- Jeremy and Winnie retired from their tech jobs in their 30s, where they earned a combined salary of $US135,000.
- They now travel full-time with their 3-year-old son, living on about $US65,000 a year.
- For Business Insider’s “Real Money” series, Jeremy tracked their spending during a week in Europe exploring the Baltic and Nordic countries.
- Want to share a week of your spending? Email [email protected].
My wife Winnie and I retired about six years ago with the idea of travelling the world.
Travelling in retirement is a pretty common thing, so I suppose the interesting part is that we were still in our 30s and our 3-year-old son has now been to 35 countries.
We didn’t do anything glamorous to become financially independent.
Before retiring, I worked as an engineer at Microsoft and Winnie worked as project manager at Dell. Our combined salaries over my 16 years of work was about $US135,000 (during my highest earning years, the last three, Winnie had already stopped working).
We both grew up on the edge of poverty and were willing to live like poor college students for a decade longer than is socially acceptable. Instead of buying stuff or experiences, we were buying our future freedom.
Once upon a time a friend dropped us off at our student apartment in a dingy part of town. “You live… here?!” It certainly wasn’t as nice as his house, but his property taxes were more than our entire cost of living. Both were really wonderful lifestyles, ours just happened to cost a lot less. And we never accidentally spent big bucks remodeling a kitchen.
It’s been at least 15 years since we’ve had a car. For several years my main form of transportation was a used bicycle I bought on Craigslist for $US50. I later sold it for $US60. It also doubled as a gym membership.
We ate a lot of dinners that could be best described as “interesting.” But over time our kitchen became the best restaurant in town. We even make our own bread (which is amazing). Now friends jump at the opportunity to enjoy a home-cooked meal at our place.
Combined, our efforts to minimise housing, transportation, and food expenses (80% of a typical household budget) allowed us to save 70%+ of our after-tax income. After our investment income started paying all of our expenses, I worked a few extra years so we could inflate our lifestyle. Which we have, and then some.
Nowadays, we could return to the United States and buy a house and a couple cars, enroll in some decent health coverage, dine out regularly, and live a typical life… all without working. We just happen to not want those things.
Instead, for the past many years, we’ve basically spent the summer in Europe, autumn in the US, and winter in Asia. It’s not quite a perpetual summer vacation, but close.
I definitely had a good time during my working years. But our current life is much more enjoyable.
Here is a look at what we spent during a week in Europe as we explored the Baltic and Nordic countries.
Our average annual cost of living is about $US65,000 — a little more than $US5,000 a month.
On that budget, we have rented houses with private pools, flown business class to Paris, and dined in Michelin-starred restaurants. We’ve gone swimming with whale sharks, cruised in Alaska, and watched a strawberry moon rise over Venice.
We have all the cool i-gadgets and toys, and we paid cash for IVF and childbirth (and we’re trying again for child No. 2.) All for the price of a two-bedroom apartment in San Francisco.
Geographic arbitrage, travel hacking, medical tourism, and tax optimization are at the core of our budget.
Roughly speaking we have spent $US2,000 a month living large in Thailand, Mexico, and Guatemala; $US4,000 a month living large in Taiwan and the US; and $US8,000 a month living large in Europe and Japan. It’s a big Choose Your Own Adventure story, and the cost averages out.
A recent big trip included aeroplane tickets from Hong Kong to London, Oslo to Minneapolis, and Seattle to Taipei. The retail price of these flights was over $US7,000. We paid $US200. Total.
When we were ready to have a child, we worked with an IVF doctor in Taipei. Our total outlay was less than $US7,000. Friends in the US paid $US40,000 to $US150,000 with the same results. We’ve seen dentists and doctors in many different countries, and it has been high quality and reasonably priced.
I also employ a pretty aggressive long-term tax minimization strategy, which saves us thousands of dollars in taxes every year. With $US100,000 in taxable income we pay $US0 in income tax, legally and respectfully. It’s all part of our plan to never pay taxes again.
Because we can choose where, when, and how fast we travel, and our total income, we can be where our money goes the furthest. Flexibility is a powerful currency.
On Saturday we bought food and beer at Latvia’s Nationwide Song and Dance Festival.
We woke up early Saturday morning at our Airbnb in Riga, Latvia. Winnie made omelets with fresh eggs and smoked salmon from the local farmer’s market.
We were in town for the Nationwide Song and Dance Festival, a tribute to Latvia on its 100th birthday.
Most of the day we walked through the town center and public parks. Street vendors were selling local farm products and we picked up a small jar of honey. For lunch, we visited a traditional Latvian restaurant, where we had kūgelis (potato pie) with a creamy bacon sauce and cepelinai (dumplings), and a local pilsner and light cider.
At night, we enjoyed the performance of a symphony orchestra and a large choir in the park adjacent to our apartment. A food tent was selling a delightful dark lager with cherries, which paired very nicely with a light dinner of berries, bread, smoked fish, and cheese in the park.
On Sunday, we travelled to Estonia and ate giant slabs of meat.
Today we are taking a bus to Tallinn, Estonia. It’s a 4.5-hour ride so we first burned off a little energy at a playground. The park had a giant trampoline, so we paid 2€ so Jr. could jump his heart out for 10 minutes.
We ate the last of our eggs for breakfast, and then took the city tram to the bus station. A giant market with hundreds of vendors is next door, so we had a quick lunch before hopping on our bus. Winnie also picked up a couple artisan chocolate bars.
I must have slept because the ride went by quickly. We took the Tallinn tram into the Old Town to pick up the keys to our Airbnb. We were a bit hungry so we stepped into a nearby medieval fare place where they sell slabs of meat that you hold in your fist while chugging mead from a clay mug. Super touristy, but sometimes you have to do it.
Before heading to bed, we stopped at a grocery store to stock up on snacks and breakfast supplies.
Monday is our first full day in Tallinn. We had breakfast and coffee at home then set out to see the sites.
We climbed the tower at St. Olav’s church for amazing 360-degree views of the city, which was definitely worth the 232 steps up a spiral staircase. Afterwards we went to a playground and played Frisbee with a couple local kids and their aunt, who offered her best tips on what to do in her hometown.
We stumbled upon a Tex-Mex place that felt straight out of Austin, Texas. They even had Shiner Bock! Normally we try to eat as local as possible, but we had already been on the road two months and were craving some comfort food.
After naps, Jr. spotted a train just like Gertrude from Peppa Pig, so we rode that around the city. There was a busy restaurant with outdoor dining near our place so we hopped in there for dinner.
On Tuesday, we hiked and made dinner at home.
After breakfast at home we hopped in an Uber to the Pääsküla bog trail for a little nature. We hiked about 5 km, climbed an observation tower for a nice view of the countryside, and saw a small deer and a rattlesnake. Butterflies were everywhere!
We rode the city bus back into town and had a late lunch and a nap.
Before dinner we stopped by another park to play, and then walked up the hill to see the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and the view from the Kohtuotsa viewing platform. On the way home, we picked up groceries to make salads and pasta for dinner.
On Wednesday, we explored an indoor museum and ate Tex-Mex again.
It was raining when we awoke so after breakfast we took a bus to the Balti Jaam indoor market. The raspberries, blackberries, and fresh peas looked incredible so we snacked while we explored.
After a quick lunch, we took an Uber to the indoor Seaplane Harbour museum which has a 600-ton Lembit submarine to explore (super cool!)
For dinner, we went back to the Tex-Mex place because I just couldn’t help myself. It had been ages since I had a good burrito.
On Thursday, our last day in Tallinn, we explored more of Old Town and played in the park.
We explored a bit more of the Old Town, checking out the flower market and Viru Gate, St. Katherine’s Passage, Freedom Square, and the city walls. We were tempted by the KGB museum but opted for playtime in a park instead.
As we roamed we picked up a coffee and a few double cheeseburgers, and Winnie found a nice scarf in one of the artisan shops. Jr. fell asleep so we relaxed under the umbrellas of an outdoor eatery rather than push the stroller over the chunky cobblestones.
For dinner we checked out a Chinese fusion place.
On Friday, we arrived in Helsinki, Finland, and earned $US400 in bonus points through the hotel rewards program.
We grabbed breakfast at a cafè, took an Uber to the ferry terminal, and went directly to the onboard kid’s playroom. For lunch we had some nearly intolerable “pizza” – next time we definitely need to pack a lunch.
The weather was perfect when we arrived in Helsinki, and we took a tram to our hotel. Winnie and Julian took a nap while I had a cappuccino and worked a bit in the lobby.
The hotel was a little steep ($US152/night) but included a really nice breakfast and helped us earn about $US400 in bonus points through the hotel rewards program. (We later used these points for three free nights in the US.)
After nap time we walked around town, checking out the Church of Silence and the park outside the Botanical Garden. This was all free but we paid to use the public restroom. Jr. decided he wanted to play his harmonica in the town square and earned 2€ in tips.
For dinner we had Chinese fusion. The owner was from Vietnam and spoke Chinese, English, Vietnamese, and Finnish, which is pretty amazing, as was the food. Since the sun doesn’t set until 10-ish we went to a small playground to wrap up the day.
Tomorrow we will visit Suomenlinna.