Dream to Reality

“You must be rich to be traveling for an entire year.” I suppose rich can mean different things to different people. When referring to money, we are not rich by any means. I would say our life is rich, though. Are we fortunate to be taking an extended period to travel? Absolutely! We definitely put in some work, and hustled to make it happen. People think of long-term travel as being unobtainable, but with a little bit of planning (which we are terrible at) and some budgeting, we have made it happen. We had discussed wanting to live and travel abroad for a long time, even before we ever got married.  It was always our dream to do this! Although at the time, we focused on going to Mexico, Central America, or South America, since the cost of living is more affordable than other places, and Brad wanted to be immersed in Spanish-speaking cultures. The first obstacle we needed to overcome in order to make this happen was our student loans and credit card debt (which luckily was not too much… in reference to the credit card debt).

We moved to Phoenix at the end of the summer in 2011, as I was getting my master’s degree in Social Work at ASU. I had around $35,000 in student loans from my undergraduate degree, and was working on repaying that debt. Somehow, I thought getting a master’s degree as an out-of-state student was a brilliant idea at the time. Fast forward to spring 2013, and I was graduating with my Master’s in Social Work. My student loan debt had almost tripled, as I was looking at more than $90,000 in student loans (this is not counting Brad’s student loans, either). I do not regret getting my master’s degree one bit, as I love my profession. The only thing I regret is not being more financially responsible prior to this. I could have, without a doubt, paid off my undergraduate loans while working the two and a half years between undergraduate and graduate school. I was paying hardly anything in rent (thanks to my great second family, the Stringer ladies!) and instead of tackling my loans, I was making the minimum monthly payments and spending lots of money on other things. I did, however, get myself a Roth IRA during that time (also thanks to Mama Stringer!).

I remember right after we got married in September 2013 (literally probably a week after), and Brad was talking about budgeting and making payments on our loans and credit cards. (Side note: We had this discussion before we got married, too. We were very open about finances). At that time, he was working two jobs, and I was still searching for a Social Work job. I was lucky enough to be working at an after school program during that fall, but I was making $10/hour, which I was elated with and grateful for at the time. I burst into tears (which is not hard for me to do) while he was talking about the financial plan because I felt like I was not contributing, and also felt as though we were in over our heads. He calculated how much in student loans we would be paying off, counting interest, and it came out to a little less than $130,000. We were accruing about $25 a day in interest. Luckily Brad has no problem understanding interest accrual and compounding interest, because my eyes kind of glaze over at the thought of it.

I did not start my dream job, as a hospital Social Worker, until February 5, 2014.  I loved my jobs, yes plural. My second job started in October 2014. I was lucky enough to work as a Social Worker at not just one, but two great hospitals in Phoenix and Scottsdale, both with patients at completely different ends of the demographic and age spectrums. I worked as PRN/pool staff at both hospitals, so not full-time or part-time, and I got to decide my schedule! Those two jobs meant I had the opportunity to work seven days a week, and sometimes working both jobs in one day. Did I always work seven days a week? No, but some weeks I did. My longest count was around 31 days straight followed by one day off, and then another long stretch of days and one day off, and the cycle went on. By this time, Brad was only working his GIS job and was no longer loading boxes at FedEx. That does not include his other side jobs (like I said, we definitely hustled). He was driving for Lyft and Uber, being a personal assistant/landscaper/mover (through TaskRabbit), doing contract GIS work, and selling random things/furniture people would leave after moving out of our apartment complex (they were leaving good furniture pieces behind, not trash or broken things). I’ll let him go into more details in his version of the story.

Brad was really good at keeping us on track to pay off our debts. We would make monthly budgets together, which he liked to use a zero-sum budget (pretty much we would “spend” every dollar of income that month so we would end up with pretty close to $0). He made a giant thermometer on one of our white boards and we would fill it in after we would make a payment on our loans. We were making weekly payments on our student loans, sometimes even bi-weekly (one time the monthly payment limit was exceeded…lame there is such a limit!). He also made mini thermometers that we had on our refrigerator for each of the individual loans (i.e. Loans A, B, C, D, etc.) that we were focusing on. Nothing was more satisfying than coloring those thermometers in after every payment. We would pay the minimum amount required monthly on all of the loans, but then would make a larger payment on the loan of our choice. At first we started paying off the smallest loans, I believe Brad referred to this as the Snowball Effect (where we would pay the smallest to the largest ones). We got some momentum going and knocked out about three or four of these, which felt good at first. Then I started to look at the largest loan we had, more than $20,000, and it was a bit disheartening. I talked Brad into then tackling our biggest loans, so that when we got closer to then end, it would seem like a piece of cake to knock out the $2,000 or less loans. Luckily he agreed!


Brad had figured if we really hustled, we would be debt free by July 4, 2015! Oh, how cool that would have been for us, since it is Independence Day in the US, but that day came and passed, and we weren’t quite there yet. We got our loans paid off by August 21, 2015. All of our hard work and hustling actually paid off! It was an amazing feeling. We did also have trips home and a 10-day trip to Mexico (our one year anniversary/honeymoon) included in all of that, so it is not like we did not have any fun at all.

April 15, 2016, was the last day at our jobs, so we are already four months into it. The anxiety (at least for me) of going from working every day (or at least six days a week) for the last year and a half, to working zero days a week has finally begun to fade a bit. We had originally talked about having a certain amount of money in our savings before we started our travels. This is hard to do because we had never quit our jobs to travel for an extended period of time, so we had no clue how much was “enough” (also, it is easy to get stuck in the “more is better” trap).We pushed back our start date several times, as a result. Luckily, we came across a $400 per person cruise (everything included: taxes, gratuities, food, and drinks) from Cartagena, Colombia to Lisbon Portugal. It was leaving on May 28, 2016 and sounded like an adventure (13 days, stop on day 3, and then 10 days at sea). You can read more about it here. That was enough to push us over the edge, into the unknown. We booked our room on the ship, and decided our last day of work would be April 15, 2016.

Here we are now, mid-August 2016 in Madrid. Not sure how long our travels will last, but we are enjoying it so far!

Thanks for reading, and to all of our friends and families who have been so supportive of us throughout this entire journey!



3 thoughts on “Dream to Reality

  1. I enjoyed reading your story! I have also enjoyed seeing pictures of your travels when posted , as I am also a fan of traveling!! You will have a lifetime of stories and adventures to tell!!

    Liked by 1 person

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