What does "freedom" mean to you?
If you've arrived directly at this page, or have missed other parts of this website, let me begin with a very quick introduction. My name is Ian Usher. I am originally from the UK, lived in Australia for 7 years, and Panama for 3, before becoming fully nomadic in 2014. I have no home base, and very few possessions. Along with my partner Vanessa, we have built an amazing lifestyle of global freedom.
We're free to choose which part of the world we spend time in. We work for ourselves, and have built our business online, so we can work pretty-much anywhere we can get an internet connection. We're able to work to our own schedule, with only occasional deadlines to meet. If the weather is good we'll take advantage and enjoy the outdoors. If the weather's not so nice, that's when we'll get some work done.
We're not rich, we're not retired, and we don't have a huge fund of savings behind us. We're a pretty normal couple, who have made some decisions that have taken us way outside the norm. We haven't done anything that most others couldn't decide to do, if they wished to follow in our footsteps.
So, if you're ready to find out how you can get started on designing your own freedom lifestyle, read on...
OK, so let's begin by pointing out that what we present on this website represents our own personal version of a "freedom lifestyle".
Options for building your own lifestyle are infinitely variable, and will depend on your own current situation, your goals, your skills, attitude and desire for change.
We just share our stories, our experiences and our plans here in the hope of inspiring others to break free.
It really isn't as hard as you think.
Our current lifestyle
Vanessa and I have spent more than six years developing and refining the current version of our freedom lifestyle. It is something that is always changing and growing, because we're living it. Our ideas, goals and plans change from time to time.
So we're always making adjustments to finesse or improve, or even change our approach, in order to build on new ideas, or to take advantage of new opportunities presented to us.
For example, our plans for the winter of 2019 / 2020 involved buying a van to convert to a camper-van, to allow for longer term travel mixed with house sitting all across Europe.
But an offer of a 3 week house sit in Brooklyn, New York, coupled with a return invite to spend two months on the beautiful Caribbean island of St. Vincent, convinced us to put our van plans on hold until much later in 2020.
This sort of flexibility is both key to building a lifestyle of freedom, as well as one of the huge benefits of such a lifestyle.
It is great to be able to accept such opportunities when they come our way. We don't have to worry about the mortgage, or getting time off work. We only have to consider the other commitments we have already made, and then figure out how we can fit things together.
So how does it all work for us?
We offer our services as pet and house sitters, in return for free accommodation. The model we use is a free exchange of value. No cash changes hands.
All three sides of the exchange - the home owners, the house sitters and the pets - are all big winners. We'll look at house sitting in more depth further down the page.
House sitting enables us to set up "home base" in any one of dozens of countries around the world.
Over the past six years we've done house sits in 11 different countries, and visited 12 other countries in-between our house sit assignments.
We also schedule our adventures around our house sit commitments. See the video clip of the two-week boat charter we enjoyed in the Caribbean in 2018, after we finished a 6 week house sit there.
The "milking stool stool of life"
This video is one of my talks from the first-ever House & Pet Sitting Conference, held in the UK in September 2019.
A milking stool has a very particular design feature for a very particular reason... watch to find out more.
You can find out more about the conference, organised by Vanessa and myself (in our role as publishers of House Sitting Magazine) by clicking here
Alternatively, if you want some great house sitting inspiration, House Sitting Magazine is a great FREE resource for the community.
Building a freedom lifestyle takes time and effort, but the results are so much better than you can possibly imagine. Vanessa and I have been working on this together since we left our island home in Panama in 2014.
Over the years we have put together a design for our lifestyle based on three simple concepts. But as in the milking stool analogy I used in the video above, things get out of balance if you remove any one of these key ideas. And as I discovered recently, things also become more challenging when you add more parts to the puzzle
There are three core parts to our freedom lifestyle that make it sustainable for the long term...
NO PROPERTY & ZERO DEBT
When Vanessa and I met in 2013 we were both coming to the end of relationships. We both had property we were planning to sell.
Vanessa's house sold first, and when the sale completed on my island in Panama in May 2014, we both cleared all our debts, and ended up with a modest sum of cash in the bank.
Having no debt whatsoever means we don't have to find a monster lump sum each month to pay off a mortgage, or pay down loans and credit cards.
LOW COST ACCOMMODATION
While we lived in Panama together for a year, we used house sitters to look after our island whenever we went away.
We occasionally looked after neighbours' properties too, acting as house sitters ourselves.
We could see that this was going to become a bigger part of our lives, as we enjoyed it so much.
House sitting has now become the cornerstone of our freedom lifestyle.
FLEXIBLE ONLINE INCOME SOURCE
The gilded cage
Lifestyle in most developed countries tends to be built on huge mountains of debt. You're told you need a university degree, but you'll need to borrow to pay for the ever increasing tuition costs.
Next you'll need a home. Don't wait too long to get a foot on the property ladder. Get a mortgage as soon as you can.
Use loans, or one of your credit cards, to fill the house with the things you "need". Don't worry, you can pay it off over the years.
Kids come next, and perhaps you'll need to up-size to a bigger house. You better start putting away some funds for their college years too.
Now I'm not suggesting for a minute that you shouldn't aspire to have a nice home, or nurture a loving family. Life is all about choices.
What I am saying is that if you mire yourself in debt to achieve this, you reduce your choices in a very big way.
In 2015 I wrote a blog post called "The Keys to The World". I can't believe it's almost 5 years since I wrote it. You know what they say: "Time flies by when you're having fun." At the time Vanessa and I were living in Shenzhen in China, where we worked for a while as English teachers. We didn't realise it then, but we were putting in place one of the keystones of our freedom lifestyle.
As we left China, heading for a beautiful house sit high in the Victorian Alps in Australia, we were offered the opportunity to become online English teachers. For me that was a true light-bulb moment. I could see exactly how everything could fall into place now, as we'd be able to continue to earn a decent income, no matter where we based ourselves.
Well, the years since then have been an amazing journey for Vanessa and I, and we've lived a lifestyle of freedom I could never have imagined, even back then as I wrote that post.
In the article I talk in much more detail about the debt trap, and who benefits from it. I also mention a talk I did while in China, addressing the "The Chinese Dream". It's the same one as The American Dream, The Aussie Dream, or The British Dream.
You can read the post by clicking this link, and you can watch the video by clicking the "Play" button.
An introduction to house sitting
Since late 2015, house sitting has become the major cornerstone of our current lifestyle.
In return for looking after other people's pets and home, we are given free accommodation. Sits can be as short as a couple of days, or as long as several months.
In December 2015, after spending a year in China as English teachers, we took a two month house sit in Australia, just outside the small town of Myrtleford, high in the Victorian Alps.
We had a beautiful couple of months of southern summer. We cycled in the mountains, and lounged by the swimming pool. We drank fresh orange juice from the fruits collected daily from the garden, and we explored the beautiful area in which we now "lived".
This was the first sit of our new freedom lifestyle as full-time house sitters and as permanent global nomads.
Since then we've done house sits in 11 different countries.
Coupled with having no debt, and an online income, house sitting really is the key to our freedom lifestyle.
If you want to find out more about house sitting, take a look at this introductory article on our House Sitting Magazine website
You'll find out exactly what house sitting is, and what it isn't. You'll also find a set of six blog posts which will take you step-by-step through a simple process you can follow to become a successful house sitter
Money, money, money...
One of the most common questions we get is about how we manage to fund our lifestyle of freedom.
I once featured in an article in The Guardian called: "What is it like to quit your life and start again?" In the comments section at the foot of the story there were lots of comments about how this is all very well for people with a high salaried job, lots of savings, or a big trust fund.
But that isn't really true. It is quite possible to escape the rat race if you do things a little differently, even if you don't have a lot of money. I wrote a response to the comments in a blog post here:
“Where does the money come from?”
The answer can also be found in the "milking stool" section above, which outlines the three parts of the unique lifestyle we have created. Combining zero debt (and no property ownership) with house sitting, our outgoings are very low. Just a few hours of online teaching each week covers our costs. A few extra hours can build some savings as a safety buffer.
Working this way also affords us the flexibility to base ourselves anywhere in the world, as long as we have internet access.
When we know we have a big expense coming up, such as a flight to another continent, we can put in some extra teaching hours, save up some extra funds. We also put in extra hours to fund our adventures which we like to fit in between our house sitting assignments.
Here are a few of the adventures our lifestyle of freedom has allowed us to enjoy...
Between sits adventures
RV USA (2014)
Our first big adventure when we left the island in May 2014 was to buy an RV (Recreational Vehicle) in Texas. We spent six months driving around the south-western states of the USA, often visiting National or State Parks, and camping in some glorious places. You can see the blog posts from that adventure here:
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Here are some of the most frequently asked questions we get about or RV adventure (click to dropdown for the answer):
Isn't it expensive? How much did the RV cost, and how could you afford it?
We bought the RV from a company called PPL Motorhomes in Houston, Texas. They sell RVs on consignment for private owners, so there is no sales pressure when looking at potential purchases. We spent all day looking at possibilities, then chatted to one of the agents. He helped us narrow our choice further, and a test drive sealed the deal.
Our new home on wheels was a 32' 1997 Pace Arrow, almost 20 years old, but was in excellent condition, with low mileage. The price we paid was USD $14,000, which seemed like a good deal. We opted for the full warranty check for $299, and literally everything was checked, serviced guaranteed working. We were even given a complete walk-through of every system on the vehicle.
We drove around 8,000 miles over 6 months, and the only mechanical issue was a burst radiator, which had to be replaced.
At the end of the journey we returned to PPL and they took the vehicle in again on consignment. We listed it for sale for $16,000 and were free to leave the country on our next adventure, knowing the RV was in safe hands.
A few weeks later we got a message saying we had an offer, which we accepted after a little negotiation. When PPL took their commission they deposited $14,000 in our account.
We got back all our money. Our costs for owning this beautiful home on wheels for a period of six months were a replacement radiator and petrol.
What did you do about selling the RV?
Leaving the RV with PPL Motorhomes in Houston at the end of our journey meant we weren't forced into a quick panicky sale forced by imminent departure. They took it on a consignment basis, and would keep it at their location until it sold. Less than month later we received an offer, and not long afterwards the money landed in our bank account. What a great system.
Also see the answer above, which covers more about the costs involved in both buying and selling the RV.
What was the best thing about the RV lifestyle?
Of course, "Freedom" has to be the #1 answer to that question. We were truly free to live our days exactly how we wanted.
We visited beautiful, secluded State Parks all over Texas. We stayed many nights in stunning National Parks. We also wild camped in some out-of-the-way locations where there wasn't another soul around for miles.
We saw small towns and big cities. We climbed mountains and floated down rivers. We cycled around almost everywhere we went too.
One of the most memorable "once-in-a-lifetime" highlights for us both was hiking down through the Grand Canyon, from North Rim to South, camping overnight by the mighty Colorado River. We loved it so much that it became "twice-in-a-lifetime", when instead of getting a bus back to the North Rim we did the return hike too.
You can see lots more about our travels and hikes in the "RV-USA" blog posts, all accessible just above this FAQ section.
And what were the negatives?
There weren't many.
Price of fuel was a big issue, as the RV only did about 8 miles to the gallon. Fuel in the States is way cheaper than in the UK, but it still mounted up to a hefty bill when we were covering longer distances.
We weren't doing any work at that time, so had no income at all. We were just spending money from our limited pot of savings, so we did try to scrimp and save a bit. If we returned now to do the same, but with a reliable income that is sourced online, I think we'd have a very different experience. We'd probably be able to travel like that indefinitely.
US visas were our other big concern. We only had 90-day visitor visas, which means we had to exit the States, then re-enter to get a further 90 days. For our first "visa run" we flew down to Mexico for 2 weeks. When we flew back into Dallas the security guy at the airport was so obnoxious, suggesting we might not be allowed back into the country, as we hadn't left for long enough, or been far enough away!?
Anyway, we got back in on that occasion, and got a further 90 days visa, but we didn't dare risk it again, in case we were denied re-entry. It would be awful to have left the RV with a friend on their driveway, then have to call them to say we weren't coming back!
In the end we decided the safest thing to do was cut the trip short at 6 months, instead of trying for the full year we had planned.
As always, flexibility is a key part of a freedom lifestyle.
Is it dangerous staying so close to the Mexican border?
Obviously we aren't idiots, and Vanessa did a lot of online research about border locations. She was quite concerned about reports of drug deals and gun battles in remote parks near to border crossing towns.
We did stay in some remote spots, and on a couple of occasions we were literally the only vehicle there.
However, over the whole six months we didn't have one incident that gave us any cause for concern about our safety - not one.
Would you do it again?
Yes. Absolutely. It was one of the best adventures we've ever had.
If we were to do it again we'd try to get a 6-month visa in advance, so there would be less worry on that score.
And now, if we were to return, we'd be able to continue working online, which would mean we'd be able to cover all living costs without touching the emergency funds at all.
Maybe one day...
In 2017 we spent a full month travelling around Cuba. It was fun and challenging in equal measure, as we didn't want to simply follow the tourist trail on the tourist buses. One of the big highlights of the trip for me personally was while negotiating for a 50 kilometre taxi ride, I suggested (tongue firmly in cheek) we could agree on the price if he would let me drive the car - a 1954 Chevrolet. I was amazed, when after a quick chat, the owners of the taxi agreed. I felt a bit less like a tourist and more like a local that day, wafting through the Cuban countryside, windows down, music on the stereo. All that was missing was a big fat cigar!
You can see blog posts about Cuba from both myself and Vanessa on our House Sitting Magazine website here:
Outback road trip (2018)
At the end of 2017 we returned to Australia and did several house sits in the south-west of Western Australia. This is where I lived for 7 years before selling my life on eBay in 2008, and it's always nice to return to visit friends there.
We scheduled in a couple of weeks between one house sit and the next, and a further couple of weeks after our final sit before we had to fly out. We bought ourselves an old estate car for $700, and put a mattress in the back. Time for an Aussie outback road trip...
You can see a blog post about the road trip here:
Learning to sail (2018)
In early 2018, on our way back to the UK from Australia, we stopped over in Thailand, where we spent a month studying for our Offshore Skipper sailing qualifications. This enabled us to rent a sailboat for 2 weeks in the Caribbean, after we completed a two-month house sit on the beautiful island of St. Vincent. The video below best sums up the adventure:
All "Freedom Lifestyle" blog posts
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Well, the world has changed a little, hasn't it? All our early 2020 house sits (USA and Caribbean) had to be cancelled, and we had to find a home base to settle for the UK lockdown. We spent almost 4 months on the beautiful coast of Cornwall, and managed to fit in lots of local hikes and cycle rides.
We're going back to house sitting now that things are opening up, and have bought a van that we are in the process of converting to a campervan. It looks like travel restrictions may be something we'll have to deal with for a while, so we figure a campervan will give us flexibility between house sits.
Here are a few pictures of work in progress:
On the road in Normandy, France: