The dictionary defines luxury as:

the state of great comfort and extravagant living; an inessential, desirable item that is expensive or difficult to obtain.

There was a time in my life when I yearned for a life of luxury. I drove a $50,000 Armada; my husband drove a Nissan Titan and a Porsche; we lived in a $400,000 furnished model home complete with a home theater; our monthly expenses were in the neighborhood of $15,000 (now we could live for more than a year on what we spent in one month).

And still I wanted more. We moved to Costa Rica, driving our luxury SUV from the United States, all the way through Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua to San Jose (staying in all-inclusive resorts along the way).

After renting a nice 1500 sq ft home perched above the Central Valley, we looked at buying $7,000 couches to furnish it, until we found a place that 'suited' us better - a 6500 sq foot, fully furnished $2 million dollar mansion on the hill.

"It's such a great price," we told ourselves, at only $3000 a month. What a bargain! We could really keep up the Joneses now (aka other expats who were living it up).

We thought we had a great life, yet happiness was kept at bay by stress. When you have to work so hard and make so much money just to pay your bills to maintain your lifestyle, it generates a lot of pressure and worry. It keeps lighthearted joy from being your companion.

We've come a long way since then. Travel, and economic failure, has changed us.

With the financial downturn of 2008, we lost our source of income. And then our house(s). And then our vehicles. We returned to the States to look for employment. The facade of wealth was lost. We borrowed a car, borrowed money, and we were compelled to 'humble' ourselves to live in an 1100 sq ft apartment in a complex, which our kids nicknamed 'The Castle.'

We thought we had it so rough.

But then an interesting thing started to happen. Our reality began to change. We started to see things in a new light.

Before our financial mishaps, we had firmly believed that in order to have travel as a part of our life, we needed to make enough money to cover our living expenses - mortgage, car payments, bills - and then pay for travel. Just to be able to have the experiences we wanted, we needed to earn a lot.

With our previous income dried up, we started to consider other possibilities. We still really wanted to travel. We had loved our experience living abroad, even without living in the lap of luxury, and wanted to repeat it. Except that now we didn't have the surplus funds.

Was there a way we could still do it? We began considering the possibilities and truly analyzing what was important to us.

Did we need a mortgage and a car payment? Did we need to have stuff 'at home'? Or should we use that money to fund our travels instead?

Travel called, and we had to answer, and we did so any way possible. We worked and saved; we borrowed; we took jobs overseas; we built our own businesses.

And along the way we learned to live simply, and discovered what we truly valued. We realized that meaningful experiences were more important than owning nice things. Having options was better than having possessions. Our personal growth was preferable to having bragging rights.

The personal transformation in philosophy resulted in greater freedom than we'd previously known. We had unencumbered ourselves from social expectations (ie, we need at least a 3 bedroom house for a family of seven), and the bondage of bills, and were now at liberty to live the kind of lifestyle that was truly fulfilling, even if from an outsiders perspective it seems strange or radical.

That journey has brought us to where we are now - settled into a little house in Panajachel, Guatemala - a small stopping point along our epic expedition. (**We've paused here so that we can focus on creating content that will help others live deliberately).

If you took the Rachel that lived in her 6500 sq foot mansion in Costa Rica, and placed in her this house, she probably would have been appalled. The walls are a pistachio green. The tile floor is stained so it constantly looks dirty. Part of the property fence is made of tin - due to a portion being washed away during a deluge in 2005. It's located in a 'scary' local neighborhood, and right next to the river which is now a gravel pit.

That's how I used to think.

But take the Rachel that lives in her truck, who's learned that all she really needs to live is clean water, good food, shelter and love - anything above and beyond that is luxury.

Truly, luxury is a matter of perspective. Many in more developed countries - places where the poorest of the poor still make $10,000 dollars a year, compared to those who earn $2 an hour here in Guatemala - might think that the living conditions in this house are deplorable. We'd certainly be classified as being poverty-stricken, and treated as such - with either disdain, disrespect, pity or charity.

But when the same exact conditions are compared to the local standard of living, we're suddenly in the upper class. We're treated with respect and esteem. We're wealthy because we can afford US$200 a month for rent.

We can 'live within our means' without negative social repercussions, a luxury many can't afford in other countries.

This house has everything we need- a fridge and stove, a washer...

Some furniture, internet(!)...

Space for our clothes; a toilet and sink; a shower head that produces hot water through an ironic combination of electricity and water; a t.v. which we put in the closet (that's the part we don't need).

It has a lot of flowers too - some are fake.

 Two views of the gate/wall around our house.

The neighborhood

More of the neighborhood

See this house right here at the back of this photo. No, not the tall cement structure with the window - that's the back of our house. Look closer. It's the pile of tin behind the line of clothes. Yeah, that one. Those are our next door (literally) neighbors. You see why we live in luxury?

This is a closer view of it from our street. The cement wall on the left is around our house.

This is the view when you step outside our gate. Look at those volcanoes!

This is how we walk to our house from our friends house (who do trail running here in Guatemala)

It's called the muro (the wall). It's supposed to keep the river from flooding the houses.

I LOVE the market in Pana. This is where I do my grocery shopping:

Our lifestyle is possible, not because we're 'lucky', 'special' or make lots of money. It's possible because we've made travel one of our top priorities.

Next to basic necessities, like food, travel is at the top of the list. Our time, energy and money go toward making it a reality.

And besides the obvious benefits of a life filled with adventure and fun, I've also discovered that I'm a lot happier too. There's less stress to 'pay the bills' (we have very few); less worry about 'what the neighbors will think'; more time spent doing the things I enjoy; more simplicity; greater joy.

It's possible to apply this same formula to any worthy ideal. Whether it's travel; starting a charity or your own business; or making a change in the world; when you commit to cutting out the resource draining excesses, and focusing intently on what you want to create, there's little that will hold you back from living deliberately.

It's not about the money. (Money's great, I'm a fan) It's not about living 'poor' either. It's not about your circumstance or living conditions. It's about living by what matters to you. That's what 'living deliberately' means.

And when you live deliberately, that's where you'll discover true peace and fulfillment. Where do you find yours?



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64 Responses

  1. Rachel

    So true, Rachel.

    We’ve downsized as well. Not only in how we live but what we want. Less stuff, less stress and more time.

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful reminder.

    • Rachel

      That’s a great point – it’s not just the stuff, it’s the desires that change. They become more…simple. 🙂

  2. Mary

    We also were stuck in a trap of the having it all yet not feeling happy lifestyle back in the states. Not a day goes by that I am not immensely grateful for the events that got us to where we are now; content with FAR less, traveling and experiencing the world, and most importantly happy and together.

    Sounds like you all feel exactly the same way! Kudos!

  3. Jenn Miller

    Ahh you’re making me homesick!! Love the pictures, I know just where you are… beautiful. Perfect. LOVE your perspective and your priority structure… and of course… you’re in our second home. Sigh. Love to all of you!

  4. Justin

    This is a great post! Possibly your best!

    I don’t have much to add. I agree with everything you said.

    Luck has nothing to do with it. You live like this because you want too.

  5. Jen

    I love the power of paradigm shifts! Can’t wait to get there, and I’m especially looking forward to going to the market! The produce looks much better than Walmart:)

  6. MaryAnn

    This is by far the BEST photo journal you’ve presented and you’ve made some awesome blogs! I am in love with your life, with Panajachel (a place I’d not heard of before. I understand completely the need, real or imagined, “to keep up or ahead” of the Jones! I don’t like revealing this but I am a huge movie buff so I have a BIG TV and blu-ray DVD. I bought this because my 13 year old TV died not because I had to have the latest and greatest. My son was so envious of my new TV he bought an even bigger better one. He works 60 hours a week so he doesn’t have time to watch it, but by gosh his TV is better than mine. Not to disparage my son because he is amazing and always ready to help me with anything. I am just making a point that people have lost sight of what’s really important: family, love, rejoicing in the beauty all around us. Kudos to you, your husband and family. I hope your children grow up realizing how very lucky they are!

  7. Living Outside of the Box

    This was a great post, Rachel (they all are)! I had no idea you lived THAT kind of “luxury” before! But truly, it’s awesome to see you discovering the BEST kind of luxury! You guys are an inspiration to all that fear they cannot travel without having a year’s worth of money stashed away. It IS all about priorities!

    • Rachel

      Thanks Alisa!

      We were a little crazy…glad we’ve straightened up and learned what matters most.

      See you soon!

  8. Clark Vandeventer

    Did you write this or did I? Our stories don’t exactly parallel–I never drove a Porche!–but there are a lot of similarities. I believe we’re now living the life we were meant to live it–at least for us. I’m a pretty introspective person and I think soul-searches seem to have a way of finding their true selves. But I wonder how long it would have taken me if I had not had my life so jarringly altered by harsh economic realities. Would I have been 50 before I figured it out? The Great Recession became the Great Reorientation. It was the perfect opportunity to ask the kind of questions you talk about here. Best thing that could have ever happened.

    • Rachel

      You have expressed it so well. I can’t tell you how grateful we our for the ‘Great Reorientation’ (great name for it). It’s altered our lives forever, in the best way possible.

  9. Heather

    Definitely one of my favorite posts in a while. Thanks for putting things into perspective. We love you guys!

  10. Nancy from Family on Bikes

    I so totally agree! When we were buying our house, a lot of people wrote and said we were making a HUGE mistake – 1100 sq feet is way too small for 4 people! According to them, teenage boys NEED their own rooms, and we would be doing them a big disservice if we didn’t buy a house big enough to assure that. We bought it anyway.

    We’ve now been in this house for nearly five months and it’s plenty big. In fact, I could even go so far as to say it’s bigger than what we need. Truly, why do Americans need so much space??

    I know exactly how you’re feeling right now. After living on our bikes for so long, when we found a nice little house for a month or so it felt so incredibly luxurious. But really – it WAS luxurious. And that’s the attitude I want to keep.

    • Rachel

      You said it so well Nancy. I want to always keep this perspective. That’s why I don’t know if I could return to the States to live. Living simply means you’re in the ‘bad’ neighborhoods, and there is some prejudice that seems to accompany the way others view you because of where you live – at least in my experience.

      • Nancy from Family on Bikes

        It really depends on where you are. In Boise, the oldest neighborhood with tiny little houses is actually one of the highest in demand areas. If you look around a bit I suspect you can find something that’s not in one of “those” neighborhoods. We live in a nice, very established area and are quite happy here.

      • Rachel

        Yep, you’re right. We’ll just have to cross that bridge IF we ever come to it. 🙂

  11. Chris G

    Man oh Man … your ‘old’ life sounds so freakishly similar to my current life. We’re just going through the motions, caught up in the big game where the goal/purpose seems to be murky at best. Love where you are, your perspective, your bravery for standing up, leaving the table where the game was being played, and moving to another vantage point.

    I’m working 2 gigs right now putting in ~70+ hours per week, not because I have to but because of the lure of more & more cash. The other day I wandered off surfing to the Mercedes Benz site to see what sort of crazy money I could spend on a bit of flash. Forgive me, but WTF am I doing? What am I teaching my kids? Who exactly am I?


  12. Thrixxie

    Well this is really an inspiration to me and even to other people who can read this…Thanks a lot!

  13. Lisa

    This is so true! I find for myself that there is a trade-off between comfort and adventure. The less adventure I’m having in life, the more comforts I seek. Meanwhile, the more comfort I have, the less adventure I’m enjoying.

    While it’s often tempting to try to obtain comfort, adventure is really what I crave.

  14. tereza crump aka MyTreasuredCreations

    it’s all about perspective. Last year, we upgraded our house. We went from a 2000sq.feet house to double that size; from 0.25 acres to almost 5 acres of land. Everything else stayed the same. We still drive our 10 ++ year old used cars. We haven’t bought new furniture or electronics.

    We bought a bigger house because we wanted to enjoy the outdoors more and have people/ family over. We are doing all that. Our 4 children are enjoying working outside. We are planting a garden, taking care of the trees and doing lots of yard work.

    But suddenly, I am feeling weighed down by all the stuff that needs repairs and taken care off. They are really great things, but I don’t know how people that have more than one house or a lot of stuff do it. I have a constant desire to “get rid” of stuff. I used to be a missionary full time on the road. All I had was in ONE backpack. Maybe that explains it. 🙂

    I wonder if I could live the simple life again. I think I am spoiled by all the comfort available. At the same time, I suffocate and want peaceful silence that can only come from standing in awe before nature and God.

    • Rachel

      Beautiful. And I totally understand. I love the simplicity of our life, until I hate it and think I need more comfort. Then I love it again because of those moments of ‘silence, standing in awe before nature and God.’

      I think Lisa stated it well – there’s always a trade off between comfort and adventure. And I suppose there will always be a flux too. There’s a time and season for everything, right? 😉

      Thanks for commenting.

  15. Lee

    Your pictures resonate with me. I was born in Jamaica and spent most of my childhood times there out in the “country” area of Port Antonio. Life is truly rural and simple there for most people still. Whenever we went I always felt free. My mom let my hair be however, we walked down the hill from our house to the beach below crossing through the cow pasture, we cherished the lady who hand washed our laundry (dear Pearl) as well as Boydie who picked and roasted the breadfruit from our trees. They taught us hardwork, an appreciation for what was around us and that poverty and wealth are largely a state of mind. We were the wealthy family with a big house up the hill, but my parents came from houses with no plumbing. They never lost there roots. These memories, and of my parents packing me and my cousins in a Lincoln Town Car to drive from Maryland to California while making traditional Jamaican food on a kerosene stove in the middle of wherever, are what make me want to leave the life my parents worked so hard to make possible for me in the U.S. I want to give my kids the truth and freedom I was given and that you are living. It seems odd to many that I am giving up so much that they make it possible to have, but really the important stuff they gave me is contained in those travels. I often reply to people with this question: When that perfect storm hits your home and turns it into rubble, who are you then when your 500K home looks just like the regular home of many perfectly happy people in the world?

  16. Sandy

    I love your blog so much and what you and your family are doing. I wish my husband and I were at a point in our lives where we could do this, but there is hope that someday we will be able to. At best I can live vicariously through you and dream for now. 🙂

    “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” ~Saint Augustine

    Safe travels,

  17. Jen

    You are one of the bloggers that is helping me plan and rethink our trip down to Costa Rica in the fall. That market looks amazing and your house looks good to me. $200 really? It’s so great to know there are options out there besides hotels, vrbo and real estate agents.

    • Rachel

      Yeah, pretty great price, isn’t it. Don’t know if they still have those prices in Costa Rica though, unfortunately. But I guess we’ll see when we get back down there again.

  18. Kevin

    Wow, another amazing post with the beautiful countryside of Panajachel! A week ago I read your post of the area you stayed in Belize and how you were learning to make do with less. It was not that long ago I commented to my wife of the family we stayed with in San Juan Ostuncalco (Quetzaltenango) and how the family home was the size of the front room we have in our house. It truly is amazing how others can live with so little and be so happy!

    My wife and I visited Panajachel and Solola on the same trip and went on a boat ride for her birthday. Enjoy your time there and thank you so much for sharing your journey!

  19. Maryden25

    Hi Rachel! Your new home is beautiful! Living a simple life like yours here, is such a perfect life for me. You live in a more slow pace place can make you more comfortable and less stressful. Isn’t it amazing? I love to have a home in a mountain where you will only hear the sounds of humming birds and other insects. So peaceful!

  20. Lynn Johnson

    I love love love your new home and neighborhood. This is exactly the type of place (and price) we are looking for when we get down to Central America. We are getting pretty set on driving down after having emailed Gregg. Thanks again for all your advice and help. You guys rock. We leave April 28th for our own adventures. So close I can taste it.

    • Rachel

      Sweet!! That is so awesome. Way to go guys. We sure enjoyed the time we spent with you. Hope to see you again soon along the road. Keep in touch!

  21. Yronele

    Congratulations for a new house! It is really awesome and I liked it a lot…

  22. Ronifelle

    Hi Rachel…You are inspiration for all because you have achieved some of your goals and you have a beautiful house…

  23. A King's Life

    I find my true peace and fulfillment when I close my computer and go out and play with my children. Knowing that the computer is closed, I am not drawn to work or reading about others people’s great lives, but I am enjoying my own…fully present and aware of the gifts that I cherish in the moment.
    Keep inspiring others to simplify and walk with joy in their lives.

  24. Dawn0977

    Hi Rachel!I really enjoyed reading your story and you really inspire me. I love your new home and i like the location it’s so peaceful. Thanks for the post and i’m looking forward to read more from you.

  25. Andy Z.

    Great article. Your new home reminds of some of the places I lived in Brazil. Miss it. Hope to return soon.
    I am truly grateful for the example and excitement that comes through from your write-ups. As I sit surrounded by boxes, I think how excited we are to be moving into town so that our most important resource, time, can be freed up. Were talking several hours a day more. We will miss the magnificent view from our house, but we were becoming so busy and driving so much that we would hardly see it anyway. Now it will really be a treat to come out here.
    We are getting up earlier, setting goals, and studying more so we can live more deliberately and have an abundant lifestyle of our choosing.
    Thanks, again.
    ps. Love the TV pic 😉

    • Rachel

      Thanks Andy,

      I applaud you for making the ‘sacrifice’ so that you can make more progress on your goals. Way to go! That’s a hard decision to make sometimes.

      Take care and keep in touch!

  26. Lana

    Love this! So adding this to places to travel. I live in Thailand right now, so I so get you all. Your house seems very luxurious to me after seeing people who live under a tarp or in dumps. So poverty definitely changes our perspective of what is necessary, does it?

    After food, travel and learning are my two top priorities too.

    Living off $15,000 a year with 5 kids is very inspiring.

    BTW, have you thought about advertising your FB page on FB adds? you an easily grow your page by 300 readers a day that way. You can generate a lot of revenue for large FB groups.

    • Rachel

      You are right about that. Enjoy Thailand! Can’t wait until we go one day (my sister is there currently)

  27. Bhaikaji

    Dear friends,
    This is different then western culture, and Asian’s life style culture. It seems totally new world. How interesting is life here. We can’t imagine ..

    Thanks friends, for your great comments!

  28. Carlos

    Hi read your story ,i am from guatemala. But i live now in canada for about 30 years i have gone true so many changes ,i also had everything but still not happy , so now i am looking into moving back to guate and seatle in pana ,like to hear from you guys.


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