Next week our little family heads out on our big cross-country road trip – the beginning of our long-term travels and the continuation of a slow lifestyle that we’ve been living for the past few years. In my last piece, I shared how our path, rhythm and learning on the road will most likely flow. In this post, I want to talk more about how it is possible for us to travel this long and in this way. Here is the path we took from dreaming about a slower lifestyle with more family time and more traveling possibilities to actually living it.

Let’s take a look.

“…we believe that the real measure of modern success [has] nothing to do with your bank balance or the size of your house, but instead, the amount of free time you have at your disposal. We think disposable time, as a resource to strive for and spend, counts for much more than disposable income.” – Tim Meek, on his family’s lifestyle

Years back – four to be exact – I was inspired to reconsider our lifestyle. It was right after the birth of our daughter and I was drawn in by examples of other families who seemed to be living their dreams. They were traveling more often or had creative forms of income or were just living their happiness different from the mainstream. Their lives were slow and intentional and seemingly anything but mundane. Our family wanted to start making some of those changes, but I had one question: how could they afford it? 

Actually that question was riddled with a million others. I wanted to know all the details, literally all of them, but at the very least these three: What is their income? What are their expenses? And for those who travel, what do they do with their things back home? Over time, I slowly learned the answer to many of these questions in bits and pieces. Turns out they were very personal questions – not in an it’s-private-sort-of-way, but that the answer varied greatly from family to family.

Some sold their homes or rented them or house swapped; some left their jobs or created their own income or became consultants; some lived with less or valued money differently than others or were redefining the American Dream altogether. It could mean any number of variables that got them from wanting a change to living that change. In learning about the many different ways families were making their dreams possible, there was one constant though: it was the families themselves who took a leap and followed their hearts. Their newfound lifestyle didn’t fall into their laps. It was something they wanted and then something they really sat down and got creative about.

That was inspiring enough to get creative ourselves. We went from wondering how something like that could ever happen for us to actively planning how we could make our life more like how we wanted it to be. The process was slow, a few years in the making, with leaps and missteps along the way. Our dreams evolved, and the lessons learned were sometimes really challenging.

But this was our new American Dream – measured in family time, in simple moments and in enjoying our lives. For us, this happiness was worth the challenge to try and figure out. Turns out, it would come to mean reconsidering where we lived, our income streams and our spending plans – big lifestyle changes indeed. We’ve never looked back. Now that we’re actively living that slow family life and on the verge of our own long-term travels, I want to in turn answer these questions myself.

What is our form of income?

Soon after my daughter’s birth in 2011, we wrestled with the idea that I would become a stay-at-home-mom. You would have thought we were turning our whole world upside down – and in some ways we were – to make that possible. We’d never considered becoming a one-income household, not even at nine months pregnant. But with our four month old daughter in my arms, I vividly remember the conversation my husband and I had as we tried to figure out how we’d resolve what our inner voices were telling us: we wanted me to be home with our infant, for an indefinite amount of time. Gulp. It wasn’t an instantaneous decision. My husband wasn’t immediately on board with the idea. We had to think long and hard about how it would work.

Over the course of that year – mainly because emotionally it took that long to make the transition – I went from working full-time to part-time to becoming a consultant to at last being a stay-at-home mom. All the while, we explored creative ventures that could supplement my husband’s income while also providing me flexibility to be home with our daughter.

The ideas themselves largely flubbed. They didn’t generate income. They actually cost money and a lot of stress. It was not as easy as just having an idea – even one that was really well thought out and supported –  for a business to become successful. The learning curve to self-employment was hard and sometimes felt like it wasn’t worth the investment. But it made me resilient and gave me incredible insight and first-hand learning. I learned more about my skills, the type of work I want to be doing, the types of people I want to work with and what sort of elements are necessary to make an idea more likely to succeed.

Eventually, ideas started to gain traction. Some in small ways, others more significantly.

Still, you may be thinking – right, but your husband’s job must actually pay enough for your whole family. It does, but not in a conventional sense. My husband is a public school teacher, a fine paying, secure position, and we reside right outside of NYC, in one of the highest cost of living areas in the world. On paper, according to the typical American standard of living, it doesn’t seem like his income would be enough to support our family. But, we were throwing all those standards out the window – turning everything on its head. It was more possible than we’d ever considered before. 

However, even a teacher’s schedule, with summers off, doesn’t allow for this kind of long-term travel on its own. For this upcoming year, my husband was able to apply for and take a leave from his teaching position. Preparing for this, there was a push for solidifying those mobile income streams on which we’d been working, moonlighting almost every night for about as far back as we can remember. I don’t want to understate this part of it. It’s been a lot of work. Basically, whenever our daughter slept we went to work – with a Game of Thrones episode thrown in here and there. Having these in place left us with the job stability from my husband’s leave, along with the income, mobility and flexibility of our various ventures.

I currently am a family photographer and conference speaker here on family+footprints, as well as a writer and co-founder of Forest School For All. My husband co-founded Daily Fantasy Sports Rankings and writes for Cinema Blend.

What are our expenses?

When we bought our first place, we purchased a two-family house. It was always our plan to eventually rent it out as an income-generating property. Living there for many years felt like a sacrifice, especially when it felt like everyone around us was buying single-family homes. Turns out, that gave us more flexibility than we realized for getting creative about our lifestyle. We moved out and rented both units. Property maintenance has its own learning curve that we’re getting a better grasp of as we go. It requires work, but has largely been a benefit to us. Suddenly, we are no longer tied down to an area, housing-wise, nor paying for a mortgage while we prepare for traveling before settling back down.

And so, as short-term nomads with our home rented out, expenses are significantly reduced in one fell swoop. That cuts out housing and utilities, while we pay for our accommodations on the road. For the road trip, we looked at RVs; we considered pulling a pop-up trailer; but ultimately we landed on taking our car and tent. This works well from a lifestyle and monetary standpoint. Camping is something we enjoy immensely and it provides much flexibility. Plus, we already own our car and a family tent. There is a limited investment in terms of additional camping gear. So this is a relatively, low-cost way to travel and a very easy choice for us. When we aren’t camping, we’ll be splitting our time between visiting friends and family and getting the occasional rental house or apartment.

But some budget choices have also helped make it easier to live this lifestyle. We carry credit cards, but no credit card debt. We drive used cars and enjoy walking or biking when we can. Preferring to cook, rather than eating out saves money as well. Our family doesn’t buy many things – at all. When spending money, we often choose experiences over possessions. Those experiences often give far more than a material item can and the takeaway seems to last much longer. But still, when we buy items we do so thoughtfully.

Yet, we don’t feel like we’ve skimped on anything of importance. It’s important for us to eat organic, local foods. We rely on having well functioning technology. And educational experiences for our daughter, no matter how much they don’t feel like an expense, but rather an investment, are paramount.

As we travel, some of these expenses will change, but not tremendously. We’ve created a budget that matches a lifestyle we love, while also being relatively modest for where we live.

So here we are four years later – we’ve rented out our home; we’ve minimized our possessions; we’ve changed our income sources considerably, but no less feel like we are tapping into ourselves and our skills creatively; and we’re about to have a year where my husband and I are both home with my daughter, educating her in a way we are energized and excited about, with fully mobile and flexible incomes streams. Sometimes we can’t believe how much has changed over the past few years. But more than anything, I can’t believe we didn’t start the process sooner. Looking back, it was as much about setting the ball in motion as it was about figuring it out along the way.

Are we rich? No. Do we feel it? Yes. Not because we live in luxury, but because we have the luxury of time with each other. And in today’s day and age, that feels like one of the most valuable things we can have. And for that, I thank all the folks who took the leap and shared their story. You’ve inspired us to do the same. Our American Dream is different than most, but in making it possible for ourselves, we’ve never been happier.

Looking for ways to take the leap to living your dreams yourself? We’d love to hear your plans and your questions. Here’s to all of us finding our path and living our happiness.

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