“What if I died tomorrow, what would you do for the rest of your life?”
Malaysian Samantha Hu asked her Singaporean husband Rene Sullivan this in 2017 when he returned home late after a long day at work.
“It was really unexpected and it took me a while before I answered her,” he told CNBC in a video from Langkawi, Malaysia. “I said, ‘Well, if that happens, I’ll just take my guitar… and go on a trip around the world.’
Khoo replied, “Why are we waiting until I am dead for you to do this?”
Living together on a sailboat allowed Renee Sullivan and Samantha Hu to work on their communication skills. “In the house, if you get mad at each other, you can just leave… Here you can’t. You should make up and apologize,” Khoo said.
24 hour travelers
“Here we pursue these goals. Pay off your debts, get your house, mind your own business… We’ve done it all.
The couple, now in their 40s, were running their own business at the time.
“It was a change of perspective. Money can no longer be our currency because… it will never disappear. [to be] enough. Time has become our currency – how do we spend time doing what we want?
How did they start
According to Sullivan, the first thing the duo did was to sell most of their assets, including businesses and real estate.
“We start cutting everything,” he said. “You realize that you don’t really need a lot of money – because you don’t pay your employees, you don’t pay rent, you don’t pay real estate, you don’t pay your housing. [credit] cards.”
They have since become “small investors,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan and Khoo, who have been married for 22 years, say the most important thing that has enabled them to travel full-time is being out of debt.
“We are not rich,” Khoo insisted. “It was very important [to be debt-free]. For example, for the property we bought, we made sure that [they were] will pay for itself within five years.
The couple bought a former military van for $3,600 and converted it into an apartment building. For three years they traveled through Malaysia and conquered “all of Thailand,” Khoo said.
“The best part of living in a van for both of us is the freedom without pre-booking flights or trains, buses or hotels. We can come and go whenever we want,” she added.
In 2019, they began planning a six-month trip to the UK that would take them through China, Mongolia, Russia and Europe.
Everyone was ready to go when The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. So they postponed their plans.
Earlier this year, many countries reopened their borders to travelers and the couple prepared to leave.
“And then [Russian-Ukraine] there was a war. Nothing to suggest that now is a good time to travel overland,” Khoo said.
As their plans fell through, the couple began dreaming about their next adventure. Hu spent a lot of time watching videos on YouTube and accidentally stumbled upon a video about life in a tiny boat.
“I thought, ‘Oh, I can do this,'” she said. Sullivan, however, was not so enthusiastic.
“I was skeptical about everything – [dealing with] weather and then be alone in the ocean. In that sense, I’m a coward,” he said with a laugh.
Compromise? Sullivan agreed to experience the sailing life before purchasing a boat.
They spent four months at Pangkor Harbor in Malaysia, where they worked for free for boat owners to learn about boat life and maintenance.
Sullivan eventually fell in love with this lifestyle. In April of this year, the couple bought a used boat with a full keel for $15,000.
While the idea of living on a sailboat is relaxing, Khoo and Sullivan said it wasn’t glamorous at all.
“It really takes a lot of hard work. Every day we learn new skills,” Khoo said. “This boat is not only our home, but also our university, our dormitory, our office.”
There is a common saying that “boat” means “bring another thousand,” Khoo said.
“That means when something breaks, you spend $1,000 on it.”
The sailboat is “not only our home, but also our university,” said Samantha Hu. The couple added that every day they learn new skills, such as fixing a water pump on a boat.
24 hour travelers
Sullivan added: “Having learned about the engine and [fixing] it yourself, you save a lot. So if you know how to do it, you just buy the parts and fix it yourself.”
Sullivan said he is learning from other boaters and also online.
“It’s all available on YouTube… It just takes you more time to learn,” he said.
That’s why the couple still hasn’t left the port of Talagar on Langkawi, where their boat has been anchored for the past three months.
“People are like, ‘Come on guys, you’re ready,'” Sullivan said.
But he said they were content to go slowly — to focus on anchoring the boat and then back to shore for now — and to check their progress quarterly.
“We don’t put pressure on ourselves because we just want to be 1% better than yesterday,” he said.
Khoo and Sullivan also run a YouTube channel called 24 hour travelerswhere they document their adventures and interview other travelers.
The couple said that being 24-hour travelers is a matter of perspective.
“It’s about how you can change your mind and be happy where you are,” Khoo said.
“In the harbor of Talagar, when we go to the main gate, we meet a captain from South Africa, a French captain, a German sailor, an Indonesian carpenter… they become your neighbors,” she added.
“Knowing the boat owners is like traveling the world,” she said.
For now, the couple is focused on taking “baby steps” to achieve their goal of becoming capable sailors and heading to Thailand next year.
“The dream is to anchor our boat in blue water and be surrounded by islands,” Khoo said.