Saturday, September 21, 2013

How I spent my summer vacation, Part 1

"We flew to Ecuador to learn more about being frugal". Hmmm, somehow that description doesn't quite resonate. The irony police might issue a warrant. Since essentially the day I signed up for this trip I've struggled to explain exactly what we were attending.

The seminar we attended was described as being a "week-long Chautauqua where we'll discuss happiness, freedom and wealth". Here's a link to the overview. In reality it combined many of my favorite things into one vacation:

  • the chance to explore a new, exotic place
  • learning more about personal finance and early retirement from some of the blogosphere's leading voices
  • a chance to share experiences with like-minded people drawn from Canada, the U.S. and Mexico
  • and finally, the opportunity to share the experience with Amy and expose her to places and ideas she's never had the opportunity to see. 
A first-of-its-kind offering, I signed us up about 30 minutes after finding out about it. Over the last eighteen months I've gone from dreaming about early retirement, to actually retiring, to getting divorced and needing to go back to work, to finally working again and dreaming once again about early retirement. Circle of life, I suppose. Regardless, combining interesting people, a new, fascinating place, and the chance to speed up my path to re-retiring seemed like an ideal vacation. If I could come home with one investable idea then the trip would pay for itself. 

We had four presenters and 22 attendees, and as I had  expected the network effect from all of the interactions was even more powerful than the actual presentations themselves. 

The four presentations, while all different, dove-tailed nicely to tell a story of maximizing happiness and freedom in our lives. 

  • Cheryl Reed, the event organizer and our host, talked about the Science of Happiness. I live in the San Francisco area, the granola capital of the world, so I've heard more than my share of New Age touchy-feely psycho-babble. Cheryl's presentation was based on scientific research and included actual steps we can all follow in our own lives. She also weaved in stories of her own life, and how she went from stylish-and-miserable to buying her own farm in Ecuador at the age of 32. She's a concrete example of living life on your own terms.
  • Mr. Money Mustache is possibly the most popular personal finance blogger on the Internet. He retired at age 30 by applying principles of frugality and intelligent money management. No lottery winnings or high-tech IPO millions for him. No deprivations either. He and his wife life in a paid-off 2400 sq ft house in Longmont, CO. He describes his life as being preposterously abundant and after spending time with him I absolutely agree. He also writes in a highly entertaining style populated with the occasional f-bomb. Each column he writes is like a little gift. If you have any interest whatsoever of escaping the rat race then I can't recommend his website highly enough. Start here. This should be mandatory reading for anyone just entering the workforce. Mr. MM's actual presentation was about the relationship between money and happiness. Rather than diving into details or tactics, it was a fascinating view of how to maximize your happiness. (Hint: it doesn't involve buying jet skis).
  • Jim Collins created his blog as a series of letters to his daughter. From there it has grown in just two years to become an encyclopedia of investing wisdom and common sense. I have already begun to restructure my portfolio based on what I've learned from him. Jim is also one of the most engaging  and interesting people I've ever met. Five minutes after meeting him it seemed like we had been friends forever. His series on stock investing is must-reading for anyone interested in growing their wealth. I'll have a follow-on post about this later. 
  • JD Roth created Get Rich Slowly, to document his path out of debt and on to financial independence. He then sold the blog and created  More than Money. JD is a fascinating guy who lives his life as an epic adventure. His ability to live life as he sees fit is truly inspirational. JD gave a moving presentation on the Power Of Yes, and identifying what really matters in life. Several of the attendees were moved to tears.
It might seem that we spent all of our time on difficult mental exercises, but nothing could be further from the truth. Our days were filled with excellent meals, stimulating conversations and several interesting outings. We visiting an orphanage for local children with AIDS, made a trip to the Otovalo Market, hiked around the local countryside, had lunch and a boat ride inside an active volcano, observed a Shamanic Cleansing, and drank many, many bottles of wine.

My fellow attendees were a fascinating group. Somewhat surprisingly, given our universal interest in early retirement, most people actually seemed to enjoy their work. Nights were spent telling war stories and typically ended with sore cheeks from all the laughter. It was a wonderful group. I truly hope that we've made a lot of life-long friends.

Cheryl will be doing this again next year. If you have any interest in early retirement, seeing a fascinating country, or meeting interesting people then I'd highly recommend that you attend. 


  1. I hope this helped you find that "inner peace" you have been hunting in so many ways for so long a time. Mine was always somewhere with your dad.

    I look forward to the next blog.

  2. It doesn't matter how many times I read about this trip, it still makes me happy. It was great meeting you Tom, and I agree that I hope we all remain lifelong friends. I'm ready to do it again next year!

  3. Wonderful synopsis of a nearly indescribable week, Tom. It warms my heart when I read about our trip from other eyes - and then the comments reflect my feelings too - gratitude and awe, and excitement about the coming years. I look forward to reconnecting with you and Amy sometime! Viva la Chautauqua!