In 2008, Betsy and Warren Talbot were not unlike a lot of American couples. They were living in Seattle in a 1,000-square-foot townhouse and had a car. She was a consultant for women-owned businesses, and he worked on the business side at Microsoft, and they were happy with their careers. The only thing that might have set them apart is that they had previously dramatically downsized from living in a 3,500-square-foot house in Boston with two cars.
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But after Betsy’s 35-year-old brother had a heart attack and a good friend had a brain aneurysm (both eventually recovered), the Talbots, who were both 37 at the time, asked themselves how they would live if they knew they wouldn’t make it to their 40th birthdays.
They returned to a dream that they had discussed when they were first dating — traveling the world in retirement. Only, now, they were determined not to wait.
“We decided to speed up our timeline and take a year off to travel at 40, but the closer we got to our departure date, and definitely after we started traveling, we knew we never wanted to stop,” says Betsy.
But at first, their goal was just a year of travel. To start, they broke their dream down into numbers — $100 for each day on the road, or $36,500 for the first year. They figured out how long it would take them to amass that amount — two years. And then they sold everything — well, everything except for their carefully curated backpacks.
In 2010, they set out for Ecuador — landing in the middle of a coup attempt and just in time to see an erupting volcano — and since then they have been to 30-some countries, including Mongolia, Russia and Antarctica, living out of their backpacks. They’ve walked 300 miles along the Lycian Way in Turkey (where they camped out with goats at night), gone over land and sea from Thailand to Miami (with camels and horses among their more unusual transport), and weathered an 18-hour Force-12 storm on the way to Antarctica.
The Talbots, who now publish Married With Luggage, have co-written three books with a fourth on the way this spring and launched a podcast, with 20,000 tuning in or reading their newsletter and blog. The day of our interview, they were in sunny Andalucia, where Warren joked that the weather was “terrible. It’s sunny. There was a cloud a few minutes ago.”
These experts in radical transformation have tips that you can use to effect life changes, whether big or small, so that 2014 is your best year yet. Here are their seven tips for chasing — and living — your dream.
1. Imagine a day in the life you want to be living.
“What do you want your life to look like one year from today?” says Betsy. “Imagine yourself getting up in the morning. Are you getting out of the same bed you’re sleeping in right now? Are you having the same thing for breakfast that you’re having right now? Are you spending your day the same way? Are you hanging out with the same people? Are you in the same relationship? Are you in the same health? If you say, ‘I want to be a bestselling author,’ you have to get up, pour your coffee, go to your computer for hours, and write for however many hours. You have to imagine those things a) to make them happen, and b) because sometimes when you imagine a day in the life, it makes you realize you don’t want that thing after all.”
Get out some paper, and as specifically as possible, visualize this future day, from the moment you wake up till the second you fall asleep.
2. Assess where you are now — financially, physically, logistically, socially and career-wise.
Now that you have an idea of where you want to go, take a look at where you are now.
Assess your full financial picture, beginning with where your money is going. Use programs like Mint or Quicken to track and categorize your purchases. “You can’t say, ‘I’m spending $500 a month on my credit card,’” says Betsy. “You have to know where that’s going to know where you’re going to cut back or what you need to do to draw in more income. Is it going to clothes or entertainment —“
“Or is Starbucks opening new stores because of you?” adds Warren.
In addition to analyzing your spending, look at your debts, your savings, your investments, and your income — both from full-time work as well as any side jobs you have.
Don’t beat yourself up if you have negative net worth or high debt. This is just your starting point. And if you don’t like what you see, let it shock you into action.
In your assessment, also include your health — your weight, what you’re eating and your fitness level. “Part of your best year is being healthy enough to appreciate it,” says Betsy.
Then, look at what you already have or lack logistically that can help you reach your goal. For instance, if you want to launch a side business, maybe you already have the laptop you would need.
Also assess whether you have relationships that will support you as you work toward your goals. “You have to know who your friends are and the people who are sucking the life out of you,” says Warren.
Finally, look at whether your career is on a path you desire. “Is your career at the trajectory you want? Are you at the level you want? Are you in the industry you want? Is it the career you want? If you left your job today, would you miss it and what would you miss about it?” says Warren. “You should be asking yourself those questions every year to determine if you need to make a change in your focus and your skill set.”
3. Break down the path to your ideal life into small goals.
Let’s say your dream life includes running marathons, and right now the only marathons you participate in involve sitting on the couch. Break down the path from your current life to your dream life into smaller goals. Betsy, for instance, went from couch potato to a half-marathon by starting with 60-second runs. “I didn’t start on day one with, ‘I have to run a half-marathon.’ I said, ‘I have to run for 60 seconds, and then I get to take a break for three minutes and walk.’ If you want to run that half marathon in one year, it doesn’t mean you’re doing 5 miles the first day,” she says. “We’ve seen this over and over and over again. True change comes about through small daily activities, not big leaps.”
Just as Warren and Betsy broke their initial saving goal down into $100 chunks, they now aim to write 1,000 words a day to complete their books. If you want to change careers, start with a single course in an area where you need to gain skills. Achieving your small goals will also help you see how you can reach your dream — if you could write those 1,000, then of course you can write another 1,000 words.
4. Put your new habits in your calendar.
Whatever dream you have for your future needs to be part of your daily schedule now. Whether your path there involves making automatic transfers to your savings account, regular workouts, taking classes in a new subject or something else, be sure to block out time for it — and the earlier in the day you accomplish these tasks, the better.
“You’ve already said, ‘This is what is most important to me for 2014,’” says Warren. “So if this is your priority #1, everything else has to work around it. If you want to be a writer and write your first book in 2014, you have to schedule two hours a day to writing.”
5. Remove potential roadblocks.
Start saying no to things that will lead you away from your goals — counterproductive habits, toxic relationships, friends whose lifestyles could lead you astray, clutter, environments that lead to bad behaviors. If you want to pay off debt and certain environments lead you to wasteful spending, avoid them. Or, if you want to entertain at home more, but are embarrassed by your household clutter, get rid of it. If you want to learn a foreign language but notice that you spend an hour every night watching TV while your Chinese textbook goes untouched, get rid of the TV. “There are only so many hours in the day — we all have the same number — and you have to decide how you want to spend those,” says Betsy.
6. Broadcast your intention to others.
Also, broadcast your goals to your friends. For instance, if your goal is to pay debt, tell them that you’d prefer to spend time with them not shopping but instead cooking together.
“You can send out a bulk email to your friends saying, ‘Hey, 2014 is going to be a huge year for me. I want to accomplish X, Y, Z,’ and enlist their support,” says Warren. ‘For us, we told people we were no longer going to go out to eat and we would have dinner parties at our house that were BYOB — bring your own bowl — and we were going to have soup nights where we got together and talk about deep subjects, and eat soup, which was going to be cheap, which was important. But we lost friends — friends who had no interest in that type of experience. They loved going out to the latest restaurants and eating the $200-$300 meals, so the relationship just went its own path. Our lives weren’t going the same direction.”
“When you decide to make a change in your life, you have to realize your relationships will change also,” says Betsy, adding that some new friends came out of the woodwork because they were more in tune with the Talbots’ new lifestyle. “People naturally want their friends to succeed and be happy. When you state a goal like this, your friends want to help you make it come true.”
7. Find like-minded people to support and inspire you.
Also, look for new friends who are interested in your dream, whether you’re looking to adopt a healthier lifestyle, start a side business, pursue a career as a writer, or pay down debt.
While some activities lend themselves toward finding activity partners more easily than others — i.e. physical activities like running or career pursuits like writing, you can also use sites like meetup.org, plain old web searches, social media groups on sites like Facebook and Google Plus to look for people with similar goals. Even if your support network lives halfway around the world, you can still connect with each other online.
The Talbots initially thought they were the only people who had the idea to spend their lives traveling, though a Google search quickly disabused them of that notion. Soon, they found a whole community of like-minded people already living their dream.
Photos: Courtesy MarriedwithLuggage.com