I felt like I had to choose: Be a world-traveling data visualization speaker. Or be a mother.
In spring 2018, we started brainstorming about a lifestyle change.
My speaking opportunities were taking me all over the world—a dream!
But, meanwhile, I had a cute kid at home. And another baby on the way. I didn’t want to miss bath time or bedtime stories.
If only my husband and kids could come along on my trips, I sighed.
Sure, my husband had vacation time. But I traveled almost every single week. Sometimes I’d city-hop, speaking in two, three, or four cities consecutively before heading back home. I wanted to be with my family all the time.
Should I quit my job entirely? We considered it.
Should my husband quit his job entirely? We considered it.
We did the spreadsheet math a dozen times. My husband’s job came with benefits, a pension, and a top secret security clearance. Should he really give up his career… for mine? Would he regret it? Would he resent me? These were months-long discussions.
My job had unlimited earning potential. His didn’t.
His job had world-class benefits. Mine didn’t.
In the end, my job was more than a job. And his wasn’t.
Realizing We Could Live Anywhere
It took another year of planning until my husband resigned.
Why so long? Freedom can freeze you. With his job out of the picture, we realized we could live anywhere.
We considered staying put in our suburb of Washington, D.C. But after 30 years there, we were both ready for a change.
We considered moving back into our two-bedroom condo in Charlottesville, Virginia. We bought the condo as college students in 2007, and we had rented it out since then, paying extra until it was paid off entirely. It was tempting to move into our paid-off condo, be able to pay the rest of our bills simply off my YouTube money, and just sit around and enjoy life. We entertained this idea for months. In the end, we wanted a new adventure, and decided to sell our condo entirely.
There was also the key issue of my speaking schedule. It didn’t make sense to have a home base if I’d be in a new city every week.
I’ve practically lived out of suitcases for six years, and I’ve loved it. Some people need roots. Others need wings.
We considered full-time RVing. Who doesn’t love the great outdoors?? I dreamed about the national parks we could visit with our kids. We’d taken four cross-country motorcycle trips together in our twenties and the open road was calling. The only obstacles to RVing: I need 24-hour internet. And, I didn’t have the luxury of time to drive around from city to city; I needed to fly between cities.
We wanted to live like RVers… but without the RV.
In January 2019, we decided to become full-time Airbnb-ers! The plan was to travel wherever my job took us for at least two years—until our older daughter started kindergarten. We had the perfect window. We decided to go for it.
Downsizing Our Belongings
In spring 2019, much to our surprise, our rental property and our primary residence both sold within weeks of listing them for sale.
We sold, donated, and discarded as much as possible. We listed items on Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist. We held “indoor yard sales” in our garage on the weekends. We’d been downsizing for five years, since discovering minimalism, but still had so much remaining.
We thought about the handful of items that we’d be willing to pay to store for the 2+ years we’d be traveling, and pared our belongings down to a handful of favorites. My husband’s toolbox. Quilts our mothers had made for us.
We sold our motorcycles. Our bicycles. Nearly all of the kids’ toys (they’d developmentally grow out of those toys after two years of traveling). Couches. Rugs. Picture frames. Two TVs.
We sold my office furniture. My filing cabinets. That spare box of electronics wires that was sitting in the closet for years. I used the dining room table as my desk for two months.
We got rid of all the paper except the past seven years of tax-related papers.
We scanned and then discarded photographs.
We donated books to the library.
We filled an entire recycling bin with that seems-important-at-the-time-but-doesn’t-matter-years-later minutiae of bills and receipts.
We let go of high school yearbooks.
We let go of our own childhood toys and scrapbooks.
We didn’t have to get rid of anything. We could’ve shoved everything into storage. We were clearing our lives of physical and mental clutter to make space for something bigger and better.
We sold the mattress out from under us, and then slept on camping mats for a week.
I KonMari-d my clothes until my walk-in closet was down to carry-on luggage + a few bins of seasonal items for our storage unit.
I went from dozens of pairs of shoes to three: a pair of everyday tennis shoes, a pair of flip flops, and a pair of black leather shoes for speaking events.
I became free.
In April 2019, we waved farewell to Dakota’s preschool and said hello to “Daddy School,” aka #WorldSchooling, which is the term for homeschooling that takes place in and around the world.
I set up my husband as a contractor of my business, and then paid him his old salary.
We practice-packed our Jeep to see whether our one-bag-and-one-backpack-each stuff would even fit…
… and we fit all our bags into our Jeep with space to spare. Phew!
We even had space for a box of books…
… and a bin of toys.
We survived carrying the world’s heaviest washer and dryer down three flights of stairs (with only one little knick in the drywall)… and into a trailer… and across town to their new owners.
We pushed carts and carried stuff and carried backpacks and carried babies x 1 million to get our remaining stuff into a 10x10x6 storage unit.
Then we closed the door to our storage unit.
We waved goodbye to our home.
And we drove away for the last time.
May 2019: The Beginning of Full-Time Travel
It was time for our biggest adventure yet!
We’d always loved Florida since honeymooning there years earlier. And who doesn’t love Disney? Florida was the perfect place to start our trip.
We spent our first five weeks in Daytona Beach, where I continued running Depict Data Studio from my “home” office at our Airbnb on the beach. I’d work during the day while my husband took the girls on field trips to nature preserves, museums, and libraries.
I managed a remote team of ~10 subcontractors.
I took days off so we could visit Disney together.
We watched the minor league baseball team on $1 beer nights.
We toured the local chocolate factory more times than I can count because they always give you free samples at the end. 🙂
We watched a SpaceX launch from our balcony.
Our four-year-old learned to hold her breath underwater in the pool.
We buried ourselves in sand.
We danced along the beach every night.
I got pickier about work projects to clear time for living. To my surprise, business boomed.
And I woke up next to my angels every morning.
We spent a week in Boise for a conference and a client training.
I flew to Indianapolis by myself for a quick 24-hour trip.
We spent two weeks watching the dolphins swim in the bay in St. Petersburg, Florida.
I finished building my Great Graphs: Design Principles course from the Airbnb during the day, and we relaxed in the hot tub at night.
We spent a week in New York while I was there speaking; fell in love with “Lady Liberty;” and still mimic her pose today.
We drooled on our chin in Central Park.
We went back to the D.C. area for my job.
We spent three consecutive weeks in downtown Atlanta while I was there speaking—our fourth trip to Atlanta that year—and took field trips to the most amazing aquarium we’ve ever been to.
We flew to Guatemala to teach data visualization.
In between my speaking engagements there, I partnered with clients to redesign their dashboards, infographics, reports, and slideshows.
I took a day off to ride horses up the side of Volcan Pacaya, and we roasted marshmallows at the top with our new German friend.
I took another day off to skip rocks in Panajachel.
We carried the world’s heaviest children through Tikal because there were just too tired to walk another step.
Our children felt their privilege. A few hours later, we got food poisoning.
We flew back to Atlanta again.
We celebrated my husband’s birthday in Zambia while I was there teaching data visualization. And then he got food poisoning. On his birthday.
We let the Zambian kids touch our girls’ “yellow hair” when they asked, because they’d never felt that texture before.
We flew from Africa to Canada so I could speak with a few groups there. I had–you guessed it–food poisoning. I excused myself mid-training… threw up in a trash can in the hallway… and went back in and continued teaching.
We celebrated our girls’ birthdays in Nova Scotia.
We rented a house along the beach, and roasted marshmallows in our fire pit every night.
My dad flew from D.C. to Nova Scotia to spend time with us for two weeks.
I designed and recorded my entire Report Redesign online course while looking out at the ocean.
I woke up next to my angels every morning.
We flew back to Washington, D.C. for work and to see family.
I got even pickier about work projects to clear time for living. To my surprise, business boomed.
My husband accidentally threw away half our remaining clothes.
In his defense, I accidentally put our dirty laundry in a trash bag… next to all the other bags of trash.
We went trick-or-treating in downtown Madison, Wisconsin while I was there speaking.
We hung out with Cole Knaflic in Milwaukee.
We explored childrens’ museums in Illinois while I was there keynoting a conference.
We drove to Chicago and I took a day off for exploring, and then we started our four-month-adventure in Southeast Asia. (!!!)
We packed the essentials. One carry-on suitcase and one backpack each, plus our stroller and baby carrier. We left everything else in our Jeep, which we parked at my dad’s house for the winter.
We enjoyed a stopover in Taipei.
We took the kids on tuk tuks on three different continents.
We watched Frozen 2–several times–at the movie theaters in Thailand.
We took them on field trips to museums and aquariums.
We ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner together every day from food carts.
We learned Thai dancing.
We went to carnivals.
Fish nibbled on our feet.
We celebrated my birthday.
We celebrate Thanksgiving.
I designed and recorded my entire Dashboard Design online course in Bangkok from a separate Airbnb down the street.
We assumed we’d take weekend trips to Thai beaches, but stayed in Bangkok for an entire month straight, because it was that magical.
We went to Hanoi to teach data visualization.
We made best friends in every city.
We washed our clothes and hung them on the balcony to dry.
Then it started pouring before we put the clothes away, so we re-washed and re-dried again and again and again.
I spent 30 minutes working up the nerve to cross the street to walk to work each morning because there really is that much traffic.
We spent a weekend cruising in Ha Long Bay.
I took a day off work to explore the Golden Bridge outside of Da Nang.
We made best friends in every city.
We spent our December evenings strolling along the beaches in Da Nang.
We soaked up the magical lanterns in Hoi An.
We packed up and flew from Vietnam to Japan.
We figured out Tokyo’s subway system, the most advanced public transportation system we’ve ever seen.
We bought hats and gloves, because after spending the past two months in Thailand and Vietnam, Japan’s winter was freezing.
We spent Christmas Day in Tokyo Disneyland. And then went back four more times because it was that magical.
We carried the heaviest kids in the world up the Tokyo Tower, because they were just too tired to walk another step.
I designed and recorded my Powerful Presentations online course.
I woke up early and stayed up late to speak on podcasts and do client consulting calls.
We scramble-crossed, and then scramble-crossed again and again and again because it was that magical.
We took a train from Tokyo to Osaka on New Year’s Eve so that we could see Mount Fuji out the window… stood the entire way because everyone else in the world was traveling on New Year’s Eve… and almost missed seeing Mount Fuji entirely.
We ate overpriced sushi on New Year’s Day in Osaka because none of the grocery stores were open.
We drank butter beer at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Osaka.
We cooked dinner on our one-burner stove.
We didn’t have an oven for our entire four months in Southeast Asia. We had no idea how to cook with the local ingredients. The grown-ups each lost 25 pounds. (Then we gained it back during quarantine.)
We got our adrenaline pumping in Japan’s reptile cafes.
We hung out with Garr Reynolds in Osaka.
We flew to Seoul and instantly felt at home in the Washington, D.C.-esque vibe.
We marveled at the enormity and sophistication of Seoul.
I recorded more lessons for Simple Spreadsheets in between client consulting projects.
Our four-year-old joined the scooter gang at the playground across the street from our apartment.
We marveled at the parents’ patience as they taught us to say Korean greetings.
We felt so at home in Korea that we considered staying an entire year and enrolling our kids in school there.
And then, as soon as it began, it was time to cut out trip short and come home.
In January, we had become aware of the virus when our trip to Beijing was abruptly canceled.
By early February, Seoul started shutting down. Our Airbnb closed, along with most hotels, and we had nowhere to go. Delta booked us an immediate flight home, we shoved our clothes in our suitcases, and left a few hours later.
We spent three weeks in Oregon to visit my husband’s family.
I recorded interviews with data experts during the day while my husband ran Daddy School and visited his grandma and cousins.
We flew to California where I keynoted a conference, making sure to visit downtown San Francisco for a few hours before we headed to the airport.
I led workshops in the Washington, D.C. area.
Then the world paused.
We hunkered down in Orlando where our healthcare plan is based. If/when we need a hospital stay during this hellish pandemic, it’ll be cheaper to be sick here than anywhere else.
I built Look Professional on Camera to share my behind-the-scenes tips for working remotely with only the technology that fits in a backpack.
I re-recorded Soar Beyond the Dusty Shelf Report.
And then we hunkered down some more.
I never had big dreams to collect passport stamps. It was simply more practical to bring the family around the world with me on work trips vs. be homesick and feel like I was missing everyday moments like bath time. So we may not be traveling anywhere exotic right now… but that was never the point.
What It’s Like Not Having a Home… During a Pandemic
We had initially planned to travel for two years (until our oldest daughter starts kindergarten).
But, halfway into our journey, this chapter has closed.
Am I frustrated that the virus ended my dreams of traveling with my family? Absolutely.
Am I grateful that we had the opportunity to travel at all? Absolutely.
It’s difficult for any family to hunker down and stay indoors for months, but it’s even more difficult when you’re in a rental that’s not your own. I need basic things, like a desk.
With nowhere to go, we’re buying a house!
We envisioned buying a house in Florida after two years of travel, so our timeline has simply been pushed up a year.
Do you see the window above the garage? Say hello to the new Depict Data Studio world headquarters! I can’t wait to start remodeling the studio space.
I’m not here to convince anyone to sell all your stuff and travel the world.
This lifestyle is a perfect fit for my family. It could be a terrible fit for you.
My goal is to open your eyes about what’s possible.
Five years ago, I listened to a podcast where the guests were able to live anywhere they wanted because they could work remotely from their laptops. I was exposed to the terms “geoarbitrage,” “digital nomads,” and “full-time travel” for the first time.
I remember thinking, “Oh, that’s nice. For them. But that’s n/a for me.”
But then… surprise! A few years later, as we were brainstorming how to continue doing my traveling job and have quality family time, the solution was simple: Geoarbitrage. Digital nomads. Full-time travel.
It’s also terribly sad to close this chapter of our lives so abruptly, and I want to commemorate it before moving on the next stage.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do you have health insurance? Yes, through healthcare.gov. It’s hella expensive, and was the #1 factor that kept my husband in his salaried job for so long. In the end, we decided that life is short. He resigned, and we paid for healthcare out of pocket.
How do you get mail? We pay for a mail forwarding service. There are dozens of companies that handle mail forwarding for nomadic families like RVers and cruise ship employees.
Do you have a driver’s license? Yes, we have domicile in Florida.
Florida—so you don’t pay state income taxes? And we get discounted Disney tickets.
Isn’t it expensive to travel full-time? No, it’s the same price as our previous life in a suburb outside of Washington, D.C. Some things are more expensive and other things are less expensive. For example, Airbnbs cost less than our old mortgage, and we don’t pay for any utilities since they’re included in the Airbnb fee. But healthcare is more expensive. I’m a spreadsheet person so I’ve tracked our household budget for years, and the overall cost of regular life vs. full-time travel is almost identical.
Isn’t it hard to travel with two young kids?? Sometimes, but they’ve figured it out. Kids are stronger and more resilient than we give them credit for.
Aren’t your kids… missing out??? Lololololololololololl what?
You look like you’re actually happy? Because I am.
It doesn’t seem like the pandemic has affected you much. No, aside from stealing my livelihood, cutting my dream of world travel in half, and fearing for the health and safety of everyone on the planet, I’m doing fine.
How did you figure all this out? YouTube and Instagram.
Wait, what? I still have so many questions. I share the behind-the-scenes details of what it’s like to travel and run a business in my Instastories: https://www.instagram.com/annkemery/
Was It Worth It?
I don’t miss our houses.
I don’t miss our cars.
(I do miss my bicycle! And my desk.)
I don’t miss the DVDs or TVs.
I don’t miss my pantyhose, purses, or shoes.
But I would’ve missed their childhood.
A few months of hustling to downsize our belongings… for a lifetime of dancing together on the beach. What a fair trade.