A few months ago, just over a week after turning 29, I stopped everything in my life, and, armed with a backpack, basic Spanish, and a vague assurance that this was the best decision I'd ever made, I left my hometown of Manila to spend 80 days abroad, mostly in South America.
It was fantastic.
And it taught me that travel isn't something you "get out of your system;" rather, once you taste it, it becomes a permanent part of your priorities.
Without knowing it, I had just embarked on my very first mini-retirement.
"Mini-retirement" is a phrase coined by "lifestyle design" maverick Tim Ferriss, author of The Four-Hour Work Week. It means "relocating to one place for one to six months before going home or moving to another locale." It's an alternative to more common mode of "binge traveling" that Tim describes as:
Now, while that sort of trip is its own crazy kind of fun, especially in your early 20s, you miss out on a lot of what makes travel - as opposed to a vacation - so transformative. You're going for depth, not trying to fill up your TripAdvisor map. Tim says that mini-retirement is "not an escape from your life but a reexamination of it," so you can "experience it at a speed that lets it change [you]." And it differs from a sabbatical in that it isn't a one-time event but, henceforth, a recurring one.
Why one to six months? Tim writes:
Given the broad definition above, chances are, a bunch of you've already mini-retired without knowing it. Congratulations! When's the next one? And can I come?
At the outset, I had few preconceived notions of what I would get out of it, except a more open mind and some awesome stories. I came back with all that and more, particularly, a renewed appreciation of what I really value, and a sense of having begun find my place in the world, literally and figuratively.
IS IT REALLY WORTH ALL THE TROUBLE?
I'm writing this "guide" mainly from the point of view of a Filipino, taking into account how we have less money, time, and passport power than most first-world travelers.
Reality check: For some, especially those with families, high pressure jobs, and lots of bills to pay, this will be difficult, though not impossible. So try to do this while it's easy, before too many things and people depend on you. It gets so much easier to give in to excuses the further down the road of conventional adulthood you go.
Is it selfish? Damn right it is. But in the best way. Even if you're volunteering in Africa, you're still doing that for yourself, you know. Anyway, you're too young to be President, so maybe society won't cease to function if you're away from home for two months. Ask yourself what's the worst thing that could happen, and if it happened, how you would recover from it. Is it as terrible as you thought?
I sincerely believe that in the long run, the experience of authentic travel helps you become your best self. So that, when that season of your life arrives when others - your family, your company, your cause - need you full-time, they'll be partaking of the very best version of you.
HOW DO YOU PULL IT OFF?
Tim Ferriss's method -- in broad strokes, to create a remote working arrangement and/or a high-freedom business -- is the best, most sustainable way to pull off a mini-retirement, but for most of us not-crazy people, it will take a wholesale paradigm shift, bolstered by heaps of courage and persistence. That's absolutely awesome, but what I want for you is to do this ASAP without blowing up your whole work life just yet. If you're a go-getter and up for the challenge though, read the 4HWW and get to it! For the rest of us, here's what I think:
HACKING YOUR WAY TO MINI-RETIREMENT
You probably don't need to table flip your entire life yet to do something similar. But first, you have to allow yourself to imagine that this is possible. And decide that travel is a priority in your life. This is not some woo-woo New Age advice: to paraphrase Napoleon Hill, you need to want it so badly that your mind has no choice but to invent a way to do it.
Embrace both the possibility of and responsibility for making this happen. Other people, a lot of them less clever and some less rich than you, have done it. Getting rid of those limiting beliefs is the first step.
Now, take stock of your specific circumstances and figure out how you can hack a month or so of living abroad out of it. And it will be unique to you, so you make up your own way. Google is your friend. Be creative, ambitious, and don't get discouraged when practical realities force you to change your intended destination. Go with it. Some ideas to start with off the top of my head, most of them culled from the experience of my friends:
- Can you negotiate a month off from work?
- Can you get some kind of scholarship or grant in a field and in a place that interests you?
- Can you join a volunteer program? For Filipinos, you may not even have to go abroad for a life-changing experience.
- Is there a close relative or good friend in another country that can host you, at least temporarily, to potentially save you hundreds of dollars in expenses?
Anything goes: whatever gets you that opportunity. In my case, the "hack" was purely mental: the realization that, as a single freelancer with a little money saved up, literally nothing was stopping me from having the trip of a lifetime except my own fears and excuses. I also had family to host me in the US. You'd be surprised at how, even in a situation as perfect as mine for mini-retirement, your limiting beliefs can get ahead of you. You've listened to your excuses all your life --- listen to a braver voice for a change.
One newlywed Australian I met was prepared to quit his job if they didn't allow him to travel six months, but he asked anyway. They let him keep his job, and he's 2.5 months into an amazing journey with his wife. Is that because Australia has an awesome travel culture? Probably, yeah. Darn them!
But the author of a book I mention below, also a Filipino, was able to negotiate a month off from work, which is just enough time, on what amounted to a pseudo-maternity leave. If you want to go any longer than that, you may have to quit your current 9-to-5 job (which could turn out to be the best decision of your life, but that's another discussion altogether).
If you've been thinking of quitting anyway to figure out what's next and can support yourself in the meantime, well, stop reading this and GO! Time's-a-wasting and sea levels are rising!
WHAT IF I REALLY CAN'T MANAGE AT LEAST A MONTH OFF?
If you really don't have that much time to spare, don't stress about it! This is supposed to be fun. Got three weeks at least? Let a deliberate shift to a focused mindfulness make up for the briefer length of time. A long trip will automatically entail this, but with a shorter amount of time, you have to constantly remember to treat the trip as a very long weekend, taking time to hang out and just soak in the atmosphere of one place, and be with people, instead of trying to see everything Lonely Planet or the latest inspiring Internet list told you to see. Travel is not a competition, and you should smack whoever treats it as one on the face. Preferably with their passport.
Remember: depth, not quantity. In the long run, your personal growth is so much more important than letting people on Facebook know you're the nth billionth person to see the Eiffel Tower.
Oh, and if you feel sufficiently equipped to do so, I highly recommend traveling solo. You have your own baggage to deal with, and I'm not talking about your backpack. Going with friends from home or a partner is often the most fun way to travel, but being with someone from home can sometimes preclude having the detachment and distance from your comfort zone that makes travel so enriching.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE MONEY?
I should mention that, while conceding that nearly every traveler I met abroad was from a "first-world" country making a first-world wage, I literally met no traveler anywhere close to my age who considered themselves wealthy. Not one. What were their jobs? There was a dental assistant, a lifeguard, a cinema manager, a soldier, a plumber, an electrician, college students, to name a few - not exactly Silicon Valley millionaires.
I've never had a "normal" job in my entire life (I'm freedom-seeking to a degree that is perhaps unhealthy), so you shouldn't listen to my advice. Instead, I would strongly suggest you read the following books to get heaps of practical tips and inspiration to make your own journey a reality from people who know their stuff:
1. Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel by Rolf Potts
Hands down, the Bible for travel. If you read only one book on this list, make it this one.
2. The Third World Traveler: A Guide to Fulfilling Your Travel Dreams on a Shoestring Budget by Ma. Patricia Yulo
The title says it all, and this is the only guide of its kind that I know of. For most people I know (i.e, cash-strapped and time-poor Filipinos), this will cover all your bases: how to save up for and save during a trip, whether or not to quit your job, travel safety, etc. Most travel articles and literature are written from a "first world" perspective, which doesn't take into account the many troubles associated with traveling from an "exotic" country where passports and purchasing power are decidedly not as conducive to travel. A fellow Rolf Potts disciple, the author started off with 5,000PhP ($111!) in her bank account!
3. The Four-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss
This is where it all began for me. This is the book that will make you quit your job to travel the world. Don't say I didn't warn you: it'll ruin your life! But the great thing about it is that it's chock-full of diverse case studies of people who've managed to pull it off - including people with families.
[Added 10/23] 4. The Career Break Traveler's Handbook by Jeffrey Jung
Stumbled on this in the midst of my usual late-night link hopping. I haven't personally read this, but clearly it addresses the question of mini-retiring head on. Also has a whole bunch of case studies.
I GOT TIME OFF! WHERE DO I GO?
Congratulations, you're awesome! Now, how do you choose where to go? Rolf Potts's advice: follow your fancy. It can be any reason in the world. (But don't visit Antarctica.) And again, work within your limitations so the fire of your wanderlust isn't doused prematurely. No one expects you to become a grizzled backpacker overnight. I sure aren't. I can't even grow a beard!
I picked a place where the foreign language wasn't too difficult for me and where I didn't have to worry about visas, because Philippine passports can't do much compared to go-most-places-without-suspicion first-world passports. The seed of it was that I've wanted to see Machu Picchu for years, and it grew and mutated from there.
I started with a week in the USA with friends and family, then headed down to Bolivia, from where I commenced a three-week adventure tour of Peru, before completely shifting gears to stay in a little surf town in Ecuador to work on my Spanish for a month. Then I flew back to the US, and somehow ended up in Cancún (Mexico) for a completely unplanned, wild conclusion to an unforgettable trip.
WAIT WAIT WAIT I'M NOT READY!
If you're scared because you've never traveled that length of time before, it's not as hard as it looks. I'd never been gone for more than three weeks before this, but once I had my rhythm going, it was all, literally, wash, rinse, and repeat, until my budget ran out.
It wasn't unadulterated joy every minute. That's precisely what made it such a high-growth experience. There were little struggles, pockets of loneliness, boredom, and heartache, but I was never homesick. I'd say my one regret was not staying out longer and seeing more, when so many experiences beckoned nearby.
I was never adventurous growing up. I was a computer-bound indoorsman and saw travel as bundle of hassles with the occasional trip to Disneyworld. But meeting amazing, adventurous people over the years made me see what I was missing and broke my mind wide open. So let the annoying people on your Facebook Feed who make you jealous inspire you to do it yourself!
If you think that it's too expensive, really read through the books I listed above, written by much more practical people than me. They'll get you on the right track. It's worth the trouble. I promise.
If your main objection is that SHUT UP, IT'S IMPOSSIBLE, well, okay. If you imagine less, less will be what you deserve.
I hope you give yourself the chance to imagine this is possible. Finding the "hack" that allows you to mini-retire could be one of the most challenging and rewarding creative endeavors you'll ever have. Good luck, and hope you figure it out! When you do, or if you already have, I would love to hear your story so I can share it with others in a future post! Happy travels, friends.
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