Readers' Submissions

The Three Year Itch…

  • Written by BKKSteve
  • February 17th, 2007
  • 11 min read


By BKKSW

Having a career that requires moving every three years and frequent travel has both good and bad points. I lived this way for over 20 years and somehow it’s become part of me. Every three years the moving vans would show up and the next 2-3 months would be running at full speed traveling, living in hotels, finding a new home, setting up the new home, helping the wife and kids get established in jobs and schools, and of course taking care of your own career. By the time you became comfortable and everything slowed down to a somewhat normal pace almost a year would pass. This would transition you into a make believe sense of normalcy because in the back of your mind the clock would be ticking and you knew it was going to happen again. A year goes by and that ticking starts getting louder and louder and you had to start thinking about where you wanted to go next and competing for the next location / position. Tick tick tick, rickety tick it was time to make decisions that included uprooting the family from their lives and once the decision of your new location was made life became busy again as you maintained your life at your present location, but started preparing for life “there.” By the 2nd -3rd time you knew pretty much what to expect and could almost set your clock by the flood and tide of emotions of you and your family members. Add into the equation that your ‘normal’ job took you around the world for weeks or months at a time away from the family and things became a bit more difficult. Comparing this to my friends back home who grew up, went to school, and worked for the most part in the same part of the state there were real differences in many ways. There’s no other way to say it, it was damn difficult and it was very unusual for a family to stay together without divorce or other troubles for longer than a tour or two. The next time you ran across a friend from say 2 – 3 locations ago you could pretty much assume he no longer had the same family.

So imagine my surprise when I finally retire and buy my ranch in the country with a river running through it, a forest, pastures, and all the makings of a real homestead.. that 2 – 3 years later I start looking beyond the trees and lakes thinking about places I’ve yet to live and people I’ve yet to meet. Is it a sickness? Perhaps in a way it’s a mental conditioning of sorts and I’ve been told there’s counseling for “my problem.” Hmmm.. Yet, when it’s time for a get together with friends or family and you’re sitting around at the end of the day trading stories of far away places they start admitting to having similar feelings of “getting away” and changing their lives. Soon stories about “feeling in a rut” and the “same old thing” and “the same old wife” start coming your way and you start to think about who’s really been mentally conditioned? You see that far away look in their eyes as you tell them about Soi Cowboy or the floating market or that small village in Nakon Nowhere and you start to feel a bit of pity for their boring souls. This is where I’m going today, into a discussion about the possibility of changing your life and what you can expect. How to get up off that couch, ditch the two car garage full of junk you’ve collected over the years, leave the same boring job you’ve been doing for 20 years, and put some excitement and adventure back into your life.

I was lucky in my choices which allowed me to stay in Asia for the bulk of my career. Choices that included learning the languages to become more useful and getting involved with the right people and making known my desires to stay in Asia. I know others who did the same in Europe or the Mid-East, and those who just accepted moving from continent to continent. What would it take for you to walk away from everything you have now, sell the house, cars, most of your belongings, and pack your life in a few small boxes and board the plane for a destination where you can’t read the signs nor speak the language? Let’s pretend that place is Thailand. What would it take?

To be very blunt it takes a single decision. You decide to do it today and tomorrow you give notice with your boss and call the real estate agent to list your house. It’s really that easy. Once you make your decision things start happening really fast and before you know it you’ve moved into that nice condominium on Sukhumvit and lost 10 kilos on your new diet of Thai food. Making that decision becomes the difficult part. What goes into it? For the purposes of this submission I’m going to assume your status is single and you’re probably at least 35 years old. I wasn’t much older than that when I made the move to Bangkok and it was pretty close to the time my life changed from being married to being single.

Perhaps the biggest decision involves finances. Have you reached a point in your life where you can afford to just walk away from your job? Or can you somehow swing a transfer or maybe even land a new job that takes you to that dream country? And if not, how much is really enough to be happy? I’ve long advocated that most everyone thinks they need more than they really do. They’ve been “conditioned” to think they need more and then they start wanting more. Example: In the States my wife and I had a brand new big home that was immaculate in all ways. We both had brand new cars. We had new “things” and more than one television and would make trips to Costco / Sams and bring back a truckload of things we “needed.” We both worked and a great part of our lives was spent supporting our lifestyle and having everything society told us we “needed” to have. Now we’re here in Thailand and I work when I want and while we live nicely it’s no where near as nicely as we lived before. Looking around I know many other westerners living here on as little as $500 US a month depending on location. Consider a grade school teacher here in Thailand with a college education and 10-15 years of job experience makes roughly 12-15k baht a month depending on location and they manage to build a life on that amount. This is less than $500 USD a month. So it’s possible to live a “middle class” Thai style existence on very little. Each $100 you add to this brings you a considerable jump in spending power. So this brings the question, “how much is enough?”

This is the question we have to face no matter where we live. Will you retire at 60 years old or 65 years old? Many people are planning when they will collect Social Security, a smaller amount at age 62 or a slightly larger amount at age 65. For three years. What if you could stop the daily grind at 40 years old? Gain 25 years of stress-free leisure to your life vs. being on the big treadmill of the working world? I’ll put a number on “how much is enough” based on your eligibility to sustain a marriage visa legally in Thailand. That figure is baht 40,000 ($1142.00) monthly. You can live on less as long as you keep (I think) a baht 400,000 (about $11,500) minimum in a Thai bank. As long as you keep that minimum in the bank you can live on as little as you can get away with providing you keep that minimum amount on deposit. English teachers live on less than baht 40,000 monthly and they do this in Bangkok and usually live better than the average Thai. So for the purposes of this discussion lets say baht 40,000 is enough.

Will it require changing your lifestyle? For many it will. For others it might improve it. If you can manage your investments, retirement, or whatever monies you have to produce the minimum of baht 40,000 monthly then tomorrow you can pick up the phone and quit your job and never work again. Or perhaps only find a relaxing part time stress free job doing whatever to pick up some extra pocket change for the week. What do you gain? The ability to live in Thailand, Costa Rica, or any number of low price countries and live a life of relative leisure. Sure, there are many things to think about and for most people I certainly wouldn’t recommend packing up and moving to Thailand to live on baht 40,000 a month. It takes a certain type of person to be happy doing this. The more money you have the easier and nicer it gets, a nice corporate transfer to Thailand would be nice as well. So what’s the point?

To me the point is it’s possible. There are a great number of people who by age 35 – 45 could easily parlay their 401Ks, retirement, equity in home / cars / boats, whatever.. into a monthly income of 4 – 5 times this minimum amount. At this rate you could live a nice life indeed. The availability of this type of life at this obtainable cost (for many) allows you to step off the daily treadmill at a relatively early age and stop working 20 – 30 years before you normally would. 20 – 30 years that you could spend learning new languages, seeing new countries, meeting new people, sleeping late, and enjoying the heck out of life. 20 – 30 years where you could perhaps turn a hobby into a small business, take up jogging and exercising and maintain a very healthy life, learn to play the piano, start a new family and raise more children… You can do a lot with 20 – 30 years if you’re not spending it at work.

What if you worked those 20 – 30 years to maximize your retirement income? How much more happiness would it bring you? Would a bigger house, nicer steaks for dinner, a new car, would any of this make you happier? Sure, it would probably make most happier. But would it be ‘worth it’ for 20 – 30 more years of your life? All of these numbers are relative and I realize that. What it takes, what you have, how happy you’d be, all of this is highly variable depending on you as an individual. All I’m trying to do is get you to think about it for long enough to realize it’s something you could do if you made that decision. One decision. A single life changing decision. It’s not unheard of because there are many people I know here doing just that. No matter what amount of money we’re talking about, they made the decision to retire at a relatively early / young age and live on less than they would have if they’d continued working for the next 20 – 30 years.

A few weeks ago I’m sitting with a good friend in the evening at an outside bar located along a big river that separates Laos and Thailand in Nakon Nowhere. It’s warm, a good looking lady is singing for us, the beer is cold, and a slight breeze is blowing through the area keeping us comfortable. I don’t think I could have been more relaxed and at ease if I’d been overdosed on Valium. To my left is a river with beautiful lights showing along the banks, to my right the young lady singing, and in front of me several young ladies giving us both the eye. We both know the friends we grew up with are back in our home countries already in bed because tomorrow they have to get up early and do the daily grind. Not us. I tell him that “life doesn’t get any better than this.” And I mean it. Depending on where you are in the world that glass of beer could cost $10 or it could cost 25 cents. Add more for the view, a lot more for the singer, and a ton more for the cute things giving us the eye. We just chose to live where the beer cost is about 25 cents, the view is free, the singer appreciates even small tips, and the girls this night would have probably been free. The difference? We arrived 20 – 30 years early..

Until next time..

Stickman's thoughts:

Excellent. I cannot agree more with the idea that you can relocate to Thailand earlier in life than conventional wisdom may suggest. I have a very good friend in Pattaya who retired a few years back at a little before 60. He is in excellent health and really enjoys his life in Pattaya, keeping himself fit with regular exercise, and enjoying the company of friends, reading etc. I read a thread on a discussion forum which asked the question of whether 200,000 pounds Sterling (that is a bit under 14 million baht) would be enough to relocate out to Thailand and he said “plenty”.