Greetings from Rio de Janeiro!
I’m writing this from an apartment in Brazil, where I’m in the middle of a whirlwind 10-day trip with around a half-dozen friends. I’d love it if you follow the adventure on Instagram.
Today on Afford Anything, though, I want to share a reader story I find inspiring:
Neal and Diane were a mid-career couple who had grown bored with their jobs. In Diane’s own words:
“Two years ago my husband and I were both in jobs that were making us miserable. One lonely night in a hotel room, I got on the internet looking for answers (why not) – and there was Afford Anything. So I got hooked on the idea of location independence …
“Since then we have lived VERY simply, paid off our debts, and saved enough to support ourselves for 2 years.
“I have always wanted to be a photographer and my husband a writer. We have enough buffer to give it a go and figure out the freelance lifestyle. And decided to try out that location independence concept … in France.”
This. Is. Awesome.
Many people work in dissatisfying jobs — and most people’s stories end there. “We remained bored and listless for the next 20 years, counting down the days until traditional retirement age.” Not Diane and Neal.
Instead, they saved two years’ of expenses and moved to France. Wowza.
Let’s find out exactly how they did it — and what advice they’d offer along the way.
Before we dive in, I’d like to offer a disclaimer: This article (and ALL articles on this site) isn’t intended to prescribe an identical path. Not everyone wants to explore Brazil or move to France.
But everyone should have the opportunity to live life unrestricted. You should have the freedom to choose whether or not you’ll work, and if you do, what, where and when that work will be.
When I talk about ‘freedom,’ I mean it in the widest sense of the word: Self-determination. Autonomy. Choices. I’m referring to having the ability to decide how you’ll spend your days. There’s a difference between being stuck in a job vs. choosing to stay at a job because it represents your life’s calling and purpose. When I say that Conformists are stuck at jobs, I mean that literally — they’re stuck. Rebels choose.
This disclaimer is meant to say: Don’t view this story only for its surface details, such as quitting your job to freelance in France. Instead, view it for the bigger lesson: If you’re unhappy with your current life, change it.
Start now. Re-imagine possibilities. Embark on your next adventure, no matter how far away that feels.
How Diane and Neal Made a Radical Change
After long careers, Neal and Diane were feeling unfulfilled and restless. As they phrase it on their blog:
“We’re two ordinary middle-class midwestern kids who realized one day that we had become middle-class middle-aged adults on autopilot and off course. Golden handcuffs had us shackled to jobs we didn’t want doing work we didn’t care about.
“But that’s work, right? Work is what you do to pay the bills. You don’t need to care about it, you just need to do it. Or do you?
They decided to radically re-imagine their life — so they started saving money.
“What did you think was going to happen? We would immediately quit our jobs and run off willy-nilly into the unknown? We said we were middle-class midwestern kids. Coming up with a plan and saving money for a year is as radical as we get.”
Haha. That’s exactly what I did, too. I imagined a life filled with more travel … and spent the next three years saving for it. (But what’s the alternative? Quit without a plan? Or worse, stick with a status quo that leaves you bored and unfulfilled?)
Let’s chat with Diane about how she and her husband broke the shackles of mediocrity and boredom.
- What jobs did you and your husband have? What made you dislike them so much?
I was a healthcare IT consultant, and traveled to client sites every Monday through Thursday.
I have been in the healthcare field for 25 years, and it never was a good match for me. I have always been looking for something that inspired me – anything I didn’t dread going to every day.
I heard a lot of feedback like “What do you expect from a job?” and “Nobody LIKES work.” I was never ready to accept that, but had bills to pay – so ended up doing various healthcare project/program management jobs for a very long time.
Neal was an architect and for most of his career really enjoyed it. But it had become routine and no longer held any real inspiration for him. He had begun to dread going to work and realized he needed to make a change.
- Did you know this was the wrong path for you from the beginning? Or did something change?
I definitely knew this was the wrong path from the beginning – just didn’t know what else to do. I was in healthcare long enough to be making good money and didn’t know exactly how to get out of it.
Neal’s career was a good choice, but he was ready for a change.
- Have you always wanted to travel? Or did this idea develop later?
I started traveling in my late 20’s and got addicted. I love learning about and experiencing new cultures and always wanted more. Neal also enjoys other cultures, but isn’t a fan of airplanes – so travel was a little more challenging for him.
- How did you sell your spouse on the idea of location independence?
During one lonely week in a hotel I found your blog Afford Anything and it really challenged my “go to the office and get a paycheck every 2 weeks” mentality. I knew it would be a hard sell to my husband, who had the same traditional mindset. So I did what all good project managers do — prepared a powerpoint presentation!
I proposed living simply and saving money to prepare for a location independent lifestyle. I introduced the concepts of freelancing, living anywhere, changing our current way of thinking as an employee, etc. Neal was very quiet after the presentation. I thought I had blown it. But after a sleepless night, he woke up the next day and said “let’s do it.”
- Was making the transition to “simple living” difficult for you, or were you always savers?
We were NOT always savers. It was really not hard though, because we were incredibly motivated for the end goal. As the savings started building we were motivated to save more.
- Why France?
I have been in love with France since I visited Paris in my 20’s. Also I took French in high school, so thought it would be easier to learn the language since I had a little base to start with (I was wrong on that point, I am finding out). Neal appreciates French architecture and art and admires the spirit of Liberté, égalité, fraternité. He also had delusions of quick proficiency with the language.
- What scares you the most about taking this leap to location independence?
Quitting our jobs was pretty scary – even though we have some savings, not getting paychecks every 2 weeks was shocking. All of our planning didn’t prepare us mentally for that change.
Our biggest fear was that we won’t be able to support ourselves by freelancing, but those fears were short lived. We no longer consider it an option to go back to “work.” It’s not a matter of IF we’ll figure out how to support ourselves doing what we love/what inspires us, it’s only a matter of when.
- Did you freelance on the side before quitting your jobs?
I have spent the last year and a half figuring out what my options are as a photographer, and started with stock agencies. I have sold a few so far, but now just need to get my portfolio built up. Also, Neal started submitting stories to different online contests and magazines, just to get a feel for what folks are looking for.
- You’ve done a great job preparing financially. Have you had to do any mental preparation for this move?
I think mental preparation has been an ongoing journey. It’s so exciting and terrifying at the same time. It’s mostly exciting – but we have our moments. Luckily since there are two of us going through it together, when one has doubts the other is there for support.
- How did you figure out how much money you had to save?
We figured out a rough budget for living expenses for 2 years – based on the cost of living in the cities we were researching. We also included a budget for travel, since that will be a big part of our new life.
- Do you feel less pressure to make money from freelancing since you’ve saved up for this trip?
No not at all! Although we do have a savings, as soon as we started to see it getting smaller, we were incredibly motivated to figure out how to make money.
- How have your friends and family responded to your move to France to freelance?
My family knows I have been unhappy with work for a very long time. And I know they are worried about it not being “stable” like my previous jobs, but they are happy that I am going after my dream.
Neal’s family has also been supportive – they are a little worried about the practical things like insurance and what exactly freelancing means, but are very happy for us and wish us success.
Friends, friends of friends, and now blog followers have all been so supportive and excited for us. I think it’s one of those things that many people dream about doing but for one reason or another, just don’t do it.
- On your blog, you have a few posts about the process of applying for a visa. What was it like? Do you have any advice to offer to those who are going through the same thing?
We are researchers – so we researched the French Consulate website, expat chats about others’ experiences with the process, and every website/blog we could find. We had our checklist and really thought we were prepared. But there were still a couple of obstacles once we got to the consulate for our appointment.
Our recommendation is to read your regional Consulate website thoroughly, and be prepared with everything they ask for. Being organized definitely will help – there is a lot of paperwork to keep up with! Also, just be polite and patient and they will work with you.
- Will you try living in different countries after France?
Right now our plan is to stay in France for a year, and then reevaluate our situation – how we are sticking to the budget, how our freelancing income is developing, if we like our location, etc. At that point, if all is on-track, we will likely stay for another year and go through the reevaluation again. We are staying open to all possibilities at this point!
- What other countries would you like to visit?
I have been to Spain, Peru, Fiji, and we have both been to Japan. We both want to visit as much of Europe as we can see, and then maybe Thailand, Africa … who knows!
- What’s your favorite travel destination and why?
So far my favorite travel destination is France. I just love the food, wine, art, architecture, culture, and landscape. In my experience the French people have been warm and friendly, and the language is just beautiful.
- What does a fulfilling life look like to you?
To me a fulfilling life would look like spending every day experiencing the world around me through photography, and sharing that with others.
Working with Neal on projects where he writes and I photograph has been so rewarding, that having every day to work on our websites and blog together would be incredible.
- What are you most looking forward to about this next chapter?
I’m most looking forward to NOT dreading getting up and going to work every day!
I have dreamed of waking up and being excited to “work” and was starting to wonder if that was possible – well it is. Part of the next chapter will be exploring France, Spain, Italy, Germany … and honing my photography skill. I am just so excited!
- What tools did you use to learn French?
We have used Rocket French online, Living Language, and also tutors (some in person and some via Skype). We also have done online language exchange through mylanguageexchange.com and italki.com which we have really enjoyed. We have met and developed friendships with several French people through language exchange and we highly recommend it to anyone learning a new language.
- What advice would you give others that are looking to ditch their careers and travel?
Come up with a plan, and then develop a community of support.
One of the hardest parts of ditching your career is figuring out what you would rather do. Do some research and think about alternative options – writing, photography, microgigs, teaching English as a second language, website design …. keep your mind open!
Once you figure out what you want to do, then connect with others doing it. Develop a support network of people who can help you learn your new skill set and support you through the process of shifting to a new lifestyle.
The other part of that plan is to cut your expenses and save every penny possible. The more money you can save, the better your options are.
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