The Keys to the World

KeysToTheWorld_1200For a few years now I have felt that I have somehow stumbled upon one of life’s biggest secrets.

I am often asked how I can afford to live the life I currently enjoy, hopping from country to country, settling where I want for a few months to enjoy the local culture, and then travelling on to see a new part of the world.

I think what many people want to know, when they ask how I can afford such a lifestyle, is how they could possibly do the same. A better question to ask themselves might be how they can afford not to live life like this, enjoying all the world has to offer.

I am writing this on a Monday morning. I’m up and about at an early hour, not because I have to get to work at the start of another five days of drudgery, but because I’m heading out to the beach this morning.

I currently live in Shenzhen in the south of China, just across from Hong Kong. I’ve been here for six months, along with my partner Vanessa, and we plan to stay here until December. It’s a fascinating place, and we’d like to spend time exploring more of China before we move on to our next adventure.

Where will that be? We’re not really sure yet. Maybe we’ll spend more time in Asia, perhaps in Vietnam or Cambodia. Vanessa quite fancies visiting The Philippines, and I have had a bit of a longing to re-visit Australia for quite some time now. Our options are wide open, and we are currently discussing which of these exciting possibilities we may choose.

I have been asked to give talks on several occasions about the lifestyle I live. I spoke at TEDx in Vienna in 2013, and have given several talks here in China. In my talks I sometimes highlight a fact that causes many in the audience to squirm uncomfortably in their seats.

“Let’s not forget,” I point out, “that we are all going to die one day.”

The silence after such a statement is palpable. Most people try to avoid acknowledging this fact of life in any real, conscious way. We just tend to bumble through our day-to-day lives, heading to work, returning home, watching some TV, then going to bed to prepare to repeat the whole cycle again the next day.

I lived like that for a while, until life knocked me sideways with one of its big surprises. The choices I have made since that day in late 2005 have led me into a semi-secret world of lifestyle freedom, personal independence and great happiness.

I don’t want to make this article a political piece, but I believe the lives that most people “choose” to live are sold to us as a dream, but they are really just an invisible cage. You’ll no doubt be familiar with the term “The American Dream”. The dream we are sold in England, Australia, and doubtless many other countries, is very similar.

That dream is almost always built on huge mountains of personal debt. This is how we are told a good, productive life should be:

  • Get good grades at school
  • Attend university – you’ll need a big student loan to do that, of course
  • Start work at the bottom of the career ladder
  • Get married – no doubt enjoying a very expensive “big day”
  • Buy a house – you’ll first need to save a deposit, then you’ll need a mortgage, of course
  • Have kids – an average childhood will cost the parents around £230,000 (Source – The Telegraph)
  • Continue to work your way up the career ladder
  • Save as much money as possible towards your retirement
  • Maybe save for the kids’ college fund if there is any spare cash left over at the end of the month
  • With any remaining cash try to make the best of the couple of weeks holiday you are given each year
  • And finally, after around forty to forty-five years of this, you get to retire and live a life of happy contentment. This is when you (hopefully!) get to achieve all of your dreams, and live the life you have always imagined

gilded-cage“The Dream” outlined above is nothing but a gilded cage, designed to encourage you to live a life mired deeply in debt, slogging away the most productive years of your life as a wage slave. Who benefits the most from encouraging you to live this way, to chase the “dream” of a big house, an expensive car and a prestigious career?

The banks who lend you all this money are obvious winners. However, perhaps the biggest winner of all is the government of your country, to whom you pay taxes for a forty year period. By committing to a life of debt via student loans, burdensome mortgages and credit card bills, you trap yourself into a life as a wage slave. You have to keep up the monthly payments on all of these “assets” you buy. Instead of providing freedom, they tie you down for the entirety of your productive years.

And each month, of course, the government helps itself to a significant portion of what you have earned, leaving you with, hopefully, just enough to pay all the bills.

However, there are always choices, and since I somewhat publicly sold my property and possessions in 2008, when I listed my “entire life” for sale on eBay, I have discovered how much freedom you can have when you don’t have a house and mortgage tying you down.

Since the day I sold my house in Australia I haven’t owed any money to anyone. I don’t say this to brag or boast. I just want to point out that this is the first key step in a simple three step process that can free you to live any sort of life you want to live.

If you choose to stay buried under a huge mortgage – and it is a choice – you limit just about all of your other options. You will have to work in a job for the remaining term of the mortgage until the debt is paid off. You are trapped as surely as if you were in prison.

So if you sell your house, where will you live, I hear you ask. Well, that’s the second part of the big secret. I’d like to introduce you to the wonderful world of house sitting. If you are unfamiliar with house sitting, I’ll give you a very brief outline – and I’ll hand you the keys to the world, metaphorically speaking.

House sitting, simply put, is looking after someone else’s property, possessions and pets while they are away. How does this work? Well, imagine someone living in Australia wants to travel to Europe for a couple of months. They have dogs, but obviously can’t take their beloved furry friends with them. What choices do they have?

They could pay to put them in a kennel, an expensive option, which can also be very traumatic for the animals. Or they could take on a house sitter to look after both the home and the animals.

There are many advantages for the home owner. The two main ones are that their pets are happy and cared for in a familiar environment, and their house isn’t left empty and untended for a couple of months.

For you as the house sitter the benefit is completely free accommodation, in return for looking after the animals. Some house sits (around 2%) don’t even come with the animal responsibilities. Some owners would just prefer that their property is occupied while they are away. Perhaps they have a swimming pool that requires regular routine maintenance.

For a much more in depth discussion on some of the practicalities and benefits of house sitting, take a look at this post on my partner Vanessa’s website,

Now I know you already have questions, maybe even objections, to what I am suggesting. Everybody has different personal circumstances, so I can’t possibly hope to address every potential objection, but before you dive headlong to the comments section below, let me try to address what I imagine will be the biggest perceived hurdle.

How will I make money? I’d have to leave my job.

beach-workWell, with the world being such a modern, connected place, it is now relatively simple to make money in what is termed a “location independent” fashion. Many people have the opportunity to work remotely, which means that you can live just about anywhere there is a decent internet connection.

If your job does not fit this mold, and you do desire more freedom, maybe it is time to look at alternate income possibilities. Vanessa and I have made money designing and building websites. I make some income from selling books online. We are currently working on a part time basis as English teachers here in China. And we have just launched two online courses which we plan to start promoting this month.

On our travels we have met people who make money in all sorts of interesting ways:

  • An import/exporter here in Shenzhen
  • A mobile app developer
  • A house sitting couple who make video animations for websites
  • IT techies living and working in the Caribbean islands off the coast of Panama
  • A commercial pizza oven repairman travelling the US in an RV
  • Travellers who blog about their lives, and sell advertising on their popular website

The options for making money without having to be tied to one particular place really are only as limited as your own imagination.

Another popular question is, “What about the kids?”

Yes, of course, if you have children then you have responsibilities other than just yourself to consider. But having kids doesn’t have to limit you. We have met many families enjoying extended travels together, quite a few of them enjoying all the world has to offer from the deck of a sailboat. While this is a little outside my area of experience, I include it simply as an example of what can be achieved. Home schooling is a very viable option, and can open the world to travelling families.

Many global nomads we meet are in the post-children phase of their lives, having seen the kids grow and head out to make lives of their own. They have sold up and headed out to explore the world, often many years before they would be able to do so had they kept the property and slogged on until retirement.

As I said, I can’t hope to address every individual situation, but with planning, some creative thinking, a dose of courage, and a get-up-and-go attitude it is never too late to make significant life changes, and really begin to enjoy the life of your dreams.

The three basic steps are simple:

  • Learn how to become a professional house sitter
  • Sell the house, get rid of the mortgage, reduce your “assets”, aim to be debt-free
  • Figure out how to create some income which does not depend on being in any one particular place

How you tackle them is up to you. I’m not suggesting it is easy, and I’m not suggesting it can necessarily be done quickly, but it certainly can be done, and it is well worth working towards.

Here are a few resources that could help:

Video courses for house sitters

How to teach English in China

Happy travels.

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