OOOOOHhh I have so much experience with “wanting to do off the beaten path things but also struggling with comparing you to 30-something tech FIRE enthusiasts and feeling like you should buckle down”
Something I have learned is that traveling and living abroad tends to impress people more than it makes them think negatively of you (but also what they think doesn’t matter). Especially Americans, who by and large, never leave the country.
I’ve done some pretty cool stuff (just some of the international stuff: working with women escaping sex trafficking in India, played punk shows dressed as a Hogwarts student in Ireland, lived in a national forest where I had to commute over rice paddy with monkeys throwing things at me, hosted a multi-lingual vegan brunch every weekend in my Berlin flat where I crammed 20+ travelers from all over the world into my 30 square meter flat, taking trains from Dublin all the way to Shanghai, China, reporting for NPR in Berlin).
And I often get myself down for not being caught up to where other people are financially or not having a “real career”. I mean, I sell cat books on the internet for a living. But guess what? IT DOESN’T MATTER. Literally no one else’s financial progress matters to you (unless you’re supporting them), and especially not to your choices in life. BUT, that being said, I meet people that are usually more impressed and interested in what I do rather than judging my 401K balance.
Living abroad takes boldness - it just does. Even in an “easy country” where you speak the language, there are so many tiny things that are different - plugs, banks, tipping, the way you behave on public transit, bowing, etc. You become a better and more empathetic person when you learn to navigate a new situation. And honestly, if I was going to list my goals in life, being an empathetic, interesting person is far higher on the list than “has a lot in their bank account”.
Ugh, I totally understand the struggle of “should I buckle down or go wild” because I recognize how rad it is that I’m getting to run off to London for a month and perform a stage show on harry potter economics in Edinburgh or publish a book, but also I see other people steadily increasing their networth by $40-80K a year and it’s disheartening when I make $20K a year.
But don’t introduce a false dichotomy: you don’t need to sacrifice financial goals or debt payoff to live abroad, if it’s something you want. I know people who have lived abroad BECAUSE they can pay off debt faster - for example, teaching english:
Japan you usually get a competitive salary of 40K+ a year AND free accommodations and transit.
China and Korea if you find the right company will pay a competitive salary, flights both ways, accommodation, and insurance.
Saudi Arabia, which is desperate for female teachers and pays 50K+ with free accommodation - BONOUS - there’s also nothing interesting to do so you won’t spend your money on anything.
You just have to choose a country based on that salary, not based on breaking even like some of the LCOL countries like Thailand. Also, all the times I’ve lived abroad I was still contributing to my IRA, if that helps.
It’s just about your own priorities. If they include travel and paying off debt, you can do both. If they include travel, having a house in the states, paying off debt, and having babies all at the same time, maybe not. You just need to put your priorities in order (AND THEY CAN CHANGE IT’S FINE!)
Here’s some links. A friend of mine from Berlin did an interview with someone with $160K of student loan debt who is a digital nomad: