Where in the World Are We, How the Hell do We Afford It and What’s Up with the Houses?

Part I – How the Hell Do we Afford It?

My sister once shyly asked me, “Carin, how do you afford your lifestyle?” We’ve never really been a family that talked about money so I know she had a hard time asking, but I was happy to explain. Our plan is quite simple actually (and also made easier by the fact that we don’t have children).

1. We decide what we want.
2. Then we figure out how to get the time and money to make it happen.

That’s a paradigm shift for many people who work, save and then figure out what to do with the money and time they have. It can be discouraging to plan your dreams around a number in the checking account.

Neither way of thinking is wrong nor right. It’s simply a matter of deciding which way works for you.

I know many people are wondering how, for example, we are managing to spend the summer in French Polynesia. Well, first, we decided exactly what we wanted to do and then, step by step, figured out how to make it a reality. Let me explain.

Here’s how we did it.

Arranging the Time: We have built a lifestyle on a plan other than 40 hours a week, M-F for 50 weeks a year. We work towards “dense income”, blocks of time that completely consume us yet pay well. For example, we may run a tour series, or multiple dive adventures where we work seven days a week for months at a time. Then we have blocks of free time. These past few years we have worked hard Sept-May, with small blocks of time off and then a large block of time free in June/July/August. Meanwhile, our house rents heavily during this time of year which offset the lack of income.

Getting There: Tickets to French Polynesia are not cheap, running about $1700 r/t from LAX. I first priced from LAX to Papeete using miles. Then I tacked on the flights to get to LAX which you can usually do without extra, or just a few extra miles. To do this, get an agent on the phone and ask when you can get the cheapest mileage ticket from the gateway city. After you have that, ask the agent to find add on flights from your home airport that don’t add cost. The total ticket from Missoula to Tahiti was 75,000 miles per person. Ridlon, in anticipation, had applied for an American Airlines credit card that had a 100,000 mile bonus a few weeks earlier and then we threw in 50,000 of our own miles transferred from our Amex card and voilà, tickets purchased.

The domestic flights within Fr. Polynesia are also quite expensive but there was no way around this, $800 for the two of us.

Staying There: We knew we couldn’t afford to stay at the 5 star resort we use for our dive clients, not for almost two months! So we decided to go “local”. It took lots of digging around and emailing but in the end I found a fantastic bungalow with kitchen for $100 a week! We would have to make due without AC but since it’s winter here, it’s cool and breezy enough to do without. We already knew the lay of the island, so were able to find a place that was walking distance from the dive shop and the grocery store, and confirmed that they had bicycles we could use. So we solved the accommodations and transportation piece.

We made sure to have a kitchen in our bungalow in order to cook and while food is more expensive here, we eat simpler and lighter which is good for our pocketbook as well as our figures!

Diving There: That left the diving piece. Well, we do in fact, own a dive company and our divers have been talking about getting back to Tahiti for a number of years. We set up a deal with Yves, who owns our favorite dive operation on the island. The agreement was that we would bring as many divers as possible and during the time we did not have divers, we would work “au pair”. Current regulations in Fr. Polynesia only allow for dive masters and instructors who have a particular French certification to work here so it was impossible for us to “have a job”. So we agreed that in exchange for diving, we would help out as much as possible. Some days, the dive boat is full and we are not able to dive but when there is space, we’re good to go.

hundreds of grey reef sharks off the corner

hundreds of grey reef sharks off the corner

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Home Expenses: With our house in Montana rented all summer, we have the mortgage and expenses covered while we travel. Profit from divers who came to dive with us this summer covered our out of pocket expenses and, while we did not grow the bank account this summer, we have had an amazing time living and diving here for two months.

In this way, it’s not that hard to begin to figure out how to make a travel lifestyle work financially. Okay, so you don’t own a dive travel company? No worries. Perhaps you have a skill that would be useful in the place you travel. Can you offer to trade a skill for your accommodations? Cook breakfast at a family run pension? Paint the cottages? Whatever….be creative. You might surprise yourself!

So…..Back to Rangiroa….

This summer has turned out to be an amazing reprieve here in French Polynesia and as I look back over numerous posts over the past years, it seems that summer is when I often write about down time, of time to think, reflect, rejuvenate and then get revved up for the new travel schedule. This year more than ever, the reprieve has been a needed prescription and its restorative power has been massive.

We have spent the past five weeks doing a lot of diving, reading, playing with our host family’s dog, Lokie, and yes, even entertaining their children (in small doses mind you!). We’ve spent many sunsets at the pass watching the dolphin leap in the standing waves of the outgoing tide sipping wine with french bread and brie. We’ve eaten more fruit than in the past 5 years put together and scoured the island for the few and far between bags of frozen chicken breast to create healthy curries and stir fry. I can even make a fine banana bread with only those items found in a Polynesian grocery store, impressive!




To quote Jimmy Buffet we’ve allowed “French wines and cheeses to put our ambitions at bay” and let the days slowly turn.

And it’s not over yet. We have just under three glorious weeks to finish up the last six or seven books, make the last thirty or so dives and soak in the tropical sun.

Because soon enough……it’s September! And many have asked us what are plans are….

Part 2 – Where in the World Are We…..Going?

September will find us in our other favorite environment on the planet, the mountains. Heading back to our home away from home, we’ll be leading a wildlife photography trip through our two favorite National Parks, Grand Teton and Yellowstone. Fall is an amazing time to photograph the elk rut, as well as bears, wolves, bison and whatever else may appear! That’s the joy of outdoor adventures. We’ll shoot brilliant sunrises over frosty geysers and sunsets over Grand Teton. A couple of weeks in the west in September is a great way to greet the coming fall.


Watched these moose go at each other in the fall

Watched these moose go at each other in the fall

Then soon enough it will be time to dust off the passport again (after three whole weeks in the US of A, probably no dusting required). You may remember last fall, we joined the Private Jet team at Abercrombie & Kent to staff an incredible 26 day Around The World trip taking in 9 destinations across the planet.

This year we have been asked not just to staff but to lead this amazing expedition. And not just one, we’ll be heading out for two back to back 26 day circumnavigations. Over the course of 52 days we will explore Peru, Easter Island, Australia, India, Turkey, Morocco, Monaco, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka, Samoa, Cambodia, Madagascar, Kenya, and Indonesia by Private Jet with just 50 guests aboard our chartered 757. A trip of a lifetime, times two!

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By November, our dive fins will be screaming at us for “down time” but we’ll hold off just a few more days in order to celebrate Ridlon’s 50th birthday in the shadow of the Andes Mountains. We’ll head to the Mendoza region of Argentina in order to lift a glass (or two!) of fine Malbec to ring in his half century mark! (how do we do it? Mileage tickets!!!!)

“Down time” will come in late November as we head to Belize for our 16th annual Turkey Day in the Tropics dive adventure. For many of our diving friends, this tradition also spans a decade and a half and the thought of spending Thanksgiving in the snow sends us all fleeing south!

As December rolls around, we will embark on our third season of leading Americans to the forbidden isle of Cuba. Through a special governmental license we take small groups of interested Americans to learn about and embrace the Cuban lifestyle and its warm and friendly people. We always leave a part of our hearts in Cuba at the end of the season and eagerly wait for the new year to roll around to find that piece again. This year our trips will be expanded into the eastern part of the country, exploring the people and culture of Holguin, Santiago de Cuba and Camaguey.



2015 will end, as it should, with our toes in the sand and our dive gear in hand as we lead a private dive group to Bonaire. We’ll ring in the new year with great friends, blow some bubbles, and put one last stamp in the passport.

And….as if that’s not enough…..

Part 3 -What’s up with the Houses?

Many of you have been following us through the joys (and the pitfalls) of building our real estate portfolio. This past spring, Ridlon’s main project has been overseeing the construction of a 1200 sq ft 2 bedroom/2 bath log home on the north end of our property in Montana. The outer shell of the home is just a couple of weeks away from completion and this winter we’ll finish up the inside to have this home ready for the summer rental season! Like our main home, the “casita” will also have a huge deck to view the mountains, fireplace for chilly nights and a hot tub to view stars that go on forever! The cabin will be available for vacation rental as a separate home or combined with our main home for family reunions or multiple family vacation rentals. It’s a stunning place to enjoy a part of the summer with 360 degree views.


As well, we are in the final stages of plans for our Florida beach house! After more than a decade of searching for our perfect beach setting, we found a piece of paradise on the talcum sand of Navarre Beach in the panhandle of Florida. The house will sit about 500 feet from the ocean and a three minute bike ride from the Santa Rosa National Seashore, a deserted 7 mile stretch of heaven! We are expecting to break ground on this house in early fall and have it ready for the summer 2016 rental season. This house will have 5 bedrooms plus build in bunk beds to sleep up to 15 people!

We’ll keep you updated on progress through the year!

Happy Trails and stay tuned!




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