We left our old life for a life of travel with a plan. A solid plan. We had our finances all figured out to enable long term traveling as a family...or so we thought.
This was our plan -
We had some savings
We sold our car
We sold many of our household goods
We rented our home
We re-financed our mortgage with a re-draw facility
Ross had some long-service leave (this is a payment that is given to Australians when they work for over 10 years for a company, they are given three months paid leave).
It was a great plan, and it totally would have worked if we had not lost all of our money...
If you have followed along on the fun and crazy Europe journey of the Gilbert's, you will know that at this point in our travels we were in the Czech Republic. We had already visited and had many adventures in 7 countries in Europe - Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Poland, France, and the Czech Republic.
We had road tripped our way across countries, faced many challenges and been blessed with many joys. My kids had climbed though ancient castle tunnels, swam in freezing alpine lakes, and slid down a mountain. I had made beautiful new friends and discovered a deep yearning inside myself to make my life rich, interesting and full of purpose.
Sometimes it was hard, oh so hard. Sometimes the crying and the close quarters and the foreign-ness of everything around me became too much. But even with the challenges, Ross and I never second guessed what we were doing. We could feel the change happening inside us, we could feel that we were growing and expanding and that we were barely tipping the edge of how wonderful life could be.
Financially we were doing ok. We had found great accommodation, we were feeding our large gaggle of 5 hungry children, and we had done some really cool activities! There had been that little blip of dirndls and lederhosen for the whole family, but really, you have to wear something in Germany and Austria, right?? And anyway, I had found a sale!!!
I won't go into my (completely justified..??) decision to purchase a cuckoo clock that we did not have the room for, and that I subsequently had to carry on my lap for our car drives through Europe. Not to mention that whole Polish Pottery fiasco...But despite the odd indulgent souvenir, we were making things work according to the plan.
That was...until the day we got the text.
Ross's brother sent him a text one morning when we were preparing for a family day out in Prague. It said, "Hey man, sorry to hear about the company collapse, hope you're ok."
Ross had previously worked for an Australian building company for 12 years. He had quickly taken over a managerial role when the owner split with his wife. The next few years saw the company go through huge financial strain as it paid out a half ownership share. For many years Ross juggled a very difficult financial balance, often on a knife's edge. He was overwhelmed with keeping the company afloat to support the wages of the many employees. He was trying to run a business while essentially having his hands tied, because although he was managing the business, he was not the director or owner, so he often had to deal with sudden large withdrawals of cash or additional side projects that drained the financial reserves.
He was always stressed. Always.
He got stressed if it rained (because construction was halted), he got stressed every Sunday (because the next day was Monday), he got stressed whenever contractors needed to be payed and the cash flow was struggling (pretty much the constant state of things). He was always getting sick - shingles, flu, pneumonia, you name it. Add in the demands of a growing young family and it was not a great situation, but it was all we knew. He worked with the hope and promise that one day the company would be his and he would get to run things the way he dreamed would be successful.
Ross finally realised that that day would never come, and so he made the courageous decision to leave and find a new occupation. Because he had been the face of the company and generally running things for so long, he stayed on for an additional 5 months while the Managing Director took over general management again. During that time, Ross stipulated that his role would change, he would no longer have anything to do with finances, but would instead work with clients to finalise contracts and prepare jobs for construction start.
Our finances and life had been so deeply entangled with this company that Ross didn't feel it was fair for him to ask for all of his remunerations immediately. He was owed wages, annual leave, superannuation, long service leave and on top of that, we had invested a very large sum of money into the company when things had been tight a few years ago, and so a payment plan was created and signed.
While we were away in Europe, we began to be concerned. Almost all of the regular payments had stopped once we'd left the country and we had been trying to communicate with the owner. Finally a few months into our trip, Ross contacted the accountant and had been reassured that things were fine with the company, they were just going through a tough spot and that everything would be fine. One month after that call, Ross received the text.
Over a very short space of time, we learnt that the company had gone into receivership, they had filed for voluntary bankruptcy. We learnt that Ross and I were one of the largest creditors, other than the banks. Also, that it looked unlikely that anyone other than the banks would ever receive any money.
At first we thought - "no, that can't be possible, surely we will recoup at least a good portion of what we've lost", (you know, denial being the first stage of grief...).
The next stages followed - anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance.
We finally came to accept that we had indeed lost everything. Well, almost everything. We still had our family, our health, and we had a home mortgage that we used to absorb the huge debt heaped upon us from the collapse of the company. Before leaving Australia, we had refinanced, and we had created a redraw facility within our home loan. With the estimated value of the house once sold, minus the debt incurred, we had just enough to get through the next few months. Maybe. If we played things tight. We had signed a two year lease with renters before we left, so selling would have to wait.
We thought about returning home, but we had already bought return tickets for the following March, and we could not afford to change them for a family of 7. Also, there was a huge negative backlash from the many people affected from the collapse of this building company in Australia. Many people had lost homes, money, savings, and they were devastated and angry. They were looking for someone to blame, and seeing as Ross had been at the helm for so long, he was a natural target. He had resigned from the company for a year before it collapsed, but things online were nasty, and there was nothing we could do even if we were in our home country, we just had to go on as best we could.
Ok, deep breath. We were living in Europe. We had our kids. We had our sense of humour and adventure, oh, and we had our trusty crappy van! And thankfully, Eastern Europe was a very cheap place to be. In fact, life in the Czech Republic was so much cheaper than the cost of living in Australia, we were even able to still do a few touristy things and eat out occasionally.
After 'The Event', we lived off a bit of savings, credit cards, and we used the remaining equity in our home, hoping that when we sold it that the selling price would cover the debt that we'd incurred from the collapse of the business, plus our overseas expenses.
We tried to keep our costs down as much as possible so that once our house sold, we wouldn't be in heaps of debt. Once we returned to Australia we lived on odd jobs and government benefits while Ross was studying. We managed to sell our house a year later and the sale price just covered our total debts, we were lucky, but we did have to start again financially, completely from scratch.
In case you're interested, our rough budget after the collapse of the business was about $800 AUD - food, $1400 AUD - accommodation (per month), $160 - fuel (per month), activities - $200 (per month)....except Venice, Venice was a blip in the finances...but totally worth it (more on that later). There was also some money that had to be spent on winter clothes for the kids. So about $2560 AUD per month = $1800 USD per month for a family of seven. In the beginning, before 'The Event', we were probably spending an extra $1200 USD per month.
On that fateful day when we learned of our drastic change in finances, what did we do?
We went to Prague.
Honestly, being out there in the world making adventures and living with daring and intention, something about that helped to soften the blow. If we had been home in our old life, we would have been absolutely devastated, it would have been the end of the world for a time. All our savings and financial progress - gone. All Ross' hard work and all the stress he endured - worthless. We would have drowned in the betrayal and our disappointed hopes and the anger and bitterness of those who had been affected, including ourselves.
But instead, we were able to see it all as a part of our journey. It turned out that we could still create amazing adventures as a family. In fact, we were still living our dream, albeit with less available cash ( and based on the embarrassing Polish Pottery fiasco, maybe that wasn't such a bad thing...). We could still explore the Magic city of Prague. We could still climb mountains and connect with our kids and eat too much ice-cream. We were still able to see the joy and the good in life. We had said that the reason for our launch into full-time travel was because life is about experiences, not things, well, we got the chance to 'put our money where our mouth is'. We got to understand that life really is about the experiences, and in that moment, we could chose what kind of experiences to have. We found cheap or free fun things to do. We ate local produce that was affordable and we could cook ourselves. I started buying a little pair of earrings as a souvenir instead of a lifetime supply of crockery. We chose accommodation and destinations based on whichever was the best deal. It was not perfect, but it was still the dream.
The day we lost all our money has become part of our story. Honestly, it has been a financial strain that we have been crawling out of ever since, but I don't mind too much when I look at all we have been blessed with. I look at all I have learned. My life is my adventure, and I hope with all of my heart that my children will approach their own life with the same perspective, and together we are making a story worth telling.
When I looked back at what I had written in my journal at the beginning of our trip about my life's desires, I realised that God had blessed me with all I had dreamed. I had never wished for tons of money, I had, and still do, yearn for meaning, adventure and growth. These things He had blessed me with in abundance. Like Corrie Ten Boom says, the dark threads are as important as the light ones in the tapestry of our lives.
Skyler Gilbert journal entry 2016, before 'The Event'.
To venture out.
Out of comfort, out of ease, out of the known. It stretches and pulls and causes pain and discomfort.
So then why?
Why not stay?
Stay and have that measure of relax that comes from home?
Because....growth.....and strength come from trying, and discovering. Even from failing. We become interesting, and deeper. Richer, and of a greater substance than all of that ease and comfort can provide.
I want more.
I want to fill my soul with diverse experiences.
I want to understand the world, and myself. I want to see, and feel, and try.
I want to be amazed over and again at all of God's creations.
I want to come to the end, and feel that I had fully participated. That I was brave. That I dreamed big, and lived fully, and am filled with love.
I want to be out of the ordinary.
I want to lead, and learn, and discover, and create, and try, and to put in 100% of myself into life.
I feel strongly. I want that to be of joy, hope, life, family, God, love and learning.
For more info and stories about 'The plan', and 'The Event', plus tips and tricks on how to afford budget family travel, check out our new YouTube channel!!