Living Large by Living Little
How does your space define you? Are you defined by the size of your home? Are you free to move about or are you bogged down by a rent payment or mortgage that barely allows you to breathe? These are questions I was asking myself in 2014. I was renting a four-bedroom house, and looking at buying something in the area, but the more I thought about it, the more I imagined a ball and chain around my neck. It didn’t help that the two-bedroom, one bath house I looked at in Ventura, was going for $500,000.
There was a “tiny home” trend happening and I was starting to wonder if having something smaller might not be a good thing. I looked around and realized that many people were downsizing rather than going bigger. Some did it for economic reasons, others did it to reduce their carbon footprint, and some just did it because it was trendy. Whatever the reason, it has often fascinated me, and I have looked at many tiny houses on the Internet.
In 2015 I decided to move out of the four-bedroom house I was renting in Ventura and into a tent trailer. Yes, you read that correctly, a tent trailer. It did have dual axles, 2 slide-out queen-sized beds, a slide-out dining area, a stove, a sink, a hot-water heater, an outdoor shower, and room to sleep up to 7 people. But it was still a tent trailer. What did I do with all my stuff? I sold some of it, gave some of it away, and put the rest in storage.
Two years prior, I had taken this same tent trailer on a two-week trip through the SouthWest National Parks. I visited 10 parks in 12 days! A friend, visiting from out of the country, wanted to see them all while she was here. It was an eye-opener for me. I hadn’t seen at least half of the parks we visited, practically in my own back yard. The trip culminated with a drive down Highway 1 from San Francisco and made me realize how much of the state of California I hadn’t seen. I vowed to someday take a slower trip up the coast and enjoy some of the places I simply drove by.
Going Tiny in a Big Way
Moving into my tent trailer accomplished a number of goals. It allowed me to keep my vow from my prior trip; to visit some of the incredible beach towns along the coast of California. It was also an easy way to reduce my carbon footprint by downsizing and reducing my consumption. It drastically reduced my expenses. I was paying $2700 per month on rent in that four-bedroom house. Lastly, it was a great way for me to see if I could handle living in a smaller space for an extended period of time, for I had another goal in mind. I wanted to eventually live on a sailboat. Living in a tent trailer would basically be a dry-run for that.
So from January to May of 2015, I lived in my tent trailer in a friend’s carport and made sure it was in good working order. I had a few things that needed to be repaired and upgraded before leaving.
I am a computer consultant and can work from wherever I have internet, so my plan was to go on the road and see if I could continue working while I traveled. Suffice it to say, it was a smashing success. From May to October, I traveled from Southern California, up the coast through Northern California, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Washington, Vancouver, Vancouver Island and back. I not only got to see some beautiful landscapes on my journey, but I also spent a number of weeks with different friends and relatives along the way. It was a great introduction to a nomadic life.
When I got back to Ventura, I spent about a month and a half getting caught up with local friends and family, and then I took off again. This time, I went East-bound to Florida. In Florida, I spent two months at an RV park in Homestead, the Gateway to the Keys, where I worked during the week and scuba-dived on the weekends in Key Largo. From there I meandered a bit, making my way through Florida, Alabama, Georgia, then up to Tennessee, Kentucky, and eventually Ohio to visit some family. I took a brief vacation to Honduras, and when I got back, I headed back to California. My second trip lasted from December 2015 to May 2016.
Taking Sailing Up a Notch
It was right about this time that my six-year consulting contract ended and all of a sudden, I had no more obstacles in my way to pursue my sailing interests in earnest. I had been wanting to get an RYA YachtMaster Certificate. A friend had suggested that I pursue this certificate so I could follow my passion for sailing and become a Charter Captain in the Caribbean. The YachtMaster experience was three months long, living aboard sailboats in Spain. While I had my consulting contract, I couldn’t take that much time off, so it was the perfect time to go have that adventure.
I went to Spain in June of 2016, got my Yachtmaster Offshore Certificate, and then decided to start crewing on boats to get more sailing experience. My first crewing opportunity was November of 2016 and I have been crewing ever since. Crewing means that in exchange for a berth on a boat, I pay for my share of the expenses and I assist with boat duties (standing watch, cooking, cleaning, etc.). I call it Global HitchHiking and it’s been an incredible way to travel around the world for basically the cost of my normal food expenses. Along the way, I decided to completely circumnavigate the globe by crewing.
I am currently in Colombia, where I am looking for my last boat to sail from here to Panama where my circumnavigation will be complete. Then I’ll be on to my next adventure, which will probably start by going back to California and getting my truck and tent trailer back on the road and saving for my own boat.
This whole journey started with a desire to change my space, downsize and live a more simple life. It has turned into the journey of a lifetime. I’ve been to 40 countries in the last 3 years. I’ve seen lemurs in Madagascar and monkeys in Malaysia. I’ve seen whales and dolphins so many times that they have almost lost their appeal, but I do love singing to them. I traveled from Panama to Tahiti with Kiwis, Tahiti to Tonga with an Australian, Tonga to Malaysia with a Swede and a French/Israeli, and from Australia to Grenada with two Canadians. I’ve been to countries I’ve never heard of (Niue, Cocos Keeling, Christmas Island, Rodrigues, Mauritius, Reunion, Namibia, Saint Helena) and been to places I’ve dreamed of going my entire life (Bora Bora, Bahamas, Bonaire, Brazil, South Africa, Madagascar, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia).
So I ask the question again, how does your space define you? For me, I found that learning to live little, allowed me to live a much larger life. And I wouldn’t trade that for all the equity I would have gained over the past 3 years in that $500,000 house. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, to be honest. It’s been an amazing adventure.
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© Matt Ray 2021
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