This post “Changing Directions with All Options Considered”, has been contributed by Ali and Alison at ‘All Options Considered’. I
t is the latest in our series of motivational and inspirational stories of those who have made a choice to live a very different lifestyle in midlife to later in life. We call this exciting addition to our website ‘Life Chapter 2’.
Who are the gals from All Options Considered?
We’re Ali and Alison Walker, often called The Ali’s by our friends and family. Ali is currently 48 and Alison is 58. We’re both originally from California but we met in Seattle in 2004. We sold our home and got rid of most of our things in 2018 so we could travel full time, which was surprisingly easy! And then we bought a new home and a bunch of new things in 2021. Our lives just keep on changing!
“All Options Considered” has been our motto since 2007, which is why we gave our blog the same name. Back in 2007 we wanted to give ourselves permission to try anything and our AOC theme was the result, and it has helped us continue to stay open to change ever since then!
What did we do before Life Chapter 2?
Ali was in marketing for a firm that specializes in engineering, architecture, environmental and construction services for most of her career. Her job was focused on the strategic pursuit of new projects mostly in the USA and Canada. That meant traveling to various offices to coordinate project pursuits, and it meant learning lots of cool details about projects ranging from transit lines to bridges to water systems to highways. Ali retired at age 44.
Alison spent her career in digital image retouching, colour correction, cloning and composition. Her job was focused on producing high end images for print catalogues, newspapers, large format signs, and websites. That meant product matching, colour enhancement, artistic colour modification, and image alteration. Alison also volunteered as a guest lecturer at the local college, which she loved and realized that was probably her true calling. But rather than change careers she retired at age 54.
What made us decide to change our lifestyle in midlife?
We enjoyed our careers for the most part and we were good at our jobs. We especially enjoyed the parts that allowed each of us to collaborate with teams and mentor other people. But we were also workaholics with employers that encouraged overwork to a degree that wasn’t healthy for us. And it didn’t help that Ali’s job required her to travel to other locations so she was away from home more than we were comfortable with.
It was pretty common for us to work 50 and 60 hour weeks which left very little time for us to spend together without talking or thinking about work. Our phones rang at night and on the weekends and Ali would often take her laptop everywhere so she could work in the car when we were driving from place to place.
All of that seemed ridiculous since we weren’t working in fields like nursing or psychology or part of non-profit work making other people’s lives better. Ali was flying all over just to sit in meetings, and Alison joked that her work would end up wrapped around fish or at the bottom of a birdcage. Our motivation for changing our lifestyle and retiring early was simple – we wanted to be able to spend time with each other, focused on who and what we really value!
We made personal finance our hobby starting in 2005, with the goal of retiring early. Alison’s grandparents retired at age 55 and so did her parents, and they were a great inspiration for us. It took time for us to build enough savings to be able to retire early and live off of our investments, and it took even longer for us to gain the confidence we needed to pull the plug on our careers and trust our decision to retire early.
What held us back from making this lifestyle change earlier?
We were not high-income earners so reaching financial independence took time. We are self-taught in the areas of investing and managing our money, and we were learning what we could in our spare time so this lifestyle change wasn’t a rapid process for us.
It’s true that if we had started investing earlier, and if we had been more strict about saving and avoiding lifestyle inflation, and if we had found our personal finance community sooner, we would have been able to retire earlier. We also got distracted by some of the fun choices our friends were making relating to updating and upgrading their homes, which slowed us down, but didn’t derail us.
We wanted the flexibility to keep “considering all of our options,” which really meant enjoying life and being brave enough to try new things. At one point we were convinced that owning rental properties was our key to financial independence, but in reality, our two rentals lost money instead of providing us with income. We learned the hard way that it doesn’t always work to turn a personal home into a successful rental. The best part about owning rentals for us was selling the houses and investing the proceeds!
Once we had our retirement math figured out and decided what kind of lifestyle we wanted to try after retirement, we quit our jobs and sold our condo in downtown Seattle. We didn’t think twice about those decisions, we were excited to let go of our “career home” and leave our high cost of living hometown behind in exchange for a new lifestyle in retirement.
Deciding to retire early was the best decision for us. The most important benefits are being able to spend all of our time with each other and with our family and friends. We’re able to show up immediately if one of our close family members asks for help or wants us to visit, and we don’t need anyone else’s permission before saying yes!
Our lifestyle change started with two years spent traveling full time and there were countless benefits from that period. We visited Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Japan, Ecuador, Panama, Mexico, France, Scotland, and England.
We loved meeting people in their home countries as well as our fellow nomads and travel lovers from all over the world. We left Seattle in 2018 where our world basically just included the western US, and grew into people with friends all over the world and much broader perspectives on pretty much every topic.
And of course there are also many benefits for us as early retirees living off of our investments. We learned how to get our money to work even harder than we worked at our jobs, and now we can spend our time on projects that we enjoy without worrying about earning new income. We have hobbies that we enjoy and we can say no every time someone tries to push us to turn our hobbies into business ventures. Being able to say no to those offers feels great!
Difficulties or drawbacks experienced?
We really haven’t experienced any drawbacks from retiring early. The current market correction doesn’t frighten us and we still trust our math. We feel grateful that we retired in 2018 and proud of ourselves for building up our portfolio to the level we did before quitting our jobs. If we had retired with a very lean strategy we would feel differently while experiencing high inflation and a market downturn. But since we are risk averse people we built our strategy with enough padding to thrive without having to rely on frugality.
And we really never experienced any drawbacks from traveling the world, unless you count some funny experiences where Alison’s 6’3” height was tough to accommodate in countries where local people tend to be smaller. When we were traveling full time we sometimes worried about how long it would take us to get back to the US if there was an emergency with one of our close family members, and that was especially difficult once the Covid pandemic set in. But in reality, we never had any significant difficulties during our travels. The nomad lifestyle was a great fit for us!
Where are we based now?
We sold our home in Seattle when we retired in 2018 and planned to travel full time around the world for the next chapter in our lives. We were super excited to be “home free” without condo HOA’s, all the utilities, and especially home maintenance responsibilities.
By early 2020 we had found our travel groove and were planning to spend 3 to 6 months in each of our favourite countries, traveling very slowly for the next few years. But that home free phase turned out to be short! As of January 2021 we have a home in Northern Arizona and an Airstream trailer to take with us on travels around the USA.
What are we doing now?
Now that we’re retired and our annual income is covered by our investments, we spend a lot of our time on financial coaching and blogging. We started our blog when we were nomads so we could share our experiences with friends and family back in the USA.
As our lives changed and more people reached out to us asking about financial independence, we shifted our focus to blogging about that.
When we were working towards financial independence the one thing we missed the most was having people we could talk to and learn from. Our family members and friends didn’t understand what we were trying to achieve or didn’t think it made any sense, and that made our money journey more difficult.
So now when people reach out to us because they need to get out of debt, or they don’t know how to build a real post-retirement budget, or they want to rearrange their investments to have lower fees, or they want to run simulations on their portfolio – we make ourselves available. We aren’t trained financial professionals but we are willing friends with time and energy to share.
How do we decide what to do / where to go?
When we were traveling full time we picked destinations we had not travelled to before, with history and culture and food we were curious about. We wanted to eat our way through France, Vietnam, and Japan. We wanted to taste all of the whisky in Scotland. We wanted to see the incredible Khmer ruins in Cambodia, the limestone temples in the Batu Caves of Malaysia, and ancient temple ruins in Mexico. And we wanted to take cooking classes everywhere.
We were excited about alternating between returning to our favourite destinations and visiting new places as well, which we can always do in a future chapter of nomad life when we’re ready for more long-term travels.
As for deciding where to go when we stopped traveling full time, that was a bit trickier. When Covid was declared a pandemic we were wrapping up 4 months traveling around Mexico. We decided to move back to the USA where travel bans and visa limits couldn’t get in our way. And some of our family members were worried so we wanted to show up and reassure them that we were safe.
Deciding to pull over as nomads and return to the USA was a hard decision, but it was right for us and our closest family members. So we built a big spreadsheet with destinations all over the country including details about cost of living, taxes, weather, elevation, and more.
We chose not to return to Washington State because we had gotten used to sunshine while traveling and the Seattle area is notoriously grey most of the year. We chose not to return to California even though we have lots of family there, mostly because of taxes and cost of living, but we also wanted to try something new. We chose Arizona, despite its conservative majority, because our first priority was being close to Alison’s elderly mom for this current chapter in our lives.
How do we fill our days?
Our travels sometimes include house and pet sitting, which can be time consuming but not always. And if we’re house sitting while traveling that usually means we don’t spend as much time exploring away from where we’re staying since we are responsible for someone’s home and pets. That’s a trade-off that usually works well for us so we like to house sit a couple times each year.
In the last year we accepted two longer house sits within an hour’s drive of home just to give us a change of scenery and some time with older pups that needed to be cared for while their families travelled away from home. So far we have been invited to house sit in the USA, Mexico, Ecuador, Panama, England, Thailand, and Portugal.
No matter where we are we enjoy taking walks together, cooking, reading, writing, and watching movies. If we’re at home, we also like to play in our garden. We spend a lot of time reading and writing for ourselves (not for the blog). We also spend a lot of time on video chats with people talking about financial independence or just talking about life. We spend a few hours a week focused on tasks specifically for our blog or social media but we try to keep that to a minimum. And we spend a lot of time with family and friends.
Since we moved into our fixer upper house in January 2021, we’ve spent quite a lot of our time just working on our house and yard. We’re not building our dream home or planning to make this a forever home. We feel like we’re working on a long-term flip and enjoying the process of increasing the value of our home and property mostly because it gives us something to do to fill our days that we enjoy. The house has become our biggest hobby!
And since we love to travel but we’re sticking closer to home here in the USA most of the time, we bought a 16-foot Airstream Basecamp trailer in January of this year. We’re learning how to travel in our own country with our own tiny home on wheels, which has been a wonderful new way to spend time together and take breaks from our house and everything on the internet.
What is our interaction with the local / expat community?
One of our favourite things about traveling is meeting new people in each location. We’ve made new friends when visiting public markets, in cooking classes, from getting to know our Airbnb hosts, and from posts on social media in our locations as well. And honestly our travel experiences with meeting new people taught us how to be better at making new friends at home in the USA as well.
Our travels also taught us how important it is for us to be respectful guests in other people’s countries and we want to understand as best we can how tourism and expats impact local communities and economies. Hanging out with our fellow travellers is always fun so we do that whenever we can. And getting to know locals in their communities makes our experience of visiting their hometowns much more meaningful and satisfying.
We pay attention and remain sensitive as Americans visiting other countries where the US has done a lot of damage, including Panama, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Japan. And we listen to local people when they’re willing to talk about what they and their family members have experienced because of American military action in their countries.
Some young women in Hoi An, Vietnam pointed out a large metal vase on a shelf dedicated to ancestors and when they flipped the vase over we realized it was actually a large spent shell casing of some kind with a USA mark on the base. When we were in Hiroshima paying respects at the many memorials and crying, a sweet young local woman actually went out of her way to console us and we ended up making paper cranes together. Amazing.
When we were in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam we got to know a young couple there and loved sharing meals and getting to know them better. By the time we left Vietnam we referred to each other as cousins, were invited to their wedding, and now call their son our nephew.
When we were in Phuket, Thailand we became friends with a woman who spent her free time rescuing cats so she could have them vaccinated, spayed or neutered, fed and released. So we spent a couple of days helping her with her volunteer work.
When we were in Boquete, Panama we became friends with a woman who teaches Spanish so we took lessons from her for a month and then helped with her favourite cause which was providing food and clothes to indigenous families living in ghettos on coffee plantations, which is where she grew up herself.
One of the only places we’ve visited where we didn’t get to know locals other than the staff in our accommodation, was Kuala Lumpur (KL). But two months later we were in Vietnam on a tour of Halong Bay where we met a woman and her daughters from KL, we enjoyed hanging out for a few days and promised to visit them if/when we return to KL someday.
Each location is unique but we find wonderful people everywhere we go.
We only hold American passports and have considered applying for residency and an additional passport in the future. But for now, we are short time visitors and 30 days in one place is often enough, but 90 days is better.
Most of the countries we’ve visited allowed us access for at least 30 days without visas. The most complicated visa application processes we’ve been through were in Cambodia and Vietnam.
We have taken advantage of our ability to stay in England and Mexico for up to 6 months in the past and look forward to more long stays in those countries in the future. One thing’s for sure, only 90 days in the EU will never be enough for us! As privileged Americans our passports allow us to visit 186 countries visa-free, which isn’t as impressive as Japanese passports which allow visits to 192 countries visa-free, but is much better than our friends in Vietnam who only have access to 54 countries. Learning about passports and visa requirements is fascinating stuff, and the details tell a clear story about global privilege for some and political discrimination for others.
What would we recommend to others that are thinking about following a similar path to ours?
We love sharing our experiences with others and giving recommendations if requested. Our path is unique to us but we encourage everyone to consider all of their options!
If you are interested in full time travel, the first thing we would encourage people to do is understand how often you would move and travel to new locations, and really think about how you do with constant change and challenges to routines. We met some fellow nomads in Chiang Mai, Thailand when we were in our first year of travels and they were in their second year, and it shocked us when they decided they weren’t enjoying the constant change of nomad travel and decided to return to their home country in England.
Full time travel isn’t for everyone. It also helps to think about how your budget would be affected by nomadic travel. We decided to move freely within regions hopping from one country to another using local transportation options, but we avoided moving between continents too often because that’s where we spent the big bucks.
And if you worry that you don’t have enough travel experience to be a successful happy nomad, we would encourage you to be brave! When we took off for our nomad travels we had very little travel experience since we had only taken 3 trips abroad before. We weren’t experts and that wasn’t an issue because we were open to feeling like fish out of water and we were excited and curious about everything.
Lastly, we would encourage people to think about what their motivation for full time travel might be and if it’s all about living cheaply in impoverished nations we’d hope you might pause to be sure you aren’t taking advantage of a place without paying taxes or making other types of contributions which means you might be doing some harm. As we write this we’re thinking of an expat community we saw in Panama where locals employed as cleaners or gardeners or cooks have to submit to the shame and humiliation of being frisked every day when leaving the gated expat community.
Most of all we would say that our two years of international nomad life were probably the most thrilling and satisfying chapter we’ve experienced yet, so if you are tempted and you have the resources to make it work – go for it!
If you are interested in financial independence, the first thing we would encourage people to do is make sure you understand your spending and have a real budget you can stick to. Then explore your options for passive income generation and figure out what works best for you, whether that’s stock market investments, real estate rental properties, entrepreneurial side hustles, or some combination of those types of options.
We would also remind people that it can be very helpful to have people you can talk to about money, that you aren’t paying to advise you, even if your personal finance community is all online. Money is emotional and talking about it can be helpful just as it can be helpful to talk about other important parts of your life with people you trust. And most importantly, avoid comparing yourself to others or being competitive about how much or how little money you have. And in case it’s not obvious, we are big fans of early retirement if your job isn’t part of your soul, and we would encourage anyone to find your own version of financial independence.
We are Ali and Alison Walker. We met in 2004, started managing our own investments in 2005, married in 2006, reached financial independence in 2017, and retired in 2018. We run our blog, All Options Considered, as a hobby and a tool for connecting with people.
Ali’s first name is actually Alexandria, but she has been called Ali since the day she was born. Ali retired in 2018 at the age of 44. She’s originally from Northern California, she’s 5’2” tall, and spent her career in marketing and business development. Ali loves reading, writing, research, genealogy, movies, hiking, cooking fun dinners, and spending time with friends and family (in addition to money nerd stuff like investing, insurance, taxes, and retirement planning).
Alison was born in Glendale, California. Alison retired in 2018 at the age of 54. She’s 6’3” tall and a natural swimmer like everyone in her tall family. Alison is an Adobe Certified Expert in Photoshop and spent her career in the print industry managing image retouching of high-end catalogues for numerous well known retail companies. She loves building complex spreadsheets, reading, writing, photography, hiking, cooking fabulous breakfasts, and visiting with family and friends (in addition to money nerd stuff like budgeting, investing, and retirement planning).
Our lives have changed dramatically every year since we reached financial independence, but one thing that hasn’t changed is that we wake up every morning feeling excited about following our dreams, with “All Options Considered!”.
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LIFE CHAPTER 2: RELATED BLOG POSTS
Do you want to read more inspirational stories of those that have made a lifestyle change in their midlife? Check out all the stories in our Life Chapter 2 series below and be inspired.
- WE ARE RETIRED AND INSPIRED – NICKY AND ANDY AT ‘RETIRED AND INSPIRED’
- LIVING IN HOI AN, VITENAM – MICHELLE AT ‘MICHELLE WILD THE PLANNER’
- MOTORHOME TOURING IN EUROPE AND NORTH AFRICA – JULIE AND JASON AT ‘OURTOUR’
- EARLY RETIREMENT = FULLTIME TRAVEL – CHRIS AND STEVE AT ‘EAT.WALK.LEARN’
- LIVING A NOMADIC LIFE – MAKING THE MOST OF OUR TIME – BONNIE AND TRINITY AT ’43BLUEDOORS’
- ADVENTURES AND CHALLENGES OF A ROVING RETIREMENT- DIANA AND MIKE AT ‘LIVING CHAPTER 2’
- MOTOROAMING – SLOW TRAVEL IS THE NAME OF THE GAME – KAREN AND MYLES AT ‘MOTOROAMING’
- DREAMING OF RETIREMENT – JOHN AND BEV AT RETIREMENT TRAVELERS
- JOINING THE DIGITAL NOMAD COMMUNITY – BRENT AND MICHAEL AT ‘BRENT AND MICHAEL ARE GOING PLACES’
- FIRST STEPS AS NOMADIC RETIREES – WHITNEY AND HOWARD AT ‘D2 DETOURS’
- OUR HOME FREE NOMAD LIFE – SUSAN AND BLAIR AT ‘BLAIRANDSUSAN.CA’