[Hey guys! Got a cool story for ya today by my man Vita Valka – a 35 year old freelance web designer from the Czech Republic who convinced his family to switch from a house to a travel trailer after getting tired of their debt. With kids (!!), and while still working on the road! If you ever wondered what that word “digital nomad” meant, this is it… Take it away, V$!]
Until 2012 I was the traditional middle class boy, burning exactly 100% of what I earned.
Between 2005-2007 my income in Czech Republic was between $14k-$24k a year and I could afford a mortgage for a condo in Prague and a used fiver Beemer.
After marriage and two kids in the making, we later “needed” a house. So we took another mortgage and a few other loans and tada! — in 2012 we had a new house. Happy, but also at the bottom financially.
At one point we had 6 loans and 2 mortgages. I even sold our BMW to get cash out for some of the house debt and leased a new car. We literally took on as much debt as possible. It was scary.
After our second girl was born, we realized there was more to life than just a big house with mortgage and a shiny leased BMW at the entrance. And so the changes started to emerge…
Why a Travel Trailer?
My wife and I wanted a bit more freedom and a life full of memories that we’d be proud of at the autumn of our lives. And we realized that getting a travel trailer might be the thing that would give us the ability to travel with a family of 4 for several months a year while not ruining our already difficult finances.
Friends told me I was crazy. I pretended I knew what I was doing. We borrowed money again to buy the cheapest travel trailer with enough beds, still holding together, for around $4,000 and went on our first journey to Croatia for a month. With one girl being 2 years old and the other about 3 months old.
And it was mind blowing! That trip changed everything.
Since that time we’ve been doing trips every year. We’ve traveled through Italy, Turkey, France, Spain, Portugal and Morocco as you can see from our map of travels. We have been writing a blog, been featured in several magazines around Czech Republic, and also been on a TV show as “the caravan family” while inspiring people around us.
Does It Work Financially?
I had been a freelancer since a young age, co-founding and helping build a few private companies, so I knew how to make a living. Still, this would not work of course if I didn’t make enough money.
My wife received about $200 a month while on maternity leave (you get 3 years of leave in the Czech Republic with government assistance), but that was pretty much it. Her main role was, and is, taking care of our children and life’s daily tasks while mine is: to make enough to pay all the expenses.
Being scared of all our loans in 2012, I did everything to fight back. I gave myself a period of two years (2013 and 2014) to get rid of all $52,000 worth of debt we owed to our friends and family, and after working long hours we paid it off a few months before 2014 ended. All that while traveling on a budget with our travel trailer!
Letting Go of a Well Paid Gig
During 2015, already reading J Money’s blog, I realized that working for a growing corporation was going in the opposite direction of the freedom that traveling was giving our family. And so I sent my thank you to coworkers and I returned to pure freelancing.
Since then I’ve been earning a bit less as a freelance designer, but I have enough passive income coming in from selling my digital illustrations that cover all our expenses plus a few trips each year. And as I keep doing design projects, I can easily pay off the remaining debt in a few years thereby increasing the level of free cash flow too.
I also began to save money and invest in 2015. The strategies I’m exploring are mainly stocks – using the long term value strategy by Benjamin Graham (& Warren Buffett). I’m also putting money into P2P lending and dividend funds as well as exploring Bitcoin & Gold. It’s too early to judge, but so far I like it!
Our Priorities Have Changed Dramatically
The travel trailer was a crazy idea at first, but looking back it was the catalyst that changed our life from “stuff collecting” to minimalism. Being pulled by the traditional approach to living (birth-mortgage-death) to enjoying every single day with a smile. We changed our eating behavior, began playing sports, and made room for more quality time with the family.
I also began to play with our family expenses, optimizing every piece of recurring costs. Creating scientific excel sheets I’ve gone on to save some 20-30% of what our expenses used to be two years ago. Just by re-negotiating contracts, changing providers, killing TV and other subscriptions, and from working from home (or in my case, caravan). This was a big lesson for my introvert self who was originally scared of negotiating.
My working life has changed as well since 2007. I used to work 10-12 hours a day plus commute. Now I’m at 6-8 hours a day with no commute. And I make over 3 times the figure I was making in 2007.
Because the quality of my work is higher there’s almost no distraction in my daily routine, especially thanks to my wife. And I keep the focus on delivering results to clients on time.
When the computer is turned on — I’m a machine using all the legal drugs, such as coffee, electronic music and Japanese Matcha tea. I also avoid personal meetings with clients since Skype is a fair substitute while helping the planet as a side effect.
What’s To Come?
All in all I’m a crazy happy man! I’m really surprised that the desperate financial situation in autumn of 2012 turned so good in just 3 short years. That is the most mind blowing thing for me. It was a tough fight, but well worth it.
My current goals are pretty much optimizing the situation we’re in. We still have a leased car until the end of 2017 and two mortgages on the books. We’ll probably sell the apartment in Prague and use the free cash to pay off the car and scale-up the stocks or P2P portfolio. Managing investments from a travel trailer is more appealing to me than real estate.
I’ll probably launch a few bootstrapped online projects too later. The experience and skill set I’ve collected over the years is better when used! Perhaps with a project that helps people live better lives?
There’s a universe of opportunities I now see when not having to rely on a paycheck.
I’m definitely going to continue tracking my net worth according to your guidance too, J. Money! Right now I’m not a real blogger yet, just a little one, and I’d be pretty low on your Blogger Net Worth List – somewhere on the 97th spot or so. But give me a few years and I’ll jump up with fireworks!
Thanks Vita! Love the enthusiasm/creativity! Now who wants to sell all their homes and move into trailers with me??? :) We can sneak attack Steve’s Airstream!
PS: Other travel-related stories we’ve covered:
- Why Taking a Sabbatical Was The Best Money I Ever Spent
- How We Saved $1 Million Dollars and Became Financial Independent at 30
- My Name is Jeremy, and This is How I Retired in My 30s
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I’m sure it seemed like an extreme move at the time, but it has worked out well for you. Continued success to you and the family!
Very cool stuff. I’m looking at transitioning to a (mostly) work from home situation.
How do you set up your boundaries with your family in such a tight space? Also, I’m guessing your work is online. If so, how do you ensure you have internet?
My questions too.
It’s a good question – thank you! Now my wife usually cares about kids, and we switch with her if she needs to do some work. And then we both use headphones and music as an isolation, to better focus on work. As for the space, we don’t spend much time in the caravan, usually girls run around the spot, drawing, riding bikes, playing with sticks, nature and toys. So its like a shelter before sun and rain, but not a real space for “intensive living”. Does this cover the question?
It seems to me what was old….is new again. I seem to remember many years ago extended families traveled through out Europe in wagons drawn by horses. They had some skills at repairing and making things or sold different things to make ends meet. They were “affectionately” called “gypsies” and unfortunately were persecuted by Hitler in the 30’s and 40’s…Don’t know if this life style would be for me…..but it seems to work for these guys…
Thank you, yeah. People are comparing us to gipsies sometimes, but I feel like we took the best part of being a gipsie (nature, new people, new locations) and regular living (working with technology, shopping, eating in restaurants). So to me, it’s not that wild as it was back then, but it’s inspiring and challenging and more fun than traditional way of living.
My favorite line from this article was: “Friends told me I was crazy. I pretended I knew what I was doing.” I have also found that sometimes we just have to pretend that we have all of the answers and then hope and pray that it actually works out. And often in will all be just fine. Fear holds us back from attempting so much but if we can just fake it till we make it we can go a lot farther than our fear tells us we can.
This was a great story and very inspiring to see how people are making their dreams work.
Agreed! Better to jump in and see if it works than always wonder what could have been.
Yeah, fear is usually the number one thing that holds people from better lives. We are somehow stuck to an idea, that the world was setup by wiser people for us. While the world was developed by the same “not as smart” people as we are. So why not to create and update the rules for everybody to live better…
Love the story – always impressed (and jealous) when people find a way to earn a living on their own – or even the guts to try it!
Nice work Vita!
It was so quick. Just imagine your life in the future being “same forever” or changing it so you have good memories for later. It’s not guts I’d say, it’s doing something so that I don’t have to blame myself later for not doing it :-)
What I wouldn’t give to be able to travel the world with my children and show them the amazing places that are out there…
Wow inspiring story! Glad it has worked out so well for your family!
Very, very nice! Speaking for myself, it has been amazing how easy it is to get used to this new lifestyle of living small. Nothing that people can’t handle, just a different routine. Congrats on taking charge of your life and finding what truly works for you and your family.
Oh, and we’ll be waiting for your attack! ;)
He did tell me he wants to trek on out here to the U.S. and give Airstreaming a shot ;) Promised free coffee too – woo!
This is perfectly said: “Nothing that people can’t handle, just a different routine.” Thank you!
Really interesting, especially since they have kids. I think it’d be sooo much easier to live on the road in a small space without little ones in tow. So I’m truly impressed that they are able to. I love their financial epiphany, too!
I know! That’s what holds me back from doing these more hardcore moves too… I just can’t fathom it with two wee ones along, but obviously it’s being done and the kids seem to love it!
I mean, with kids at home it’s also a bit different and more difficult. So there’s no change. In the end the only change is that the house is towable and moveable, the rest is the same old “difficult” family living :-)
Congrats on following a dream and making it work for your family! There are tons of us that want to get away from the office life and the monthly mortgage but just don’t dare to take the step. My husband goal is 1st year of retirement to hit the road with the 5th wheeler and explore the good ole’ USA with no specific plan just freedom to do…..
Wow, do it! I mean, I’ve been on Route 66 and that spirit is really strong there! It’s something that everybody should do :) And then you have all the parks! Lisa, do it :-) And send pics to me :-)
Great story! It’s great that you are taking the time to enjoy your family and have the freedom to do so.
Our kids have grown up traveling in our trailer and we’ve created priceless memories on our travels. We’ve only “lived” in it for 3 weeks at a time, but could totally do it full-time!
Yeah, we realised that this “time window” for such travels might not be for long. So that’s why we wanted to do it as intensive as possible. Later it might be more of shorter trips.
This sounds so cool! I would love to live on a canal boat but my better half is having none of it! Congratulations for setting and sticking to your goal. Great read.
Yeah!!! Been seeing canal boats more in movies and what not – those things look legit!
Guys, but those thing shake and move when you sleep! And there are no brakes if you sail ;-)
I love that you had the guts to say goodbye to the corporate life so you could live the life that you wanted. Not many people are brave enough to do that. Cool story!
Thank you. Obviously I lost a bit of money, but what I got (I hope) would be more of great memories for our family. It’s always a bet, but I’ll try to win this one :-)
That’s awesome man! I would love to do the caravan thing in Europe. The missus isn’t into it, though. Maybe when the kid is out of the house… Good luck! :)
Show her some trailers or RVs first. No rush, let it blend with her ideas in her brain. The rest might happen naturally, like for us :-) My wife realised, that kids would get more nature and she would get more sun and beach, so she granted me permission to buy that crazy thing :)
Nice job on taking the risk to leave your job for your passion! Pretty awesome you are known throughout Croatia as “the caravan family” that inspires people. I am curious. is there a growing trend for RV/Camper living? I have seen many other bloggers talking or making the jump which is very intriguing.
Well, it’s tightly connected with digital nomad movement. I’d say IT people working from all parts of the world are on the rise for sure. There are boat trips, there are co-working spaces etc. So if you can work from home, you can work from anywhere. Check out http://www.nomadlist.io or other sites like that.
As you know, we full-time in our RV and it’s the best decision we’ve ever made. We love being able to travel full-time, and we’ve made many great friends on the road. Next will be full-time sailing. Life is good :)
Cheers! I was considering sailing, but for now I’ll stick to roads and earth, I kinda feel safer like that :-) If you are around Czech Republic, let me know ;-)
Glad you found a lifestyle that you love! Have fun making those memories!
My husband and I are homebodies that enjoy throwing potlucks and dinner parties, so we went the other direction (big house but paid off our first house completely and use it for rental income). We like to travel in 1-2 week spurts just for vacations away. But if we ever needed to cut our expenses tremendously, we do always keep in mind the option to downsize. Our personal way of affording the life we want while saving 25%+ for the future is to hustle with our businesses and to have roommates for 6 of the last 11 years. :-) I like that dorm-life feel with people around.
Me too! I love having people around – esp those you love/trust… I keep trying to get my friends to all live in a cul-de-sac or small village of tiny homes or something but so far no one’s biting ;) Why can’t they get how fun that would be???
Exactly. We need to educate/inspire people around us. That’s how we can change the world for the better. Yes, it sounds like BS, but in reality, this is the way world changes.
We’re the same way. Especially now that we have kids, we couldn’t imagine living without our village. This from a military brat that gets itchy feet every few years! It also doesn’t help that we have one with as special needs, and we have pretty good services in our area. If that weren’t the case, I’d probably hop on board the unschooling movement and live in a bus/RV/whatever it took to be exploring new places all the time. But the lessons I’ve learned through this experience are priceless… Travel is good, but your village can be greater.
I grew up camping with my parents, and it’s just about time I start doing the same with my family.
I can’t wait until we have the freedom to take long trips too.
Hehe, do you have any strong memories, that are worth to share? Or any advice about what should I avoid? :-)
I love these types of inspirational stories. It’s especially interesting to see it working for a family in a country other than America. The only question I have for Vita is regarding his plans for educating the children – will they attend a school somewhere or is his wife going to “homeschool” them?
This would be my question too…. unless they kids are being taught to do freelance design work?
Thank you, this is a common question. Actually the older daughter is going to school this autumn and so we choose an alternative private school (which is cheap in Czech, so we pay about $125 a month for one kid) that might be more flexible than traditional schools. But there are also schools that can do everything over Skype for no or little extra money in Czech.
Homeschooling is another option. But I don’t consider myself brave enough to be the teacher part of the day, and the friend in the other part of the day. So I prefer other to do the basics and I’ll do the “explore the world” part :-)
My partner and I are working towards downsizing and living in a travel trailer type vehicle. Great to see it works out so well for you. Well done!
Hey, if you need some US story, check out http://malimish.com/blog/ and links there to other families.
Love the story and your story is right on time. I just sold my 3rd place in March and called banks today about getting a loan to buy another place. No way! I have to stick to paying either cash or be part of the tiny house movement.
Do it!!! Tiny homes look so cool/fun/freeing!!
Yeah! Nice :-) Do it and it would pay off later :)
Awesome that it is working so well with two young ones! I’m impressed at how rapidly you were able to change your situation. Your designs are beautiful, too.
Thank you ZJ, it took some time (it always does) but if you kind of try, try, and try again, it sometimes works ;-)
I feel pretty introverted about making phone calls to negotiate contracts as well. So much so, I don’t know how much money I have wasted avoiding this very thing. I finally got over it when I realized that no one cares about my money more than me and it wouldn’t take care of itself. I still don’t like it but now I at least take more initiative. My ancestors are from the Czech Republic!
Hey! Great thing you are changing. And even better you’re coming from Czech Republic :-) If you need anything, let me know and when I go to US in the future, I’ll bring it over :-)
What a dramatic and positive change! Thanks for sharing your story. I love the comments about pretending you knew what you were doing. I’m a big fan of ‘fake it till you make it’!
Vita, you’re so cool, you’re so cool, you’re so cool!
I love your story, obviously. Thanks for the inspiration.
Hehe, you’re welcome. It’s great to hear it made a change :-) That is my initial motivation.
Having personally worked with Vita, he’s the real deal, very talented and a very nice fella to boot! He’s also quite modest.
Oh that’s cool! I didn’t know you two worked together before!
This is so cool! I’m very impressed with the decisions we can make when we abandon stuff for experiences. Not sure I could do that unless I moved to Canada’s west coast and then with the real estate prices there that might be all that I could afford. Thank you for the inspiration.
Very cool! I love the tiny house movement, and the freedom of mobility, but I’m also a minimalist without a car and a city gal, so I don’t want to tow it and have to be parked in a location where I have to drive places. So, my husband and I found our version of tiny house living… we bought a condotel on the lakefront of a thriving city. Basically, it is a condo in a hotel. And yes, it is the size of a standard King size hotel room with a small kitchenette. Around 380 SF. We only paid $41k, so we are free and clear of the mortgage with a few additional rental properties paying our living expenses. When we want to do extended travel, we can just throw our belongings in one closet and rent it out. I cringe when I hear of my friends buying $350k+ houses in non-walkable areas with high taxes being chained to their jobs. You can always make more money, but you can’t buy more time!
Wery nice and inspiring approach! Cheers citi gal! ;-)
Deep down inside this is exactly what I want to do and I just might someday. I would just feel a lot better about it my passive income stream was already coming in to pay for everything. I just wouldnt want to have to work even online or anything while out on the road.
Really cool story!
Yeah, the internet access part would have to be on LOCK to continue working full-time or close to it… Although, I guess depending on what you’re doing you might get even MORE productive without it and just hooking up once or twice a week to report/send stuff over? Imagine how much you could get done without the temptation all day long? Haha…
There is really nothing better than freedom. You’ve achieved what most people don’t even dare to dream of. Congrats.
You also overcame the #1 problem….that’s the spending and debt mentality. That is such a hard mental barrier to overcome, then to actually get out of debt is even harder. Again, great job!
Thank you Eric, and sure I fight with that every day still. You feel like you should spend, while saving is better for you. So I’m learning day by day :-)