WRITTEN BY CAROL VANDERWILP of the TRAVELLING MUDSKIPPERS
What do you do when you have a house that’s anchoring you down and limiting the quality of your life? This brave 40-something couple from Canada has made the exciting decision to sell it and travel the world indefinitely! See the inspiring story of how they came to this decision and share this exciting new chapter of their lives…
We are Al and Carol, hailing from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. We are a married 40-something couple with no children and a wanderlust that’s never satisfied (and we’re very happy about all of these things). At the end of 2012, we took our longest vacation yet to Southeast Asia and loved it. However, we wouldn’t be honest if we didn’t also tell you that this trip was a trial run for bigger and better plans down the road!
We went on this trip to help us decide if long-term round-the-world travel is something we want to do. Our answer has been a resounding “YES!” So when we arrived back to our home in Canada, we set to work to figure out how to do this and we are now in the throes of downsizing our belongings, getting our house ready to go up for sale and responsibly extricating ourselves from our careers. It is hard, emotionally draining work and it often feels overwhelming. Our tendency towards procrastination has led us to set a very ambitious deadline for being gone – by the end of summer 2013 at the latest, but preferably by May/June 2013.
Our Anchoring House
To understand how we came to the decision to sell everything, take a pass on the 9-5 rat race and explore the world, we will back up to pre-2007 when the house-buying saga began. When we moved back to Toronto in 2005, we rented a cute little house on the East end of the city. It served us well for about a year and half until our landlord decided to sell. Then we were faced with a dilemma. We had a bit of a savings and, although we had been enjoying the freedom that comes with renting, we were in our late 30s and felt the social pressure to buy a house.
Given that our love of travel was already well established, our decision to spend our savings on brick and mortar seemed counter-intuitive to us, even as we were traipsing from one open house to the next and shopping for pre-approved mortgages. Although we had always had a vague idea of “someday” buying house and putting down roots, we hadn’t put any serious thought into it until we were being forced to move. At the time, the economy was showing its first signs of tanking in 2007 so we figured we would take advantage of the highly forecasted “housing bubble” burst and low interest rates. We also had the looming 60 day deadline to move out of our rented home pressuring us to move forward.
Why we Bought THIS House
Despite the economy, Toronto’s housing market was still booming and designer-renovated two-bedroom semis that were priced within our first-time home buyers’ budget, were poised for bidding wars that saw them selling for sometimes 100K over asking! The rental market was also ridiculously tight in the city with every good rental unit having multiple applicants and the over-the-top rent prices.
This is the saga of how we became “reluctant” home owners of a big 4+1 bedroom detached fixer-upper house with “loads of original charm” that was built in 1927. We convinced ourselves that home-owning was the mature adult, responsible thing to do. But even as we signed a mortgage that felt like we were about to drown in an ocean of debt, we told ourselves we would pay down and fix up the house over the next five years and then use the profits to take a sabbatical from our careers and travel.
Financial Burden of Home Ownership
Now, being university-educated office professionals, we are not the handiest of people and generally only learn to do do-it-yourself jobs out of necessity. To be honest, the biggest challenge we have faced in bringing this house back to it’s original charm over the last five years was financial.
Due to buying a home in an expensive city like Toronto, the sticker price of our “starter” home meant we spent five years being “house poor”. With mortgage payments that were more than double what we had been paying in rent and, between property taxes, a now requisite emergency repair fund, and the higher utility bills associated with a much larger home, we went from a renters’ budget with plenty of expendable income to barely keeping our heads above water each month.
We accommodated the change, but the budget transition was painful. Our lives went from last minute trips to Cuba and splurges on the newest hotspot restaurants in the city, to using that money to pay off debt or trying to be excited about finally having enough money to buy paint, wood stripper and other house renovation supplies.
Due to being in a constant state of renovations and financially strapped, we really didn’t get to enjoy much of the positives of home ownership in the early years – having dinner parties, home decorating, gardening, or even just relaxing in a comfortable home. From a travel junkie’s perspective, the lowest point in our house saga was the day I (Carol) cashed out five weeks of vacation leave to pay for our new deck!
It was definitely money well spent in that, with our travel wings clipped financially, our back deck became our summer refuge and Al has perfected his barbecue techniques (his cedar plank salmon is amazing). We also became very engrossed in our careers and, for a time, our desire to do long term travel faded to a whisper, although it never completely disappeared.
Travelling Closer to Home
Now, we don’t want you to think that we hated our lives, because that wouldn’t be true. It’s interesting how we learned to adapt. We’ve probably discovered more of the city of Toronto and surrounding areas in these last five years than ever because we could only afford to do day or weekend trips. My job also afforded opportunities to travel within Canada quite a lot and we took advantage of this to do a road trip out to the Maritime provinces and to Ottawa a couple of times.
In 2009, I also had the opportunity to work in Cyprus for a couple of months, which allowed us to take a month vacation in Egypt afterwards. That trip satisfied our itchy travellers’ feet for a while and we came back with a rekindled dream of taking that sabbatical – yet we still had no financial means to do it. But God works in mysterious ways….
Is This ALL There Is?
During the next two years, as we focused on our careers and work on the house slowed to a trickle due to lack of time and dwindling motivation for it, we again lost sight of our travel dreams…until a series of disappointments, frustrations and negative changes in our both of our places of employment made it feel unbearable to keep doing the 9-5 grind. We also came to the realization that, in all our busyness, trying to make ends meet, and meet the never-ending demands of our careers, we were losing sight of truly connecting with life and each other.
It was then that the haunting questions of “is this all there is to life?” and “what exactly are we working so hard for?” resurfaced and, after many long walks and longer talks, the true spark for long-term travel reignited mid-2012. In retrospect, it seems that God was slowly squeezing us out of this predictable, socially-expected life in order to give us a chance to create the life meant for us.
To clarify, this was not an all-at-once epiphany moment. We struggled and struggled hard to make this “normal” life work before we got the message. We came up with a ton of other options — starting a private practice, Al going back to school and changing careers, moving to another city, and even discussed having a baby at one point. But, no matter which direction we considered going, it seemed that we were stonewalled.
A Way Out
Our mortgage came up for renewal and the opportunity to refinance in way that would allow us to complete our renovations became apparent. With the help of low interest rates and housing market improving, we saw a way out. But even in late 2012, when we were planning our trip to Southeast Asia, we still weren’t ready to pack it all in and just travel. We left for Southeast Asia with a plan to test the waters on possibly renting out our home and moving temporarily to Thailand.
Our trip showed us it was a very feasible plan and would actually be a lot easier than we expected. But then we realized we would just be temporarily escaping one 9-5 life for another and that was not what we were after. Once again, God stepped in. This time through the voice of my (Carol’s) mother who asked a simple but life-changing question:
‘If we felt our house was more of a burden than a joy and we wanted the freedom to follow our dreams without looking back, why keep ourselves tied down with the financial responsibilities of a house in Toronto, rather than sell it and invest the money?’
Good question. We didn’t have a good answer for it. But now we do.
The Start of Our New Chapter
We are selling, giving away and throwing away stuff to travel. It’s tough. We haven’t lived a life of luxury, but we have accumulated a lot of things over the years. Each of these things was important to us at one time, either as something useful or beautiful – or thought to be needed in the future. It’s heart-breaking to think about how much money we’ve spent! We are bombarded daily with advertisements that tell us we need more things that are bigger, better or faster but the real question is what is it that we really need?
Faced with moving out of our home in coming weeks and living out of a backpack, this question takes on a whole new urgency. We have heard from numerous long-term travel bloggers who have praised minimalism as though it were a religion or more aptly, a philosophy. We get it. Freeing yourself physically of belongings, frees you spiritually too.
Transition to EXTREME Minimalism
Sure, we felt good after our first yard sale and our many trips to the charity donation boxes and, overall the actual work of sorting and getting rid of stuff hasn’t been that strenuous so far. However, it is emotionally draining. It feels like we are saying goodbye to the memories of our lives lived up to this point and grieving the goals, dreams and expectations that we once had for this lifestyle – storage shelf by storage shelf, box by box, piece by piece – and it feels sad.
But then we read Rolf Potts’ book Vagabonding and our perspectives began to shift from the desire to buy things to a desire to seek experiences instead. We are forcing ourselves through a crash course in minimalism. We are going against the grain in society and we feel alone in the process. We are confident that we will experience the freedom that so many minimalist travellers have discovered, so we trudge ahead another box at a time and, as we have read from so many other bloggers out there, we know that no one has become a full-fledged minimalist overnight.
It seems that most people reduce their stored possessions over years so we expect that the handful of bins we will be storing with family in Canada will lose their attachment qualities the longer and further we travel – and eventually we will be ready to say goodbye to them too. The next challenge will be curtailing my love of haggling in markets so I don’t end up with armfuls of souvenirs!
The FOR SALE sign went up on May 27, 2013 and the SOLD sign went up on June 4, 2013, with a closing date of July 26, 2013. This story is being shared with Wodara a mere two weeks before we become homeless nomads. Join us on our journey at the Travelling Mudskippers!
- Written by: Carol Vanderwilp
- Compiled, formatted and edited by: Krista Beauvais
- Original source of text: various entries on Travelling Mudskippers
- Travel Blog: Travelling Mudskippers
- Connect with Carol and Al on Facebook
- Photos: all photos are courtesy of Carol Vanderwilp
- Email: travellingmudskippers [at] gmail [dot] com
Carol, what an exciting and refreshing read! Id like to share my story with you also for advice and what experiences have been through the entire process, please send me an email.
I’m sure Carol and Al will love to receive some tips from you. My apologies; I normally put a contributor contact email on each article and your comment showed me that I forgot to do that for this article.
As Carol and Al are now on the road, they may have irregular Internet connection, so I’ve updated the article for you and others to include their email address, which is travellingmudskippers [at] gmail [dot] com.
Please email me personally at krista [at] wodara [dot] org if you’d consider sharing your story with our readers.
Warm regards, Krista