Blog

What does early retirement mean to us?

The “FIRE” part of FIRE Travel Family stands for financial independence retire early.  In this post, we will answer what it means to be retired. Or at least what it means to us…at this point. As with everything in life, what retirement means to us can (and likely will) change over time. Life is dynamic and we plan to stay flexible so we can live our best life. Additionally, our kids are small now. Who knows what will change over time for both them and us as our family ages. With that said let’s cover a bit of background about our situation…

We officially retired early on Labor Day, 2021. We closed our businesses, sold our house and cars (and most of our possessions), had a retirement party, and started traveling.  Many people have asked us, “What do you mean you are retired?”  Often accompanied with another remark about being so young.  Thanks for the compliment!  People often also say “How do you think you can retire early?” The power of math is what helped us know we could retire.  It is not some intangible feeling.  It is not a date on a calendar or an age we had to turn. It is knowing our assets, expenses, lifestyle, and goals. It is knowing what we must spend money on, what we want to spend money on, and where we can cut corners.

On the negative side, we have had several “Who do you think you are?” and other questions where people think we are somehow dismissive of their life or work ethic. For us, this reflects more about the person with that opinion than anything in our lives.  This should be able to go unsaid, but our early retirement is not a judgment of anyone else or their lifestyle.  We also know some people truly love their jobs or companies they own, which is great! We are doing what works for us and understand this is not something that everyone can or would even want to do. Our choice to retire early is our own and we are genuinely excited about it.

FIRE Travel Family - Florida - Kyra Feeding Lorikeet at Jacksonsville Zoo - Financial Independence - Retire Early
Kyra Feeding Lorikeet at Jacksonville Zoo on November 9, 2021

For us, retirement is a relatively simple concept.  It means time and choice over possessions and displays of wealth.  We do not have to do a job that we do not want to do.  If we choose to never work again we should have enough money to live on for the rest of our lives.  Early retirement means the freedom to do what we want.  It means we get to choose how we live every day.  Early retirement for us means that we are able to world school (home school while traveling) our kids.  It means we are nomadic when we want to be.  It gives us the freedom to live basically wherever we want.  Of course, this is within limits. We still have stuff we have to do just like everyone else.

What retirement doesn’t mean for us is that we are crazy rich.  We don’t plan to own a house, expensive cars, expensive hobby items, or other depreciating assets. We are not buying a yacht or private plane anytime soon (but we are open to gifts!).  And to be straightforward we really have to monitor and control our spending.  If we make poor financial decisions or outspend our budgets math starts to work against us and we are forced to work again. 

Part of how we are able to retire is the concept of financial arbitrage.  Put simply this means the money you have in US dollars goes further in countries with less valuable currencies.  Countries in Central and South America, Eastern Europe, Africa, and Asia provide some of the best places to stretch our dollars.  We know that we can travel for cheaper in many developing countries full-time than we could have lived in the United States!  And most of the time we can have a nicer standard of living while traveling. 

Since we are traveling in the United States right now we knew we had to work hard to keep expenses down.  This meant we are traveling in our van and tent camping.  We also make most of our own meals and we are avoiding the most expensive tourist attractions (for example – no Disney World while in Florida). And we have observed that our kids often enjoy the free or cheap things in life more anyways at their current young ages. 

Retirement doesn’t mean that we will never work again. Instead, it means we don’t have to ever work again.  This is a simple but incredibly important and powerful difference.  It is likely that we will take on projects in the future to make money.  However, we will only do things we want to do and which engage and fulfill us.  We get to say no automatically to everything else.  And if we don’t like something we start we always have the power to walk away. 

FIRE Travel Family - Florida - Verity & Kyra's First Gopher Tortoise at Right Whale Festival - Financial Independence - Retire Early
Verity & Kyra’s First Gopher Tortoise at Right Whale Festival On Amelia Island on November 7, 2021

Interestingly, early retirement also means more work in some ways.  For us, we now must be even more planned out for how we handle investing, income, and taxes.  We have to be even more aware of changes in how our medical insurance will be handled as US Citizens.  We have to think through how sometimes large expenses will impact our retirement savings and plan accordingly.  We have to make sure that we are able to schedule the needed appointments when we are back in a short time frame for our family. 

As an example, when we left for this trip we should have gotten the flu shots for our kids while we were still in Iowa.  But we didn’t and that meant that only Becky and Brock were able to get the shots while on the road using insurance.  We also may do certain medical procedures while on the road now.  As it stands right now Becky and Brock do not have dental insurance.  So we will likely do cleanings and dental work in countries where it is both cheap and still have high standards.  We just have certain items that now require a little more thought and creativity to make sure we are staying on budget and still prioritizing the well-being of our family.  If we were citizens of just about any developed country other than the United States this wouldn’t even be something we had to deal with.  But it is what it is.

In summary, financial freedom is life freedom.  We get to design our lives how we want. We will do what is fun, for as long as it remains to be fun.  For instance, if we are traveling and don’t like something we will make changes.  This could be how we are structuring our day, what we are doing, or even what location we are in.  Financial freedom is family freedom.  We get to be involved in everything our kids are doing now.  Already the time with the kids has been amazing.  Seeing Kyra start to read and learn math has been a real pleasure.  Being around and seeing how Verity’s vocabulary is expanding rapidly has been incredible. Financial freedom is choice freedom.  We now get to start every choice with an open path ahead of us.  Some people might see this as a scary thing.  For us, it means we get to do the things we have always wanted.  Then when we want to do the next thing, we get to start over and plan it out again.  After a few months of being retired, we can both say that we love it.  Although, sometimes it still doesn’t feel like we are retired.  It just feels like a long family trip so far.  But we are starting to adjust to the freedom we now have to live life the way we desire. As we travel and spend time together in early retirement we will learn, adapt, and grow. Early retirement gives us this time and freedom.

Brock Waterman

Written: 12/1/2021 (and before)
Posted: 12/1/2021
Edited on 12/6/2021 (fixed grammar mistake)

Multi-night tent camping with small children: lessons learned

Becky, Kyra, and Verity as we tear down from our first camping experience in Ohio on 9/28/2021

Overview

The article below is one I was looking for before our first camping experience with kids and could not find. So I told myself after a few camping stays I would write this article. From Saturday, September 25 to Tuesday, September 28, 2021, the FIRE Travel Family had our first camping experience. We stayed 3 nights at the Streetsboro / Cleveland SE KOA near Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio. From Friday, October 1, 2021, to Sunday, October 3 we also stayed two nights at the Houghton / Letchworth KOA near Letchworth State Park in New York. While camping at these locations we spent most of the day hiking in the nearby parks. We really used these locations for sleeping and showering. At the time Kyra was 5 years old and Verity was 2 years old. We mostly did a great job preparing, but we learned some valuable lessons. We also appreciate those who gave us advice as we prepared for this trip.

Lessons learned

  • The coldest we want the overnight temperature is 45 degrees (although 55 or above is preferred)
  • It works well to line sleeping bags with blankets, especially for the kids
  • Don’t take a blender
    • Fruit doesn’t stay frozen in the cooler, this was a waste of space that could have been better used
  • High quality sleeping bags are more important than a lot of blankets
  • Having a campsite in view of a playground is great so kids can play while adults setup and cook food
  • Buy an RV adapter plug (30 amp male to 15 amp female) for the typical campsite RV plug in to the normal power plug in (we were also able to borrow this at our first site with a $10 deposit)
  • Dish washing pans can be used for holding/cleaning dirty dishes and to set sandals or shoes in a tent inside overnight so they don’t get cold or disappear
  • Keep a Ziploc bag of ice in the cooler to use for drinks during the day if you are a person who likes to have cold drinks during the day
  • If the forecast calls for rain the day you are leaving do your best to pack and prep the night before
  • Campgrounds may have cool events for kids or adults, check their schedules and ask for details when you arrive
  • When packing up from a rainy day think about having the kids with food and activities in the dry car
  • When packing up on a rainy day pack a change and towel in a bag. Then use it, along with a warm shower, once everything is in the car so you don’t start the day dirty, wet and cold
  • Assuming camping sites have picnic tables you may not need camping chairs or a camping table.

Thoughts confirmed

  • High-quality sleeping bags are critically important for cold nights
  • Having a large tent with room dividers makes the experience more enjoyable
  • Focus on making sure you get a good night’s sleep; it makes everything easier
  • It is worth the extra money to get a lighted tent
    • Headlights are also a good investment, although phone flashlights can also be used
  • It is best to have a 50 foot outside extension cord and a large surge protector if you have multiple devices you want to plug in
  • Have a bucket or something else for overnight pee breaks so you don’t have to leave the tent
  • Bring a picnic table cloth to put down for cooking and eating
  • Make sure to get to your campsite early enough to be completely setup and settled in before it gets dark
  • Rain sucks, especially while packing up, that said it is completely managable with some preparation and thought
FIRE Travel Family - Ohio - Verity on Campground Slide - Financial Independence - Retire Early
Verity on the campground slide having fun on 9/26/2021 in Ohio

Background Information

Let’s start with some background. Becky and I have done overnight tent camping on multiple trips in both the United States and abroad while traveling/hiking. We used a two-person 3-season REI tent and typically had thin air mats and high-quality sleeping bags. All these items had to be ones that we could carry in our backpacks while hiking multi-day trails. With this setup, we have camped in areas that had the water freeze overnight and we still did not get cold. While abroad we did rustic camping along trails, meaning there were no water, electricity, or bathroom facilities. We also camped in the US while traveling in a vehicle so we could access a few more items and had some items like water and electricity. That said it had been over 7 years since either Brock or Becky had camped. Neither Kyra nor Verity had ever slept outside or in a tent before this. It was their first camping experience. Kyra is a seasoned traveler. However, Verity has only been on one trip which was cut short after only two and a half weeks due to COVID in Belize in 2020.

We reached FIRE (financial independence retire early) at an average couple age of 37, in 2021. We always thought our first post-retirement trip would be an international trip. Much of this was because our travel budget was created with developing countries and their lower costs in mind. Geo arbitrage (which basically means we use the US dollar and its strong relative value to most foreign currencies) was a core part of our budgeting. However, COVID did not work with us in this regard. With about 2 months to go before we left, we finally decided it would be a US trip for many reasons.

Story/Experience

To keep costs low we had two options (because staying at hotels exclusively was too expensive). The option nearly everyone told us to pick was to buy an RV. This would allow us to be comfortable and have all the stuff with us we wanted. The downsides to this were many for us. First, it was a huge outlay of capital and higher insurance, maintenance, gas, and other costs. It also meant less mobility and more to be responsible for. It also generally went against the minimalism tenant we have embraced. We believe that stuff = stress. On the upside, it would have been easier. But hey, why do what is easy? That isn’t how we roll!

So we choose Door #2 or the path less traveled. This meant we would take our minivan and tent camp for stays of 2 or more nights (weather permitting). When we couldn’t tent camp or were just passing through we would look for a low-end motel or hotel. Our goal here would be to pay less than $80 per night when we had hotels. Our hope was to tent camp for way more nights than we spent in hotels/motels. The hope was to bring the average per night costs more down around $50 to $60 across the whole trip. Our ultimate goal is to travel on less than $100 per day total in the United States.

So we had a plan but were faced with many questions like:

  • What type of tent to get? (How big, what seasonality, what weight)
  • How would we get a good night sleep?
  • How would we cook food? (it was way too expensive to eat out all the time)
  • What was important to take and what could be left home?
  • How much could we fit into one minivan and what would need to be left home?
  • How would the kids handle this?
  • How would all of Kyra’s homeschooling/worldschooling fit into all this?

Also in the back of Brock’s mind was one truly horrible tent experience. It was when Brock was hiking to Machu Picchu in 2006 on the Salkantay Inca Trail. At this point, he had no overnight trekking experience or gear. So he was completely dependent on the provider to give good tents and sleeping bags…this did not happen. Brock has never been so cold in his life. At one point overnight he emptied everything out of his bag on top of himself, it didn’t help. Brock slept for only a few minutes and was so happy when they came to him at 4 am with a hot beverage. Since then he has always made sure to have a good tent and sleeping bag, plus good other equipment. This story points to what should be an obvious point. The main use of the tent is for overnight shelter. If you don’t have a good night’s sleep in a tent you will not want to do it over and over again.

With all that in mind, our focus became how do we make sure we are having a good night’s sleep every time out. For us, this broke down into 3 main points:

  • Comfort
  • Warmth
  • Space
FIRE Travel Family - New York - Kyra and Verity Trick or Treating - Financial Independence - Retire Early
Kyra and Verity Trick or Treating as Park Rangers at our campground in New York on 10/2/2021

Comfort

Becky and the kids can sleep anywhere (and yes they all 3 sleep together when we travel). Air mattress, double bed, basically they make anything work. So this part was easy, we got a cheap queen air mattress. We did make a point of having the pump be battery operated in case we stayed at a campsite without an electrical hookup. We actually planned for all aspects of camping to be on battery when possible in case electrical hook-ups were not easy to come by. We choose not to buy a power cell for charging items.

For sleeping, Brock had some special requests/needs. While young he could do the inflatable 1-inch thick mats just fine. With age, waistline expansion, and back pain, he has come to the conclusion that no air mattress was going to make him feel comfortable. In fact, most made him feel horrible and sleep poorly to boot. So we had to get creative here. What we were able to figure out is that we could fit a twin mattress in the minivan. When it comes to traveling people have one or two luxuries they can afford. Somewhere they use space that others might not. For this trip this was Brock’s luxury, having an actual mattress for tent camping.

Two days before we left on the trip, Brock did an epic extreme mattress shopping experience before ultimately buying an 8-inch foam mattress for the trip for $300 plus tax. We had figured we could have gotten the 10-inch, but it was another few hundred and the 8-inch seemed like it would be a good night’s sleep. Brock tested it out the night we bought it and was very happy with the choice. In truth, he actually liked it even better than the king bed we had sold a few weeks back. He even found himself sleeping on his back more (typically he is a side sleeper).

After 5 nights we can say we hit the comfort area perfectly. Becky and the kids have enjoyed sleeping on the air mattress. Brock prefers sleeping on his twin foam mattress to any of the hotel beds he has slept on. We all took the box springs and frames out from under the bed before the trip. So sleeping low to the ground was not really an adjustment and has not been a problem. To protect the twin mattress we put both a thin liner on the bottom of it. We also put the plastic it came in under the bed to have a layer between the tent and the bed to keep the mattress from getting wet.

We also brought two camping chairs and one camping table. All pack down to a small size. None of them have been out of the minivan yet because the first two camping sites have had picnic tables. If this continues these could be items we would not have needed to bring. This could also be different if you want to sit around at campgrounds during the day. But we view them as mostly just lodging for the trip.

FIRE Travel Family - New York - Becky Taking Tent Down in the Rain - Financial Independence - Retire Early
Becky working to tear down the tent after a rainy night on 10/3/2021 in New York

Warmth

In regards to warmth, we were primarily concerned with the kids and Becky. They all tend to be colder in most environments. Kyra struggles the most with the cold of anyone in the family. Whereas Brock is not likely to get cold. We made sure we had some thicker sleepers/jammies for both kids and a comfortable, thicker sweatshirt for Becky. We also packed stocking caps and gloves for colder nights.

From previous trips, we had three high-quality camping bags. We decided that Brock would use the older one when needed. Becky and the kids would zip the other two together to sleep in. Becky sleeps in the middle and the kids fit beside her. This actually worked well and mostly kept the kids close to her overnight. We have two kids who move in bed a ton. Kyra often is completely out of the bed overnight. Verity also moves around a lot, although she is less likely to fall completely out of the bed.

Our first night of camping put our preparations to the test with overnight lows of around 48 to 50 degrees. While sleeping bags do a great job with warmth overall, they are initially cold to the touch. After some experimentation, Becky lined the bottom of the sleeping bag with one blanket and put another on the top. When she did that Kyra was much more comfortable and warm. What we found on the cold nights is that the kids stayed close and slept very well with this setup.

We used all the blankets we had brought, around six in total (plus the kid’s small ones). Neither Becky nor Brock used their Under Armour base layer 1 clothing. Kyra used her stocking cap on the fourth night (got down to the high 40’s). No one has used gloves yet. While this has all worked well we have decided that we would prefer to only camp when the overnight temperature was over 45 degrees. This could vary for others and it is important to note that our tent is really more a summer tent than a 3 or 4-season tent. We went with this tent because we also could see using it in very hot places and wanted one that allowed for air movement. If people had a more sealed-up tent they could likely stay in even colder temps, if they wanted.

Space

It is truly weird how tent capacity is measured. It is how many average-sized adults could sleep in sleeping bags in a tent packed like sardines. While this makes sense for 1 or 2-person tents this is not something families or large groups are likely to do. So for instance you are just about never going to see 10 people sleeping in a 10-person tent.

We knew right away we wanted a tent that allowed us to have two sleeping areas as well as a common area. We looked at tents that were small (6-person tents) and huge (up to 16-person tents). What we pretty quickly realized is that we wanted a tent that was around “10 to 12 people”. We preferred one that would be able to have 2 queen mattresses on each end and a common area of about the same size in the middle. A future post can go fully into all the research we did but we ended up buying a CORE 12 Person Lighted Instant Cabin Tent which is 18’ x 10’. This tent was also nice because it had room dividers so we were able to get the 3-room setup we were looking for.

We also knew that we wanted the space to be physically comfortable and part of this included having it be well lighted for the kids. While this cost around $70 extra by the end of the first night before lights were out we knew it had been well worth the money. It is possible this could have been done in other ways. However, having the lights built right in and with several settings (including night light mode) was so easy to use.

So other comfort items include that we brought a 50 foot outside extension cord so that we could have electricity to charge phones and other devices at night. We brought a bucket for overnight pee breaks so that we didn’t have to walk all the way to the bathroom (only Brock has used this). We also put down a blanket in the common area to make the space more appealing to walk or sit on. It also protects the feet if there is debris under the tent. Doing this also made walking around warmer on colder nights. We choose not to buy some special awning or rain shelter for outside the tent.

FIRE Travel Family - Ohio - Tent Setup First Time - Financial Independence - Retire Early
Our CORE tent all set up at our first family camping experience on 9/25/2021 in Ohio

Food and Drink

Another important thing to understand is food and drink. An important warning to cover, NEVER store food or drink in your tent. No snacks, drinks, fruit, anything. We even take the extra snacks out of our day hiking bag each night. The reason is that this can bring in animals. We had friends who stored bananas in their tent and had a raccoon join them in the middle of a stormy night much to their dismay. Not only is this potentially dangerous, but it also can destroy your tent.

With that out of the way let’s talk about how we view this. If you are slightly overwhelmed with this being your first camping experience and having kids then make the food prep easy by going out for food or having pizza delivered. Do not feel like you have to tackle everything at once. In general, this is good advice when traveling with kids, learn in increments. We take the view that this is all a learning experience and we want to get better each time. This attitude has served us very well. For us, we have a two-burner stove that uses propane that we use to cook on trips. Our personal preference is not to leave the campground once we have it set up at night. Additionally, buying groceries and cooking is much more economical than eating out. It is easy to blow your budget on restaurant meals. This also allows us to cook healthier meals than we can typically buy while traveling.

So there are many benefits, but a drawback is that it does take some effort. The worst time is always the first time you cook because you have to locate each item you need. A smart item Becky decided to bring for this trip was a picnic table cloth. It has come in handy while using picnic tables provided at the tent sites. We have also used the divide and conquer method here. Brock has taken the kids to the playground or elsewhere, while Becky cooks. It is much more difficult to cook a meal with the kids sitting around waiting or even when they are trying to be helpful. If playgrounds are not an option, a walk, going to look for animals, getting ice, or just about anything else could also get the same result. We also always have a lot of ready-to-eat snacks with us to keep the kids from getting too hungry while waiting for meals or while on hikes.

In regards to drinks on this trip, we borrowed a 5-gallon water holder with a spout you can use to fill drinks (Thanks Thad!). This has been great because it means we can get water whenever we want throughout the day. This helps us all to stay better hydrated. Additionally, we keep a Ziploc bag of ice separate in the cooler. This bag is used for drinks which has been a great new trick we started on this trip to have cold drinks on hot days. We also wrap our Nalgene bottles with hand towels to keep the ice in them longer when on hikes. We brought a blender because we make fruit/vegetable shakes at home each day. We have used it once, it was probably our biggest packing mistake.

Homeschooling / Worldschooling

Camping has not really affected how we are worldschooling (homeschooling while traveling the world). The tougher challenge is really finding the time to get the work done and have focus with Kyra. We find that we like to do her workbooks in the morning while we are making breakfast or packing to go. She has done her workbooks while sitting on the bed, on a picnic table, or in the car. The biggest thing is making sure she has enough focus to be able to keep moving forward.

The truly cool part about worldschooling Kyra is that the world is her mental playground. We let each hour bring the lesson to us as we experience the world. Sometimes it is animals or plants. Other times it is how things are made or done. Often it is concepts like gravity. The variance she is getting is amazing. Also letting her bring the questions helps her to feel like part of the process. I will go more into this in another post, but the important point for this post is that where you stay shouldn’t really affect how you homeschool. However, it can enhance the list of things you can teach your child. Also being at campsites has been great for our kids to socialize and play with other children.

Summary

Overall our experience was a great one. Despite the colder temperature on the first night, the kids slept like rocks. It probably helps that they were exhausted from a long day of hiking and activities. The second and third nights were much warmer and Brock didn’t even use his sleeping bag on nights two and three. Becky slept as well as you can between two kids and Brock slept well. At our second stay, the first night was in the high 40’s overnight again, and the second night was warmer. The second night of that stay it started raining at 4:30 am, which did wake up both Becky and Brock (but not the kids).

After staying in some hotels, Brock prefers sleeping in a tent. This is likely due to the quality of his twin foam mattress in the tent and the lack of hotel smells. Becky likes the tent camping better assuming the bathrooms are close (they were not at our second stay). The kids are both excited for our next camping experience. At our second stay, we hit their Halloween weekend, despite it being the first weekend of October. So we were able to take part in their trick or treating and candy hunt in the dark. Becky and the kids also did a bingo night at this campground.

FIRE Travel Family - Ohio - Kids on Jump Pad - Financial Independence - Retire Early
Verity & Kyra having fun on the Jump Pad in Ohio on 9/28/2021

Every family, adult, and kid will have their own items that are important. Before you go camping it is best to have a conversation to make sure all the big issues are covered. That said we made sure to focus on the most important items and not worry about preparing for every contingency. We felt like the best thing to do was have the essentials and then adjust whatever was needed based on our actual needs. We were also greatly limited by space given that we were on a cross-country trip in the minivan. In a way, this required more focus and likely helped us to make better decisions.

Once you get comfortable with the basics up your game. Think about having a night where you look at the stars, play games, or do other activities. Both us and our kids love tent camping together. We highly recommend doing this as it is truly a different experience than being in a hotel or hotel on wheels (RV). With a little planning and a willingness to learn and improve we think any family could find this to be a great option!

Written By: Brock Waterman & Becky Waterman

Written: 9/27/2021 and 10/4/2021 (mostly)
Posted: 10/5/2021

Holy Toledo Batman!

We are on the road and it feels so good 🙂 I am writing this while sitting in the van near Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio. We got our tent set up for our first night of camping. First, let’s do a quick update and give out some thank you shoutouts.

Since the last update on Sept 14, 2021, we have been busy completing the move from our house, selling our 2017 Chevy Traverse, and seeing how much stuff one family can fit into a minivan (spoiler it is both too much and still not everything we wanted).

There are so many people we want to thank. I am sure we are missing some people (our apologies) but here is a brief list of the ones that come to mind:

  • Matt & Rachelle Waterman for giving us a room in their amazing house in Waunakee, WI from which we can base ourselves and be when we are “back home.”
  • Thad Waterman for items too numerous to mention and helping with our mail and things to be done while we are gone, plus getting his passport for any emergency situations
  • Bill & Sheri Waterman for helping us to store items, use the truck and trailer for the move, and with other items
  • Janann Ambrosy and Rick Kenny for helping to store our stuff
  • Lisa & Tom Hast for all the general support and advice
  • Nicole and Pat Richey for general help during the house sale and lending us an air mattress when we sold our King Bed before the move
FIRE Travel Family - Dubuque - Becky Packing Trailer Picture - Brock, Becky, Kyra, Verity - Financial Independence - Retire Early
Becky Waterman packing Bill and Sheri’s truck and trailer for our move on September 20, 2021

Since the last update we did the following:

  1. September 15, 2021 – officially sold the Traverse to Carvana.com; this was the last big item we had to sell before we left
    • We were also selling smaller items up to a couple days before we moved
  2. September 16 to 18, 2021 – we moved items to Janann’s and Rick’s to prep for the big move
  3. Sept 19 – we got the truck and trailer from Brock’s mom and dad and took a load to their house; also dropped off the kids for their last stay with Na Na & Pa Pa
  4. Sept 20, 2021 we packed all of our items (somehow – Becky did amazing) into the trailer, truck bed, and minivan and drove to Waunakee. With Matt and Rachelle’s help we unloaded what was staying at their house and put everything else in the trailer.
  5. Sept 21, 2021 we took the truck and trailer back to Boscobel and got everything put away at Bill and Sheri’s house. We also got the kids and came back to Waunakee.
  6. Sept 22, we got the needed items for camping including an epic search for what twin mattress Brock will use while camping
  7. September 23, 2021 we spent the day finishing paperwork, test packing the van, and preparing in other ways

Now onto the good stuff, the travel! We officially hit the road on Friday, September 24 at around 11:30 am. It took several attempts and a lot of items left behind, but we finally got everything into the van. We were so excited to finally be on the trip. It was the culmination of over a year’s worth of planning, selling, and many tough decisions/conversations. We felt like a huge weight was lifted off our shoulders.

FIRE Travel Family - Waunakee - Ready to Leave Trip Picture - Brock, Becky, Kyra, Verity - Financial Independence - Retire Early
Becky, Brock, Verity & Kyra Waterman to hit the road on September 24, 2021, with a full minivan

We had previously decided that we would be going East on this trip, at least originally. Past that not much else was planned. We love the outdoors and hiking so we knew our first destination would be Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio. However, that was around 9 to 10 hours of driving away. On the first day, we drove to Toledo, which put us about 2 hours from the park. Our first attempt at frugal hotel nights was a fail…

We didn’t have a set location for the first night because we did not know how far we would get or even wanted to drive. Chicago traffic was not amazing and caused us some lost time (around 30 to 45 minutes). However, once we were about 30 miles into Indiana the traffic improved.

We started looking for a hotel about two-thirds the way across Indiana. We were on highway 80, which is a toll road. There were surprisingly few options available for us and most were fairly high-priced. While still in Indiana, we concluded that the best option was probably to go to Toledo, which is pretty far into Ohio. Normally this would not have been a problem, but with the time change and extra time in Chicago it was getting dark as we started into Ohio. We did other online searches, but the best options were clearly in Toledo, so we decided to push through. We were lucky because the kids were so well-behaved. One thing that helped was we have saved the cool surprise of the TV being in the minivan for this trip. We showed it to them around 6 pm on this day. So they were enjoying having a TV in the vehicle even as night fell. This helped to keep the are we there yet questions to a minimum.

When we finally got to Toledo at around 8 pm we went to the Motel 6 because this looked like a decent option. Just to be safe we did not book online ahead of time so that we could view the room before paying. This was a smart choice because the room we were showed had what I can best describe as the combination of smoke and mold I have smelled. On the upside, the front desk person was nice enough to let Kyra use the employee bathroom so we appreciated that…

At this point, we were back to square one and we needed food because everyone was hungry. This is where it helps to split tasks. While I had been in looking at the room with Kyra, Becky had stayed in the car and was looking for food options online. She found a place to get food very close to where we were. So we decided the next step was to get food. While we waited for food I did a new search. I found a Country Inn & Suites that had a special, which included Breakfast for about $25 more than the Motel 6, so we booked it happily. Having stayed at these before I was not worried about the room quality. At this point in the night, this seemed like a smart trade-off. We booked it via Hotels.com to get the rewards for it.

When we arrived at this hotel it was great because we got right in, had an amazing room, and got free oatmeal creme pies to wash down the amazing meal, Becky had found for us. The kids were starving and excited to eat. While we ate we video-called parents at home and got set up for the first night in the hotel. Kyra was very excited to announce to everyone that her mom would be so happy because she didn’t have to make breakfast the next day since it was included in the hotel price. It is funny what our kids get excited about 🙂

After eating the kids got to do some things they loved, which was great because they needed the attention after the long day:

  • Help get ice from the machine
  • Ride the luggage cart pretending it was a choo choo train
  • Do physical therapy by Brock on his yoga mat, while laughing the whole time

It was a great end to a productive day. And the upside was that we would start the next day only 2 hours from Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Brock Waterman

Written: 9/25/2021 (mostly)
Posted: 9/28/2021

ALMOST ready to start traveling…

While things may have seemed quiet, in reality, a LOT has been happening. I have had over a dozen people ask for an update which is why we wrote this post. We are planning to officially be on the road within the next week (on or before Sept 21), although we are not sure what the exact start date for the trip is yet.

FIRE Travel Family - Dubuque - Retirement Party Picture - Brock, Becky, Kyra, Verity - Financial Independence - Retire Early
FIRE Travel Family – Dubuque, IA – Retirement Party Picture – Brock, Becky, Kyra, Verity On September 6, 2021

Here are the high notes of what has been going on over the past few months:

  • On June 23 we accepted an offer to buy our house, which closed one month later
    • As part of that sale, we negotiated up to 60 days rent-free post-closing
      • This gave us up to September 21, 2021, to be in the house
    • This was a cash offer with no contingencies, which Brock negotiated since we did not have a realtor
  • On July 2, 2021, we purchased a 2007 Chrysler Town & Country Touring Edition Minivan
    • Our original intent was to
      • Have a low-cost vehicle we could use while in the United States
      • We needed to save money on insurance (only carrying liability coverage) and vehicle registration
      • We wanted a vehicle we were comfortable storing outside while we travel
    • Buying this minivan allowed us to sell our current nicer vehicles quicker to capitalize on high used car prices
  • On July 13, 2021, we registered FIRE Travel Family LLC as an official business and all associated accounts were open
  • On July 19, 2021, Brock closed his Innoative Dubuque LLC business which focused on consulting and business assistance
  • On the morning of July 23, 2021, we closed on the house sale and officially became renters!
  • In the afternoon of July 23, 2021, we learned that Brock should not leave US due to the medical treatment he is receiving. The doctor suggested he stay around for between 12 to 18 months from when he started the treatment in January of 2021
    • Interestingly, we had already mostly decided that we would not be leaving the US for this first trip anyway due to COVID-19 uncertainty
  • On July 26, 2021, we sold our 2014 Chevy Equinox
    • That brought us back down to two vehicles again
    • It also allowed us to capitalize on the higher used car values which made us feel good about buying the minivan
  • On July 29, 2021, Becky closed her Platteville Massage office.
    • It was a bittersweet day since she loved her clients and had built a great/successful business
  • On July 31, 2021, Adam Rohn, Brock’s best friend from kindergarten through high school had funeral services held in Boscobel, WI
  • August 4, 2021, Kyra got her first haircut from her aunt Karen Hoffman
    • Kyra and her mom both donated their hair to kids in need
  • August 14. 2021, Brock completes the Platteville Super Sprint Triathlon with a personal best time and gets first place in his age range
  • August 20 and 21, 2021, Becky’s grandma Rose Heiderscheit has funeral services held and is laid to rest in Balltown, IA
  • August 22 and 23, 2021, Brock, Becky, Kyra, and Verity go to Wisconsin Dells. This is our first overnight trip and stay in a hotel since having to return home due to COVID-19 in March of 2020.
    • There will be a future post detailing how we made this a cost-effective outing by utilizing one of our superpowers…frugality!
  • August 27, 2021, was Kyra’s last day at the daycare she has been going to since 2017
  • On August 31, 2021, Becky closed her Dubuque Massage office and cleans out her office. In just over a month she has gone from 2 businesses to being retired!
  • September 3, 2021, we learn that the place we were going to live while “back home” is no longer an option, so we have to find a new place to stay and store our bed
  • On September 4, 2021, we had our final garage sale. We sold items left under $10 for 50% off and the items left worth $10 or more at 25% off, with the exclusion of about 12 items.
    • In total since starting to sell our items in August of 2020, we have sold over $14,000 and this does not include the house or vehicles
    • We estimate that we sold between 75% to 80% of everything we owned via garage sales and online Facebook Marketplace posts
      • To give you an idea of how much was sold for large furniture we now own only one item, a queen bed set
    • We kept a few items, otherwise, everything else was donated, consigned, or put on the curb, although there are a handful of items we are still trying to sell
  • On September 6, 2021, we had our retirement party with family and friends. It was the last celebration we hosted in the first house we owned as a couple and family.
  • September 9, 2021, was Verity’s last day at the only daycare she has went to.
  • September 13, 2021, was Kyra’s first day of home school (world school) as a kindergarten student, she loves her teachers and is doing great so far!!
  • September 15, 2021 is the day we have set to sell the 2017 Chevy Traverse to online car dealer Carvana.com. We hope everything goes smoothly with our drop-off meeting, which is set to take place in Monroe, WI.
    • Other than this we are waiting for one piece of mail to arrive and these are the last items keeping us from leaving (once we have moved)

As far as what we are doing now we are mostly:

  1. Packing items to store while we are gone
  2. Completing the electronic cleanup we need from owning 3 businesses that have been shut down
  3. Determine what we need for our trip and get it bought/packed
  4. Finishing the preparation we need to be away from home while traveling

Are you tired from reading all this? We are from getting it all done! The upside is the hard work is almost done and the fun is about to begin….

FIRE Travel Family - Wisconsin Dells - Kyra & Verity - Financial Independence - Retire Early
FIRE Travel Family – Wisconsin Dells, WI- Kyra & Verity On August 23, 2021

Brock Waterman

Written and posted 9/14/2021

House Sale Offer Accepted; Closing Set for July 23, 2021

FIRE Travel Family - Financial Independence - Retire Early - Our House - 550 Fremont - For Sale - Offer Accepted - Sold Ourself

Becky and I are EXCITED to announce that we have accepted an offer to buy our house! We accepted this offer on June 23 and the closing is set for July 23, 2021. There is a lot to love about this offer. For one, we sold the house for more than we had it listed on Zillow and Facebook. Second, the offer we accepted is from a cash buyer who has waived all contingencies. Our lawyer has the earnest money payment, although this did take some time. At this point, we are waiting on the abstract work to finish. In the meantime, the lawyer we hired is completing everything else needed for the closing.

We sold this house on our own (more to come about what we learned doing this in another post). We spent a lot of time cleaning and preparing the house for showings. We had a day of fixing small issues that buyers could have noticed. I did all the marketing, showings, communications, and negotiating. It was at times stressful, but this brief period of work will save us the 5 to 6% fee that realtors normally charge.

Marketing and showing our own house allowed us to get to know the potential buyers. This made it easier to negotiate for what was important to us. For instance, we will get up to 60 days rent-free and without a security deposit after closing in the house.

Selling the house was one of the biggest to-do items. Now on to other items like selling our vehicles, selling larger items in the house, and getting packed. We also are still working to determine our first travel location(s) and prepare for the travel we will be doing. It is not official until we close (sign the papers and receive the full payment). That said, it is great to be at this point!

Brock Waterman
Originally Written: 7/12/2021

Always Buy The Coconut!

On March 4, 2020, Becky, Kyra, Verity and I flew to Belize City.  It was the start of a long-planned one-month family trip to Belize.  Off the plane, we took the taxi to the ferry and went directly to the island of Caye Caulker.  For those who have been there before it is a small reef fringed coral island, home to around 2000 locals.  While we were there we walked the island to see the local seahorses, tarpons, and pelicans.  We enjoyed the beach areas and playgrounds.  We even took Kyra (who is 4) snorkeling for the first time at The Split, which was great.

FIRE Travel Family - Belize - The Split - Kyra & Brock - Financial Independence - Retire Early
Kyra & Brock Waterman – March 5, 2020 – Caye Caulker, Belize

However, what we didn’t do was something we came to regret later due to something we never saw coming.  During our walk around the island, there was a freshly cut coconuts stand.  Kyra did a great job asking politely for us to buy the coconut for her to try.  As parents know, it takes so much time to teach this skill to a child.  If memory serves me correctly we had just finished a meal and didn’t think the timing was right to buy it then.  We instead promised we would do this at some other point in the trip. 

FIRE Travel Family - Always Buy The Coconut - Financial Independence - Retire Early - Coconut Drink

We assumed we would buy it on a different day.  Additionally, we were in Belize for a month and had the last 10+ days on the beach.   We figured it would be no problem to get one later.  As it went we didn’t happen to go by this stand again while on Caye Caulker.  We next spent a few days on Ambergris Caye and while there didn’t have the best weather.  We also didn’t see anyone selling the fresh-cut coconut.  After that, the next 2 weeks of the trip were inland. 

What happened next wasn’t something we could have planned for at the time.  However, it will likely surprise no one reading this.  We arrived in San Ignacio on Monday, March 16, with a plan to check out and head for the coast on Saturday, March 21.  Our first day in San Ignacio was like every other one on the trip.  Additionally, we were not limited from doing anything during our time in San Ignacio.  As you might be guessing at this point COVID-19 changed our plans dramatically.  By Friday, the government announced the closing of the borders.  The airport closed to international flights on Monday, March 23.  So on Saturday, March 21 we flew home to the United States. 

Kyra never got her coconut.  Now to be realistic we know there have been larger issues many kids deal with.  Plus to be honest she forgot about this after asking a few times earlier on the trip.  But this stuck with us as parents.  Especially given how great she behaved on the trip and how much she loves new experiences.  Since then Becky and I have a shorthand expression that we apply to all parts of life now to “Always buy the coconut.” 

To be clear this doesn’t mean spending on everything the kids ask for.  Nor does it mean that money buys happiness, we know better than this.  It simply means don’t put off unique experiences you can do today with your children.  Because you truly never know what might happen in the future!  

To end on a happy note, we used what we had learned near the end of our trip.  We got these drinks called Slooshie (crushed ice-styled drink) and Smoozie (fresh fruit-based drink).  These were from a small shop called Bambu Tea + Coffee, in San Ignacio.  In them, you can put what they call bobas, which pop in your mouth when you drink it.  We decide to get one to try something new and because when we talked to Kyra about the options she wanted one.  She loved it!  Interestingly, to this day when she talks about Belize, this drink is the first thing she is likely to bring up.  What is special and important now for a child might not be special in the future.  Lastly, because you miss one opportunity do not take it too hard.  With kids, there will always be another opportunity to do something special.  Make sure you take it!

FIRE Travel Family - Always Buy The Coconut - Financial Independence - Retire Early - Bambu Tea Coffee San Ignacio - Belize
Bambu Tea Coffee San Ignacio – Belize

Brock Waterman
Originally Uploaded: 6/28/2021

Financial Independence & Early Retirement Email – Brock & Becky Waterman

On Tuesday, June 15, 2021, we announced that we had reached financial independence and that we will be selling most of our possessions to travel the world. We had told our immediate families and some close friends in the months leading up to this announcement. Below is the email we used to communicate our decision with everyone else and launch our FIRE Travel Family venture:

————————————–

Family, Friends & Colleagues:

Becky and I have exciting and life changing news.  Through hard work, a focused/frugal lifestyle, and strong financial management we have reached our financial independence goals!  Therefore, we are selling most of our possessions, our vehicles, and our house.  In regards to the house, please help us spread the word via our Zillow listing (https://www.zillow.com/homedetails/550-Fremont-Ave-Dubuque-IA-52003/50172084_zpid/?view=public) or on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/commerce/listing/255898449667472?media_id=4&ref=share_attachment).  Our plan is to “retire”, become full-time parents, and explore the world with Kyra & Verity! 

At this point in the email, you may have some questions or want to know more.  If that is the case follow us on social media at our new FIRE Travel Family venture (see below).  Our plan is to discuss our experiences and source content from people’s questions so everyone can have their questions discussed.  As always, we also look forward to what we can learn from others and in our travels.  Once we have had some time off to chill on the road we might even start teaching clients how to attain financial independence themselves.

So far we don’t have much online other than a few blog posts (https://firetravelfamily.com/blog/).  We don’t even have the logo created or website design/content done (only a general template).  That will change once the selling work is done in a few months and we are ready to hit the road.  At most, our current plan is to send one more email like this before going fully to social media.

Key accounts to follow for our major news:
Newsletter: https://firetravelfamily.com/newsletter/
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2pfVpYTyUXbbwUTyI3oabQ
Twitter: https://twitter.com/FIRETravelFamly
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/firetravelfamily/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FIRETravelFamily

Others we may update:

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/firetravelfamily
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/firetravelfamily
TikTok: https://www.tiktok.com/@firetravelfamily

Brock, Becky, Kyra & Verity Waterman
FIRE Travel Family
www.firetravelfamily.com
firetravelfamily@gmail.com 
Originally Written: 6/15/2021
Posted: 6/20/2021

An Overview to Living Frugally

FIRE Travel Family - Frugal Living - Financial Independence - Retire Early

Becky and I are frugal people in many financial aspects, which has led to our financial independence. The biggest place this shows in how we acquire material items (aka “stuff”), but also extends to experiences. But before we get to what we buy, let’s talk about the why of buying. For us, we always start with the question is this something we truly need. When you think this way, you often find you have something else that you can use to make due. Or you might be able to temporarily borrow an item from someone else. Lastly, can you rent or otherwise get for free temporarily? We utilize the public library just about weekly. We can get books, movies, and more for no cost. Need a book they don’t have, fill out a request form and usually, they will get it.

This mentality also extends to activities. For instance, we take part in the free kid’s activities available at the library and through the city. Want something more in-depth? We are part of a local Parent’s as Teachers where we have bi-weekly meetings with a Parent-Educator. This brings weekly hands-on activities and social interactions for our kids. It also helps us expand our parenting knowledge and skills because of the educational documents we read as part of this. We love hiking, which is often free (or low-cost). Not only do you get away from electronics, you help your kids connect to nature and have time together. Parks are another great free option. Again our city also has free events and at many of these, they include meals, activities, and sometimes even free items.

But what about when we need to buy something? When possible we try to make sure we are not surprised by an emergency need. This is important because when you have the time it opens up your options. Options for getting great used items include family and friends, garage sales (online and in-person), thrift stores, corporate second-hand stores (like Goodwill), online websites and groups (like Facebook Marketplace and the various groups selling items in your area), free curb pickups, and more.

We buy the majority (probably around 80% to 90%) of all non-perishable items used. This includes clothes, toys, furniture, workout equipment, books, and more. We often pay cents on the dollar for these same items as you would if you purchase them new. Often times we get items, use them for years and turn around sell them for the same (or more) than we paid for them.

As an example, at one point we picked up a bike we thought our oldest daughter might use for free off a curb one day. As we found a better other option a couple of years later we turned around and sold this bike for $45. This isn’t the norm, and I am not advocating being a hoarder. When you buy something that has some use the price can drop substantially from its new price. Additionally, people often really want to get rid of the item, so they take a low price. We have found that most larger items we have bought used have held their value or sold for more on the recent garage or online sales we have done.

Do we ever buy new things? Absolutely! Because of my allergies, anything that has cloth that can’t be put in a washing machine (for instance couches or recliners) are something we typically buy new. I use my computer daily and always want one with high-end specs. While I do shop around, I buy high-end here. TVs are also something else we have usually bought new. Lastly, and most importantly, we spend more to get quality, healthy food items. While it is cheaper in the short term to buy fast food and low-quality food, the long-term health costs are not worth it. We spend to get the best whole food items like vegetables, fruits, and meats. We buy local when possible (including for all of our beef). We watch specials and do our best to stay in season for fruits and vegetables to get lower prices and better quality. Also, we do a lot of frozen fruit which the kids love and which make the best fruit shakes.

This post has just scratched the surface of how we live frugally. For instance, we have saved money by getting low-interest loans from family members. But this post gives you an idea of how we were able to reach financial independence and retire early. When we spend we always think is this item worth the time it takes to make the money for it? Essentially, is it worth more time away from the kids and more work? We find the answer is often no, and this simple test helps to eliminate a lot of unneeded or want-based spending.

Brock Waterman
Originally Written: 6/2/2021
Last Edit: 6/3/2021

FIRE Travel Family: The Origin Story

Welcome to the FIRE Travel Family blog! What can you expect? Brock and Becky Waterman are going to share knowledge, experience, and life hacks.

FIRE Travel Family - Brock, Becky, Kyra & Verity Waterman
Belize – March 2020

Why should you care? Good question, thanks for asking! Brock and Becky have traveled to over 35 countries. These were not short trips either. When we travel we average a month in each country. In fact, Brock has spent over 3 years of his life outside the United States, including a 14-month trip in his 20’s. Our oldest Kyra (4) has already spent nearly 4 months on vacation traveling to places like Hawaii, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Lesotho, and Belize (it would be more if not for COVID).

Where it gets even more interesting is that we have not mortgaged our future to do this. In fact, we have saved all the way along, while still doing what we consider important for our kids and family. Due to this in 2021 we have made the decision to

  • sell our house
  • sell most of our belongings
  • sell or transition Becky’s two massage therapy businesses
  • transition Brock’s Innovative Dubuque consulting business
  • travel the world with our kids as a way of life for the foreseeable future

Hence, FIRE Travel Family will chronicle our lives abroad and share how we got to this point. Wondering what FIRE stands for? Once again, great active listening (reading) on your part! Financial Independence Retire Early aka FIRE is the name of the movement where people are doing this with which Becky and I are broadly associated. But here is the thing, we only learned there were other people doing this in February of 2021. To that point, Becky and I had just been making this up as we went along. So is there any real sorcery involved in getting to financial independence? No there is not, just focus, planning, and spending on the important things in life (and leaving most material desires behind).

Once again from Brock, Becky, Kyra & Verity Waterman, welcome to our FIRE Travel Family! We are excited you are here and hope you are ready to learn, interact and drive the content we produce from this so it can be the most useful and valuable.

Brock Waterman
Originally Written: 6/2/2021
Updated: 6/10/2021