This is a guest post by Izzy and Phil of The Gap Decaders.
The solicitor called at 4.55pm on a Friday. “It’s done,” she said. “Congratulations, you’ve sold your house!”. We looked at each other across the table, the excitement and fear writ large on our faces.
Six months earlier, we were heading home from our second holiday of the year, an epic motorbike trip around Italy which had followed ten days in the Maldives over Christmas. Arriving at the port in France to get the ferry back to the UK, we were both looking forward to getting home. But there was also an underlying wish to still be on the road, heading off into the sunset with an adventure in front of us.
We both thought this was just the ache of going back to work from an amazing holiday, but in reality, it was a deep-seated but unrecognized dissatisfaction with our life.
Phil had spent 25 years in the army and re-trained as a building surveyor. He enjoyed his job meeting people and being out and about in all weathers, but the country boy in him craved a simpler existence.
I was a stressed-out director of a healthcare company, a sector I had felt passionately about when I fell into it 15 years previously, but which had lost its luster. Years of under-funding and over-regulation had taken their toll, along with a whiz-kid entrepreneur for a boss…who was great at being entrepreneurial but who sucked at being a CEO.
I had spent 15 years climbing the corporate ladder to get into a position where my six figure salary and huge annual bonuses were funding our property renovation and a pretty swanky lifestyle. I felt hard-done by if we didn’t take at least 3 holidays a year and eat at celebrity chef restaurants monthly. Our cars were always less than a year old and always German.
The vicious circle we were in demanded more and more, only we couldn’t see it, we were so busy congratulating ourselves on our awesome life.
Driving to work early one morning, the car in front of me, towing a large trailer, jack-knifed and to this day, I don’t know how I didn’t hit it. I stopped about an inch away from the carnage, heart thumping and hands shaking on the steering wheel. When I went home that evening, Phil told me about a childhood friend who had died of a brain tumor that day, at just 52.
The wheels of change were in motion…
Within a week or so, I was dealing with a very complex case at work which involved a professor who had developed the most devastating brain condition at 49. It took months to be diagnosed and in the meantime, she was dismissed from work for poor performance and her life collapsed. She was now being cared for without even knowing her own name, let alone that of her husband, and likely to live for many years before the kindness of death would claim her.
Both in our late 40s, with me staring 50 in the face, it suddenly felt like fate was trying to tell us something, nudge us in the right direction. The final poke from destiny was my boss deciding to retain an employee I had dismissed. The years of dissatisfaction and stress bubbling below the surface erupted and just like that, it was obvious.
We didn’t need to be in the self-perpetuating vicious circle any longer, all we had to do was step away. If there wasn’t a ridiculously expensive lifestyle to pay for, we didn’t need to earn ridiculous amounts of money.
Suddenly, our excesses were embarrassing. Why did I need a whole room to house my clothes? Why did we drop a fortune regularly on overpriced restaurants? Did we really need two cars, two motorbikes and a sailing dinghy? We did a lot of thinking about what drove the need for material possessions, and dragged up a lot of historic baggage that it was time we dumped.
Lying in the bath one night, the plan was formulated: we would sell the house and buy a motorhome to tour Europe for a couple of years, something we had discussed previously as a retirement option for the future. The equity from the sale would be invested and we would purchase another property when we returned to the UK, respected in our industries and confident we would be able to pick up our careers again.
After a roller coaster 3 months of planning and organizing, we took that phone call and said goodbye to a life that we had spent the best part of our adulthood building. We sold almost everything we owned, resigned from our jobs, and moved into our motorhome. It was exciting and terrifying and OMG, it was liberating too.
Within a week, we were touring France during one of the hottest summers on record. A month later, we were both questioning whether we had done the right thing; living and traveling together in a tin box has its challenges.
Three months in, we had started to talk about the future and how it might be shaped. Our next house would be rural, I would find a less stressful job; we knew we could live on a lot less money.
After 6 months, we knew we could never go back to a conventional life. We didn’t miss the house or the possessions and shedding the status that we had both worked so hard for was like taking off an old overcoat that had outlived its use.
For the first time since childhood, we had freedom and finally, we could chase the open road, follow the sun and have all the adventure we wanted. We started a blog and together with Phil’s military pension, we were able to live a simple life, on less than a tenth of our previous income.
Two years on, we are less romantic about the choices we made and more pragmatic about life on the road. Full-time traveling can take its toll but to date, the lure of the unknown is greater than the desire to have a home again. What we do know is that when we settle in the future, it will be off-grid, somewhere remote, where life will be uncomplicated and sustainable.
We don’t regret the past, it has shaped who we are and we’re proud of many of our achievements. If we could do it all again, we would take the leap sooner. All that held us back was fear.
But you’re not living if you don’t ever do anything you’re afraid of. That’s called existing, and there’s got to be more to life than that.
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