’re so right – as someone who loves taking weird jobs and traveling and adventures – just make a plan and do it. There are thousands of reasons not to do things… they’re just not always better than the reasons to do them.

    • says

      @Mel — Haha!! Thanks for the compliment — I’m glad you like that phrase!

      Yeah, I’m totally with you. I hear loads of people ask if they should embark on something adventurous, travel, launch a business, etc. They can rattle off so many reasons why they “shouldn’t” — but for many of those people, none of those reasons really hold water. Usually, their main reason for not doing something is because their fear is justifying itself.

      That’s normal. It’s human. Courage isn’t the absence of fear — its the decision to persist in spite of it.

  11. says

    Paula – just started reading your blog this am… I can’t stop reading this, it is the most straight forward, clear thinking, and intelligent advice I’ve ever read! You’re smarter then most people I know. If it’s any consolation, this comes from someone that is a successful executive , a 1 percenter…..I started saving as a teenager, and bought my first invesTment property at 23…you’ll do much better then me….you truly know yourself and what you want in life ! Good luck in all your ventures!

  12. says

    I keep plugging away at my side job (my blog, which at the moment is not going anywhere) and dreaming of the day I will be free. When I need a little pick me up, I come and read you. Thanks, DAVID

  13. joe biron says

    Love the spirit of the post, but my mortgage happens to be for the home that I live in with my family. I don’t think I can be renting it out while we are sleeping cooking playing there every hour of the day. :)

    Statements like that on this blog make me wonder if your audience is too targeted. Your main message resonates with me but advice like renting out my home make me go “WTF?”

    • says

      @Joe — Why not just take what works for you? Every blog, book and speech, regardless of the speaker/author, is going to make some suggestions that will dramatically enhance/improve your life, and other suggestions that just don’t apply to your situation. Rather than focusing on the stuff that doesn’t work, flip your mindset so that you focus on the parts that are most effective and applicable to your own life.

    • says

      P.S. Also, the tip about renting out your house applies to people who want to travel the world for a few months/years. If you’re in Thailand or Costa Rica or France, you — by definition — won’t be at your house. That means you can rent it out to tenants, ideally at a rate that covers the mortgage plus extra.

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