I’m super excited to share an interview with a couple who decided to sell most of their belongings, quit their jobs and embark on a permanent nomadic travel adventure. I’m sure you’ll find this story inspiring – whether nomadic travel and #vanlife are part of your life vision or not.
Jed and his wife Kelly have always loved travelling and exploring the world. However, when Kelly was diagnosed with cancer in 2019, everything changed. After she completed her treatment, Jed and Kelly made the decision to semi-retire and hit the road – permanently. They are now full-time nomadic travellers and live a true life of adventure.
One of the main messages I try to convey with my content is that you don’t have to be financially independent to break away from the 9 to 5 and enjoy life. I think Jed and Kelly’s story illustrates this point really well.
While they are on the path to Financial Independence and are planning to self-fund their retirement, they are nowhere near full FI at this stage. This didn’t stop them from semi-retiring and living life to the fullest.
I loved hearing about Jed and Kelly’s unconventional lifestyle. Their journey is a real inspiration.
In this interview, we discuss
- How Jed and Kelly came up with the idea to become full-time nomads
- Kelly’s cancer diagnosis and how it changed their outlook on life
- Why they decided to semi-retire and embark on their nomadic travel adventure
- Jed and Kelly’s plan for FI and retirement
- How much this nomadic lifestyle costs and what they do to cover their expenses
- Jed’s top tips for others who are considering becoming nomadic travellers
Let’s get into the interview!
Q1: Jed, please tell us a little about yourself.
I’m 41 years old, and my wife Kelly is 39. We are originally from the southwest of Western Australia. Our parents were neighbours in our younger years, so we’ve known each other since we were kids. We started dating as teenagers, and we got married in 2011.
I’m a mechanical fitter by trade, and Kel has worked various roles in HR, administration and payroll.
For most of our 20s, we knuckled down and worked in various roles in the mining industry (all in Western Australia). We paid off a block of land and built a house on it in 2006.
Q2: Tell us about your travels and Kelly’s cancer diagnosis.
We didn’t travel much until late 2008 when we decided to get 2-year working visas and head to Canada.
We returned in 2010, got engaged and tied the knot in April 2011. Later that year, we set off again to travel around Australia.
While on our trip, we took a holiday to Japan with friends. When we returned to Australia, we went up to Far North Queensland to work on a cattle station.
At the end of the mustering season, we were invited back to Japan to help manage a B&B that we’d stayed at the previous year over the winter season.
We returned to Australia in early 2013, bought a second house in Bunbury and rescued a Rottweiler called Greta.
I worked back in mining, and Kel worked for the government. We settled into what we see as a normal way of life. We bought an old 1988 Viscount Caravan in late 2018 as a renovation project.
Then, in late 2019, right as the COVID outbreak started, Kel was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Q3: What happened next?
Everything changed instantly. We focused on Kel’s treatment and recovery. We were hit with a combination of cancer treatment, COVID and our dog Greta passing away. That’s when we decided that we would finish the old Caravan reno as soon as possible, pack up, sell everything and hit the road.
We quit our full-time jobs in September 2021 and are now effectively semi-retired. We got rid of all our stuff, rented out the house and hit the road with just $50,000 cash in the bank.
Q4: Tell us a bit more about your thought process behind the decision to semi-retire and become full-time nomads.
What set us up for semi-retirement at an early age was the experience and knowledge we’d gained over the 13 years we spent packing up, travelling, working overseas, travelling, unpacking, working and so on. Once we had repeated this cycle a few times, we began to realise that semi-retirement at an early age (any age) was very achievable without having a massive amount of money.
After each trip that we were able to slip back into full-time working life quickly. We’d work hard, save money and repeat the process.
Then, after our third trip, it became clear that any time we’d set off, our living expenses would actually decrease by a lot. So, we joked about the idea that this type of lifestyle might be possible at any age.
It wasn’t until Kel started treatment for cancer in late 2019 that we really looked deeply into our finances. We started a net worth spreadsheet and explored all the different options to work less and travel more.
We were only on one wage while Kel underwent treatment, but we still kept our heads above water. Our net worth continued to grow, and we were still able to invest small amounts. At that point, I knew that surviving on a lower income was definitely possible. It was something we could do to go travelling and for a better work-lifestyle balance.
Q5: One of your goals is to reach full Financial Independence one day. What is your plan for FI?
I became interested in Financial Independence in 2013 when we returned from the working holiday in Japan. However, there was never a solid plan or path we had set out to follow. Never any goals in regards to a magic financial number we had to reach.
We have two investment properties, both are positive cash flow on lower fixed interest rates and combined mortgages of less than $350,000. At the current rate, they will both will be paid off by our traditional retirement age. We also have a share portfolio worth around $120,000. It consists of a mix of diversified LICs, ETFs and blue chip stocks. We re-invest all dividends at this point in time.
We have around $400,000 combined in super. We have found that even though we only work part-time as we travel, it’s been enough to top our super up a little. However, super has never been something we’ve focused on, and we look at it simply as a bonus when the time comes to access it.
Q6: At what age are you planning to fully retire?
We think we will fully retire around the traditional retirement age – age 65 or 70.
I think everyone has a different aspect on what the word “retire” means to them. At the moment we are able to spend a decent amount of time travelling between full-time work. We actually enjoy knuckling down and working for a few months here and there.
Priorities will obviously change as we grow older. But for now, as long as we can keep chipping away, adding to super, and our net worth continues to grow, we will have enough passive income through dividends, property, and side hustles to maintain our current lifestyle for the foreseeable future.
Q7: Tell us a bit more about the money side of your travels. How much is your lifestyle costing you per year?
When we hit the road in 2021, we put together an expense and income spreadsheet rather than a traditional budget. In that spreadsheet, we keep track of every dollar in and out. We don’t just track our travelling expenses, but house rates, insurance and any income. We take a little time to fill it out every week or so, but we’ve found it to be very beneficial to project what we need in the future and to stay in the green.
In the last 12 months, we spent five months working, one month farm sitting, and six months travelling. This has cost us $53,000, but we were able to earn $64,000. Over the years, this will change, and some years we might have to work more.
Q8: What is your plan for the next 5-10 years?
We set off this journey with almost no plans at all, but it’s crazy how quickly you end up with the next 18 to 24 months roughly planned.
We have an overseas working holiday coming up in Japan late next year. We are also hoping to get over to the east coast and NZ for some trekking soon as well.
We hope to be settled into a travelling/working life routine and find a balance that works for us for the next 5-10 years and beyond.
Q9: Are you planning to add children to the mix at some point?
We talked this over many times for many years, and to put it simply, it’s a solid “no”. We were lucky enough to have made that decision long before Kelly went through cancer treatment, but it’s something that is not possible these days anyway because of the chemo and the hormone-suppressing medication.
We are lucky to have a great bunch of nieces and nephews. Their parents are always happy for us to “borrow” them at any time!
Q10: What advice would you give to others in a similar situation who want to break free from the normal 9-5 life and start a life of adventure and travel?
Firstly, if you’re in a relationship, you both must be on the same page. It’s a huge life decision to make.
Even if you want this type of life so badly, we find people always find an excuse not to do it or to keep delaying it. Realise that there will always be something that will stand in your way and you must be prepared to make sacrifices for bigger gains.
Get your financial ducks in a row. Your journey might be over before you know it if you have a lot of debt hanging over your head or are unsure of where you stand financially.
Have a fairly good idea of what your ongoing costs will be before you pull the pin – items like loan repayments, insurance, rates, Netflix etc. Tracking these gave us a good understanding of what we needed to make before we could even think about the on-the-road travel costs.
Selling or getting rid of pretty much everything you own will be one of the best feelings ever! Everyone with a similar lifestyle we have talked to also commented how good it felt to get rid of “stuff”.
Be open to trying out a different field of work. We have tried many things that fall outside our normal professions. We have lived in three countries doing everything from snowmaking and working as ziplines guides in Canada to looking after a B&B in Japan and cattle station work in Far North Queensland. These have honestly been the most rewarding jobs we have ever done!
Lastly, know that this travel/work lifestyle can be done without having millions in the bank. We started with $50,000 and an emergency fund of $25,000, and that’s it.
Find a balance that suits you, and just go for it. In the worst-case scenario, you can always go back to your old lifestyle.
Thank you for sharing your story and your insights, Jed!
Jed and Kelly used a bad situation (Kelly’s cancer diagnosis) as a catalyst to redesign their lives and embark on this adventure. They were confronted with the biggest risk of all – running out of time – and made some radical life choices. I find their story pretty inspiring (and I’m not a #vanlife person!).
I particularly love that they are “normal” nomads, doing random jobs and finding work locally wherever they travel. Hearing about their work adventures reminded me of my days as a backpacker when I did lots of different jobs and volunteer work. I had such a great time. You learn so much more about the places you visit and how the locals live when you find work locally.
Digital nomads can work from their laptops from anywhere in the world (which has lots of perks as well, of course). One thing they often miss out on is this local experience, especially because they often work and live in co-working and hostel-style places specifically designed for digital nomads.
It’s also great to see that Jed and Kelly have already secured their financial future via their investment properties, share portfolio and super, so they don’t have to worry about their retirement later on.
While their lifestyle is a bit unconventional, their FI plan is basically a classic semi-retirement play. They have enough invested to coast to full FI at the traditional retirement age while they enjoy their lives and just work enough to cover their expenses.
Jed and Kelly’s lifestyle is definitely replicable, especially for couples without kids. I know some people who travel nomadically with their kids, but I think most families do this as a mini-retirement and it’s not a permanent lifestyle choice for them.
I love Jed’s tips for people who are aspiring to embark on a similar adventure. In fact, these tips are for anyone who wants to make lifestyle changes and doesn’t want to sacrifice their financial future and security in the process.
If you want to follow Jed and Kelly’s story, you can check out their YouTube Channel OldMateAdventures where they chronicle their nomadic travels and everyday life on the road (which seems to include an extraordinary amount of time spent fishing!).
Here is a little taste:
Have you considered nomadic travel – either for an extended period or as a permanent lifestyle?