4 Hour Work Week Case Study—Family Escaped the Rat Race for Exotic Tropical Beaches

Was it even possible?

Ever since I read the 4‐Hour Work Week, the allure of living in an exotic local while still running my business and raising a family was too much to resist. Here is how we did it.

The test was whether our entire family, two parents and two kids (4 and 13) could live on tropical beaches and exotic islands for the same or less than the cost of living in the United States. Money turned out to be the easy part; the real challenge was making it happen.

Creating freedom

Five years ago, it wasn’t much more than a passing thought—a “what if?” I was working full time as a police detective, a job that doesn’t allow extended travel time. No beaches included.

Then I opened a consulting firm and left law enforcement, but quickly discovered having my own business was just as confining as a job. Reality set in. I would have to turn my consulting firm into something resembling a muse:

  1. Redesign my practice to deliverer services via books and online communication.
  2. Convert my expertise into products so I could share my knowledge with a larger audience. (The whole “make money while you sleep” bit.)

Eventually I weaned my clients from in‐person meetings. Most enjoyed the efficiency, but there were a few who didn’t and I referred them elsewhere. I wanted to set things up so that I could be 100% mobile. Now it was time to test‐drive the concept.

Living versus Vacationing

The most important lesson my family learned was shifting our mindset from vacationing to living. My family had traveled a fair amount, but it had been short vacations at relatively expensive resorts.

When traveling for 3–5 days, it makes sense to go all out, because the fixed costs like airline tickets are usually the most expensive part. To splurge on a nicer resort, fancy meals, or a town car from the airport doesn’t add much expense to your trip, but can add a lot to the experience. But, when you extend those small luxuries over a month or longer, the costs will wipe out most families.

We reasoned that the flight expense, even when paid with airline miles, would be the same whether we stayed three or thirty days, so we might as well get the most out of it by staying longer.

Here’s how we did it.

Costs

The first step was creating the freedom to leave. The second was setting up the finances to make it happen. There are two choices when dealing with your expenses:

  1. Reduce or eliminate your bills, or
  2. Save enough to cover your expenses while you’re gone.

Getting out of debt and eliminating as many expenses as possible before your trip will reduce the amount of income you need and allow you to travel longer.

We called all our utilities and put them on vacation hold. This alone freed up almost $1,000 during the month we were gone. We were even able to put our auto insurance on hold.

There are many ways to save money while traveling, ranging from airline miles to sleeping in a hostel. I do not enjoy low‐budget travel. My aim is to get the maximum value out of every dollar spent. Every traveler and family is different, so it’s more important that you cater to your interests instead of trying to save every last dollar. When saving every penny becomes your number one priority, you’re better off staying home.

Our goal was to spend time on exotic beaches, and if we could do it for the same price as living at home, we would be able stay longer. We believed it would be possible to live affordably in exotic tourist destinations if we lived as did the locals. Here are the major points that allowed us to save a lot of money without cutting into our lifestyle.

Location

Location is everything when it comes to experience and cost. It’s certainly cool to open your door, step onto the sand, and walk twenty yards to the water, but that comes at a price.

It’s possible to enjoy the beach and not pay the price of living on it. The best beaches tend to be located in front of the most expensive resorts. By design, it appears you have to be a hotel guest to enjoy the beach. However, all of the beaches in Mexico are federally owned and anyone is allowed on the beach—hotel guest or not.

Turns out you can walk through a resort and access their beaches without being a guest. Occasionally they will stop you, particularly at the all‐inclusive resorts, but you can still use a public access point and walk down the sand to get to your favorite beach. Often the resorts are happy if you buy drinks from their bar, even if you are not a guest.

With this in mind, there are three options for lodging.

  1. Stay beachfront
  2. Stay near the beach, but without the beach view
  3. Stay downtown where locals live and commute to the beach.

We did a mix of all three and it worked perfectly.

When we arrived in Mexico, we stayed a couple nights at a resort we had previously vacationed. I recommend this for two reasons. Leaving home for an extended period is likely uncomfortable for most families, especially with kids. When stepping out of your comfort zone, it helps to start in a comfortable place to acclimate.

We stayed at four different places during our trip. When we first arrived in Cancun, it was the resort. We returned there for a few days before we flew home. We received a promotion that allowed us to stay one night and the second was free. The first two nights were about $240 total with the promotion.

Next, we moved away from the resort area to the downtown and found a large room with a kitchen, which cost us $245 for a week. This was my family’s first time staying away from the tourist areas in Mexico. This took some adjusting, but by the third day, all of us were wandering around like locals.

Then we traveled to Isla de Mujeres and rented a small house for $330 for the week. We stayed in a residential neighborhood where the locals live, but was a five‐minute walk to the beach. It was a unique experience, very different from a resort, and the one that years later we talk about most.

Our next stop was Playa Del Carmen, where we found an awesome vacation condominium rental on the beach, but without the beach view. It had several vacancies, so we were able to negotiate aggressively to get 10 days for only $450.

At the end of our trip, we returned to the resort in Cancun for four days. We reluctantly did a two‐hour time‐share presentation that yielded us two free nights and then paid for the other two. Four nights totaled $480.

Total lodging for 30 days was $1,745—less than our mortgage payment in California. During this excursion, we were double paying for housing, but it showed us what was possible if we moved permanently. This cost also included cleaning and linen services that we would have had to pay to our housekeeper anyway.

Some of the places we stayed were not as nice as our home in California, and others were far more luxurious. If we had rented one place for the entire month, it would have been cheaper, but we wanted to travel so the extra cost was worth it.

Food

We came up with an unofficial rule of eating out once a day and cooking in our kitchenette for the other meals. My wife and I love eating out. When traveling, experimenting in restaurants is one of the most enjoyable parts. However, when you mix kids into the equation, dining becomes more of a responsibility than pleasure.

Not only was it easier to eat in, but it was a lot of fun. It was work cooking and preparing food, but it added to the experience. Once a week we went to the supermarket and stocked the refrigerator. This was an experience for the kids, because they got to experience the Mexican culture in a way they never could have in the resorts.

It was an adventure to find food we all enjoyed and could cook in the kitchenette. You’d be surprised how much you take for granted by having your own kitchen stocked with spices, cutlery, and condiments.

The total cost of food was no more than we normally spend at home.

Transportation

Spending time learning the public transportation system can save you a ton of money. Every place has a unique system, so it pays to get to know the nuances if you will be spending any length of time there.

Always speak to local people who use public transportation. They know the ins and outs and do not pay the same rates tourists pay. For example, in Cancun we took the public bus everywhere for around fifty cents one‐way. The same ride in a taxi cost US$10–$15. Every taxi driver quoted a different price for going to the same place. If you take that same route round trip once or twice a day, over the course of 30 days, you can save US$960–$1,560 by taking the bus.

You can’t always assume the bus will be cheapest. On Isla de Mujeres, the taxis were union regulated and cost $3 per trip. It made sense to use taxis, but you still had to be careful. If you spoke Spanish, they rarely tried to inflate the fee, but, like in most countries, you’re better off agreeing to the fee before getting in the cab.

Lessons Learned

When moving from vacationing to living, an important shift in thinking is necessary to keep your sanity. When escaping reality for a week or less, the point of the vacation is typically to spend time with your family, time that doesn’t exist when you’re at home with school, work, and soccer practice.

During short trips, it’s preferable to spend every waking minute together, but when you take mini‐retirements that dynamic changes. If you leave for a month or longer and bring that same vacation mindset, you and your family will likely to drive each other insane.

Family is important, but it’s equally important that everyone is able to do their individual things without guilt. It’s better to build these into your plans instead of waiting until you’re at each others’ throats.

My escapes were the time I spent working, private Spanish lessons and exercise. I blocked out a little time each day to work and take scheduled Skype calls with clients. Every other day I got on a bus and ventured downtown to meet with my language tutor. On the alternate days, I did my workout, running on the beach or swimming in the ocean.

My wife had a similar exercise routine and occasionally needed an escape for a little retail therapy without the kids. Our 13‐year‐old daughter was content with an hour or two alone with a book or the television, and our 4‐year‐old son needed time with other kids at a playground.

It doesn’t matter what it is, but it’s important to have a little personal time that you would normally have at home. If you don’t plan this in advance, it’s easy to feel guilty about it later.

Your Turn

This post is not meant to be a blueprint for you to follow, because your family’s interests are likely different, but instead it’s a case study of one way it has been done. After you start a family and get distracted by life, it seems these kinds of excursions are only for the 20‐year‐old vagabond bouncing from hostel to hostel with a backpack.

Before our trip, we constantly wondered if it were really possible to live on the beach and work remotely. This trip was a success in a couple of ways.

First, we proved that it could be done. Secondly, it fulfilled our burning desire to move, but, who knows, maybe we will do it again next summer when the kids are out of school, or make it more permanent in the future.

If you’ve had a similar itch, I hope this case study gets you thinking about the possibilities. Let me know when your family goes for it.

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37 Replies to “4 Hour Work Week Case Study—Family Escaped the Rat Race for Exotic Tropical Beaches”

  1. Really good info Chuck! I’ve thought of long vacations similar to yours. My upcoming trip to Niagara Falls barely came to a little over $1100 for 5/4 nights for three people. I’ll be coming back to this for a blueprint. Thanks again!

    1. Thanks for the reply. You know I’ve never been to Niagra Falls. I would like to. I think we did this trip with airline miles if my memory serves me right. I wrote this about six months ago, so I’m not certain.

      1. Great vacation/short term living experience regardless. This is my first visit there so we’ll see.

  2. Chuck that’s a great post. I’ve heard a lot of people lately that argue against the whole lifestyle design 4‐hour workweek thing arguing that in order to doing well and succeed it takes work and your family better understand. That surprises me that people think that!

    Anyway, sounds like you are doing it right! Hope you guys are having fun designing your life!

    1. As you know Shelly, it does take work. Lots of work. And it’s more than work, it’s pushing through the inevitable roadblocks and setbacks.

      Tim, the author is an acquaintance of mine, has gotten some flack about that book from people saying just what you have also heard, that it takes work.

      He was very clear by not saying that you don’t have to do work, but that the work you do should be high value and fulfilling work.

      It’s the the rote mundane work that in a perfect world falls into the four hour category. In other words, if you enjoy what you are doing and it takes 60 hours a week, is that work?

      I don’t understand our societies adversity to work. That is where fulfillment comes from.

      Thanks for the kind words and the great contribution Shelly.

  3. I love how you mentioned Lessons Learned:)

    I have been traveling since a very young age with my parents. I continued doing so, up to 2 or 3 times a year. Sometimes actually for 2 consecutive months. Although each was a learning experience, I recently discovered that it is very different from living in a foreign country. I have been living in South America for over 6 moths now. I had been here before, but, somehow, without realizing it, it did not have the same impact. Why? Because as a vacation, I knew it was temporary, I had a return ticket back home…When you are living here, you don’t have that return ticket…It is A LOT of work, however, it is extremely rewarding!!!! All the things you once thought you could not live without no longer have any importance (material stuff). You become totally in touch with yourself. Especially when you are doing something worthwhile for others!!! I so agree with you Chuck, this is an excellent guide for anyone who is thinking about it:)

      1. Hola Chuck,

        LOL, interesting probably best describes it! I am of Italian origin, but, was born and and raised in Montreal, Canada. Here is the short version of having made the change. I was working for a big Canadian Corporation for the past 10 years. At first it was great, I worked my way up the “corporate latter” in managing several teams from different platforms. I loved it because I was what you call a “people oriented” leader. So, I was guiding individuals in discovering their individual strengths and reaching their full potential. These teams were the highest performing teams within the company…About 2 years ago, the company went through a structural change, along with it, the vision of the company changed. So, at some point, I was met by upper management and given a feedback for not having given any disciplinary
        actions to any of my employees! Here’s the thing, when you encourage someone to try different things and exceed their limits, there is a learning curve. With that learning curve comes mistakes. Now, I believe that an individual learns and grows from their mistakes. Furthermore, if someone does not make mistakes, they have not exceeded their limits to reach their full potential…Well, I refused to give disciplinary actions to someone who has made a mistake from trying different things…After a 2 year battle with presenting higher management with nothing but positive results from being a people oriented leader instead of a disciplinarian, I left the corporate world and follow my passion…The structural change was the best thing that could have happened to me!! Along with this, I also realized that I was stagnant, I wanted more, learn new things, experience new things…Being of Italian background, I was raised that the most important thing in life was to get a “good” job, buy a big house and all that fancy stuff…this belief had kept me from doing something I wanted to do for a long time, write a memoire. Before doing so, I needed to let go of it ALL…So, I quit my job, SOLD everything (house, furniture, car…) and came to South America with nothing but a suitcase:) It has been an amazing experience! I started my website writing about my adventures, lessons learned and “inspirational” stories of people that I have met along my journey…It was scary at first, a little overwhelming, but, hey, it is what brings you the most rewarding life experiences!
        Thanks Chuck:)

  4. What an interesting story. I agree completely with your ideas about leadership. It seems you describe leadership, versus management.

    It seems that small organizations value leadership and risk taking because that is the only thing that leads to giant leaps, but big organizations, with multiple levels of management, focus on management instead.

    I think this comes from having too many managers with too little to do but focus on managing instead of results.

    When I was in government, there were more managers than workers. The focus was just as you described because government can’t technically fail at their deliverable. They can’t go out of business, even if technically they are failing every day to provide competent service and/or results.

    It is in these environments where management is more important than leadership. It’s also the environment that pushes out any entrepreneurial thinking.

    Thanks for sharing your great story.

  5. This article reached so many levels of awesomeness I can’t even explain! I definitely like the way you went about things. On my last trip I used the public buses and it saved us a great deal of money on the transportation costs. Great article, thanks for the info.

  6. Excellent article. I left Canada myself in 1999 to live in Costa Rica. There is nothing like picking up and moving to a completely new place to make a life for oneself.

    I learned so much during my 13 years in Costa Rica. I learned about other cultures, customs, met people from around the world and worked with all kinds of people from all kinds of places.

    I highly recommend the experience of relocating to a new place outside your comfort zone as that is where greatness is truly achieved.

    Yours in success

    Ron

  7. Not sure why someone had said you have to be debt free in order to do this. I traveled the US for 2 months last year and I have plenty of debt I am working to pay off. I wasn’t adding to my expenses, I was replacing them. If I usually have a $2k month budget, I can spend that in one place or I can spread it out around the US. Worked for me. Great post, btw.

    1. I agree Benjamin. It’s not a requirement, but obviously gives you more financial options. I’m with you. I don’t think debt should hold someone back from trying something new.

  8. Great article! My wife & I are at the tail end of a similar 30 day trip in Costa Rica / Panama. Our expense #‘s are almost exactly the same as yours. Nicely done!

    Our real estate investment business continues to run in our absence, and we have actually made MORE money than we do in a normal month at home. Go figure! For all the naysayers out there, here is the lesson. Anything is possible if you want it bad enough and are willing to work for it!!

      1. Panama is awesome. I lived there for 5 years with my family (wife is Panamanian) while working for my kids’ school.

        It was a great experience.

        I would do it again in another country. 🙂

        If you want more details about Panama, feel free to contact me.

  9. Nice trip Chuck!

    I’ve been living away from my home country for four years now and doubt that I’ll ever go back, but now I am starting to think about the long term implications of that as I get older.

    Guess I need to get some pro advice on how to protect my ‘rights’ in my ‘home’ country (UK) regarding future pension payments when I retire properly.

    At least I am now living somewhere with good/comparable health care (Norway) so that’s not a worry like it would be if we went back to live in my favorite part of the world (East Africa), although it’s still my dream to return.

    Good luck with the future, wherever it takes you guys!
    Cheers

    1. Hey thanks for checking in Ian. Much appreciated. It’s funny as we get older how our focus changes–health care etc. Kids was a big shift for me–as for most parents as well. Health care may be next 🙂

  10. Very inspiring. However, the whole idea of getting your finances right while running a business that allows you to travel long‐time is a life‐long goal for most people. I think most people are happy to pay the rent and go on vacation once/ twice a year… P.S. How many hours do you actually work a week on your travel‐trips? 😉

    1. Long term travel is not for everybody. In fact before this first extended trip with family, I wanted more. Now twice a year for about a month or a bit more is just right. That may change as our kids get older.

      Good question on the work hours. I don’t work any more or less when away. I work more on my own projects, like on an upcoming trip I writing my next book. It’s easier to focus while away.

      But specifically, I have days I don’t work at all. Some I work 10 hours until early in the morning if I’m really engrossed in a project. Average is probably a couple of uninterrupted work each day.

  11. Chuck, what a great experience! I am a teacher and cannot wait to retire, but I DO have summer layoffs! This would be a great time for me to travel and live among the locals!

    And if you ever get around to visiting Niagara Falls (Nick Wallenda is walking over the falls this Friday evening using a tightrope!) I’d be happy to do a “house swap!” We live in Buffalo, just a 20‐minute drive to the Falls and to Canada!

  12. Hi Chuck, great post!

    Quick question: I’ve read several stories like yours (“You don’t have to be confined to your work and never travel”), and most people also advocate renting a small house/apartment/whatever if you plan to stay in a place for very long. My question is, How do you find these places? Do you pick up a local newspaper once you’re there? Is there a website? How did you do it?

    Thank you!

  13. Hi Chuck,

    Great post! Loved all your lessons learned. Me and my wife and 10 month old son are just at the end of a 6 week vacation/living in Oloron, France. We did many of the same things as you. I am half way to making my consultancy business mobile — this is the key. I also liked your point about personal time — so important. And, living like the locals is so important.

    Brilliant article!!!

    Let me know what your next plans are — I would love to hear!

    Aurevoir,

    Ewan

  14. Chuck,

    Great article. I just quit a job, and am now loading up my wife and three kids to take off on a road trip around the country. I have started my own online business called 30 Days of YES — and not only are we going to travel and show our kids an adventure — I want to interview other people living their YES — their purpose!

    All of your tips have been really helpful as far as how we are going to make this happen. We just bought a 9 person tent on clearance for $100, so now we can stay in backyards of friends if we need to 🙂

    Thanks again!

    Travis

    1. That will be an exciting adventure. Thanks for sharing. Check in later and let us know how it’s going.

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  18. Awesome post Chuck!

    I have 4 kids, ages 9 to 18. How do you manage with school? Do you homeschool?

    Keep up the great work. I need to make the jump soon. 🙂

    1. Thanks for the kind words. Most of these family trips have been over the summer breaks and with school work packets. The schools are only concerned about getting paid, and apparently they get paid if the teachers provide a study packet that the kids do while they are away. It works for relatively short term because neither of us have the personality to be effective home school teachers.

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