Family Travel
More and more families are finding it easy to travel with their kids. (iStock)

Forget Your Excuses and Go Travel

Got kids? A House? Forget the excuses—living the expat life of your dreams is easier than you think. 

By Ryan Murdock

Do you say you want to travel or live abroad, but when asked why you don’t get started, you find yourself reciting a long list of reasons to prove it’s impossible?

You’re not alone.

It’s easy to dream big expat dreams. But the prospect of actually following through with them can seem daunting. And that’s when the excuses pile up.

Well, I have some good news for you.

There are answers to each of your questions, and a wide range of possible solutions to every objection.

I took matters to my Facebook friends last week, and I asked them to share with me the biggest obstacles that are preventing them from travelling or living abroad.

The two big ones, unsurprisingly, tend to be money and kids—a lack of the former, and a surplus of the latter. But I know all sorts of people who have never let either of those things stand in their way. And you’ll meet them in a moment.

So let’s go through the most common excuses, and I’ll propose solutions and avenues of research for each of them.

First up…

Dude, I’m Broke

Money is the biggest obstacle that most people cite for not following their dreams. But it’s also the area with the greatest number of solutions.

My answer to the money problem was to create a portable occupation.

In 2002, I was living in Ottawa, earning minimum wage working for temp agencies and getting rejected for envelope-stuffing and data-entry jobs.

Despite a decent university education, my wife and I were barely scraping by. And I knew that working for someone else would never give me the life of travel I dreamed of creating.

Starting an online business was the best thing I ever did to change my lifestyle. And it didn’t require any financing, either. My business partner and I started our company with about $50.

It took us close to five years of work—very long days and evenings, and no days off, doing absolutely everything ourselves. But as we began making a small profit, we reinvested everything we could back into the business, hiring part-time help to take over routine tasks so we could focus on innovation and growth.

Don’t want the responsibilities of being a business owner? No problem. There are lots of other ideas you could pursue to support your expat lifestyle.

By 2010, I was able to earn enough from my share of the business to move abroad. And I’ve been living on a small island in the Mediterranean ever since.

I built my writing career at the same time as the business. I took manuscript pages to all those temp jobs to work on during my lunch break, and I wrote articles in the evenings.

So I don’t think I’m speaking casually when I say that being broke is no excuse for giving up on your dreams. I was down to the last $10 in my pocket more than once during those years of struggle. I guess I just had to give up evenings and weekends and lunch breaks to create a way out of that hole.

So look into starting an online business. It’s the greatest area of opportunity in the world today.

And if you don’t want the responsibilities of being a business owner? No problem. There are lots of other ideas you could pursue to support your expat lifestyle.

One is to get a skillset or profession that you could use anywhere. I know people who have travelled the world working as scuba instructors or dive masters. And I know a few hairdressers who took the skills they learned in Tokyo or Milan and found employment and clients in their expat destination of choice.

Other professions lend themselves very well to remote work. I earn part of my income from writing, and I know several people who earn money as translators. In both of these cases, accuracy and a fast turnaround time are a huge advantage. And if you’re in the right time zone, you’ll be completing and submitting your work while your clients sleep. There aren’t many local professionals who can provide that sort of same- or next-day service.

If working remotely is your thing, you should also check out services like UpWork. My business uses it to hire designers, coders and developers every week. And there are a wide range of other professionals on there, too, who offer their services on contract at an hourly rate.

We live in a global interconnected world, and with just a small amount of effort, you can arrange your life so that your income is tied to your skills and abilities rather than where you happen to hang your hat.

And remember, this stuff probably doesn’t cost nearly as much as you imagine. My cost of living in Malta is a fraction of what it was in Canada. And we’re renting a larger place, with much better weather.

malta expat
How would you like to live here? (Neil Howard/Flickr/Creative Commons)

But I Have Kids…

Great! Travel is the best possible education you can give them, short of a one-on-one apprenticeship with someone at the top of their chosen profession.

I don’t have kids myself, but I asked a few of my family-oriented expat friends about the experience of taking their entire family on the road.

Heather, a long-term Canadian expat living in Sweden, said, “My kids are seven and nine, and they’ve been to more than 20 countries so far.” She continued, “In February we travelled for 32 hours to get home from the Philippines, where they snorkelled with whale sharks, among other things. They didn’t complain once, because I didn’t make it into a big deal. We played games and had time together on the flight home.”

So don’t let even the prospect of long flights deter you from your next adventure. The reward will be worth it.

You’ll discover a world of wonder through a child’s unfiltered eyes. And travelling together as a family will create memories and stories that last a lifetime. Travelling with children can also provide a way to connect with the locals when you’re on the road. My dad always told me, “If you want to meet girls, borrow a baby and take it to the beach.” They’re great conversation starters.

Have kids? Great! Travel is the best possible education you can give them.

But what about a longer-term life abroad with the family?

Local schools can be a good option, depending on the language barrier and education standards in your country of residence. Or if there’s an embassy district or expat presence in the area, then there’s sure to be an international school where your child can mix with kids from all sorts of cultures.

The homeschooling strategy also came up as an option for flexible expat living. This is an area I know absolutely nothing about, but I have several friends who are doing it right now. I’ll research this and put together a full article on the topic in an upcoming Expat Life instalment.

Money and kids were the two most common objections I heard, but there were some other big ones too. Such as…

My Passport Sucks

One friend replied to my question by saying, “My passport sucks! I can’t get in anywhere without a visa, and can’t work there either.”

Having a second passport can be a huge advantage for an expat, and I wrote a longer article that explains this strategy in detail.

But what if you don’t qualify for a second citizenship by descent, and you don’t have a few hundred thousand dollars to fork over for an economic citizenship plan?

Don’t worry, you still have options.

There are quite a few countries with very good residency programs for foreigners. Chile and Brazil pop up often in that regard.

Some others have a residence category called “self-sufficient person” that will allow you to qualify without having a job or being tied to the local employment economy. You just need to demonstrate that you have an outside income, or a level of savings sufficient to support yourself during your period of residency.

This is yet another reason to establish the portable occupation or online income I wrote about above.

Next up…

Retire beach community
How would you like to retire here? (See1,Do1,Teach1/Flickr/Creative Commons)

But… My House…

What if you’re tied to a house or apartment and you really don’t want to sell it? You have options here too.

I’d start by looking into agencies that rent short-term properties to vacationers or businesspeople. I’ve rented many such apartments in several different cities throughout Europe, Asia and North America. And in each case, the agency advertised and rented out the home on behalf of the owner, either for a flat fee or a percentage of the rent.

Most of those flats had either a locked room or locked storage closet where the owner left their personal belongings, so they didn’t have to clear absolutely everything out when they were renting to strangers.

Longer-term subletting is an option too. But short rents can be better if you live in a country with complicated laws around tenant’s rights. The last thing you want is to sublet temporarily to a person who decides they’re never going to leave.

And what about those of you who want to cast off for foreign shores and never come back…?

Low Retirement Savings

Do you want to retire abroad, but you’re worried you have barely enough savings to make it back home?

You might be surprised at just how affordable expat retirement can be. Costa Rica and Panama have both come on the radar in recent years as very good choices for North American retirees looking for their place in the sun. And Spain, Portugal and Malta are all popular choices for retired Brits over here.

Each of these countries has very good residency programs specifically aimed at the retired expat, or those on a fixed-pension income.

Medical costs can also be much lower than what you might imagine. Here in Malta, for example, it costs just €5 to visit a general practitioner at a walk-in clinic. And a dental cleaning costs around €30. Private health insurance is very affordable too.

Expat life, constant travel and consistent adventure only look impossible from far away. It feels much more accessible when you start meeting people who are actually doing it.

There are a lot of other issues you’ll need to look into if you’re considering retiring overseas, such as standards of more intensive long term care. But this should give you a starting point for your research.

Are you starting to get the picture here…?

Having It All

The old saying “We can’t have it all” isn’t entirely accurate. You can have it all. Just not at the same time.

I was first exposed to the concept of “mini-retirements” from the writing of Tim Ferriss, author of The Four-Hour Workweek. And I’ve been applying it successfully for several years.

Ferriss saw the flaw in putting off your dreams to some distant hoped-for retirement, and ending up either too broke, too sick or too tired to ever fulfill them. Instead, he advocates interspersing stretches of focused work with extended vacations—basically having your job and retirement at the same time.

Of course, my “vacations” always involve at least a few hours per day of work. And when I’m on the road, I’m normally researching a story in addition to running my online business. But I’ve come up with a pretty good balance for making this sustainable.

It takes planning and discipline, but it does pay off. I travelled to 15 countries last year—several of them more than once—and I managed to keep up a steady stream of published articles and columns, while having a record year with my business.

The key lesson here is not to accept that the way everyone’s always done things is the only way to go through life. Turn a concept like “retirement” on its head and create a way of life that’s ideally suited to you.

Expat life, constant travel and consistent adventure only look impossible from far away. It feels much more accessible when you start meeting people who are actually doing it.

And that’s my goal with this Expat Life column. I want you to know that you don’t need special advantages or connections or even a lot of money to do this stuff. And it can be a lot cheaper and easier than you think.

So don’t give up your dream if this is something you really want to do. Stop making excuses, and start doing your research instead.

There’s an exciting world waiting out here for you. But it won’t wait forever.

Are you living your expat dreams? Share your wisdom with the world by writing to me in the comments section below. 

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