The FI blogger world is full of folks whose wanderlust guides their lives. Seductive terms like location independence, geographic arbitrage and digital nomad pepper the posts of well-regarded bloggers whose lives as expatriates (Mad FIentist) traveling the world either childless (Millennial Revolution) or with young children (Go Curry Cracker) are tempting a generation to follow their lead. I understand the appeal.
Before settling down and starting a family, I’d been bitten by the bug. I’ve written previously about backpacking through Europe after college on a tight budget, a two month odyssey of living exclusively on bananas, baguettes and drinkable yogurt (universally cheap and available foods).
I’d even considered incorporating a love of travel into my medical career, completing a fellowship in International Emergency Medicine after residency in an attempt to find academic emergency physicians whose examples I’d want to follow.
Perhaps it was my failure to find academic role models who balanced family life with international public health work; perhaps it was falling goofy in love with my wife, another recovering would-be academic; either way, we departed our academic Mecca and sought refuge in a small beach community in southern California, where each of us accepted positions in community practice.
We never lost our love of travel. Two months after our wedding, I served as a travel physician for a high end private jet tour of India, and was fortunate to be able to bring my new bride along on this unofficial honeymoon. Since we had to wait until the last minute to see if there would be sufficient space on the India trip for my wife to come (she occupied an unsold space, and we only paid cost with no markup), we booked a “backup” honeymoon in Argentina which we enjoyed a few months later.
Then came kids, and the long slog of the family cocoon period. We moved from our collegiate apartment to a house. Most of our travel was spent to and from grandparents, with occasional milestone family events.
As we find ourselves emerging from this homebody stage and aggressively traveling with our kids, we’ve noted an unintended consequence of having mostly stayed put for so long: we’ve put down roots in our community. Beyond the beauty of the natural environment and the enclave public schools, we’ve started to fall for the people.
I didn’t expect this to happen. I’d always found the Stephen Stills song lyric, “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with,” to be depressing. Not me, I thought. I’d rather be alone than settle. So when friends with kids told me I’d eventually grow close with the parents of other kids of similar ages, I nodded affably and whispered bullshit under my breath.
My irregular schedule meant I went on school field trips and volunteered in the classroom, getting to bond with some of the class moms. I also found myself at mid-week performances and in carpools with some of the dads, even organizing a second grade father and daughter kayak trip for a rogue band of parents who had not filed their paperwork with the local YMCA affiliate in time to be considered official affiliates. Spending time with those parents, I came to genuinely like them. Family fun nights at elementary school became chances to ignore bands of roving delinquent children (ours) while enjoying the company of friends.
In our spiritual community, my wife and I
got suckered into volunteered for different leadership positions and began to know and care deeply about the people there. We went on intergenerational retreats where 80-something salsa dancers taught us slick moves, while teens looked after our kids with a tenderness and affection I someday hope our own kids will develop. We joined a book club where we are the youngest participants by roughly a generation.
Our newfound love for our community throws a wrench in my empty nest fantasies. I had dreamed we might sell the house and roam the world using the proceeds of that sale so that we, too, could pepper the story of our lives with words like location independence, geographic arbitrage and digital nomad.
Instead, we are genuinely interested in staying involved in the institutions and community whose story has become intertwined with our own. I’m still exploring other options to improve cash flow instead of leaving significant equity in our home. Buy a triplex in a nearby beach town? We could live in one unit, rent the others, and airbnb ours using a property management company while abroad for 3-6 months at a time. Perhaps we’d airbnb a second unit to keep it empty whenever the kids came home.
There’s still a place for wanderlust in our future. For the time being, however, we’re invested in our community for the long run.
I could think of worse fates.