Want Adventure AND Security? Just Change Your Timeline

Like most American students, I didn’t take a gap year between high school and college, and I took all of a one-week break between college graduation and the start of my career. (Seriously, why don’t we learn from other countries and give young people time to explore a little before diving into a career path, a mortgage and all the rest? Or at least to work and save up money to avoid all that college loan debt?)

I dove headfirst into adult life, eager to keep finding new outlets for my gold star-seeking ambition. And while that approach has undoubtedly served me well at work (and in my paycheck), it has come at a cost: I felt for years that I’d missed the boat on living a life of adventure, or at least living an adventure interlude.

Because adventure is something only young people pursue, right?

Then we moved to a ski town, and we were suddenly surrounded by all of these people of all ages following their stoke, piecing together a life dedicated to their outdoor passions. People working odd jobs to pay the rent, or bumping chairs at a ski resort in exchange for meager pay but unlimited off-duty skiing. People who started their own small (okay, micro) businesses to give them flexibility to take the day off when the powder comes, or to go on a two-week climbing trip when they feel like it. We are surrounded by people making it work.

The only problem with this model: it often comes at the expense of their current and future financial security. 

I can’t say that it never happens, but I’m guessing that most of the people earning minimum wage as lifties (people operating the chair lifts, for you non-skiers) aren’t maxing out their 401(k)s or putting themselves on the fast-track to financial independence.

Instead, many of the young ski bums talk about having to face reality and “get a real job” one day. Or the older people piecing things together forego a lot of security to prioritize outdoors time or travel. Either way, it’s not ideal, at least from a financial perspective. But there’s another path… and that path comes with a big nudge for those already pursuing financial independence.

Want adventure and financial security? Just change your timeline. // financial security, adventure, ski bum, life planning

The Dirtbag Approach: Adventure First

Psst. “Dirtbag” is a term of endearment in outdoorsy places. Often said with a twinge of envy of the young folks putting adventure first. As always, a hat tip to the Elephant Eaters for coining the perfect term, Dirtbag Millionaires. But today we’re talking about the non-millionaire, just-scraping-by variety.

Let’s say you’re right out of high school or college, and you know you need to get a job at some point, but you just have this overwhelming urge to do something different with your life, this powerful desire to follow your passion. (I’m guessing that feeling sounds pretty familiar to a lot of us pursuing financial independence.)

So instead of getting a job right away, you decide to spend a year ski bumming, maybe waiting tables or bumping chairs to make a few bucks, but devoting as much time as you can to skiing. Your life timeline might look like this:

A typical ski bum timeline: prioritizing adventure before work. Great fun, but at a financial cost.

That big chunk of adventure time must be incredible fun — as an observer, it sure looks like it, but I can’t speak from direct experience. Of course, the problem comes when it’s time to start working.

Prioritizing adventure ahead of work puts a person well behind on saving for retirement, and may mean retiring later.

Now, when you start working, you have no retirement savings, and you are getting a late start. Those early years, when compounding will push your savings to stratospheric levels — those years are gone. You can still save like crazy, and you can make up ground, but there’s no getting those early 20s years back when it comes to retirement savings.

Depending how long an adventure interlude you took, you might also be looking at working later into life, working beyond age 65. When you finally get to that retirement, you’ll truly need the break.

The Security-Loving Approach: Work First

Now let’s say you’re just out of high school or college, you have that desire to do something cool and different, but you just can’t kick the thought that you need to get a job ASAP. You start working, and a few years in, you feel like you missed your chance to be a ski bum or a dirtbag climber, or to backpack around the world.

Have you missed your chance to live a life of adventure?

Absolutely not! In fact, you’ve chosen the way that will let you devote just as much time to adventure — most likely more time, in fact — but without sacrificing your future financial security or retirement. Here’s what your timeline might look like:

Sequencing work before adventure leads to far greater financial security

All you’ve done is flip the order, putting work first and adventure second, but in doing so, you’ve set yourself up for a fantastic life: more adventure total, and no financial worry along the way.

secure-annotated

Now when you’re not working, your investments are growing, instead of collecting tumbleweeds. And when you reach “retirement” age, your adventure may very well continue, because you haven’t exhausted yourself hustling well into your 60s.

The Side-By-Side Comparison

Obviously if you’re pursuing a passion that requires you to be in peak physical condition, nothing replaces those early 20s years. And I would never try to convince you to wait to qualify for the Olympics until you’re in your 40s. But if you are just eager to travel or adventure young because you’re afraid you won’t have the chance to do it later, consider this side-by-side comparison:

options-a-b

With option A, you get the thrill of adventure when you’re young. Maybe it’s traveling when you don’t mind sharing a hostel bunk room with 10 other loud people. Or thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail when you’re young enough that you don’t need rest days. Those are great reasons to go the dirtbag way.

But with option B, what you lose in peak physical ability, you more than make up for with less time worked and more time to adventure, assuming you pursue early retirement of one form or another.

Which would you choose?

Don’t Just Aim for Security

If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’re already on the path to early retirement, and you are eagerly working toward your adventure period, however you define it. That’s awesome!

When you picture what you’re aiming for, what images come to mind? Are you picturing predominantly things that represent financial security? Or are you mostly picturing things you wish you’d done when you were younger, but which you can’t wait to do once you retire early? If it’s more the former, it just might be time to expand your vision. Because we can all use this reminder from time to time:

Money is just a tool. It can make your life better, if you let it, or it can change exactly nothing. 

Hitting FI didn’t change anything for us. Paying off our house didn’t really either. What will change our lives is taking action to pursue that life of adventure that we used to worry we’d missed out on.

Define Your Adventure!

Think back to when you were in your early 20s. What did you wish you could be doing then? What did you dream of in your most audacious moments?

Now reflect on what you dream about these days. Is your current dream a lot like what you wanted to do when you were younger, or is it markedly different? If it’s different, why do you think that is? What would it take to rekindle one of your dreams from the past?

We don’t have to push ourselves out of our comfort zone all the time, but pushing ourselves sometimes — including in big ways — is critical to make sure our world doesn’t get a whole lot smaller when we retire.

So today I’m challenging you to define your adventure: What is the grand SOMETHING that scares you a little or at least feels way outside your comfort zone, that you thought you’d missed the chance to do, that you’ll add into your post-work life vision? And then how will you make it a reality?

Twenty-something you will be so proud.

Share share share!

You know we want to hear what adventures you guys are thinking about, so let’s chat about them in the comments. And beyond adventures, who in your life could benefit from thinking through the timeline question, frontloading their earnings instead of the other way around?

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127 thoughts on “Want Adventure AND Security? Just Change Your Timeline

    1. Cool. Growing up my dad was a patroler, my mom was an instructor. My first job was a ski instructor at a local Minnesota area. I ski raced through high school and coached through college. I understand the life you’re talking about. We just came back from a 3 day trip up to Lutsen, the midwest’s premier area. My best friend owns a condo in Colorado. We’re not sure if we’re going to head out this year or not. See you on the slopes @ Gwen.

        1. Lol. Nope. The midwest is full of good ski families. Once the kids in these families grow up into young adults, they leave home and head out west to create ski bum dreams of their own. The hills aren’t big enough in the midwest to make a consuming lifestyle out of it. But the Midwest is partly responsible for raising a lot of the kids that leave home and seek the adventure that only the mountains can provide.

  1. One of the first things we plan to do after retiring is hike the Camino. What an adventure that will be! Sometimes we consider doing it before we retire, but we really feel like it suits us to wait. It will be the first big thing we do post-retirement and I think that will make it a little bit more special.

    1. I agree that waiting will make it more special, and there’s something about having a longer period to anticipate something big like that that makes it all the more fulfilling when you reach your goal. :-) But make sure you’re still finding time for little adventures in the meantime!

  2. Both my wife and I left school at 16 and went straight into full-time work, so no further education and no gap year. So we’re very much looking forward to our ‘FIRE’ next year and what we’re then calling our ‘Gap Life’!

    Paul

  3. Turns out I’m a bigger dreamer than I am a liver. That didn’t come out right. Or rather: my dreams fit a different adult me – one who wasn’t chronically ill. After 20 years, I’ve just now accepted that my preferred adventurous post work life won’t be backpacking across the country or traveling the world for months at a time after all. It’ll be paced out and won’t be as intense but that doesn’t mean that it entirely precludes making it to Kilimanjaro (or to the base!)

    If and when I can conquer all the obstacles in between here and there, I’ll be able to take a few trips a year at my leisure, with support, and with ample recovery time built in. Not for me the whirlwind tours of five countries in five days. I’ll want to stop, soak it all in, learn about the place and the people, and maybe learn how to can leave it a little better than I found it.
    And with a kid, now, the future is vastly different to how I envisioned it before as well. We’ve taken on a huge responsibility, and I hope we’ll be raising a positive changer of society. Who knows, maybe I’ll also be up to fostering and adopting when work isn’t taking up most of my time as well. I thought that dream had to be buried when I was diagnosed and found there was no cure. Maybe it doesn’t. We’ll see!

    1. I totally get this. I have relatives with chronic illnesses who dream big as well, and it’s hard to see them not being able to do the things they want to do. It’s the looming threat of disability that has kept me so focused on getting to FIRE as fast as humanly possible, because I don’t want to spend all my able-bodied years at a desk. For what it’s worth, I think slower travel is infinitely better anyway, so I think that’s the way to go whether or not you had your illness. (And I’m still crossing my fingers that you can get some relief one of these days… advances still happen all the time.)

  4. Took a “fun job” that paid nothing after dropping out of grad school. I sold used books. It was a minimum wage job, though if the store did well we got part of the profits.

    A funny thing happened, though. I got promoted to assistant manager, then moved to a different store and became the store manager. Then I had 3 stores to run. I moved to an admin position where I was part owner and made decent money and got my MBA in part on the company’s dime.

    I spent 17 years with that company, and, yeah, got to the point where I didn’t get to touch books as part of my job anymore (which I hated and is one of the reasons I left.) But essentially I got a decent-paying career out of a fun job. It doesn’t work out for everyone, and I’m not sure it counts as “adventure” but some folks can make their fun job work long term.

    1. How cool that your fun job turned into a career that also paid for part of your MBA! That’s so awesome. (I would miss touching the books, too!) And while it may not be an adventure, per se, it’s still a good reminder that work doesn’t have to be the thing we suffer through necessarily. :-)

  5. We definitely front-loaded work so we can enjoy the rest of our lives doing whatever the heck we want to do. Our technique was to shorten the Work/Accumulation phase of our lives as much as possible and extending the next, which is definitely a mixture of adventure and retirement. Delaying my entrance into corporate America wasn’t really something that I had ever considered. I just wanted to jump in and start making some money because I was tired of not having much!

    Regarding our adventures…we don’t know exactly, and that’s a huge part of the appeal of full-time travel for us. We are going to travel the country and see as much of it as we can, then set our sights internationally for more. Lots of national parks. Lots of hiking. Lots of exploring small towns, local coffee shops. And a ton of photography.

    …until we get tired. Then, we’ll decide what’s next for us. Might be a little house on the beach.

    1. You guys clearly have a lot of big adventures right ahead of you! Have you thought about starting to plan for anything that would take planning, or are you focused on just taking things one step at a time, and doing whatever seems fun next? They say a big part of the joy of vacation actually comes from the planning of it, not the trip itself, so maybe planning a big trip a year or something would be good for your souls. Or maybe you don’t need that! ;-)

      1. The wife is definitely planning a few major events – like the holidays over the summer (namely, Memorial Day and July 4th). We have a family vacation planned on the Oregon coast in early July, for example. She’s definitely planning that. :)

  6. We both feel like we missed out by not doing a semester over seas – biggest regret looking back on college. It’s a low risk way to live somewhere else and we missed it!

    So – we will do something like that or maybe even 3-4 semesters worth in different places (not in a row though – I don’t think we could be away from home for that long but maybe that will change to)

    1. I regret that too! Semester abroad seems like such a cool thing for those who can make it work financially. I love that you’re thinking of future travel in semester-length snippets. And I agree all the way — I don’t want to be gone for that long, either! That’s why we paid off the house, so we’d have a home base we can make good use of! :-)

  7. It’s a really important exercise for young adults, but I also think it’s never too late to do this. Even if the adventure period isn’t as long as or dramatic as someone might like. I think the biggest challenge and saddest perceived reality is when people feel like they already missed their shot.

    1. I agree — it’s super sad when people believe the chance is gone. And WE thought this until not all that long ago! I didn’t write this to suggest that you can’t take small adventures now (though of course that’s a somewhat privileged thing to say, as lots of people have a job where vacation = a pay sacrifice). But just that if what you’re seeking is THE GRAND ADVENTURE, it’s not too late for that either. :-)

  8. Switching your timeline like how you describe is so simple I think it repels the average young person’s mind. I remember my 20’s being full of new adventures, but financed with debt on credit cards. Fortunately, I was smart enough to get a scholarship and avoid that debt, but if someone had pulled me to the side and taught me about money I’d be much farther along! Mrs. Saturday, on the other hand, always saved everything so at least one of us turned out okay. Ha!

    As for our grand adventure that we thought we might’ve missed. So far we’re living it right now with so much Latin dancing we can barely contain ourselves. :-D We’re stepping out of our comfort zone and joining the team so we can perform! Kind of nerve-wracking, but it advances our goals of being fluid with social dancing. And it’s so much fun!

    Along with that of course is at least hiking the entire Appalachian Trail and possibly some others, but we’ll see!

    1. Oh my gosh, I love the image of you guys performing with a Latin dancing team. That is so awesome! And I’m totally the same — early 20s financed on credit cards, but a husband who got his act together sooner. ;-) So you’re not alone!

  9. Neat thoughts. I would personally add a block of time of 5-10 years for babyhood. During this time you are physically either carrying a baby or having a little one attached to your breast. Like it or not, the female of a couple takes the major part of that burden. Men are left working very hard to make up for what their partners can’t do. During this time of extremely high demand you don’t get a lot of sleep, you suffer a lot of physical and emotional ups and downs and you can’t make money and your career suffers. The rewards are extreme and it has been THE great adventure of my life. I essentially dropped out of society for my baby making block soon after high school and then I returned to university at age 26 to resume my career. During my university years I was also juggling kids in school so when my peers went partying, I went home and did laundry and certainly things like a spring break trip were just out of the question. We had enough trouble coming up with tuition and daycare, never mind a trip to Florida. Many of my peers had their babies after competing university and establishing their careers so that my kids often babysat for their babies. (And I frequently told exhausted mothers this is just a phase and it will pass and you will even miss it.) This also meant my kids were grown up, financially independent and gone from my care and control (and draining my money) while I was still young. That was the period when we really could finally put money away. We did no big adventuring until much later, once we formally retired. My big adventuring has been living five years in an RV and traveling all over North America beginning at retirement. Practicalities meant we now only do the RV things four months year but I have been to every state in the lower 48 except Utah (which we plan to do in March) and every province except the maritimes (and we do hope to get there yet). I also got the book which summarizes my career work written and published during those years of RVing. I have spent time in a laboratory finally getting to pursue my childhood dream of being a marine biologist by doing volunteer work for a marine lab in winter. (Sea turtles and dolphins and octopus are so cool!) All of our adventuring has waited for retirement but we sure are having a blast. That works as long as your health holds. My only regret is all my adventuring means I don’t see my ten grandchildren as much as I would like to and I am not around to help out as much as I would like to be. Life is always choices.

    1. Such a great reminder that everyone’s timeline will look a little different, and that kids certainly affect it in a big way. And I’ve heard people make the argument of when to have kids much the same as this argument of when to adventure. You can have them younger, as you did, and still have a lot of your life left after they’re gone, or you can build up your career first and have kids later. (Or, you can skip having kids altogether. Haha.)

      I’m super glad you guys are going to Utah in March — it is magnificent and SO worth the trip. Spend as much time as you can!

  10. We took a bit of a hybrid approach, as we like both security and adventure, but security comes first. My husband (this was just before I met him) took a month-long cross-country road trip after high school. It was very low-budget: think sleeping in the car and eating out of cans. Yuck. After college graduation, when we were married, he took a month off before starting his job, and we went to Europe. I was a teacher and had the summer off. Since we paid for the trip in cash it didn’t set us back too much and got some of the adventure out of our systems before settling into the daily grind of security-building.

    1. I love that you guys, despite being eminently practical and security-minded have still found time for adventure during your interludes. And you didn’t even mention your charitable trips, which sure sounded like adventures to me! :-)

  11. When I was 19 I’d just gotten billed for my second semester of school out of pocket. The first year had been covered by a grant. Realizing it was idiotic for me to keep paying that to be undeclared, I put a semester’s tuition toward hiking the AT and figuring out if I even wanted to be in college. If so, doing what, if not, what to do with no degree. I made it ~1700 miles from Maine to TN before I left to go back to school. I got out of it what I wanted and finishing was never the goal, even though I prepared and had all my supply boxes packed thu the end of it. I just got bored and I had answered my question.

    The friends I picked up and hiked with for the most of that trip had dropped out and after 3 weeks solo, I was like, “Well, I can grind out another 400 miles and finish this or go home and start fall semester” I chose fall semester…. My AT hiking partner that dropped out went to Glacier and worked/hiked there for a year, then went to Tibet and backpacked for 4 months. I wonder what would have happened if I’d followed him to Glacier. He had a job lined up for me, but I was hesitant about walking away from school again. Figured it would only get harder to come back to.

    Now my adventuring looks WAY different. It’d be fun to finish that 400 milie section with Prof SSC or 1 or both of the kids, or plan a thru hike with one or both of them. I’d always wanted to take my dad to Scotland and do some long distance backpacking around on some of their trails, but that never worked out. I went from full time work and full time school to just full time work.

    Maybe something like that would be fun to look towards, but I now think volunteering with the kids schools, PTO involvement, and having a mini homestead with goats, chickens and what not would be exciting too. As Yoda says, “always in motion the future is”.

    1. I didn’t know that you did that! How awesome! Though all my east coast hiking has ended with me COVERED in deer ticks, so in my mind, the AT really should be called the Lyme Disease Trail. Hahahahaa. (But seriously, I hope you didn’t get Lyme!) I love that you did something BIG while you were young, and that it helped point you in the direction you should be heading, as you hoped it would. I’ve heard that long trails have a way of doing that… and now the world has also heard that, thanks to Cheryl Strayed and Wild. I do hope you finish the trail one day, and I especially love the idea of the whole family doing it. What a cool experience that would be for your kids!

      1. yeah, I got that bill and thought, “Again?! I just paid this! This is stupid, I shoud spend this towards somehing I want to do.” That’s when I started putting that trip together. It worked out well and gave me a roadmap to follow once I was done hiking. Hopefully, someone in the family would be interested, but if not, I’m fine with that too. :)

        When I was younger I got ticks more often, but after a while, they just left me alone. That would be way less appealing covered in ticks the whole time, lol.

        1. Oh, you’re so lucky. I am a magnet for every type of insect. I DREAM of a world where they leave me alone — that’s part of why I had to move to the western half of the country. Fewer bugs! ;-)

  12. Great thought. This is really a lesson that should be brought up in school for at least a day so that all of those adventure seeking/ outside the mold kids like us could make a more responsible plan to find out adventure than becoming a “dirtbag.” When my friends and I were young in college, we were too responsible to drop out of school, so we used to take winter college breaks and get jobs at ski areas and ski for free for a month. We did it at Breckenridge and Vail for 2 years. We should have been making a plan how to do it full time, but we didn’t know how. I wish school would have showed us a responsible and respectable way to show us how just like you just showed! Luckily, we didn’t waste the rest of our lives, and we eventually figured out a better way to do it. Out of the 3 best friends I used to take that month off with, we’re all in our mid 30’s now. All 3 of us own our own businesses with freedom and money in the bank, and one is already semi-retired with a vacation condo he owns in a Colorado ski town. Too bad we all had to find our own way and make mistakes along the way. We would have been more fascinated with this school lesson than any school lesson we ever had! We would have had to think about complex problems, and make long term plans to execute! This is a great post. I loved how this comment came out. I may even write about my own experiences I described above, and then link to you in the future. Thanks for the inspiration! See you on the ski hills eventually! I raced through high school, and coached through college. I understand the ski hill lifestyle.

    1. Sounds like you still made the most of things, despite sticking to the traditional path! I wish I’d thought to go work at ski resorts over winter breaks (I didn’t even know how to ski then!). ;-) But I agree — schools need to do more, as does society at large, to show people that you don’t have to do X, Y and Z in exactly that order, by exactly such and such ages. That thinking forces people to choose careers they hate because they choose when they haven’t yet seen much of life (not true for everyone, of course, but for lots of people), and it causes us to write off plenty of worthy and intelligent people just because they chose an alternate path.

      P.S. I hope you do write about this — let me know when it’s live and I’ll link back!

  13. My dream in my early 20s included a lot of travel to “help” others. I could not afford it and could not find a job that allowed it. Now I know more that my earnest feelings of desiring to help would not have been enough to be useful to others. I was naive and self-involved. My dreams still include travel, but now include listening and learning from others.

    1. That’s so interesting, and really mature of you to have had that realization. I do think the impulse to help others can come from a sincere and genuine place and still be a bit self-serving. I admire you for being more focused now on listening and learning!

  14. This is a great post! My concern is in setting the “work” part of the timeline up as this miserable, “just get through it” part of life. We don’t know what will happen to any of us tomorrow, so thinking of suffering through something you hate to get to the part of your life that you think you’ll truly enjoy seems potentially ill-fated. First, if you truly hate your job and you’re not within 2-3 years of FI, change your job. You deserve to be happy now. This requires a shift in perspective and a job or career path change, or maybe just a shift in perspective. You don’t have to love your job but it shouldn’t make you miserable in the time you’re not at work. Even if you’re making a boatload of money and it’s getting you closer to FI, suffering for years is not a good way to live life. Suffering less and extending your timeline by a year or two has to be worth it if it makes the work part of your timeline enjoyable. Second, you’re allowed to have adventure while working. I was surprised you didn’t mention this third, very plausible path. Take your PTO, find a job that allows you to work remotely or at least allows you to say “yes” to short bursts of adventure and opportunity. Incorporate the things you love and want to do into your current life, no matter what stage of the timeline you’re in. You can take a trip or two every year, you can move to a mountain town, you can take a part-time job at a ski resort, all while you’re pursuing FI. It won’t be quite as aggressive of a pursuit of FI, but you can be pursuing FI and having a fun, meaningful, enjoyable life before you retire. I think this is often missed in the FIRE world and I think it is very, very important to acknowledge. Maybe I’m saying this because I’m currently in the “twenty-something” years of my life and I like my job and am able to incorporate adventure and travel and fun into my life very easily, despite having a full-time job. But I intend to enjoy my life now and in the future. Making value-based frugal choices does not make me feel like I just have to slog and suffer through the working years of my life.

    1. Stats show that most people don’t get massive fulfillment from work, so the “just get through it” view does apply to most people. That said, I completely agree that work should not be miserable, EVEN if you’re close to retiring. Here’s an old post where we touched on that stuff: https://ournextlife.com/2015/12/04/why-were-not-going-to-complain-about-work-anymore/.

      In your case, that’s awesome that you like your job and are able to do the stuff you’re passionate about, too. But you’re in the minority on that! I think it’s harmful to act like we can all have a job that we’re passionate about, because that’s not realistic — and I don’t think you were saying that. ;-) It’s just nice to recognize when we’ve lucked out and are in situations that not everyone has access to — so appreciate that! :-)

  15. I definitely decided to work first, but I always planned to get out of the rat race quickly. I planned to sail around the world in my own boat, which I would live on to reduce expenses while saving….

    But the reality turned out completely different. I have a wife that doesn’t like the water, and getting to FI took twice as long as I expected.

    Funny how our plans really change over time.

    1. Wow, I haven’t met many people who are already retired who knew so early on they wanted to escape their careers quickly. I mean, I knew I hated working, but I didn’t know there was another option. ;-) And I get why the sailing trip wouldn’t make sense anymore if your wife hates the water, but could you still do some smaller version of your old dream? Sail down a coastline or something?

  16. I really do wish we’d embrace gap years more. I had no idea what it meant to work for a living at the age of 18–no freakin’ clue. I eventually settled on a lucrative college major, but it took a lot of work and growing up to get there.

    I’m trying to build in adventures to our lives. We’ll need to work for another 10 years before we achieve FI, but that doesn’t mean we have to lock ourselves and our credit cards inside the house for 10 years. Just this past weekend we went on a cheap day trip and had a wonderful adventure. You can have little adventures built into life; it doesn’t have to be a trek.

    1. Me too! Throwing a bunch of clueless 18 year olds into college and expecting them to know what they heck they want to do for 40 years seems a bit foolish.

      And I’m totally with you on those smaller adventures — it’s SO important to do them en route to FIRE or you’ll get discouraged, depressed or frustrated. We do that stuff too, but I don’t pretend, at least in our case, that camping for a weekend is anything like trekking in the Himalayas for three months or traveling through Southeast Asia for six months. :-)

  17. This past weekend I’ve been kicking around the idea of a travel-related career from say ages 32 to age 40, then retire early. Great thing about front loading as i have done is that as long as my expenses stay low (such as in a travel career where I have minimal lodging, transportation and food costs), I don’t have to go crazy with the adding more, just let the compounding do it’s magic.

    Of course, marriage potentially derails all of the super long term planning, but I would be perfectly okay with derailment due to companionship. =D

  18. When young, I wanted to start working as soon as possible to be able to achieve things.
    Looking back, I could have done differently. Not that I have to complain: I did some travel in between engineering study years and during the first jobs. My advice to my kids will be to partly work and partly be adventurous during their study. A go year, when combined with a study maybe.

    That said, the A and B path are not the only options to me. There is a way in between that we aim for: Work and adventure each year. That is how we currently imagine our ideal life… Work 8-9 months, adventure tire the rest.

    Things outside my comfort zone: start a business. Why? I lack the idea of a good business other than consulting and I fear to much the consequences of failure.

    1. Working 8-9 months and then adventuring is a great plan if you can make it work. Unfortunately, for most people in the U.S., that’s completely impossible. (We don’t even have legally mandated vacation, let alone the 6-12 weeks some other countries have. We each have four weeks and that’s considered a LOT.) So I say enjoy it if you got it! :-) And that’s great you’re planning to recommend some travel and adventure to your daughters — that’s so important for making us well-rounded people!

        1. While no one is sure yet what will happen, very little of it seems good. :-( I feel quite sure that the EU will not be eager to let in Americans… but maybe now that the UK Brekited they want to take us? ;-)

  19. It’s awesome to see the difference in size of the WORK chunk for the people who delay adventure just a few years. Very cool visual. I’m obviously on the second path and not loving the intense work I’m currently experiencing…but I sure will be thankful I did it soon enough. Then I’ll be able to snap awesome pics of beautiful landscapes too :)

    1. Of course my visual is not to scale, and it’s different for everyone. :-) But I do think you can work for much less total time if you work first, adventure second. And I feel you on the intense work… but I do believe we’ll all get to the end of it and feel it was worth it. :-) And I bet you can snap lots of beautiful landscape pics where you are, too… you just need the sun to come out!

  20. Our plan at retirement is to spend 6 months out of every year traveling. In the interim we are already planning some 1 month trips across the US and Europe. Thankfully I have a job which can support such trips, so I’m not as much concerned about early retirement. Money provides options and choices as does the career you build. It’s easier to leverage that career into something fun once you’ve already built it then to delay the building phase.

    1. Totally agree that it’s easier to leverage something already built! And that’s amazing for you that you can take month-long trips with your current job! That’s definitely not something everyone can say.

  21. When I graduated high school, I took a working gap year- moved to Germany and worked as a live in nanny for two young children. Since then, I’m doing my best to mix the two options for as long as I have a flexible job; I’m working hard and piling money into my Roth IRA but I’m also looking forward to a 20 day trip through Europe in Spring.

    1. That’s so awesome that you did that! I bet you grew a ton as a person in that year and got good work experience. I love, too, that you’re making room for travel in your working life now. Being able to pull off a 20-day trip is a commendable feat!

  22. I think gap year is an excellent idea. Why? Because it gives you an idea what you’re interested in and what you might want to do with your life.

    Last thing you want to do is start university without knowing what you want to do and end up taking an Arts degree. Nothing wrong with Arts degree but it’d be a shame if the degree is something you can’t use. That’s a waste of money and time.

    Now if you already have a solid idea what you want to do, entering school without gap year is fine IMO.

    You can always have adventures during school. For example do a co-op or internship term oversea or in a different city.

    1. I’ve wished for a long time that the gap year was more culturally accepted in the U.S. Because like you said, SO MANY students enter college without a clue of what they want to do. And while it’s great to get to explore that in college, I also know of plenty of people who finished a degree in something they didn’t like just because they felt like they’d gotten so far and had no other choice. Not a great way to prepare people for the work force or for fulfilling careers!

  23. I don’t feel like I can appropriately respond to this since my timeline doesn’t have that big work chunk in there anywhere. :) However, when it comes to my husband, YES, I agree with you… EXCEPT….

    When I put pencil to paper and calculate doing all the money-earning first and fast and saving tons and retiring, we can legit do it in ten years… just in time for Penny to leave for college. So… if she want to have a gap year with us as a family, that would ruin everything. What if we want to spend a year abroad before she leaves? So… yes, I’ll plan on the “work first” timeline – but adding kids to the mix throws it off from being so easy… so we’ll work toward that but be flexible based on the kids along the way. :)

    1. So important to note that wrinkle! Of course kids change everything — for working moms, they take a big chunk out of your earnings and advancement potential (not that it SHOULD be this way, but it is), and of course you’d build your timelines around them. As always, flexibility is the most important thing, right? ;-)

        1. I didn’t take it as a call out. Just a gentle, totally appropriate reminder that not everyone can follow these timelines exactly this way. (I didn’t put ages on it on purpose, but didn’t account for other life circumstances. Bad me!) :-)

  24. Luckily for me, my work offers me a hybrid approach. I am able to work remotely at almost anywhere. However, I think that if I were in college again, I definitely should have went vacationing during the breaks instead of going back to school to learn more in order to expand my horizons. Then once I graduated, I would dive into work head-first and use vacation days to keep myself from burning out.

    1. Lucky for you, indeed! That’s awesome! I feel the same way you do — though I took a few cool trips, I wish I had prioritized travel during breaks over working. That work helped get me where I am today, though, so I also can’t complain. ;-)

      1. Yep, our experiences build us up as people.

        Plus, even though we didn’t take that many trips back then, we can always go on more trips in the future!

  25. I sort of did a gap year… I went right out of high school in to university, but once I was done university I took a year “off” and worked as an au pair in Europe for a year. That was an amazing year. I was working, but had a lot of flexibility and was able to give my brain a bit of a rest before heading in to full time work on my return. Bonus of doing it that way: all my friends from university had full time jobs by the time I got home and they were able to help me get one much easier than if I’d been searching on my own!

    1. How cool that you did that, Jena! I bet that year was really formative in your life. And such a good point: your friends could give you a boost when you got back — I hadn’t thought of that!

  26. I (unknowingly at the time) took the first path. Funnily enough I was pursuing my Olympic dreams! From the age of 16 to 26 I travelled the world (Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, England, Canada and about half of the states in the USA) and accomplished just about everything in my sport except playing in the Olympics. I would say from a FIRE point of view it set us behind but I wouldn’t change it for any amount of money.

    We probably won’t achieve FIRE as you all have. However, we will put ourselves in a financial situation where we won’t have to work these jobs we hate (retail management) for all eternity. Our living costs and will be low enough to let me go back to a college setting either teaching or coaching and I can take the summers and winter breaks. That’ll be about 3 months worth every year for us to travel, volunteer and chill out.

    1. What an amazing life experience to have! That’s so cool that you got to travel so widely with your sport, and had the opportunity to pursue a goal like that. And your financial security sounds pretty darn great — FIRE isn’t the only worthy goal. ;-)

  27. I have to interject and say it’s possible to do a little of both. I graduated from college found a very low paying job in my field. I kept living like a poor college student (paying rent on one room, no eating out, sharing groceries, etc.) and was able to save. When I lost a dear friend after 6 months and needed a break (time to grieve) I had saved enough to take off and go backpacking for 6 weeks in New Zealand. Fast forward through grad school/career change, 7 years of DINKs allowing us to pay off debts and save before kids. We are still in good shape for early retirement, it may not be as young as some (because kids) but it will be well below peers. Even though it was only 6 weeks, that trip influenced the rest of my life, the adventures we’ve taken as a family and those we look forward to. Living below your means from day one allows one to live a life you can be thankful for everyday.

    1. I’m so glad that you took that trip! That said, not everyone who takes a break like that has such good luck — depending on timing, it might be tough to find another job (https://ournextlife.com/2016/06/29/back-to-work/). Sounds like you went to grad school afterward, which was certainly a helpful move. It’s awesome that you’ve been able to have things both ways a bit, and you’re still on track to retire early!

  28. It’s awesome to read the comments on this; I love the various dreams everyone is articulating! Gap years are amazing; I guess I had the next best thing when I got to do summer courses in France halfway through college. Totally eye-opening and life-changing, just in terms of really learning to step out of comfort zones and be bold. (Plus, I ended up teaching French, so that added fluency came in handy!)
    We are big on creating adventure along the journey, working or not. Fortunately, we have summers free (education fields), which helps a lot time-wise! We wish we’d started pursuing FIRE in our twenties and could be pretty set by now, but live and learn. I’m able to take a few “gap years” from work to raise kids, which is another great benefit of better financial planning! Even doing that, we can still work hard for 7-10 years and retire by late forties/early fifties. After that, we’re open to side hustles and passion projects (paying or not). It all sounds a lot better than working until our sixties and relying on pensions!

    1. I love that you got to do those courses in France! What a fantastic life experience. And we’ve often wondered if we should have been teachers for exactly that reason (and others, of course!) ;-) — to have summers free. And I hope you don’t feel like you’re “late” to FIRE — retiring late 40s/early 50s is still crazy awesome and super rare!

  29. We’re aiming to travel at least a week per month (on average) this year. Some months we’ll stick around all month, then travel for three weeks the next, but overall we’re looking forward to a lot of adventures with some work in-between vacations.

    On your graph, it would be an ugly green/orange brown mess, but in reality it looks pretty nice!

  30. I’m hoping for some happy medium unicorn to show up somewhere between dirtbag and security. I have an interview later this week for another high-paying, high-stress job (which I’m excited about) but I’m starting to want to do something entrepreneurial (so I’m not that excited). This post articulated my feelings well. Thanks for the insight and wisdom! If we can just hold on a little longer! So excited for you two that you have been grinding hard for years and can now adventure!

    1. Please let me know when you find that unicorn! :-) Sending you good wishes for that interview… whether you want it or not, it’s nice to have the option. And yeah, just gotta hold on a little bit longer over here! ;-)

  31. I was somewhere in the middle – Worked for a few years, took off six months to travel, came back and settled down. It worked out well! Sometimes I think the FIRE lot have it right – go HARD right off the bat and then retire early … but I must admit I don’t think I would have been able to hack it in those kinds of jobs.

    1. I definitely don’t think everyone pursuing FIRE has one of “those kinds of jobs”… though of course a higher income gets you there faster. ;-) That’s awesome that you took a six-month travel break! Mr. ONL took one of those and I’ve always been jealous. :-)

  32. Great post and I can certainly relate. I always put school and work at the highest priority although I worked hard to always keep some adventure in my life. I used to be resentful but now I’m appreciating the position I’m in financially, that will enable many more adventures while I’m still young enough to really enjoy them.

    The only wrench in your timeline for me is that I have young kids so big adventures (climbing in the big ranges, hiking the PCT, or even being gone too many weekends) would be too much time away. It also gets a bit harder to find adventure partners than it was earlier in life. But even with those constraints there is an amazing amount possible and adventure dreams are certainly a key driver for early retirement in my case. Thanks for the reminder and perspective!

    1. It’s so great you’re in that position! And obviously with kids the definition of adventure might change, but think of all the rad things you can do in the summers! And maybe your adventure is taking on different hobbies you don’t have time for now. :-)

      1. Thanks. I’m rocking Office 2001, not sure if my version has PowerPoint as I have almost zero experience with it.

        I just realized there are probably sooooo many people who would love to be able type the sentence above ;-)

  33. This post made us think of our nephew who is currently in his gap year. He announced that he wanted to “delay adulting” and expand his horizons. Fingers crossed that the “expanding of his horizons” comes to fruition where he is currently waiting tables with a law degree.

    Both Mr. FE and I got right into the work force immediately after we graduated, and looking back, we are happy we did! We were both advised not to delay our future by my wise father is a retired college dean. Great post!

    1. I do hope your nephew finds some answers soon — just because I imagine he must have some debt from law school! And I’m so glad that you’re both happy with the path you chose! I’d say we are too, at least knowing that we’re close to our career end date… but I would have a different answer if we weren’t so close to ER! ;-)

  34. I never took that gap year either – in fact, I graduated younger from both high school and college and started working about a month after my undergrad degree came in the mail. I took two months off between my last two jobs and this year of grad school feels like the closest thing to a gap year I’ve taken ever as a constant overachiever. One thing the experiment has taught me is that there is no way I would retire early without my husband ;)

    I’ve been thinking about your chart a lot lately as a lot of the other students in my grad program are fresh out of undergrad and they’re either paying for the program with loans or parental funds while living in crappy housing because this city is expensive. I’m so glad I waited – the opportunity cost on doing this earlier would have felt way stronger. I also finally realized why other people do so much more work on campus than I do – they don’t have a quiet apartment where no one else is home alone all day to do their work. This definitely feels like a bit of a gap year being in grad school, but at the very least I have enough saved already for 60+ retirement and my half of the condo more than paid for.

    1. I think I need to frame your bit about not retiring without your husband and show that to anyone who says that partners can retire at different times. ;-) (And I don’t count becoming a stay at home parent as “retiring” if the other partner is working — but that’s just me.)

      I can only imagine how surreal it must be to be in your financial position and go to grad school with a bunch of younger students who are digging themselves deeper into debt in front of your eyes!

        1. That’s just me being grumpy. ;-) (But it is a total gender-based double standard. No one would believe that a woman who left her job and now is home with the kids while husband works is “retired.” That would get a lot of eye rolls!)

        2. I know a couple offline who retired at the same time and people say that it was all the husband’s money. My husband said if anyone ever said that he would correct them for me lol. He seems to assume I’ll retire first. The catch with that is that he could still save 50% even if he was covering my expenses too so I doubt anyone else would believe I was retired either. Although offline I would rather hide behind my husband’s income than let on that I have assets at our age…

  35. It’s funny that the “dirtbag” life is kinda our goal right now. We are currently saving to buy a house in a ski town so we won’t have to drive an hour to get to the mountains. Then Mr. SFF will keep his side business going and I will likely work part time, possibly at the mountain to get a free ski pass, and play as much as possible in our spare time. FI for us doesn’t mean leaving the workforce entirely, it will mean just working enough so that we can have more time to play.

    1. We can relate to that plan! ;-) That was us six years ago, before we moved to the mountains. Though we did it in a slightly different order where we are still working our full-time jobs, and can’t do the “fun jobs” just yet. Sending you guys good vibes to make all of this happen!

  36. Great post, and one that I wish I could send to all my 20-something friends! (not that I will)

    These two tracks are something my husband and I have noted to each other as well. We are on the track B plan where we both work hard now and front load those retirement accounts, but still manage to keep a fun/active/outdoor lifestyle in the mountains. My husband often is referred to as a ski bum by his cohorts (70+ days a year – all backcountry) yet works 50+ hours a week. In the summer, we’re often gone numerous weekends in a row for trail running races or mountain biking trips. We are 40 and 38 currently with plans to retire in 4 years.

    There are so many reasons why track A would not have been ideal for us: no money in your 20s!, I’m in way better shape at 40 than I ever was in my entire 20s/early 30s, far better knowledge/skills set now, better skier now, more clear set goals at 40.

    We have younger friends who are doing the track A right now, jobless, traveling around, skiing their brains out, everything looks amazing; but the thought of not contributing to my future at the end of the day would probably keep me up at night. Meanwhile we’ll do our best to get our outings in, maintain some kind of work/adventure balance, and soon we’ll be jobless as well!

    1. I’m super impressed that your husband gets out 70+ days!! That’s hardcore dedication. I don’t even know if we could do that if we didn’t have all the work travel, so hats off to you. And yeah, we have the same thoughts about our 20-something ski bum friends. Like looks fun, but ohmygoshstressful! More than half the reason this is even possible for us is because Mr. ONL maxed his 401(k) in his 20s instead of ski bumming… soooo thankful we’re in that position now! And nice to connect with you — our stories sound so similar except that we’re the slacker versions of you. ;-)

      1. Yes your schedule sounds extremely busy with all that flying! I personally was on my way to a 60+ backcountry day season but then I tore my ACL at the end of January, and am currently at home for a while after the surgery. Major bummer but gives me time to go over our finances :). Among all this down time, I ran into your blog (I forgot what lead me here)! I’ve been using a read aloud app to go through all your posts while I do my rehab exercises. So many great ideas to get us moving along as well.

        1. Aw, bummer! I hope your ACL is healing well now. Those soft tissue injuries are the worst… my IT band has never been the same since my marathon, and I’m pretty sure one set of rotator cuffs is just never going to fully do its job. And this is super random, but what kind of voice are you using to read the blog aloud? I just want to imagine what it must sound like. ;-)

        2. Thank you, I am just starting to walk without crutches now and doing the bike! The app is called Voice Aloud Reader. I think you can change the voice settings, but I haven’t played with it. The voice may drive you crazy or not at all. Chrome browser also has one for when I’m at work on a regular desktop. Great for multitaksing!

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