Financial Independence: the Freedom to Walk Away Grigory Lukin lets' retire young hiker freedom ponytail

Financial Independence: the Freedom to Walk Away

How financial independence can fuel your adventures

A lot of people think of retirement in purely hypothetical terms. A journalist friend of mine used to argue with me because his idea of retirement was sitting in a rocking chair in a retirement home for about 20 years, awaiting the Grim Reaper. I guess that just makes me a proactive retiree. There are some amazing things you can do once you achieve your financial independence, once you retire early, and this post is about one of them.

In 52 days (not that I’m counting), I’ll board a one-way flight from Quebec City to San Diego, where I’ll start my 2,650-mile walk from Mexico to Canada. I’ll be part of the 2022 Pacific Crest Trail adventure: each year, thousands of hikers set out from the Southern Terminus near Campo, CA. Hundreds make it to the very end. The trek is long, and arduous, and fun, and picturesque. It typically takes five months to complete – sometimes more, sometimes less. I plan to finish it in 4.5 months, give or take, but we all know what happens when plans make contact with reality, right? Heh.

Financial Independence: the Freedom to Walk Away Grigory Lukin lets' retire young hiker freedom ponytail
This could totally be you, give or take a ponytail. (Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

What does financial independence have to do with it? Well, if I were still a corporate drone, this almost certainly wouldn’t have been possible. As a very tenured Amazombie (that’s an official term, yes), I might have been able to obtain a six-month unpaid sabbatical, but those are so very, very rare. In my 11.5 years with the company, I’d never heard of anyone actually getting it – only a three-month leave of absence, if that. And for the vast majority of folks out there, even the dusty sabbatical clause is out of the question.

Financial independence means the freedom to walk away. Not just an opportunity to sit around, pursue new hobbies, and binge-watch anything you want (though that can be lots of fun), but also a chance to do something much greater. Out in the rat race world, taking more than two weeks of vacation is viewed as eccentric, and might harm your chance of getting that raise or promotion you’ve been after. Take a month off, and you’re designated as the lazy weirdo and not a team player. Mention that you’d like to take 5-6 months to hike 2,650 miles, sleep in a tent, and poop in holes, and you might get a mental wellness check from your warm and cuddly friends in HR.

Financial independence means having enough money to keep you worry-free if an exciting new adventure were to cross your mind. What I plan to undertake is called “thru-hiking,” and it ain’t cheap. Upgrading my existing hiking gear to something more sturdy and lightweight costs a pretty penny. Ditto for specialized equipment like a GPS beacon with a magical SOS button. Double ditto for all the trail-runner shoes that will get used up along the way. (Most thru-hikers go through about five pairs.)

These supplies (well, perhaps not the worn-out shoes) will come in useful on other long-term hikes in the future, so the total cost will get amortized over several years. Even so, that’s a large upfront investment of, say, $3,000 or so, and that’s before you add things like travel insurance. That amount of money might seem huge at first, but if you start cutting down your monthly subscriptions, and stop gambling on random investments you don’t fully understand, etc, sooner or later you’ll be able to squirrel away not only that, but lots more.

Financial Independence: the Freedom to Walk Away Grigory Lukin lets' retire young hiking tent nature outdoors
Save $100 on hotels with this one weird trick! (Image by Nicole Turner from Pixabay

Obviously, most thru-hikers aren’t early retirees enjoying their financial independence. From what I’ve seen so far in terms of data, most are in their 20s, either taking a gap year or just following their dream after squirreling away enough cash over several years. The author of one particularly inspirational trail journal mentioned she’d been buying long-lasting food on sale, and ended up with 200 lbs of staples like peanut butter, cheese, and chocolate. (She mailed it all to her future self, to pick up along the trail.) Remarkable, really.

And as for why?.. It would be quite easy to continue lounging around, to lead the life of low-key hedonism like I’ve been doing for the last few months. There are two big factors at play, though. First, I think the pandemic is far from over. (I’d be very happy to be wrong.) A lot of folks around the world still aren’t vaccinated, and I’m not sure if omicron is the last contagious variant to make its entrance. That means traveling the world – say, Costa Rica and Greece – wouldn’t result in quite the same payoff and fun as it would have before this three-year plague. Hiking across the US, on the other hand, is all about experiencing the nature and making friends along the way. The trail will remain largely the same as it was 30 years ago, and 30 years from now. (Though I’m sure futuristic hikers will have solar-powered hoverboards carrying their supplies; lazy buggers.)

As for the second reason… Well, this blog is called Let’s Retire Young for a reason. Feel free to call me ageist, but I strongly believe that for almost everyone out there, their ability to do fun and arduous things (like hiking a Costa Rican volcano with no trail) diminishes as they grow older. There are, of course, exceptions – such as folks over 50 who run ultramarathons. Good for them, and I admire their moxie, but they’re just that: exceptions.

Society conditions us all to be ashamed of not working, to think of retirement as something best saved for your 60s. As I’m writing this, I am 35. I’ll turn 36 during the fifth month of my hike. I live a rather healthy lifestyle, but I harbor neither illusions nor delusions about my future. I’m in better shape here and now, and my body more capable of healing itself and shrugging off injuries, than I will be at 45, or 55, or 65. I’m a huge fanboy of emerging stem cell and blood-borne nanobot technologies, and I’d be happy to be wrong, but science fiction aside, time is an insidious enemy.

This blog talks about many aspects of FIRE – Financial Independence, Retire Early. I write how to earn more, spend less, invest the rest. I’m a big fan of the lean-FIRE philosophy, where you can live fairly comfortably on $1,000 USD a month. My views may be radical to some, and my recommended tactics may be despised by many, but in the end, if you turn your consumerist lifestyle inside out, if you create and follow your own map to financial independence, this is what you can get: the freedom to walk away. The opportunity to not only fall in love with a grand adventure, but to sign up for it and leave, to drop out of the world for half a year, to follow your own fancy.

Financial Independence: the Freedom to Walk Away Grigory Lukin lets' retire young compass find your direction
Follow your heart! And/or north. …yeah, you should probably follow north. (Image by dima_goroziya from Pixabay

That is worth saving and sacrificing for. Make a plan, nail the plan, live far below your means for, say, a decade or so, and you too can join me. When you pay off all your debt and flip your net worth from negative to positive, you’ll experience indescribable peace of mind, as if a boulder has been lifted off your shoulders. And once you achieve full-on FIRE… Well, it’s the same sensation, only a thousand times better. You’ll just have to experience it for yourself, eh?

And now, after waxing poetical about financial independence, I’m off to do some more pre-hike training. Today, that involves adding a heavy weight plate to my loaded backpack and going up and down the steep and endless hillside staircase near my apartment. (It’s like the ThighMaster, only free, and with fresh air!)

And what about you? What epic grand adventure would you go on if time was not an issue, if you didn’t have bosses breathing down your neck? Sound off in the comments!

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