Retiring early to travel the world is a common goal for FIRE aspirants.
But full-time travel can lose appeal quickly. Churches and temples quickly start to look the same. Gardens and palaces quickly look the same.
When you’re responsible for creating all the structure to your day – every day for weeks and months on end – it gets exhausting and can feel purposeless.
But what if you could design early retirement travel around language learning?
By enrolling in language immersion courses at local language schools in countries you travel to, you not only learn how to communicate conversationally with locals. You also get structured and even vibrant exposure to local culture, food, people, and activities because being situated in a school or university environment creates that exposure and structure for you naturally.
If you find language learning fun, in-country language immersion is by far the best way to learn a language; online language learning simply cannot replicate it. If you have ever had a university study abroad experience, you probably understand this intuitively.
This week, I invited Ingrid, a software engineer turned early retiree and successful travel blogger, to share about her early retirement experience pursuing language learning through travel immersion courses. Making language learning the focus of early retirement has brought joy and purpose and structure to her travel experiences.
- How Ingrid came up with and built strong confidence in her FIRE number
- Her asset allocation and withdrawal rate
- Her blog’s revenue contribution (and what helped her blog get traction)
- How Ingrid plans travel around language immersion courses
- How she meets and connects with locals when she travels, plus her advice for solo female travelers
- How she handles health insurance and healthcare costs as an early retiree and when she’s traveling
- How she believes one’s emotional well being and personality change in early retirement
- How she contemplated family and children alongside her early retirement plan, why she decided against having a family, and her thoughts on loneliness, dating, and companionship as an early retiree
- What Ingrid would have done differently if she could do it over again
Have you ever studied abroad or taken a language immersion course in another country? What do you think about the notion of pursuing language learning through travel immersion courses in early retirement? Let me know by leaving a comment!
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- Second-Half Travels, Ingrid’s FIRE story
- Nomad Cruise
- Remote Year
- WiFi Tribe
- How personal tragedy motivated this engineer to achieve financial independence and retire early, with Adam Fortuna (HYW044)
- What a lifetime of travel taught these early retirees over 3 decades, with Billy & Akaisha Kaderli (HYW043)
- How 2 engineers quit their jobs to retire early and travel full-time, with Kristy Shen and Bryce Leung (HYW042)
- Quitting the law: one lawyer’s unique path to financial independence, with Kevin Ha (HYW041)
- How an unhappy lawyer retired at 33 to travel the world…and why she’s no longer doing it, with Anita Dhake (HYW040)
- Schedule a private 1:1 consultation with me
- HYW private Facebook community
Read this episode as a post:
Andrew Chen 01:23
My guest today is Ingrid, whom I’ll just refer to by first name at her request, and she is the founder of secondhalftravels.com, an early retirement travel blog that focuses on practical advice for language learning related travel.
Ingrid early retired in 2016 at the age of 43 after a career in software engineering, where she worked for over a decade at a large Silicon Valley headquartered technology company.
Post early retirement, she has focused her time primarily on language learning, long-term travel through 57 countries, and writing.
Her stated early retirement goal is to learn a new language to at least conversational fluency every two years through in-country language immersion courses. She’s now done this with Spanish, Portuguese, and French, having enrolled in language courses in 7 different countries, and next on her list is Russian.
I invited Ingrid to the podcast to share about her FIRE journey, and what she’s reflected on over the years since, as well as practical advice for new and aspiring early retirees who are interested in pursuing long-term travel in early retirement.
Ingrid, it’s great to host you, thanks so much for joining us to share your insights on early retirement!
Thanks so much for having me.
Andrew Chen 02:28
If I understand correctly, you were working a good, stable job in software engineering in a major global, prestigious technology company. What made you want to, and ultimately decide to, leave a good engineering job for early retirement?
I guess that’s a longer story. I got into software engineering a little late, so I started masters in computer science when I was 27. My undergraduate degree was not in computer science.
When I finished undergrad, I wasn’t sure what to do with my life. Moving to London sounded like a good idea, so I moved to London for three years and worked a lot of temporary jobs, saving money for travel. I did a lot of trips to Asia and the Middle East and also around the UK and Europe.
After three years, I came back to the States and got a job as an editor and writer, which was my dream job, but it was pretty underpaid. And I would say that particular job was also exploitative, so I wanted to make more money and I wanted more freedom to travel.
This was the late ‘90s, at the time of the “dot-com” boom, so programming sounded like a great option. And my mom was a programmer, my dad was a computer science professor, so it was very easy for me to imagine myself in that job.
And there was a special masters program through the University of Texas system for people that didn’t have a technical background, so you could do years’ worth of a condensed undergrad degree and then launch into your masters courses for two years. So, the whole thing took three years full time.
I started working in software engineering when I was 30 with a bunch of 22-year-olds. After a couple of years with a smaller company, I moved on to a large tech company, like you mentioned.
I actually had a job that was pretty perfect for me. I worked for an internal consulting unit where we were contracted out to the different business units of the company, so my projects would change radically every six months, a year, or two years.
It was a fantastic way of having a multitude of different jobs within the same job. There was a lot of variety.
I started off doing .NET coding. I ended up doing android app development. We were constantly being trained and learning new skills, so that part was very cool.
I like coding. Coding is very creative. A lot of people that aren’t coders think it’s boring, like you’re just typing at a keyboard.
But it’s very creative. It’s like solving a puzzle. It’s very engaging.
But as anyone who has worked as a software engineer or has worked in corporate America knows, there’s a lot more to it than just the skills of the job. What I didn’t like was the mismanagement. Sometimes there was bad decision making on the part of the management that really caused a lot of stress for the employees.
And I think I just have a personality where I fundamentally need to be in control of my own time, so working for a big company wasn’t a good fit for me.
But I do think software engineering is a great profession for people who love to learn. It’s nonstop. But it can also be stressful.
I always said I’d retire by 45. That was the number that I had in my head. And then, because the stock market did so well, thankfully, I retired two years early at 43.
Andrew Chen 06:17
Excellent. Was there a moment when you realized you had to early retire, or was it just like, “Stock market has cleared the threshold I needed to clear, so it’s time to go”?
That’s a good question. My last year, I was fortunate to join an experimental new division at my company where you could completely choose your own schedule and completely choose your own projects, so it was like a dream come true. I told them I wanted to work three months on, three months off.
And then I chose the projects that I wanted to because previously I hadn’t had that much leeway. I was placed on whatever was highest priority. I said I really want to do web development because I’ve never really been allowed to do that.
So, it was a great combination. I still had full benefits despite being half-time.
But I would use my three months to travel, and I would come back to work, and it was like my soul was dying there. It was weird before because when you’re working full time, you’re in the groove and you’re just used to it. But when you step out of it, even for a little while, you get this new perspective and it becomes very hard to come back.
So, that three-month on, three-month off schedule ended up being what turned the tide for me. I left what, for a lot of people, would probably have been a dream position, because I already had enough.
I knew that I had enough. It was just taking that final plunge. So, at the end of that year, I did that.
Andrew Chen 08:02
Got it. I was going to ask, once you came to that realization, what was the plan you formulated and put into action to make it happen? But it actually sounds like you had already reached that point.
It was more of a mindset shift. The logistics were already complete. How did you know that?
I wanted to be sure my nest egg would last forever, and I was willing to sacrifice a few more years of my life at my job to make 100% sure that I had enough.
Because tech skills get outdated pretty quickly. So, I thought if I left my software engineering job, it would be a one-way street. That was how I saw it.
I wanted to make sure I didn’t have to go back to work in the future. If I left for a few years, it would have been difficult for me to come back in. It would have been impossible for me to come back in at the same level that I was at.
I was concerned that a 4% withdrawal rate would be too aggressive because my retirement could potentially be 50-55 years. The women in my family tend to live into their 90’s.
Andrew Chen 09:25
That’s amazing, by the way.
So, retiring at 43, I potentially had another 50-55 years ahead of me, more than half my life possibly. So I went for 3% withdrawal rate, and that was including discretionary expenses like travel. But I could get that down to 2% if I had to tighten the belt and not travel.
I also logged my expenses for eight years before retiring, so I had a really good idea of what my living expenses would be. I paid off my house completely the year before I retired, so my housing costs became very low.
I lived, and still live, in a low cost of living area, and I plan to stay here once I retired. So, there weren’t going to be a lot of big changes, except for adding things like healthcare insurance.
I was fortunate that my employer had completely paid for health insurance. But I just priced all that out using the healthcare exchange and estimating how healthcare costs might grow in the future.
I ran scenarios through FIRECalc. And then I always keep a couple of years’ expenses in cash, so that if there was a market downturn, I don’t need to dip into my investments.
Andrew Chen 10:47
Interesting. So it sounds like there was a pretty methodical way to come up with your FIRE number. Did you have the 3% and 2% in mind as a target, and that’s what you were working toward?
And one question related to that is I would love to understand how you internalized the confidence that projecting over 55 years is a long time. Lots of things can change. The world was very different 55 years ago.
How did you get the confidence that your expense structure would virtually withstand any scenario, no matter how your expenses might change? Does that make sense?
Yeah. I think the 3% withdrawal rate, and really 2% that I knew that I could get down to if I took out the travel, I felt that 2% was very rock solid, even considering any kind of crazy scenarios that might come down the pipe.
I also thought that in an emergency situation, I could possibly still go back to work in some capacity. I didn’t expect, when I retired for the blog, ever to earn income. That has just been gravy for me.
But it makes sense now, looking back, that when a relatively young person retires, they have a lot of energy and passion, ways they want to contribute to the world. And it makes sense that, in some way, that’s going to end up generating income.
Andrew Chen 12:31
What is your withdrawal rate now? Has it held up to the 3% or 2%?
Yeah. My net worth has pretty much followed the market since 2016, so it’s pretty much doubled. My withdrawal rate is now less than 2%.
Andrew Chen 12:47
Yeah. So I just sweep the dividends to money market account, and I use that and the blog income to live off of. I still have a pretty frugal existence.
Andrew Chen 12:58
What’s your overall asset allocation?
It’s about 80% stocks and REIT funds, and 20% bonds. And the stocks are a mix of Vanguard Total Stock Market Index and International. Pretty much all my investments are at Vanguard, and always have been.
Andrew Chen 13:16
Got it. So it sounds like mostly passive, diversified index funds, not individual companies.
Exactly, yeah. I’ve never invested in individual funds.
When I worked for my company, they had stock grants and also an employee stock purchase plan. I participated in both of those.
But as soon as we had the ability to buy the stocks, I would do a quick sale and then immediately convert them to Vanguard taxable index fund.
Andrew Chen 13:48
Got it. You mentioned, obviously, you’re also earning some revenue from your blog. If the earnings are a material percent of your regular spend, what percent of your spend at this point would you say is derived from blog earnings versus portfolio withdrawal?
I would say a little less than half my living expenses. When I started the blog, it was really just for family and friends. But then, when I started blogging about learning Spanish, the posts started to get some readers because, obviously, learning Spanish is a popular pastime in the U.S. and Canada.
And I took a couple of search engine optimization (SEO) courses, and I also invested in a keyword research tool. I think if you have a software technical background, SEO is pretty straightforward and fun. It’s just optimization.
Once I started to apply those techniques, then traffic really started to take off. It got to the point where I could monetize it.
The income is mostly from ads. I have an ad management agency called Mediavine. That is very popular among bloggers because of their generous payments.
And they also bend over backwards to support their publishers in other ways, like make sure we’re compliant with different privacy requirements around the world. So, I love Mediavine.
I also make money off affiliate links, mostly Amazon.
Andrew Chen 15:20
Got it. And when you say that your blog income is maybe a little bit less than half of your regular spending needs, and a moment ago, you said that the market has doubled, so now your spend rate has probably dipped below 2%, is that excluding the blog income?
If you were to include it, it would actually be way lower than even that? Or is it actually all-in?
That is including the blog income, because with the blog income, at the end of the year, when I declare it on taxes, I take a bunch of deductions. So, that’s really nice that I can deduct my language learning materials that I review. I can obviously deduct any software and hosting of the blog and e-training that I do.
I always have a long list of expenses that are related. And then I put what’s left into a solo 401(k).
Andrew Chen 16:13
Yeah, that’s a good idea. Those are powerful for solopreneurs.
You mentioned that there was some point where you were consciously growing traffic. It sounds like you took an SEO course and you invested in a keyword tool. Those are pretty strategic moves to make.
What was the light bulb moment when you already had early indications of promise that readers or users would be interested in this material, so it was a good idea to double down? Were you just naturally writing blog posts about language learning and noticing that they were doing well, and then doubled down? Or was it more abstract?
I think the light bulb moment for me was when I started to join Facebook groups for bloggers. Before that, I had just been out on my own, doing my own thing.
I remember reading a female travel blogger, and she wrote about this group for female bloggers on Facebook, and I was like, “Oh.” So I started joining all these communities, and then I realized there’s so much more to blogging than what I was doing, and that I could really take it to the next level.
And then, in the course of learning about SEO, you do learn about playing to your strengths. So, the 80/20 rule applies in blogging, just like it does everything else.
20% of your posts bring 80% of your traffic. In my case, I think it’s like five posts bring 75% of my traffic.
So, you learn what Google likes you for, and then you play to those strengths. You write more content on those subjects. And then you can use those posts to direct traffic on your site, to other posts that you might want to get more traffic.
They’re very useful. They’re “workhorse” posts that you really want to maintain and keep evergreen.
Andrew Chen 18:26
I guess what I’m curious about is, for example, did you have one post that you stumbled upon that happened to do very well, and then you were thinking, “Man, how do I create more like these?” Or did you already have that strategic mindset shift, and then tried to anticipate out and plan out what posts would do really well?
Does that make sense?
Yeah, I’m trying to remember. I think I did have that strategic mindset. I did notice the trend of what was doing well as far as Spanish learning.
And then, when I took my first SEO course, that was one of the core pieces of advice that they gave: You really need to dig into your statistics and look at what’s getting the traffic, and then build on that, and write related posts.
So, in some sense, I was already doing that. But it really validated my observation and made me a lot more determined to pursue that strategy.
Andrew Chen 19:30
Awesome. I’d love to shift a little bit and talk about the early retirement experience.
What was your original plan for early retirement? How did you envision spending your time? How do you actually spend your time now that you’re in retirement?
I always knew I wanted to travel. I’ve loved to travel. I’ve loved languages since I was a kid.
And I’ve always had the dream of writing, doing art and photography. And my retirement has turned out pretty much exactly as I expected, devoting myself to those interests. With the exception of the pandemic, which I think blindsided everyone.
I do think it’s really important to have something to retire to, a plan, even if you don’t end up doing that exact same thing, and preferably some hobbies that you’ve had a chance to develop already and that are a part of your life.
Before the pandemic, I traveled about four months a year. That was like three international trips and a couple of domestic ones.
And it was like the hub-and-spoke model because I’m adventurous, but at the same time, I like having the security of a home base to go back to. I would never want to be a digital nomad or a perpetual traveler 100% of the time, with no permanent home. That doesn’t appeal to me at all.
And languages have always been really important to me. German was my first language, and I was raised bilingual.
I did my first language exchange to Mexico when I was 15. And then, the year after that, I spent a year in German-speaking Switzerland.
I always tried to fit in language study and travel when I was working. But when you work in a stressful job, you sometimes just don’t have the energy and time for it. But I did use my vacations for it, and I would take time off unpaid.
I used to go to Spanish-speaking countries on my vacations and take classes and talk to the locals as much as possible. And when I was home, I would watch Spanish TV shows and listen to Spanish podcasts. Language learning has always been a passion, and I feel really blessed that now I can devote myself to it with as much time as I want.
Andrew Chen 21:45
Have you been able to travel, at least domestically, since the pandemic?
I have not traveled since last March, even domestically. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve done a couple of the small road trips around home.
Last February and March, I was in Brazil doing language study, and I got to experience carnival in Rio, which was a bucket list item for me. So, I feel really fortunate that I was able to experience that.
I came home at the beginning of March, and I haven’t gone anywhere since then. My travel plans last year were all canceled.
I was going to study French in Quebec and in France. I was going to go to an international language conference in Mexico. All of that got postponed.
Andrew Chen 22:34
So, language learning is a key motivation for post-retirement travel. I’m curious how you gravitated toward this type of travel. And maybe you can say a little bit more about why language learning courses as a motivation to travel is so important.
You mentioned that you’ve always loved languages. Maybe the answer is as simple as that.
I’m just curious. It’s a pretty conscious step, I think, to make that a focus of early retirement.
Yeah. I think there are other motivations besides just language learning because you can learn languages very well at home, and in some way, more comfortably and cheaper. Nowadays, you can do one-on-one language classes online, just over Zoom or Skype, very easily.
I think the language learning really helps me to have a purpose to my travel. I’ve found that if I don’t have that, for me, over time, long-term travel can start feeling pointless and alienating.
I tend to get burned out on sightseeing after about a month. After a while, all the churches start to look the same. The temples start to look the same if you’re in Asia.
So, I find language learning gives the trip a structure. It gives you a purpose.
And it also introduces an important social element. It makes it super easy to meet people through language schools. You can do a homestay with a local family.
You’re typically in class four hours a day with people from all over the world. A lot of schools have social activities in the afternoons and evenings. They have excursions on weekends.
So, when you attend a language school, you’re sliding into this readymade community, which is really great, especially if you’re a solo traveler. And it results in long-term friendships with other students, with homestay families, and even with teachers. A lot of people end up going back to the same schools over and over, just because of the relationships that they’ve made.
Andrew Chen 24:50
Wow. Interesting. Do you see boomerang students back in your own experience?
Yeah. It really depends on the school. Some schools have a really special vibe.
The school that I went to in Rio that I just mentioned, I think, had the strongest community of any school I’ve ever attended. They had people that would return year after year.
And they also were a support network for local expats. Even people who had moved to Brazil and spoke Portuguese would continue returning to the school over and over, at least attending the social activities, just because it was like a part of their social network. And the school also offered a lot of support for navigating the bureaucracy of Brazil, if you needed to get a visa and things like that.
Andrew Chen 25:50
How do you find a school and determine that it is good, and it has all of these positive attributes that you’ve described?
I would recommend doing an internet search, looking at school reviews on Tripadvisor, on Yelp. There are also sites that are devoted just to language schools that have reviews.
Read those reviews. Take them a little bit with a grain of salt because schools have been known to manipulate reviews. But you can get a good feel for the school that way.
Also, I would follow the school on social media and see what they’re posting there. It gives you an idea of the activities that they do. If they’re posting helpful content on social media, that can be a good indication of how engaged they are.
And then I would write to each school and ask them your questions, and then see, how responsive are they? Usually, after you write a few schools, you start to really get a feel for which one might be a good fit for you.
Andrew Chen 27:03
When you say that you travel now four months out of the year, based on what you’re describing, is it accurate to say that enrolling in a school with all of the support structure and social aspects that you described is really the main focal point? You’re not really doing unrelated travel, too much of it anyway?
You go there for the course, and then there might be some ancillary travel on the weekends, but really the course and the school is the main focus. Is that true, or is it something different?
Yeah, I would say it’s generally the focus. Not always. I still do some travel that’s not necessarily language-related.
I would say the majority of it is language-related now, just because I found that more rewarding than just randomly going to a place and sightseeing. But if you do the kind of travel where you’re not necessarily in language school, there are still a lot of ways that you can connect with people if you want to.
One thing I like to do is small group day tours. Basically, you pile into a van with a bunch of people and cruise around the countryside and visit places that would be impossible for me to get to on public transport.
You can meet some really interesting people on those tours that you stay in touch with. And you can find those tours on Tripadvisor.
And then there are English conversation meet-ups, or there were before the pandemic. They’re very popular in big cities, in countries where English is not the native language, but where people have really strong reasons for learning English.
I’ve been to English conversation meet-ups in Moscow and Madrid where there are hundreds of people that wanted to practice their English. And if you’re a native speaker, you’re in demand.
Everyone wants to talk to you, and you get a lot of invitations to hang out over the next few days. They want to show you around. So, it’s a really nice way of connecting with locals who are eager to practice their English and have a new friend from the States.
Andrew Chen 29:22
Is safety ever an issue or concern?
It’s definitely a concern. I think over time, you learn what to do.
In my early 20’s, there were a couple of scary situations I got into in the Middle East and Asia, but fortunately, everything turned out fine. But now, I’m a lot more cautious.
I think, too, in Latin America, solo women can be the target of muggers more often than men. So, that’s something to be aware of.
When you’re meeting up with people, for example, with Couchsurfing, which is another site I like to use, typically I don’t look for accommodation on Couchsurfing because I just prefer to have my own place, my own Airbnb. But I’ll write an intro and introduce myself, ask locals if they want to hang out, get a coffee, and walk around town. Usually a lot of people will write me and offer.
And the cool thing about Couchsurfing is you can go in and look at all the reviews that other Couchsurfers have written that person. So, even if a man writes me and wants to meet up, and I see that he has 200 glowing reviews from other people, many other solo women travelers talking about what a great person he is, then I feel very confident meeting up with that person.
I’ve done that a number of times, and I feel very comfortable even getting in their car and going on a tour of a neighboring city or whatever. It’s never been an issue. I do think you have to be alert and be sure to read the fine print.
Andrew Chen 31:18
So, folks will reach out to you the other way as well. Did I hear that correctly? Or is it all situations where you have reached out?
I will post an intro asking if anyone wants to meet up, and they will contact me. I have also occasionally contacted people directly that I thought seemed interesting. You can do it either way.
Andrew Chen 31:46
Got it. Sorry, I’m not familiar with Couchsurfing. I don’t use it.
It sounds like an intro is like a public announcement that multiple people can see. It’s not like a one-on-one communication. Is that correct?
Right. Couchsurfing originally was a hippie, Bohemian site that was used to find free accommodation for people that wanted to do a cultural exchange. And it has morphed into a lot more than that.
Like I said, I don’t use it for accommodation, but I write a public intro. There’s a page where you can do that. It’s a page of people coming into your city, so you put a post on that page and tell them the dates and just introduce yourself.
And then there are also official Couchsurfing meet-ups that have some overlap with the English conversation meet-ups I mentioned, because typically the locals that come to Couchsurfing meet-ups want to practice their English, and those meet-ups can attract several hundred people. They’re like big parties, basically.
Andrew Chen 33:00
Is the motivation for somebody to meet up for a coffee or take you around locally primarily because they want to practice English? I’m just trying to understand from their perspective.
That’s some of it. On Couchsurfing, you find a lot of people who want to be ambassadors for their culture, so they’re very proud of where they live, and they want to show it to international visitors. And they also want to have more international friends.
So, it’s a very altruistic community. I like that about it a lot because money never changes hands. It’s really just about culture exchange and learning about each other.
Andrew Chen 33:45
Speaking of money, if you go around and do stuff, probably some small amount of spend is involved. What are the norms around that?
Do you, as the traveler, typically offer to pay, or do people go Dutch? Are there norms that are used?
I think it depends on the dynamic. First of all, if you’re in a culture that tends to have a tradition of chivalry, if you’re with a man, a lot of times, he’ll insist on paying.
It also depends on your buying power relative to the country where you are. I would pretty much always offer to pay, or at least go Dutch. And then, if they insist, “No, you’re my guest,” then I don’t argue or anything.
But whatever I can, I try to make up for their hospitality in some way.
Andrew Chen 34:46
For female travelers, maybe just from your own experience or if you’ve talked to others, how do you make sure that doesn’t signal the wrong things that you may not intend? Does that make sense?
Yeah. I think if you’re meeting up with a guy one on one, you should probably stick to Couchsurfers who are tagged as being ambassadors on the site and who literally have hundreds of glowing reviews. That would be my recommendation to avoid any kind of misunderstanding.
Because it can be used as a dating site, and that’s fine. That’s not what I use it for. But Couchsurfers who are experienced, they know the score, so they’re not going to expect anything or get the wrong idea.
There’s lots of women traveling the world solo who just want to meet up in a platonic way. For me, personally, it’s never been a problem. Everyone has always been really respectful.
Andrew Chen 35:49
Got it. That’s good to know.
I was curious to learn a little bit more about the language learning aspect. In these courses that you enroll in, if you could comment on the profile of the student body, are these disproportionately “study abroad” college students or graduate students, but they’re in school and they’re doing language for some purpose for school?
Or is there more of a representative of the population spread between students and learners later in life who are transiently traveling or early retired, or even older, like they’re actually just seniors retired, and that broadly represents the population? Is it skewed, or is it representative?
It varies widely, depending on the location and on the time of year.
In summer in the northern hemisphere, you’re going to find more young people everywhere. It’s the high season: European and Northern American summer. So, that’s a good time to avoid if you have that possibility.
My experience has been really diverse. In Mexico, at the Spanish language schools, it tends to be retired people from the U.S. and Canada predominantly at the schools, outside of summer when you would have more people that are student age.
In Europe, it tends to skew a lot younger, even outside of summertime. I would say the average age at my school in Madrid was late 20’s. But there were still people of all ages that were retired people as well.
That’s one thing I would recommend that you ask when you’re writing the school. Ask them the average age in summer, outside of summer, and get a feel from them if you feel like you would be comfortable with your age range.
The schools that I went to in Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil, that was a really wide mix. I really enjoyed that a lot. And people from all over the world.
Probably my favorite demographic at a language school is truly diverse people from all over, and then a diverse mix of ages, because I just find that a lot more interesting.
Andrew Chen 38:40
The reason I ask is I’m mostly just curious to get your personal taste for this. There’s got to be, I imagine, sub-communities that form within a student body, and probably one very natural demarcation line will be age. If you’re in your 20’s, you probably just have very different things to talk about than someone in their 40’s and someone in their mid-60’s.
Do you find that to be true? Do you find yourself just more naturally inclined to coalesce with folks who are just within striking distance of your own age, as opposed to hanging out with 20-somethings or 60-somethings?
I think the average 22-year-old that goes to a language school in Brazil or in Madrid is maybe not your average 22-year-old. It’s somebody who’s really interested in the world and other cultures.
And maybe they probably like to go out more, late nights drinking, than I do. That’s fine. I just don’t do those things in general.
I have made friends across all ages at language schools. I think you can meet people in their 20’s that are really interesting and mature, just as well as you can meet people in their 60’s.
I am excited when I meet someone my age, 40’s, because I feel like that age range is the least represented, because people in their 20’s have free time and they typically don’t have families yet. People that are retired have every time to travel. The 40-year-olds are all working or raising kids, so I’m happy to meet people my age.
But I never felt any discrimination from anybody just because I might be older than the average student. Everyone was always very friendly and open and asked me to hang out, so I wouldn’t worry about that at all.
Andrew Chen 40:58
Years ago, when I was younger, I enrolled in a couple of language courses myself. I do understand what you’re talking about. There is a strong community.
Everybody tends to be a little bit more open-minded because everybody is a deer caught in the bright lights, and it’s a new culture, and there’s activities. Some of my fondest memories of being abroad were in language schools, and I always had this residual feeling, like, “How could this continue?” because it’s sobering to go back to your office or whatever.
But then I thought, “Well, that’s because I’m now in more of my 20’s and don’t have a family,” the way you described. But later, I just assumed that the atmospherics would change, because if I’m older and their general demographic stays the same, our life paths are just different at different points in time. I hadn’t considered about, first of all, different language schools may have different distributions.
Anyway, it sounds like, from your perspective, it’s as much a mindset thing as it is an actual thing, because you’re pretty much able to connect with different types of folks.
Yeah, I think it’s about being young at heart. In some ways, I might have more in common with someone in their 20’s and 30’s than someone in their 60’s and 70’s. I wouldn’t worry about that at all with language schools.
It tends to be a very diverse and open-minded mix of people that are interested in talking to you. The people that you meet at language schools basically feels like my tribe. I feel like it’s very easy for me to make friends at language schools and find people I have things in common with.
Another interesting observation that I’ve made is that FIREes tend to be attracted to language schools. It makes sense. They have the time, and they like to slow travel.
I have met several early FIREes in their 40’s, one even in his 30’s, at various language schools. They tend to be undercover, so they don’t come out and tell you that they’re FIRE.
Andrew Chen 43:34
Yes, of course.
But you put the pieces together.
Andrew Chen 43:40
Yeah. How do you handle healthcare as an early retiree, when you’re on the road, when you’re in language schools, all these scenarios?
I have an HMO here at home that I get through the healthcare exchange. I’m glad that we still have Obamacare because it would be a lot harder for me to get health insurance without it. It’s not necessarily cheap, but I already knew that going into retirement, so I was prepared for that.
When I travel, I don’t really worry too much. I get travel insurance that will cover emergency evacuation, because that could be something that could be significantly expensive.
But other than that, healthcare costs around the world are so much cheaper or free that I’m not really running a huge risk if I need to go to the doctor.
Andrew Chen 44:45
Even if you’re a foreigner, they charge you the same price or no price at all?
It might be a little more, but generally, it’s all still very reasonable. In Europe, their systems aren’t even set up for charging. They don’t really know what to do, so they just treat you for free.
It’s what I’ve heard from people who have had health issues in Europe and had to go to the doctor.
Andrew Chen 45:11
Got it. So you budgeted all that anyway as you were preparing to FIRE. Is that correct?
Yeah, I budgeted it in the cost of health insurance. And then the travel insurance that I get for my trips is very cheap.
There’s a site called Squaremouth. I usually pay about $14 for a six-week trip or something like that.
Andrew Chen 45:31
Wow. And that covers emergency evac?
Andrew Chen 45:40
We were talking offline before the interview, and you were sharing a little bit about how emotional wellbeing, personality changes in early retirement. This is a topic that I hadn’t really considered so deeply before. It’s not often discussed.
I was just curious if you could comment more on what you mean by that, and how does it change?
That’s been a really interesting psychological experience to see what happens when you’re no longer working full time. You start to realize how much work has really impacted your personality.
I’ve gone from being really type A and overplanning everything down to the tiniest detail, to being more relaxed and spontaneous. I’m still a type A person, for sure. That’s just never going to change.
I do think the pandemic has been good for learning to let go a little bit of control, realizing that we humans are not always in charge and that our plans don’t always go as we imagine.
And I’m also a lot less stressed. When I was working, my stomach always tensed up, and I had problems sleeping. That’s pretty much all gone now.
But one thing that’s surprising is that I’ve lost all interest in financial topics. When I was leading up to retirement, I was completely obsessed with my portfolio. Every day, if there was an update, I would check it and record my new net worth.
Now I have to force myself to check it every quarter just to see what’s going on and how many dividends have come in. I rebalance once a year on January 1st, and I do my Roth conversion then, typically. Other than that, I just have zero interest in it, and it just runs on autopilot.
I also used to spend a lot of time on FIRE forums, just obsessively reading, sometimes participating, mostly lurking. But I don’t do that anymore. I don’t read FIRE blogs much anymore.
I’m in some FIRE groups on Facebook, but they tend to be more tangentially related to FIRE. I’m in a FIRE book club and things like that.
So, I think FIRE for me was a means to an end. And now that I really feel like “I’m under 2% withdrawal. This is really rock solid,” I’ve lost interest in it.
At the same time, I’ve also become freer with my money. Before, I was really obsessive, frugal, optimizing everything. I’m still frugal, I think, compared to the average American, but I’m not like I was.
Especially in the area of travel, I’d rather spend just a little bit of extra spend when you’re traveling. It can get you a lot more comfort and also safety as a female traveler, as we discussed, which I think is really important.
Andrew Chen 48:35
And this expansion of spend was accounted for in your FIRE prep?
Yeah, exactly. I had an upper limit in mind for how much that I would spend, and now I’m trending towards that upper limit. But I haven’t exceeded it or anything.
Andrew Chen 48:57
Well, if you’re under 2%, you’re still really far under perpetual sustainability, so good on you.
Andrew Chen 49:07
If you don’t mind, I’d love to chat a little bit about family, children. You’re single, I take it? Correct?
Andrew Chen 49:14
Andrew Chen 49:16
Was that a conscious tradeoff that you decided to make in order to retire early, or unrelated? What were the factors that you considered?
I didn’t have kids, but that didn’t have anything to do with FIRE. If I had wanted to have kids, I would have had them regardless of whether it delayed my FIRE plans.
I just never had a burning desire. And I think you should have a burning desire if you have kids, because I feel like the world is suffering from overpopulation. So, it’s better if people who truly want to have kids have kids.
As far as not being married, I feel like that cuts both ways, because if I had had a high-earning partner who was also dedicated to FIRE, that would have certainly speeded things up.
I think a lot of FIREe bloggers seem to be in that situation. They’re dinks, two high earners, no kids, which is probably the ideal situation heading toward FIRE. I didn’t have that.
But at the same time, I could have had a partner who was financially irresponsible, and then possibly gone through a divorce that would have been devastating, both emotionally and financially, which would have set me back.
So, I think dating is tricky for people in the FIRE movement because you have to find someone who is compatible, not just in the ordinary ways, but also in the financial ways. And as you know, our culture isn’t really geared toward financial responsibility.
Andrew Chen 51:00
So, did you make a conscious decision, or did it just happen?
There was no conscious decision. It just happened that way.
I’m just a really independent person and enjoy my own company. If it happens down the road, that’s cool.
But part of the reason I decided to write about FIRE in my blog (because I didn’t do it for a long time) is because I’d like to be a role model for other single women who are FIRE-ing, because it doesn’t seem like there are too many public figures in the FIRE community who are single women.
I feel like it can be really inspiring when you see someone like you, that looks like you, that has made it happen. That’s why I decided to come forward a little bit with my FIRE story, and also to be on this podcast.
Andrew Chen 51:55
Yeah. Definitely, thank you for coming. It’s a really interesting story.
So then, when you’re traveling, or even if you’re not, if you’re at your home base, is companionship or dating ever an intentional thing? Or if it happens, it happens; if not, that’s okay? Or is it just totally off the radar screen?
How does that work for a single early retiree female, a solo early retiree female traveler? Where’s your mind space on that?
Right now, I’m not really looking. I actually do have a companion who is a perpetual traveler, but it’s not a serious thing.
I have seen that there are a lot of resources if you want to find someone in the FIRE movement, so it’s been interesting to me to see those crop up. There’s a FIRE dating site.
Andrew Chen 53:04
I’ve seen that. I was surprised that that exists, but I’m aware that it exists.
Yeah, it’s interesting. I guess it was a coding project by somebody that wanted to teach themselves how to code a website. It’s pretty basic, but it’s a cool idea.
I guess the usual caveats would apply. It seems weird. You would have to watch out for things like gold-diggers, people who want to match up with someone who is already FIREd so that they have an easy path to financial independence.
There’s also a FIRE singles’ group on Facebook that’s pretty active. And there’s even FIRE speed dating which is run by a dating coach. So, there’s a lot of options now.
There’s way more resources than there used to be, if it’s really important for you to find someone who shares your financial values, which I think is common if you’re working towards FIRE.
I have to say, my impression of those groups—FIRE groups in general, but also these dating groups—is that the majority of people are not FIREd. They’re working towards FIRE.
The FIRE singles’ group on Facebook, and also the FIRE speed dating, tend to skew young (20’s and 30’s). So, that’s something to keep in mind, depending on what age range you’re looking for.
Andrew Chen 54:35
When you’re in learning immersion courses, does romance ever crop up? It did when I was enrolled in immersion courses.
It happened. Not me specifically, but it happened. It was observable.
Does that happen for you?
I think when I was younger, when I was backpacking in my 20’s, certainly romance and travel went hand in hand more. But now, I’m not really looking for that, so no. Not for me personally, but I do observe.
At any age, of course, but especially for younger people at language schools, that can certainly be a part of the experience. But for me, I’m really more interested in making interesting friends, people that I can’t meet here, and making connections that way. So, it’s not my focus at all.
Andrew Chen 55:35
You mentioned that you have a casual companion. He’s a perpetual traveler. How does that work, then?
Do you just happen to meet up in the same cities occasionally, but otherwise, it’s all remote? How does it work?
We both like to travel solo, so we tend to hang out when we’re both in town. Of course, now with the pandemic, we’ve both been grounded for the last 18 months or so.
Andrew Chen 56:06
You’re located in the same place?
Yeah, we’re located in the same place, more or less, close by.
Andrew Chen 56:13
But you don’t prefer to travel together?
We have done shorter trips together. I guess I would be open to going further afield.
At this point, though, I’ve really got my own way of doing things when I travel. For me to take on a travel companion would be a pretty big decision. I usually prefer to go on my own and then meet up with people during the day, and have more flexibility that way.
But having said that, I think, in some ways, it would work well to travel with someone who also is very independent, because then you can split up during the day and do your own thing, get together in the evenings for dinner, and do things that are more fun to do as a couple.
My experience traveling with a lot of people is that they don’t want to do anything on their own. That doesn’t really work well for me. But unfortunately, I know that I’m the one that’s the aberration.
Most people would think it’s very weird to go on vacation with someone, and then go off during the day and do your own thing. But that is probably what I would need for that to work for me, because I just need a lot of space and time on my own, and I love exploring by myself.
The only time when I’m traveling that I do tend to seek out company, either through meet-up or Couchsurfing or whatever, in the evenings, it’s nice to have someone to go have a drink with or a meal with or something. Those are the kind of things that I think are less fun when you do them by yourself.
Andrew Chen 57:57
Would you say you’re an introvert?
I’m a huge introvert. I need a lot of alone time and decompression time. I also really enjoy my own company in a lot of ways.
When I travel alone, I feel like I’m just more open. I’m observing a lot. Whereas, if you’re with someone else, you’re distracted by their conversation.
You’re also in that little protective bubble with them. That could be comforting, on the one hand. But on the other hand, maybe you’re also missing out on some things by staying in that little bubble.
So, I’m a big introvert, but at the same time, I love meeting interesting people, so I build in human contact wherever I go. And I think I’m pretty good at meeting people and also maintaining long-term friendships. I’m good at keeping up correspondence with people.
Andrew Chen 58:53
That’s excellent. It’s very helpful to have a very clear vision of your travel style, the things that you prefer, the things that you don’t prefer, because then it’s easier to find others who are compatible, if you so desire, or not, if that’s a better fit.
I know a topic of discussion among early retirees who are long-term travelers, especially folks who are single, is the challenge of dealing with loneliness on the road, especially when you’re long term, you’re not during travel season, and how you deal with that.
But in your case, it sounds like, first, you need the solo time a lot. And then, also, you have the language school communities and the Couchsurfing communities, where, when you want to be with people, there’s ways to make that happen. Is that fair to say?
Yeah. I think loneliness is a part of long-term travel if you’re traveling alone, even if you’re an introvert. I’m fine being alone 90% of the time, but there is that 10% that I do need human companionship, for sure.
That loneliness on the road can be intense. It’s something that you have to accept.
No matter how well you plan, there will be times when you’re lonely. You just have to embrace it and also come up with strategies to mitigate it.
Some of the things I mentioned. Obviously, the language study is a great way. And then all the meet-ups that you can do.
But meeting new people all the time can be exhausting, too, so it’s important to schedule regular Skype sessions with your family at home and friends, to stay in touch with people that are important to you.
Some other ideas that I might explore in the future. People I’ve met, I have friends that have done the nomad cruise. That’s 1-3 weeks of cruising with a bunch of digital nomads.
A friend of mine did that, and she says she met the most amazing people and got a lot of long-term friendships out of it. A group of them, after her first cruise, ended up running a house in Brazil and living together.
I met someone on Remote Year when I was in Estonia, which is where you join a cohort of digital nomads and you spend a year traveling around the world with them to a new location. I think it’s once a month or once every couple of weeks.
And then there’s WiFi Tribe, which is similar, but it’s a shorter commitment. It’s less than a year. It’s month to month.
You can sign up for these chapters and travel with other nomads. There’s so many options now that you can explore.
I know a lot of these things are on hiatus right now, cruises certainly. I think the cruise company that they used for nomad cruise actually went out of business. That’s all going to have to be revisited, but hopefully, those things will make a comeback.
Andrew Chen 1:02:25
I was just thinking about our discussion a moment ago about companionship and having a partner. One of the big reasons why a lot of people get married, I hope, is that you take care of each other, especially as you get older. And it may just become harder.
Given that you’re very happy where you are right now, how have you thought about the later years and how you might manage those solo? Or are you not worried about them at all, that’s totally fine as well? I’m just curious what your thinking has been in that area.
Right now, you’re obviously very healthy and young and energetic. Being alone doesn’t seem at all like a liability. What happens in the later years, in your view?
That’s a really good point. A couple of thoughts.
I think I mentioned the women in my family tend to live into their 90’s, so they definitely outlive their husbands. And that tends to be typical for women. They end up, a lot of times, being the surviving partner.
So, even if I do get married, there’s no guarantee that that person would be around to help or take care of me when I get older. Same thing with having kids. You can’t really rely or even expect children to do that for you.
It is a concern, for sure. It’s something that might cause me to, for example, move to be closer to family as I get older.
Fortunately, you’re not alone in this situation. There’s a lot of people. There’s services that you can pay for, and things like that.
One thing I thought about is moving to Europe. Certainly if the healthcare situation here gets more dire, it might make more sense for me to move to Europe and be in more of a managed care situation. That might provide more security.
Since my parents are German, I have the EU passport, so I always have the option of moving there if I wanted to.
Andrew Chen 1:04:56
Got it. When it comes to long-term travel, are there any other ways that long-term travel is qualitatively different or feels different compared to vacation travel that you have found out now that you’ve been doing it for several years?
It’s definitely different. When you’re doing vacation travel, you’re just in this honeymoon period, and everything is bright and fresh, and you’re seeing everything with new eyes.
And like I mentioned, with long-term travel, you start getting a little burned out, a little jaded. The sightseeing that you would do on a short vacation trip just doesn’t really feel satisfying anymore, for me anyway. That’s when I think you have to take the next step and find a new purpose to your travel.
In my case, it’s been the language learning. But people could do volunteering. There’s many things that they could do based on their individual interests.
But for me, personally, long-term travel without a goal and without a purpose feels a little empty.
Andrew Chen 1:06:14
What would you have done differently, if anything, if you could go back and do it over again? The path to FIRE and post-FIRE.
Like I mentioned before, I started my software career late, at age 30. At age 17 or 18, if I had decided I wanted to FIRE, if I had majored in computer science in undergrad and started working right away, I probably could have retired in my mid-30’s.
But I actually don’t regret the time I took off in my 20’s to travel and have different experiences. In fact, I would say the opposite. I wish I had done more of that, even though, financially, it didn’t help me at all.
Because when you’re in your 20’s, it’s a different style of travel. I remember I backpacked around Asia for six months, with just the stuff in my backpack, staying in hostels and guest houses for $2-3 a night. It was just a very basic existence.
It was pre-internet, so it’s just a different style of travel because you’re truly cut off from everyone that you know, and there’s no gadgets to distract you. Travel nowadays is a lot easier, obviously. We’re so much more connected.
But in some ways, I have nostalgia for those days, and I’m so glad I had that experience of traveling pre internet.
But one regret that I do have is I really wanted to go teach English in Brazil in my 20’s, and for whatever reason, I didn’t end up doing it. It just didn’t work out. At the bottom, it was, I think, fear of the unknown that stopped me, but I had a lot of excuses as to why I didn’t do it.
But I wish that I had done that because it would have been an amazing cultural experience. But now that I can do it, I have no desire to, to be honest.
When you’re young, you’re hungry and you’re willing to do whatever work for not very much pay. And once you’re FI, like I said, it just changes your attitude. At least it did for me.
I don’t have any desire to do that anymore, somehow not even as a volunteer. I just have lost my interest in that idea. I still travel to Brazil, and I love Brazil, but it’s a different kind of experience when you’re older.
So, I guess my advice to people that are working up to FIRE is don’t wait until you retire to have some of your bucket list experiences, because we don’t know how long we’ll be healthy, or when a pandemic will come along and lock everything down for a few years.
I really recommend taking an unpaid sabbatical from your work, or taking summers off from grad school instead of going and doing that internship that will look good on your résumé. Instead, go travel and volunteer, or whatever you want to do, because later it becomes more complicated because you have more responsibilities, but also because who you are changes, and you might not even want to do that thing anymore. So, I’m a big proponent of carpe diem.
Andrew Chen 1:09:22
Ingrid, this has been a really thoughtful conversation. I’ve loved having this chat with you. It’s definitely a different one.
Where can listeners find out more about you and what you’re up to?
My blog is secondhalftravels.com. There you can find my early retirement story. Maybe we can link to that in the show notes because it’s not necessarily linked off the menu of my site.
Also, a lot of language learning tips, TV shows and movies for all the languages I’ve studied, and language school recommendations for Spanish and Portuguese. I’m currently documenting my Russian learning journey, and I’ll be adding more language school reviews for France, Quebec, and Russia once we can travel again.
Andrew Chen 1:10:10
All right. We’ll definitely link to those resources in the show notes.
Thanks so much again for chatting with me. I look forward to sharing this with our listeners.
Thank you so much. It was a lot of fun.
Andrew Chen 1:10:23
Cheers. Take care.