I’ve been asked the same question many times these past months as we travel.
“How are you affording to do this? Must be nice to vacation all the time…”
There is no secret. We’ve not a pot-o-gold buried on our back forty and we’ve no inheritance paving our way across the western U.S. The fact is we simply have very little bills. This was no accident and it certainly did not come easy.
My husband snores soft, oblivious, as I type next to him now because he woke yesterday morning in the arctic at 4:30 a.m. and worked most of the day. He flew to Anchorage, took our daughter to dinner and filled her gas tank. He caught a midnight flight to Denver, sat in the airport for three hours, then flew to Texas and drove three hours more to our rented condo before finally dozing off just minutes ago. Somewhere in that he took me to dinner and listened to me ramble on, because I’d been without adult conversation for two weeks. That’s 42 hours mostly awake after working about 170 hours in the past two weeks. And in twelve days he’ll do it all again.
Plenty of people work long hours, sacrifice for their families. Many far more than us. But somewhere along the way we made a choice to do things a little differently. We sacrificed in a different way than many and now, with this big trip, we are finally seeing the fruit of our labor. And I’ll not lie, the taste is sweet and I think…well earned.
We gave up all credit cards about eight years ago; forwent years of vacations; haven’t bought a ‘new’ car since 1993 and we still drive that same old truck. We’ve never bought a house that wasn’t a fixer-upper. Last year we gave up our big house, the luxury of public utilities and for a while, we even gave up having a toilet. No big deal, really, where we come from. Plenty of people live that way for a lot longer than us and are three times as tough.
Most of our things came from dusty shelves tucked in the back of second hand stores. The art on my walls was painted by my mom. Our furniture is second hand and save for our winter gear, our clothes are mostly fabulous thrift store finds. Twice a year we all get new tennis shoes and my obsession with Arc’teryx sweaters and Sporthill gear has landed me in the poor house once or twice but for the most part, we live frugal.
We don’t stray far from home. Our weakness is eating out and we normally share a meal. Once or twice a year we find ourselves in Anchorage overnight and splurge on a hotel room. Woohoo. While my friends take annual girl trips to warm places and I yearn to tag along, I suck it up and stay home. Honestly, I hate that.
Sometimes I want to go back to the Visa life, splurge and purge, splurge and purge. Several of my friends are able to do these things without immersing themselves in debt because they work hard and smart. They made good choices from a young age. I try now to model myself after those people and wish I’d known then what I know now. Live and learn.
It’s a good life. I’m not complaining at all, just shining a light on the ‘how’ of it all.
We didn’t do all this just because we are somehow invested in making our lives more difficult. We did these things because we had a vision. A vision of a life not shackled to debt, or a false sense of responsibility to a life we didn’t particularly enjoy in the first place. I don’t mean that in a ‘hippy-freak-bra-burning’ sort of way. We just had a longing for something different. We made a list of what we had to do to achieve our goals. And we did them.
And then we lived our life with purpose.
So when we found ourselves in the odd predicament of being somewhat homeless when winter in Alaska rolled around and our cabin wasn’t quite up to snuff, we weren’t in a bind. We weren’t scrambling to pull cash off credit cards to pay two mortgages. We didn’t panic and take our big house back from the renters. We said, “Hey…let’s take the kids on a big ol’ trip!”
And so we did.
It’s not cheap to travel but we’ve learned to skimp. We camp a lot, take full advantage of all willing relatives, and can make sixteen peanut-butter sandwiches on the go with nothing but a dirty pocket knife and a dog to lick it clean.
And now the money most people spend on a mortgage and car payment, we put into campgrounds and national park admissions. The dollars most spend just to keep four walls around them…we save, and escape those same walls.
It’s a choice we made and so far, a good one. Ask me again in the spring when we’ve no money saved to work our land and I may tell another story but for now we’re living the dream and I’m not quite ready to wake. And yes…it is nice to vacation ‘all the time’.