marc2

The journey to financial independence and early retirement has a lot in common with a few road trips that I have been on with my brother. It’s when we jumped in our car and drove 2000 kilometers (1250 miles) in less than 2 days.

You may wonder, what has driving such an insane distance in such a short time frame in common with seeking financial independence?

Everything. Well, maybe not everything. But first things first.

We drove to the far north of Sweden and Norway, crossing the Arctic circle on the way. You can find it on maps. It’s an imaginary line that runs parallel to the equator – at latitude 66° 33′ N.

The Arctic circle marks the northernmost point at which the center of the noon sun is just visible on the winter solstice and the southernmost point at which the center of the midnight sun is just visible on the summer solstice.

Thank you Wikipedia.

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Many people will probably think about it in different terms. Arctic circle: Above it, it’s cold. Very cold. I guess that’s a way to put it.

But it’s an imaginary line. You only know you cross it because there is a sign. And a souvenir shop. And a restaurant. Both on the Norwegian side when you travel the E6 – the main north-south road through Norway – and on the Swedish side, just before reaching the sleepy town of Jokkmokk.

There is no sudden drop in temperature, absence of trees or ice bears that block the road (a moose might though). It’s the same long, empty stretch of road. If it wasn’t for the sign, restaurant and souvenir shop – which makes people stop, get out of their cars and take selfies – you wouldn’t know you just crossed the Arctic circle.

On the Norwegian side however, the arctic circle cuts through the Saltfjell mountain range. When you get there, there are no trees in sight. But that’s because of the altitude, not the latitude. It does give a more Arctic look and feel to the place though.

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The obligatory monument, souvenir shop and restaurant – Norway.

Crossing the Arctic circle is not the same as arriving on the North Pole. It may sound cold, but during summer in northern Norway and Sweden (or Lapland as the region is called), temperatures can reach 20 degrees Celsius or more (68 Fahrenheit).

I said it can.

We’ve crossed the Arctic circle on three different occasions. In 2014, 2015 and 2018. All three times it was late May/early June. In 2015 the winter was harsh and didn’t retreat before March/April where I live. This meant late May for the southern part of the Arctic region.

When we reached the area that year we were met by snow, frozen lakes and cold Arctic winds. If you are in doubt that windchill factor is a thing, one night up there would turn you into a believer. It was that cold. Not really during daytime, but when the temperature dropped during the evening and cold winds came rolling down from the mountains, it was really difficult to stay warm.

Are there warm, cozy hotels in the Arctic region? I’m sure. You’ll probably find them in Kiruna, Tromsø, Bodø and other places.

But we slept in a tent.

Here are the highlights from our packing checklist:

  • Tent
  • Sleeping bags
  • Clothes
  • Food
  • Survival cooking kit
  • Water
  • Firewood logs
  • Matches
  • Beer

We didn’t hike. These were road trips, remember. What we did do each afternoon/evening is find a random spot (which had to meet some basic criteria, such as being near an awesome lake and offer magnificent views of distant snow-capped mountains), raise our tent, make a fire, prepare food and spend the rest of the evening/night talking, drinking beer and staring into the dancing flames of our fire.

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This place qualified. Snow-capped mountains and a still, calm lake reflecting the blue sky – Sweden 2018.

And we watched the sun as it dipped just below the horizon, before greeting us again one hour later.

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The sun never really said goodnight – Sweden 2018.

After we found the perfect spot (which could take some time) it usually didn’t take more than 30 minutes or so to raise the tent, make a fire and drink our very first beer of the day.

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After spending many hours on the road, making the fire was always a highlight – Sweden 2018.

Are you going to explain what these road trips have in common with your journey to financial independence or not?

I will. Here it comes.

It’s about the journey, not the destination – our road trips are about having a great time together. To experience, talk, have fun. Undisturbed, far away from the usual hustle and bustle of our busy lives.

It already starts when we get into the car and start the engine. The endless stretches of road, the forests, the Arctic circle, beautiful lakes and snow-capped mountains are the backdrop. They’re not our goal. They’re just framing the experience.

As far as financial independence is concerned, this is also about the journey and not the destination. Financial independence is not a goal. It’s an enabler, just like the road trips enable me and my brother to have a great time. It will provide more space and more time for the things that are meaningful to me and that give me joy (which may be doing nothing in particular at times).

It is already giving me joy now. And I just got into the car.

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Wild water in Norway, 2015

The concept of time loses its meaning – During our road trips we lost our sense of time. It wasn’t important to know what the time was. It’s pretty useful if you have schedules and deadlines and meetings, but we didn’t have any of those in the far north. We drove, made fires, drank beer. And the sun never really disappeared behind the horizon either, so we didn’t have the usual transitions between day and night to guide us. We made a fire, prepared some food. Talked and drank beer. For hours on end. Until we were tired and called it a day. Or night.

This was extremely liberating. No need to check the time. No phones, no emails, no news. Surrounded by pristine nature. And the only sound was the gentle crackling of the fire and an occasional ‘whoosh’ as dying firewood and twigs tumbled into the ashes.

This is how I think about financial independence. That it will be liberating. That time will lose some of its relevance once I get there and cross the line – my Arctic circle – and enter a new domain with no schedules and deadlines. But with lots of beer in my fridge of course.

Well, I will never be able to be completely schedule-less and deadline-less, but you get my point.

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Fjords near Bodø – Norway, 2015

Feeling alive – The experiences in the far north are engraved in my mind and I will never forget them. The Arctic region can be freezing cold, but the days I spent up there are like lush, green islands in a big ocean of everyday routines.

I sometimes have difficulties recalling what I did the previous day. Either because I am on the slippery slope towards dementia, but the more likely explanation is that routine-experiences are not being captured and retained by my brain in the same way as standing at a pristine lake in northern Scandinavia.

That’s probably a good thing.

But I do want more of those lush islands. More experiences that will be engraved in my mind. Financial independence will enable that.

It doesn’t mean I need to go on more trips necessarily. Or climb the Kilimanjaro or rappel into the Grand Canyon.

It means more deep moments.  More moments where I feel alive. Undisturbed, alone or with loved ones. Moments without schedules, deadlines. Without the need to check time or email.

That could be on the couch at home with a good book.

How about you?

Have you been on any trips you will never forget?

What do you expect from financial independence? What will it enable you to do?

8 thoughts on “A Travel Story: Lessons From The Arctic

  1. Do you know what Marc? I think that you’re getting an awful lot right even before you get to FIRE. Going on a road trip like that is exactly the sort of thing that people say they’re going to do when they hit FI. You’re doing it already.

    It’s like that old story of the fisherman and businessman (here: http://paulocoelhoblog.com/2015/09/04/the-fisherman-and-the-businessman/ and elsewhere). In the long run to FI it’s great that you’re taking the time to appreciate all of the good things that you already have.

    In any event I’m jealous! I love camping and bushcraft and going out on road trips like that would be amazing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your kind words Caveman!

      I’m definitely not forgetting to live now. See my other post on the topic: https://earlyretirementplanning.wordpress.com/2018/11/05/live-for-today/

      (shameless self-promotion, I know)

      I can definitely recommend to go on road trips like the ones I have been on with my brother. We go again next year. Different destination, but same idea. The awesome thing about northern Scandinavia is that it is so empty, so untouched in many ways. We felt a bit like Cavemen up there (a modern version…with a car and plenty of beer)

      Loved the story about the fisherman and businessman!

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  2. Ah. Interesting that you seek ( as many do ), financial independence. We feel that burden lifted once er reach there. I do feel financially secure, but it is not a security I dwell on. On the other hand, I totally agree with you on those special Scandinavian moments that are etched deep in the mind. They stay forever! And time does seem irrelevant when nature is so re-invigorating, no matter the temperature!!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by! I don’t see it as a burden that needs to be lifted. I am privileged and feel financially secure, but embarked on the financial independence journey nonetheless.

      Scandinavia is awesome. And indeed, time seems to lose its meaning when surrounded by the splendor of nature!

      Like

  3. Excellent story and enchanting photos of your trip! Love the analogy.

    We’ve done a few inspiring trips e.g. the Andes and Amazon in South America, and a coast to coast road trip across USA. Seeing the amazing beauty of the world gives you certain perspective that it’s hard to get elsewhere!

    Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for stopping by FIREstarter!

      The Andes and Amazon sound like fantastic destinations. I’ve never been to South America, but would love to go there one day. I did have a chance to experience the US as I was stationed there for 3 years (quite a long time ago). And indeed, witnessing the beauty of nature always gives a unique perspective.

      Like

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