Buy a house or live overseas? How to deal with different life goals as a couple

Today’s post gets personal! Like many couples, we have been through tough times aligning our life goals. Here, we talk about the process we went through and how we came out the other side. We hope this post offers other couples (or singles!) the encouragement they need to decide what is best for them.


For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to travel and live in another country. My parents did the same thing when they were in their twenties, and for me it was just a case of when, not if. I was happy living in New Zealand but I just wanted to experience life in a different country, and to travel at the same time. But this is where Shaun and I differed. Shaun originally didn’t want to live overseas. He was keen to take time off work each year and travel for a few weeks, but he had no desire for a longer working holiday like I had.

Here was our dilemma. How could we both be happy if we wanted such different things? This is a common problem for couples who have different perspectives and life goals – we know we’re not the only ones who have faced this.

Te Arai Point

In New Zealand, there is a strong, often unsaid, emphasis on earning as much money as you can and buying a house. We know many people our age who have bought property, and they are happy with their decision to do so. Because Shaun is a carpenter, he was really keen because we could buy a house that needed a lot of work that he could do up in his time off. After a few years, we could sell the renovated house and make a tidy profit, and then do the same thing again. This is what plenty of New Zealanders do, and it’s a process that works for many people.

So because I knew that Shaun didn’t want to live overseas, that was what we decided to do. I wanted him to be happy and as long as we could go overseas for a holiday each year, I would be happy too. We were earning good money, had a good lifestyle, and we had actually started looking for houses, going to auctions and things like that. We thought we would get our feet on the ladder and work our way up.


To be honest, I did like the idea of this – who wouldn’t want to own their own place and put their stamp on a house? I’m a fan of interior design and redecorating and with Shaun’s carpentry skills we would’ve been able to do some awesome things with a house of our own.

But as we were getting more into the process of looking and buying, I started to have second thoughts. I still really wanted to live overseas, and there was no way this could happen once we had bought a house and were paying off a hefty mortgage (ok, I know lots of people manage to travel a lot and own a house, but with our income at the time we definitely could not have afforded to).

It was around then that the Auckland property market started to go crazy (it’s still crazy, three years later) and the houses we could afford were getting crappier and crappier, in worse areas. We were starting to get a bit disheartened with the whole thing, when we talked to a family friend who had lived in the US and we got chatting about living overseas. I saw Shaun’s eyes light up as the friend talked about spending time in New York City, summers in the Hamptons, and travelling all over North America.

Isla Mujeres beach

This came at a time when we were both ready for a bit of change with our jobs and lifestyles, and with the Auckland housing market getting more and more unaffordable, the cogs started turning that perhaps moving overseas was the best thing for us to do at that point in our lives.

Of course I got super excited that Shaun was doing a 180° turn on his previous stance on not wanting to live overseas, so I pushed the topic and convinced him to travel in the US and then do a working holiday in Canada (because it’s almost impossible for New Zealanders to get a work visa for the US).

So we planned our move and in March 2014 we set off for six months travel in the US followed by a year working in Canada. (see posts from our time in the US here and Canada here).

Making snow angels at Whistler

I had a great time. We were overseas, we were travelling together, life was great. I was so glad we had decided to head off and explore the world rather than being ‘stuck’ in New Zealand with a huge mortgage. On the other hand, for those first few months, Shaun was a bit regretful that he had given up the good salary that he had earned in New Zealand. We were spending our hard-earned savings left, right, and centre, and we weren’t earning anything.

Things changed for Shaun a couple of months in. I’ll hand over to him to give you some background and explain his change of perspective…


For me, travel was something I loved whether we were on an air mattress in the back of a campervan staring out over the ocean or a fancy hotel on the coast of Thailand – it didn’t always mean spending a lot of money to feel the freedom travel brought. Back then travel to me was like a breath of fresh air – it took my mind off work, it gave me something to look forward to and something worth saving towards and memories that would last a lifetime.

Surfing at Whangapoua

As Petra mentioned I never really saw myself living overseas, we were making a good living in New Zealand and we had the lifestyle and overseas holidays to go with it. But sometimes all it takes is one little seed to be sown. I look back now and it’s funny to think how an idea can grow into something so life-changing to the point of giving up our jobs with no definite plan in mind and heading halfway around the world. I’ll be the first to admit I was scared of what the future held but I was ready for some change, and I took a leap of faith hoping things would figure themselves out in the long run. And so our adventure began.

I don’t think it would have been until a few months into our adventure that the reality of the situation hit home for me. We had been on the road for a while now and had spent a lot of money – as old habits die hard. But this was not like any other holiday – I couldn’t just make that money back up again as easy as I once had.

Brooklyn Bridge

I think resentment is a harsh word but this was definitely what I was feeling. For once it felt like I wasn’t in control of my future, and all I had worked for over the years was gone – a good job and the chance at owning our own house. What all had once seemed so close now seemed so far away and I couldn’t help but wonder if what we were doing was what I really wanted.

As I sit here now writing this a year on I think of the person I have become and not the person I thought I should have been. Travel may have been something I took for granted in the past as a luxury, but it has really put my life into perspective and allowed me to find what makes me happy.

Inle Lake

I once thought happiness meant a certain sized pay check, a house, and the toys to fill it. Don’t get me wrong – all those are great if they bring you happiness, but they really aren’t worth a thing if you’re working too hard to pay for them or never get to use them. There was a time I used to be scared so much of the doors I shut behind me so I didn’t see how many there were to be opened in front of me. What I once thought I blamed Petra for (moving overseas) I now can’t thank her enough – sometimes we all need a little supportive shove! And I am very lucky to have found a girl who will shove me if need be.

Before we left New Zealand, I got so swept up in a future I thought I wanted because everyone around me was doing it. I forgot to find what makes me happy and what I really wanted. We now live a very simple life – we do what we want, stress less, and live for the moment. What will be will be, remember you only get one life. Excuses, while easy to come up with, are only ever going to hold you back.

The answer: travel can help you with deciding what you really want out of life!

If there was something you could change about your life right at this very moment, what would it be?

If you didn’t have to think about the consequences or make any hard decisions, would you still do it?

We can all say “I should have done” but isn’t life far too short for the should haves what about all the “why the hell nots”.

Do you sometimes feel like your life became more like what society expected of you and less of what you actually wanted? It’s never too late to make changes in your life, be that person, or do the things you wish you had have done. If there is one life lesson travelling has taught us is “do what makes you happy and the rest will follow.”

We figured out what we both wanted, we have aligned our life goals, and we are both much happier as a result. We have travel to thank for helping to guide our decisions, and we hope that travel will help you too.

Cozumel baby turtle liberation

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  1. It’s great to read this. I love that you wrote if from both of your perspectives. I am currently going through the same thing with my husband. I had always wanted to abroad and it was never something he had considered. Before we met he had only ever been on 3 vacations in 2 different states. 3 years later and we’ve been to 10 different countries together, and 5 different states. We’re currently getting everything together to move abroad this year!

    • Petra

      Thanks Alexandria! Yeah it gives the full story when we tell it as both of us 🙂 That’s so awesome to hear about you and your husband! Good on you!

    • Petra

      Hi Claire, that’s great to hear that you feel the same way – owning a house is just not a priority any more, especially with crazy house prices here in New Zealand! We would much rather save our money for travel 🙂 I’ll check out your post!

  2. I’ve never felt so relieved as the day we closed on the sale of our house! We had already been living in Brazil for 5 months before it finally sold and we were getting a little tired of paying for an empty house.

    I had owned a house years before Elizabeth and I met. While it provided a roof over my head it also kept me from pursuing other dreams and opportunities that arose. At the time the market wasn’t conducive to selling so I was pretty much stuck where I was. In fact, the reality is (in the US at least) that mortgages were originally designed to keep the workforce immobile!

    If the offer I had in Brazil wasn’t so good we would not have been able to afford to take this opportunity while we still had the mortgage. I cannot imagine any supposed benefit of home ownership that would make up for what we have already experienced – and what the future holds for us.

    Great post – and great decision!

    • Petra

      Thanks Dale, it’s great to hear you sold your house (finally!) and are enjoying Brazil. If you have a travelling nature, having a house just holds you down (unless you have HEAPS of cash). We think we have made the right decision for this point in our lives!

  3. Thanks for sharing this! It’s always good to hear you’re not the only couple struggling with different visions of the future and that things can still align despite that. 🙂

    • Petra

      Thanks Sarah, it was hard to write and put out in the public but we think it’s important that people know they’re not alone with these issues!

  4. This is great! I’m in a situation where I desperately want to take off and live overseas and have been putting it off the last couple of years as I have an amazing boyfriend who owns a house with a ridiculous mortgage in Auckland. We have managed to travel overseas together for several weeks each year but I am also racked with guilt about the fact I am holding him back financially. Hopefully things align some time soon before there are kids to consider too.

    • Petra

      Oh Sarah, that’s an awkward situation! Can you rent the house out to pay the mortgage while you go overseas? Really hope you come to a happy medium sometime soon 🙂

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    • Petra

      Yep, it’s a really common problem that doesn’t get talked about enough we think! Hope you come to an agreement with your other half soon 🙂 thanks!

  6. Great post! We did something similar – decided to live in a different country for a change and it was the best decision we could made! It is such an eye opener! I think everyone should do it, just for the experience and the possibility of knowing yourself better.

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  8. I love reading both your perspectives.

    Your story is pretty similar to how things worked out for myself and my husband, in that I’m the one with the wanderlust from the beginning. We actually bought a house and (surprisingly) got really into DIY. I wouldn’t have thought that I’d be the kind of person who’d enjoy spending my weekends painting walls…but I digress.

    Anyways, we now travel really slowly and only move every couple of years. Being completely without a home base is just not for us at the moment. We’ll probably spend some time traveling full time though, but we’ll also probably buy another home one day, preferably near a tropical beach somewhere. I do look forward to letting my inner decorator out again.

    I guess my point is, things change and people change. Sometimes things just feel right…and you just have to go with your guts rather than sticking to your old life plan. 🙂

    • Petra

      Hi Deia, thanks for sharing. I think I’d love decorating too, and we hope to buy a house one day! We agree that people change as you get older and your situation changes – you just have to live in the moment and do what is right for you at that point in your life.

  9. We related a lot of our experiences with this article. We did a 40 day trial period before backpacking on a year long honeymoon. We were super focused on our careers and “empire” building. We were fortunate as expats and got free housing so could save for both travel and housing. Thanks for sharing the story!

  10. I love taking a peek into people’s lives who are doing what I want to do, it helps illuminate what’s possible. My partner and I have talked about things like this- I’d like it to be more than a dream, he’s still on the fence!

    • Petra

      Hi Shannyn, glad you found the post useful! I also find courage in reading what others have done. Good luck with making your dream a reality! 🙂

  11. Reading through this makes me think of my parents. They followed their passions and did not buy a house until they were 43. I think neither of them regret it because they did what they wanted not what society wanted from them. They worked hard at what they loved in order to have a income they didn’t hate making. It was all very organic and it did work itself out. I think there is always time if you want to buy a house or other “permanent” things like that.. But there is not always time for extensive travel. It’s good that you guys realized it before you committed the ultimate problem of having too much debt. Loved this piece.

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  13. An older post but came across it today and wanted to say all your emotions really hit home. Great article. My boyfriend and I are Canadians currently living in the UK and we decided to give it a second go and hope for the best (first round was full of bad luck). The feelings of watching your savings go and giving up good jobs at home is exactly how we both felt. You’re not the only ones who feel/felt that way but when you realize it’s all worth it, that’s a great day! xx

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