In 2010, Karen Sargent and Paul Farrugia had $15,000 of savings burning a hole in their pocket.

At first, they thought they would buy a flat in London, where they were living.

However, Sargent remembers, “We’d daydream about traveling, and we decided the money was better spent on travel.” Instead of putting a down payment on a home, the couple left their jobs — Sargent, a business psychologist for a business-training company, and Farrugia in retail — to spend a year traveling from London through Asia by land.

“Six months into our trip,” Sargent says, “we realized a year would not be enough.”

They ended up traveling for 18 months, and today, they’ve built a life that allows them the best of both worlds: Half the year in a London flat and half of the year spent abroad, a lifestyle they chronicle on their website, Global Help Swap, and on their Instagram. They spoke with Business Insider about how they’ve made it work.

“In those 18 months, we just loved the sense of freedom,” says Sargent. “I always wanted to be self-employed, but I was afraid of not earning a lot of money.”

However, traversing Europe, Russia, and Mongolia by train, the couple found themselves meeting a lot of people who were of limited means. “With such a small budget, we were poor financially as well, but realized that money doesn’t make any difference with happiness,” Sargent says.

“When we came back, we both felt freer,” she explains. Looking for a new job, Sargent came across a position as a senior psychologist in Dubai that she knew “would be perfect for me — and my heart sank. I knew I had to try being self-employed.”

Sargent began to put her leadership-training experience to use coaching private clients, and Farrugia started taking remote, part-time social-media manager jobs, as well as working on their website, Global Help Swap.

Global Help Swap documents the couple’s travels, while emphasizing service and highlighting affordable opportunities for travelers to volunteer around the world.

“Every time we Googled opportunities to volunteer, we found places that charged thousands,” Sargent remembers of their initial travels. “We were really frustrated. The idea was born to set up a site for opportunities that didn’t charge. We wanted to give a voice to smaller charities.”

Sargent and Farrugia now earn double what they earned living and working in London, through their remote gigs and through their blog. Their annual income is in the six figures.

“Within two years, we had enough money again to buy a flat,” Sargent says. “That’s the beauty of travel: You stop needing stuff. We were earning all this money, but we didn’t spend it. We just don’t buy stuff we don’t need, which has been such a huge revelation and change in the way we live.”

They put a down payment on a flat in Leyton, an East London neighborhood they heard of for the first time from a couple they met on a dive boat in Thailand — but they don’t spend much time there, and they rent it out on Airbnb when they’re out of town.

They take at least one trip a month (this spring, Japan, Turkey, and Sri Lanka are on the agenda) and spend three months of the winter “somewhere warm.” Currently, they’re in Koh Phangan, Thailand.

“At the moment, on a typical day we wake up without an alarm, which is great,” Sargent says. “If we’re feeling really virtuous, we’ll meditate for 15-30 minutes, then we’ll go for breakfast and sometimes a walk on the beach. We’ll come back and work really focused for four hours, stop for lunch, go for a swim, have a four-hour break, then work for another hour or hour and a half, and bike around the island.”

“When you imagine a life like this, it’s very hard to have a whole plan worked out in your head,” Sargent says. “That’s why people give up — it just seems so big. Think about the first step and focus on doing that. You don’t know where that will lead you next. That was the big revelation: We just said, ‘We’ll save money first,’ then we decided to travel and our minds just changed.”

Their other recommendation for creating a life of travel is to “hang out with people who do stuff that’s out of the norm,” Sargent says. “At the moment our friends are self-employed or bloggers, and this life feels normal because everyone does it. When something feels normal, it seems so much more possible in your head.”


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