How many of us have dreamed of quitting our job or business for a year and taking ourselves or our families on a journey around the world. Most of us right, but who has the balls to actually do it? Murray McWilliams has. Murray, a 49-year-old entrepreneur, along with his yoga instructor wife Ann and three children (all under the age of 12), embarked on a year-long sabbatical to South America in January.
I spoke to Murray about just what the hell he was thinking and how its panned out for him and his family.
Wealthwoke: What was going on for you at the time before you made the decision to take the sabbatical?
Murray: Although I owned my own time professionally being a non-executive director and shareholder of a media company based in Cape Town, South Africa, I felt as if my life was shrinking. Each day felt like the last. I was on the proverbial hamster wheel with hours merging into days, days into weeks and weeks into months. Most concerning of all was that my months were merging into my years. My yearly markers became the birth dates of my 3 children, Ann’s and my own, with very brief moments of reflection about the passage of time and what I was achieving and experiencing both personally and professionally. The ending & beginning of each year, a reflective period for me, usually between the dates of 25th December & 10th January, started to blur into one another with no real feelings of achievement in any sphere of my life. I started to envision a year ahead that was a carbon copy of the one that lay directly behind me. I had little to no framework of what achievement meant to me any longer & I started to realise that I was experiencing the same day from one to the next. My days did not merely feel the same, they were the same. I was adrift in the constant demands of my daily life, dispensing my time, energy and focus as if they were infinite resources in my life. Far too much of these precious resources were being spent on individuals and pursuits that gave little to nothing back to me.
Wealthwoke: What finally pushed you to make the decision?
Murray: Time – both the time it had taken to get to that moment and the time we had and have ahead of us. I became conscious of my time, I became aware of how I was spending it and what I was trading it for. The knowledge that a decision is not a decision without an associated action resulted in Ann and I spontaneously buying our air-tickets one evening. It was the action and the push we needed to turn our discussions about traveling with our children and reinventing our lives into the realm of our personal realities. It was the first concrete step we took on this current journey. Once we had bought our non-refundable one-way air-ticket from Cape Town to Buenos Aires via Istanbul, we had a date of departure to work towards and the practicalities of planning such a trip could begin. Clicking the pay button on the Turkish Airlines website for our tickets was a scary yet inspiring moment. The action of purchasing the tickets resulted in us experiencing a feeling of immediate calm. Followed by a little panic. It was however done and we had thrown the dice. Our chips were now in the air.
There were many moments in the days and months after purchasing our tickets when we wondered whether or not we had completely lost our marbles that night.
Wealthwoke: What feelings did you have about spending time that could result in a loss of income?
Murray: Fear. Foreboding. An irrational fear of not having enough money for my family’s future. I say irrational as I believe in my abilities commercially and I believe in Ann’s many talents and her abilities. Both individually and as a team we are very capable of generating the income we may require in the years ahead. Experiencing this financial fear and foreboding through mere thoughts of one potential future outcome of our lives appears to contradict my beliefs in myself and Ann. It was an uncomfortable feeling. It was the catalyst to make me think a little deeper once again after a number of years of living on autopilot. I had put in thought and planning on commercial projects over the past number of years but had spent little time thinking, really thinking, about my life and that of my families. It made me step off the hamster wheel for short periods to evaluate who I was at that point in time, how I viewed who we were as a family and how we were living our lives. This was not one moment of epiphany, it happened in bite sized moments of thought.
Wealthwoke: What actions did you take to try ensure your finances remain intact during this period?
Murray:We did not and do not expect our finances to remain completely intact for the period we plan on taking as our sabbatical. Our view, mostly unspoken, was that it would be a life and family experience and we fully expected it to cost us in financial resources. We are trading some financial resources to completely regain control of our time and to grow and develop as people and as a family. There are amazing stories online about families selling everything and taking a year off after overcoming their financial fears about the future. Families that did not have excess financial resources yet made the decision to live their lives on their own terms.
There is an incredible amount of information online about how people and families have set themselves up financially for extended travel. Some of the steps that we implemented were to rent out our home, we sold our vehicles which saves us on insurance and maintenance costs (putting the revenue generated from the sales into fixed accounts in order to be able to purchase vehicles when we return), we do not have to pay school fees for 2 of our 3 children while we are traveling, we took out comprehensive international medical aid for the year which is costing us ¼ of what out medical cover in South Africa would have cost us.
An interesting side experience we had as we packed up our personal belongings was realizing how many possessions we had that were unneeded and in many cases unused. We sold and donated a large volume of unused goods that we owned. The feeling of lightness that this exercise afforded us was incredible. Traveling the past 2 months with limited clothing and technology has been one of the blessings of this trip to date. It has made us realise that we do not need much and one of our aims for the future is to remain as light as possible regarding possessions. By decluttering our cupboards, we managed to declutter our minds in the process. I firmly believe that we will require far fewer financial resources in the future when it comes to buying material possessions.
Wealthwoke: How has your family adjusted to this experience?
Murray: Amazingly. Our children are 12, 9 and 6 years old and adjusted to a different daily rhythm almost immediately. It is no longer necessary to wake them up at 6:15am during the week. They awake each day when they are ready to wake up. We are able to eat when we are hungry, not when school or office hours dictate we eat. All days are now equal in the context of our lives regarding how we view them and respond to them individually and emotionally. Monday could be Saturday, Wednesday could be Friday, every day can be whatever day we want it to be. We are not emotionally invested in any particular day of the week. The cadence of our lives has become slower. Time, for me, has taken on a new meaning throughout our day as we do not have to constantly ensure we are where we should be or are required to be at certain times. There are very few time markers in our days and week that dictate how we spend our own time.
Our children do miss aspects of their life in Cape Town – mostly regarding their friends and some school and sporting activities. They are evolving on a daily basis as young humans with their daily experiences complimenting their education and development. They are embracing new languages, cuisines, places, spaces, people, skills, responsibilities and challenges. It is not always comfortable for them to continually adjust but it is becoming easier by the day.
One of the main adjustments is being in one another’s company 24 hours a day. There have been challenges faced by each of us in navigating this new family setup. There have been challenges learning to live in much smaller spaces as a family – such as sharing a hostel dormitory. Living out of a suitcase has been challenging. But it has also been rewarding and empowering. We are not only able to make do with a fraction of the personal possessions that we each had at home, we are actually thriving with minimal possessions.
Ann and I are also our children’s teachers while we travel. It is challenging but also rewarding. Being intimately involved in their daily formal education is a privilege and a learning experience. It is also an experience for our children as we become their teachers for an hour or 2 a day. It is not always pretty but we are navigating our way through that particular adventure and challenge.
The world as we know it is becoming increasingly challenging with constant change and disruption on a local and global scale. Ann and I see this experience of daily change and challenges as an incredible opportunity for our children to become used to change in their lives. To start to develop their own personal tools to deal with being outside their comfort zones, to develop their own personal tools to deal with constant change. To start to accept change as a part of life and to be able to navigate their way through it and find joy in it. They appear to be doing well in this regard which makes the experience more rewarding for Ann and I.
Wealthwoke: How are you finding the experience thus far? What are some of the mindset changes you are experiencing?
Murray: The experience thus far has been incredible. The decision to make this happen as a family has proven to be the correct decision for us as individuals and as a family. Our relationships with one another are changing in a myriad of ways, growing and developing in directions we did not foresee and had not considered.
An interesting mindset change is not having to be somewhere or doing something constantly. It is completely acceptable to stay still. It is acceptable to ‘not be busy” or not “appear to be busy”. It is acceptable to get off the hamster wheel and slow down. Many of us are brought up to worry about what other people think of us or what other people think about what we do. That is no longer a part of daily life while traveling. Nobody cares about what you do – most people are intrigued that you are traveling with your family. We answer to ourselves and one another.
Another interesting mindset change that I am experiencing personally is wondering why we have labelled this trip a “sabbatical”. I am starting to wonder why I ever saw this as a sabbatical from our lives in Cape Town. A leave of absence from our “real” lives. This is my life. This is Ann’s life, Tristan’s life, Sienna’s life and Nicholas’ life. This will be a part of our family and our futures, individually and as a family. I know that this experience is changing me and it is changing my family and I believe that it will be a catalyst for us enjoying our lives in a far more adventurous way.
Wealthwoke: What advice can you give to people who are considering embarking on something like this?
Murray: From my experience, when we discussed this with friends, the number one comment was a variation of the following – “we would love to do the same if we could, but it is impossible”. Before even spending an hour on thinking about how they might be able to do it, they had created mental obstacles making an extended trip of any nature impossible. An adventure does not have to be for 6 months or longer. We are all capable of making things happen in our lives and stepping into our “discomfort” zones if we are willing to face our fears, most of which are irrational.
From an advice point of view, plan a little. Ann and I could have planned a little more. Truth be told, we could have planned a lot more. We have pretty much winged it with the belief that as long as we have our passports, a credit card and a phone with an internet connection, we will be fine. And we have been fine. But we have also spent a fair amount of time planning and booking while on the trip. Time that could have been better spent.
Lastly, time is finite. A difficult question to answer is “What return do you want in life on your time”? I don’t have all the answers for myself and may never, but I have far more of an understanding than I did a year ago before I took action to make some changes. I am excited by life again. I love owning my time.
*You can follow the adventures of the McWilliams family on Instagram #the_mcwanderers