How to Create Sustainable Wealth and Avoid Death-by-Cubicle!

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how to avoid wasting your life in a cubicleThe last time I went to a tropical island, the showers only ran for 4 hours per day. If you missed that window, you had to wait 20 hours.

If you wanted to “flush” the toilet, you’d have to carry a bucket of ocean water to your bathroom.

This was a necessity. Freshwater was delivered by boat, and it needed to get strictly rationed. If you wanted enough for drinking and cooking, you needed to budget.

People elsewhere in the world, though, have become accustomed to luxuries like unfettered access to showers and toilets. They’ll demand this luxury at any cost, even if their wallets and the environment can’t support it.

Until recently, that was the case in Aruba.

To satisfy demand, Aruba coverts saltwater into drinking water. The process is called “desalination,” and this 70-square-mile island (about the size of Washington, D.C.) is home to the world’s second-largest desalination plant.

But desalination requires a ton of energy. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Aruba’s energy consumption.

Teriyaki potato chips

To keep people happy, Aruba imports cheddar cheese, Oreo cookies and some curious flavors of potato chips. (Teriyaki-flavored potato chips? Really?) It keeps its roadways well-maintained, offers strong public transportation, and spends a substantial amount of its GDP educating its local children.

(Aruba also imports designer clothes and handbags, which baffles me. Why ship that stuff down to the Caribbean, just so tourists can carry it back to Europe and the U.S.?)

Fortunately, Aruban officials recognized how energy-intensive the island’s lifestyle has become. But they also recognized a concurrent reality: People don’t want to pare back on their lifestyle. People love Oreo cookies and curiously-flavored potato chips.

So instead of sacrificing its quality of life, Aruba decided to make that lifestyle sustainable. In the midst of the last recession, Aruba unveiled an ambitious plan to become the world’s first economy to run entirely on sustainable energy.

In 2009, Aruba built a wind farm that generates about 20 percent of its total energy. It’s on-track to run 100 percent on renewable energy by the year 2020.

Protect Your Most Precious Limited Resource: Time

Sustainability isn’t just a national issue, it’s a personal one. A country’s leaders can tackle waste at the macro-level. But what about waste within our own lives?

How can you create a sustainable life?

I’m not (just) talking about recycling your beer cans. I’m talking about creating multiple self-renewing sources of income.

It doesn’t make sense to ship coal and freshwater to a remote island. That requires too much ongoing effort. It’s much more sensible to build a sustainable solution.

protect your time

Similarly, it doesn’t make sense to wake up to a beeping alarm, drink stale coffee, battle rush-hour traffic, sit in a grey cubicle under flickering florescent lighting, and then battle even worse traffic back home.

It’s downright ludicrous to endure this agony year after year, until your eyes strain from the computer screen, your back hurts from your corporate-issued chair, and your face gets etched with frown lines.

Sustainable wealth is much more sensible.

Rental properties create sustainable wealth. So do stock dividends, interest, royalties, and businesses that someone else manages.

In short: Investing creates sustainability.

Investing is our ONLY antidote to the hamster wheel. It’s our ticket out.

Learn as much about investing as you can. Hustle, earn more, and apply all that extra money towards your investments. Buy some index funds. Put a down payment on a rental property. Build a small online business, then hire a VA to manage it.

Make just $10 in passive income per year. C’mon, just $10 per year. Anyone can do that.

Done? Okay, great. Now double it.

And double it again.

And again.

You see where I’m going with this …

This is sustainability at the personal level. This is freedom from paycheck dependence. This is how you can maintain an awesome lifestyle without polluting your most valuable (and limited) resource: your time.

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P.S. The island in my introduction (with the 4-hour showering window and the ocean-bucket toilets) is Seraya Island, off the coast of Flores, Indonesia. It’s one of my favorite places on earth.

P.P.S. I should take a moment to mention that Aruba does a LOT of things right. Their crime rate is close to zero. They have fewer than 30 traffic fatalities a year. They have 96 percent literacy, 94 percent employment, and many Arubans speak four languages: Dutch, Spanish, English and Papiamento. There’s a lot we can learn from their example.

The Lost Art of Escape


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The Lost Art of EscapeI’ve just emerged from more than a week without any connectivity: no Internet, no cell phone, no running water, electricity or buildings.

I practice this form of escape for a minimum of one week each year, though in the past I’ve cut myself away from civilization for upwards of one month or more.

Digital mobility – the art of traipsing the globe while working from your laptop – is an amazing lifestyle. It showers you with indescribable freedom. But it carries one drawback: if you can work from anywhere, you do. You never broadcast an “away” message. You never disconnect.

That’s a serious problem. A true vacation demands that you vacate. It requires you to escape, unplug, and smash your addiction to email. This is the Lost Art of Escape, and it’s a critical skill. Yes, vacationing is a skill, and it’s one that most people don’t practice enough.

Don’t Multi-Task the Sunset

True escape is the only way to declutter your mind, re-assess your priorities, and create a vision for the year ahead. Without this, you might waste years down the wrong path, simply because you haven’t taken the time to quiet your mind.

Unfortunately, most people don’t practice true escape. Most people bring smartphones and laptops into their personal zones. They “check in” with their colleagues or clients. They jump on email “just for five minutes.” They upload photos to Facebook instead of watching the sunset. (Worse, they’ll upload a photo while watching the sunset. People, please. Sunset is not meant to be multi-tasked.)

As a result, most people never leave their old paradigms behind. They never enjoy solitude and reflection. They’re too distracted by Twitter.

Nature = Rehab for Digital Addicts

If you suffer from email addiction, voyaging into the wilderness is like checking into rehab. You literally, physically can’t check your Inbox, no matter how much you’d like to do so.

Like any recovering addict, you might break into a cold sweat for the first few days. But by Day 6 or 7, your mind will have adapted to its new reality, and you’ll have the mental freedom to reassess your budget, your career, and your five-year plan. More importantly, you’ll feel free, happy, simple.

What if the wilderness doesn’t appeal to you? For some of you, there’s “glamping,” a glamorized version of car camping. Same nature, more amenities.

The rest of you, though – the cityslickers who won’t even try glamping — have a tough battle ahead. You’re faced with the monumental task of trying to disconnect while remaining in the wired world. I’m cheering for you, but I have to warn you that the road ahead is rough.

Severing yourself from email and phone while you’re in the “real world” is like breaking a coffee addiction while you’re at Starbucks.

It is possible? Yes. Is it easy? Nope. That’s why I recommend radically changing your environment. Go somewhere where checking your email defies the laws of physics.

Just try it. You might discover a new clarity.

Here are some of the things I discovered during my time disconnected:

  • Outcome Agnostic  – I’m not going to tie my stomach in knots about the quality of my blog posts. I’m not going to obsessively review each line before I hit “publish.” Either you’ll like it, or you won’t. The outcome isn’t up to me, so I’m not going to project any wild expectations of comments or likes or new subscribers.


  • Hamster Wheel – Here’s the definition of running on a hamster wheel: Wasting every hour of your precious life earning money. Then wasting that money, so that you can feel better about the fact that you spend so much time earning it. This is a ludicrous practice. It’s far better to use your money to buy time — by outsourcing and by creating passive income streams.


  • Simplicity is King. — Yes, it might be “technically” better to stack coupons on top of double-discount deals on top of rewards cards. But guess what? I don’t want to add that level of complexity to my life. Sometimes, I just want to buy a freakin’ loaf of bread, and I don’t want it to be so complicated. That’s not sloth; that’s ruthlessly guarding your most valuable asset: your mental space.


  • Limit Your Hours – There’s no heroism in working yourself to the bone. You can’t work 168 hours per week, and you can’t justify an out-of-balance life by patting yourself on the back about your high income. If your “business model” consists of 80-hour workweeks, something’s wrong. Remember: Parkinson’s Law states that work expands to fill the time that you give it. Limit your working hours, and you’ll automatically become more efficient. And then you can spend more time disconnected.

“I Don’t Want to Be Ordinary” — Can This Woman Escape the Ordinary?

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A Reader Says: I Don't Want to Be OrdinaryHere’s a recent reader question that grabbed my heart. One reader said:

“I am a single woman with children who believes I can live a great life traveling and making life grand, in spite of the statistics out there. Do you think its possible? Can you offer some saving/investing tips?”

I’m so glad you wrote to me. YES, I think it’s possible to live any life that you desire. I absolutely, completely, 100 percent believe that.

Ignore the statistics. You’re not a stat. You’re an outlier. The upper end of the bell curve. You’re unique.

How do I know that? Because you dared to ask. You wrote to me — a complete stranger — for advice. Most people wouldn’t do that. Most people would sit on the couch watching American Idol reruns.

Most people — regardless of their age, income, family or financial situation — don’t have the courage to dream big. Most people spend the whole day saying self-defeating things like:

  • “I’ll never be rich.”
  • “I could never afford that.”
  • “People like me don’t get to do things like that.”
  • “Good for her, she gets to galavant and have fun, but I have to (fill-in-the-blank with crummy obligation).”

And you know what? Whether you think you can, or think you can’t — either way, you’re right. Life is completely what you make it. Especially if you live in a free, first-world country. Then there’s really nothing stopping you.

Regarding the second half of your question — do I have any saving or investing advice? Of course I do. But I won’t tell you to clip coupons (ugghh) or invest in index funds (though I love ‘em!), because those are tactics, and tactical maneuvers are secondary.

The best advice I can give anyone is to align your spending with your values and priorities.

Almost every financial stress that I see is the result of people spending in a way that’s misaligned with their priorities. It leads to staggering debt, bankrupt college funds, meager retirements, and — perhaps most terrifying of all — cubicle jobs. Eek!

But when you can kick back and say, “The most critical thing is food, water, medicine and safety. Let me make sure I can pay for that, not just today but years into the future. And after that, my real dream is …”

That’s the moment when driving an old car no longer feels like a sacrifice. Would you rather drive an Audi or quit your crummy cubicle job? Would you rather have granite countertops, or the flexibility to take a major career risk?

(By the way, I realize I might sound like I’m anti-luxury items. I’m not. I’m pro-anything that’s a conscious priority. And I’m anti-anything that’s not.)

In my own experience:

When I was 22, I wanted to travel more than anything else in the world. I wanted it so badly I could taste it. I thought about it constantly. And I aligned my spending with this top value.

That meant that I lived incredibly frugally. I lived in a tiny, tiny studio apartment (I could reach the kitchen sink from the bed — I’m not kidding.) I drove a car that was older than me. I wore thrift-store clothes. And I saved almost $30,000, which allowed me to travel the world nonstop for more than two years.

But another example:

Right now, my priorities have shifted. I don’t want to do a two-year round-the-world trip anymore. I want to build streams of passive income — so that my money can buy time. I want to live in a comfortable home, work on a MacBook, and enjoy a gym membership — even if it comes at the expense of travel. So my spending has shifted to align with my new priorities.

That’s what it’s really all about. All the details that financial bloggers talk about — insurance premiums, coupons, the price of gas — those are all just details. That’s minutia.

Step back and take the big-picture view: is your money flowing in the same direction as your values and priorities? If so, you’re in the right place. If not, make a change.

It’s as simple as that.

One TERRIBLE Piece of Financial Advice You Should Never, Ever Listen To

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Bad Financial AdviceLaunch into any money-related conversation and you’ll inevitably hear the following bad financial advice:

“But it worked for me!”

Those insidious five little words have been used to justify all types of terrible ideas, from buying lottery tickets to over-leveraging your investments to investing every last dime into Apple stock.

Let’s try this one on for size:

Common Sense: “Even if you find an awesome investment, spread your risk by picking a few other investments, as well. Rental properties are awesome, but even if you could make 20 percent cap rates, you should still keep a solid chunk of money in stock market index funds.”

Retort: “But I put 150 percent of my savings in gold in the year 2007 and it totally worked for me. Put every dime in gold! Nothing else! Why bother diversifying when you get the best returns in this arena?!”

Common Sense: “Hold on, you invested 150 percent of your savings?”

Retort: “Yeah, I can take a cash advance from my credit card at 14.9 percent and invest it for 170 percent gold returns! I’d be stupid NOT to!”

Common Sense: “Uh, don’t you think that’s a bit risky?”

Retort: “Hey scardey-cat, if you’re so terrified of risk, why don’t you sew your money into a mattress and leave REAL investing for us tough guys?”

Uh-huh. Right.

Tip: When your opponent has to justify their investing strategy with ad hominem attacks, they’re grasping for straws.

Alright, that was an easy example. Afford Anything readers are an intelligent group. I don’t need to explain this example. You can see why it’s an insane argument.

But let’s look at a subtler example of the “it worked for me” phenomenon. Let’s check out an example in which the counter is uncommon sense.

“But I Sold my Home for $20,000 More Than I Paid!”

UnCommon Sense: “Don’t tie up a huge chunk of your net worth in your home. Your home is NOT an income-producing asset. It won’t stick cash in your pocket each month.

Your money should make money. So live in a cheap home while you deploy your cash into rental properties, stock index funds or other income-producing investments. Reinvest. Lather, rinse, repeat.

“Better yet, buy a small apartment building (like a duplex, triplex, 4-plex) as your first home. Live in one unit and rent out the others. If your neighborhood doesn’t have multi-units, live with roommates until you either have a baby or your mortgage is paid off.”

Retort: “But I sold my home for $20,000 more than I paid for it! So my house IS an investment! It worked for me!”

This is precisely the type of argument you’ll hear from someone who hasn’t crunched the numbers. The people who say it often conflate gross gains with net gains.

The average person doesn’t make very strong net gains on their home value, after adjusting for insurance, taxes, loan interest, repairs, maintenance, Realtor commissions and closing costs. If they’re lucky, most of their net gains can be explained as “inflation plus 2 percent.”

Most people would be better off living in tight quarters and putting the excess money into stocks.

Are there exceptions? Sure. Just ask the people who bought houses in Southern California in the 1970s. But this is the tail end of the bell curve. People have also made millions winning the lottery.

Furthermore, most of the people who happened to buy in 1970’s Southern California shot themselves in the foot by “trading up” continually until the market burst. Many people thought they were different, that they were the exception to the rule, but then they became scared that they’d be “priced out in five years.” So they bought a big home, then lost all their gains.

The best antidote to getting “priced out in five years” isn’t to pay an overinflated price today. It’s to create more wealth. Build your net worth at a rate that’s faster than housing growth. It’s not that tough.

Let’s try another example.

College is Good, Grad School is Better

UnCommon Sense: “You’re not a zombie. So don’t blindly repeat the mantra that college is good and graduate school is better.

“Do the friggin’ math.”

“If you want to be a neurologist, awesome. Take out a six-figure student loan to go to medical school, because you’ll have a rare, high-demand skill that will command you a $225,000+ income.

“But if you want to be a social worker earning $30,000 a year with a master’s degree, think twice before burying yourself with debt.”

Retort: “But I did it and it wasn’t so bad! My student loan payments are only $180 a month. That’s nothing. That’s less than my car payment! And I think the government will forgive my loan in 20 years, anyway.

Plus, I got this job that pays $42,000 a year, and there’s a chance I could get enough in bonuses to make as much as $50,000. There’s no way I could have gotten that without my master’s degree.”

Ouch. This is one of the most common “it worked for me” arguments that I hear. And what’s befuddling is that the underlying message is that it really didn’t work.

$180 per month for 20 years is $43,200. That’s a decent chunk of cash, but it’s not horrifying. People have lost more by buying a house at the wrong price.

What’s worse is the missed opportunity. $180 invested monthly over 20 years is $106,730. That’s a horrifying amount.

But that’s still not the worst part. The real sad news comes from other missed opportunities. Want to start your own business after a few years? Good luck! The rest of us can move into grandma’s basement, mow lawns on the weekends to pay for groceries, and spend the rest of the week building our own graphic design enterprise. Your extra $180 monthly loan payment means you’ll need to mow many more lawns.

“That’s true of a mortgage, too.”

Yes, but you can sell a house.

That’s not the only hang up. You’ll be far less inclined to change careers if you decide your current path isn’t fulfilling. What would you do – go back for a second master’s degree in a different field, racking up even more debt?

You’ll have a rougher time quitting your job to travel the globe. You’ll lose the flexibility to change jobs and take risks. You’ll probably delay buying your first rental property or maxing out your Roth IRA by a few years.

“It worked for me” isn’t always the best path. At best, it’s an isolated data point. At worst, it’s bad advice.

What the French Taught Me About Texas

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Flaneur - What the French Taught Me About Texas TravelI’ve been in Austin, Texas for a week; I have another week to go. Several people here, upon discovering that I’m a visitor, have asked me the same question:

“So what do you want to do while you’re here?”

I shrug. I’m up for anything. Most days I pick a neighborhood, stroll around, poke into coffee shops and cafes, and strike up conversations with random people.

Apparently this is rare. Many people think they need to travel with an hour-by-hour itinerary of events. They’ve got plans, maps and agendas that guide them from breakfast ‘til dessert.

If you only have 10 vacation days per year, this strategy makes sense. Losing one day through inefficiency – sleeping late, missing the train – equates to losing 10 percent of your annual time off from work. You feel pressured to fill that unscheduled gap between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. The clock is ticking.

Unfortunately, this harried pace prevents the spontaneity that creates the most amusing chance encounters. I’m referring to the take-a-side-street, say-yes-to-invites, make-new-friends-in-strange-places spontaneity.

There’s a French word that expresses this idea: “flaneur.” This refers to someone who strolls around, without hurry and without haste, drinking the sights and sounds, ready to experience anything.

American actress and author Cornelia Otis Skinner describes a flaneur as “the deliberately aimless pedestrian, unencumbered by any obligation or sense of urgency, who, being French and therefore frugal, wastes nothing, including his time, which he spends with the leisurely discrimination of a gourmet, savoring the multiple flavors of his city.”

What a beautiful way to live. Frugal with time, yet unhurried.

The French have described the way I want to spend my time in the beautiful state of Texas.

Even if you only have 10 vacation days per year, dare yourself to try it. Resist the urge to jam-pack your days as if you were at a business conference. Stroll aimlessly. Talk to strangers.

Better yet, try it today, in your hometown. Take a side-street. Stroll into an art gallery. Meet someone new. You never know what’s around the corner, even those corners in your own backyard.

P.S. I have heard that some parts of French-speaking Canada use the word “flaneur” to refer to loiterers. That’s NOT the kind of aimless strolling I support.

P.P.S. Please don’t turn the comments section into a Texas vs. France debate. This ain’t the place.

Ditch the Laptop

Hi everyone! I’m in Puerto Rico this week, and I’m taking a break from writing posts. I’ll return to normally-scheduled articles next week.

I’m fortunate enough to be able to work remotely from anywhere in the world. This is a freeing lifestyle, but it has its downsides. The good news is that I could stay in Puerto Rico for a month if I wanted to; the bad news is that its tough to disconnect from work and take a true break.

That’s why I left my laptop at home. Ditching the laptop is the only way I could force myself to unplug. :-)

(Of course, here I am checking email on a friend’s laptop. Old habits die hard).

Since I’m not writing this week, let me point you to great writing around the web.

On Riches: Len Penzo wrote a classic post on 19 Things Your Suburban Millionaire Neighbor Won’t Tell You. If you’re like me, you’ll read through the list and think, “Hey, I know that guy!”

On Travel: Niall Doherty is stuck in Tehran. His visa is expiring, so he has to leave the country, but he doesn’t have cash to buy a ticket, and none of the ATMs are working. In other words, Niall is on a real adventure. :-) Niall is a few months deep into his own year-long journey around the world, and his travel stories remind me of my own.

On Values: We say we want local merchants who offer great service, Seth Godin writes, but when push comes to shove, we buy from big-box retailers who compete on price, not quality.

Can You Save Money … By Traveling?

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Most people focus on saving money to travel. But can you save money by traveling?

It sounds counterintuitive, I know. But a hidden truth of travel is that – depending on where you go and what you do – your expenses while traveling can be lower than your expenses at home.

Pocket the difference, and you’ve saved more by traveling than you did by sitting on your couch watching reruns of Friends.
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Let’s examine a hypothetical scenario to see how this plays out.

Adam and Alice, a couple in their early 30’s with no children, decide to spend one month camping in forests across Washington, Oregon and California.

At home in Seattle, their joint expenses are:

Rent: $800/mo
Utilities: $220/mo (gas, electric, cable, internet)
Cell Phones: $80/mo
Gym Membership: $80/mo
Gasoline: $100/mo
Insurance on Two Cars: $100/mo
Groceries: $175/mo
Dining Out and Entertainment: $80/mo
Student Loan repayment: $100/mo

Total: $1,735/mo

Adam and Alice realize they can slash a lot of these costs while they’re on the road.

Here’s their travel cost-of-living:

Rent: $0, after finding a renter to sublet for one month.
Utilities: $0; the sublet renter signs an agreement to pay the utility bills
Cell Phone: $40/mo; they put Alice’s phone plan on hold, since they can rely on just one person’s phone. Long calls to loved ones take place with unlimited night and weekend minutes.
Gym Membership: $0; on hold
Insurance: $50/mo, as they now only need to insure one car. The other car stays parked in a friend’s garage.
Dining Out and Entertainment: $0, as they’ll get all the entertainment they need from the adventure itself
Student Loan Repayment: $100/mo

Of course, they have to take on new expenses too. Gasoline during the road trip will run them $400. They’re planning on camping in national parks and forests, which means they’ll need a tent and camping mat ($100). They can camp for free on grounds managed by the Bureau of Land Management, which are abundant in the Western U.S.

They buy a mini-fridge for their car ($40) which is powered through an inverter that plugs into the cigarette lighter ($30). They also buy a camping stove ($40). These investments mean their grocery bill stays at its normal $175/mo, since they don’t have to dine out while they travel.

Monthly expenses: $765
Equipment cost (tent, stove, etc): $210
Total cost of living for the month: $975

Savings: Their cost-of-living while traveling is $760 less than their cost of living at home.

Is That “Real” Savings?

Are they actually saving? It depends.

If they’re using paid vacation or working remotely from their laptop, then yes, they are saving $760. (Paid vacation is a myth, but that’s a different story.)

If they have passive income that pays their home cost-of-living ($1,735/mo), then yes, they’re saving $760. (Heck, if their passive income pays even $1 more than their travel costs, they’re saving.)

If their income drops to $0 as they travel, then no, they’re not saving … but they’re spending roughly half as much as they do when they’re at home in Seattle.

In other words — the trip isn’t as expensive as people might assume. They’re taking a road trip for one month for less than $1,000.

Which means that when people ask “How could you afford to travel for a month?,” they’re asking the wrong question.

Travel the World for the Price of a Honda

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Time for Answer the Reader’s Mail: “See the World” Edition!
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Today’s question comes from Sophia, a 27-year-old financial planner in Minneapolis with a desire to travel the world. Sophia says:

“I’m a world traveler … My husband and I went to Thailand at the beginning of the year and we loved it!”

“The more I sit in an office, the more I want to be location independent. I want to be able to help people with their finances from any location. I also want to be in control of my time.”

“I feel this need to travel more, to explore, and not be tied to an office in Minnesota.”

Sophia, your story sounds similar to mine! I became location independent in 2010 after returning from a two-year trip around the world and realizing I couldn’t tie myself down to an office job.

(FYI: “location independence” means, “you can work from anywhere on earth.”)

Sophia poses several questions about travel and location independence. I’m writing two posts to answer her questions. This article covers travel. And this other article discusses location independence.

#1: How much money did you save for your journey abroad?

I saved about $25,000 for the trip. I figured I’d have enough money to globetrot for about a year before things became tight.

It turned out that I vastly overestimated how much the trip would cost. That $25K was enough to get me by for two-and-a-half years — including all airfare and insurance. (Read that story here.)

#2: What’s the one thing you wished you would have packed?

The Kindle hadn’t been invented at the time I traveled, but man oh man, that would have changed everything.

Here’s why:

Many long-term travelers stay in one place, get a job, and immerse themselves in the culture. They can earn money, learn the language and cross the divide between “tourist” and “local.”

While I respect that strategy, that wasn’t my goal. I wanted to see everything: the Pyramids, the Great Barrier Reef, the temples of Bali, the jungles of Borneo. I was on-the-move.

I was determined NOT to work while I was traveling – I wanted no responsibilities. Second, I visited a huge span of countries — 17 countries in 2.5 years. And third, I often ventured into the middle of nowhere.

To visit this many countries, you need a TON of guidebooks and maps. I carried “region-wide” guidebooks – the Middle East, Southeast Asia – but these are thick volumes that eat up half your bag.

Plus I wanted to read for fun, which means I was sloughing through the jungles of Borneo with Harry Potter on my back.

Between the guidebooks and the fun books, I probably lugged 10 pounds of reading material on my back at all times. I’d trade out the fun books at book exchanges, but that meant I’d load up with new books.

And I’d have to carry 4-5 fun books at a time, since I was often in remote areas where I knew I’d have to ration my reading material.

Moral of the story: a Kindle would have solved that problem. Imagine having hundreds of books in digital form. It blows my mind.

#3: What should you have left at home?

Hmm. To be honest, I can’t remember. If I brought anything unnecessary, I’d donate or toss it immediately.

Likewise, if I needed anything, I bought it.

Remember, not all your supplies have to come from a Western country. I’d “re-fuel” in the major capitals: New Delhi, Bangkok, Cairo, Kuala Lumpur.

#4: How did your travels change who you are today?

This may sound strange: world travel is the reason I decided to dedicate my life to teaching personal finance.

Many of my friends would comment, “I’d love to travel but I can’t afford it.”

I hear that statement about loads of big, brash dreams. “I’d love to be a photographer / singer / writer but it’s unrealistic.” “I’d love to work for myself but that’s not realistic.”

Sorry, but that’s simply not true.

As I noted in one of my most popular posts, Quit Your Job and Travel, no one questions how you can “afford” to drop tens of thousands of dollars on a “conventional” expense.

No one says, “I’d love to go to grad school / have a baby / buy a home, but I can’t afford it.” Conventional wisdom says that grad school / babies / homeownership is a worthwhile goal, so people FIND a way to afford it.

People work the night shift so they can save for a down payment on a house.

Isn’t it funny that when society tells us that a goal is achievable, we figure out how to achieve it? But when people say that a goal is unrealistic, we give up. We quit before we’ve tried.

I didn’t do anything special. I avoided debt and I saved $25,000.

Millions of people do EXACTLY that same thing in order to buy a house or to have a baby, and no one fawns over their accomplishment.

Frankly, $25,000 isn’t that much money. It’s the cost of a Honda Accord. It’s one year of private school tuition. It’s a 20 percent down payment on a $125,000 condo.

Have you ever heard anyone say, “Wow, you bought a Honda! How on earth could you afford to do that? You must be rich!”

Or worse yet: “I’d LOVE to own a condo, but I could never afford it.

No one says that. People have a funny view of money. They spend lavishly on socially-acceptable priorities like homes, cars and education, but they rob their real dreams to pay for that.

Seeing the way that people reacted to my 2-year round-the-world trip drove this point home, so I decided to dedicate my life to teaching one very simple but powerful message:

Cut ruthlessly on the things you don’t care about. Spend lavishly on the things you love. Ignore conventional wisdom.

Want more? Check out my answers to Sophia’s questions about creating location independence.