Almost a year ago, Claire Zhu and Peter Ovendorf quit their jobs in finance and left their apartment in Charlotte, North Carolina. They haven’t let the dust in their suitcases gather since then.
They bopped everywhere from Egypt and Jordan to Thailand and the Czech Republic. “From the outside looking in, it seems like a crazy, rash decision,” Zhu, 27, said. Good luck. “But really, it’s well thought out because we’re both risk averse.”
Their wonderful adventure begins in 2020 when Zhu realizes that finance is not for him. “It’s not that I get up in the morning—it’s not that jobs have to do that,” Zhu said, adding that he felt tired.
After falling down the internet rabbit hole after full-time travelers quit their jobs, he turned to Ovendorf and said, “We have to do this.” Ovendorf, 28, who enjoys his job, is hesitant. But a stint working away in Colorado together turned out so well that it convinced him to make a longer trip.
The couple is part of the average 4 million people every month who participated in the Great Resignation in the last few years. While some reshuffled to a different job, others, like Zhu and Ovendorf, left the workforce entirely. The pandemic has led many people to rethink how they want to live, fueling the growing restlessness and existentialism of the younger generation, who are already frustrated by the rising cost of buying a home, starting to a family, paying for college, or just living. Remote work gives people the wheels to set these dreams in motion, facilitating alternative lifestyles such as digital nomad living or working from a van.
Zhu and Ovendor chose one year fake retirement—a break from the traditional career trajectory to explore and relax. Zhu said their generation “was told to go to school and then get a degree and find a job and stay in that job for 40 years.” But things have changed since. “A lot of people realize…that 40 years is a long time. And, for us, we don’t want to wait until we’re 65 to start doing all the things we want to do.
So, they assessed their careers, finances, and other people’s travel itineraries and budgets to come up with a game plan: Save $45,000 and a small emergency fund. For about two years, they were selling about $800 a month.
They shared with luck how they’re living their mini-retirement and keeping costs down while on the road.
From carpools to $2-dollar meals
Zhu and Ovendorf were saving for a house in 2019, but decided to use those savings for their travel adventure. They cut back on going out, eating, and buying unnecessary things like clothes. At one point, Ovendorf had four roommates to help keep the rent cheaper. They also take advantage of low-cost alternatives, such as taking public transportation to get to work, carpooling for other outings, and enjoying free activities like hiking. Zhu even created an additional income stream, creating and selling paintings on the side.
They finally reached their savings goal in March and began to wind down, reducing their peak travel destinations and scheduling travel around rainy season and flight costs. “Our plan is to have no plan,” Zhu said. “And I think we’ve intentionally kept that going just because you never know what new thing is going to come off your radar.”
But they knew they had to stick to their $45,000 budget. Ovendorf, continues an intensive Google keep track of the spreadsheet of how much the couple spent in each country and how much you agree with their goals.
They post every purchase they make on their website and TikTok to an audience of more than 189,000 followers. Because spending varies by country, the duo doesn’t have a set budget for each spending category, but they follow general guidelines. They usually choose the cheapest hotel in a safe area, whether it’s a hostel or a campsite. In more expensive countries, they buy groceries and make their own meals, and in cheaper ones, they take advantage of inexpensive restaurants.
“To live the way we live, we probably spend more living in the United States,” Ovendorf said. “Some people just don’t realize that you can travel cheaper than where we live.”
For anyone looking at a similar adventure, they advise getting a budgeting app or inputting the costs in a Google or Excel sheet. They say if you spend more responsibly then you can give yourself freedom when it comes to budgeting and recognizing that spending changes every month; but if you are someone who needs structure, then create budget categories and an achievable goal.
When traveling the world, going over budget is not the end of the world
Zhu and Ovendorf spend an average of 10 days to three weeks in one place. But their pace and the cost of plane tickets hit their wallet harder than expected at times.
Despite all their careful planning, there are days when they go over budget—but it’s usually the result of a calculated decision. In Turkey, they once battled to get a hot air balloon ride that cost $225 per person. After polling their audience with a 50/50 split, they decided to just go for it.
“When you’re on a tighter budget, you can treat yourself to a lot more experiences,” Ovendorf said. “So I’m glad we paid to have fun and experience some things.”
But that doesn’t mean you have to pay top dollar for memorable experiences. Zhu said he thought about the time they took the Ha Giang Loop, a winding mountain pass in Vietnam that borders China. Riding on the back of their tour guide’s motorcycles, they ate every meal with them and stayed with their families, singing karaoke and drinking “Happy Juice” drinks at night.
Of course, there are lows as well. Zhu cautions that full-time travel is very different from a vacation: It requires constant planning, which can lead to decision fatigue. They will return to the US in March, with plans to find jobs that will allow them to become digital nomads.
Eventually, the two found other people who also flipped the script of what the job looked like., “You realize once you get out of your bubble,” Ovendorf says, “there are so many different ways to live.”
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