10 Questions: How Anita Dhake left BigLaw to travel the world
Where in the world is Anita Dhake? That question used to be pretty easy to answer because the 34-year-old former associate spent most of her waking hours behind a desk at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.
Now, however, she could be anywhere—Alaska, Australia, Colombia, Thailand. That’s because Dhake left her firm last fall—she prefers the term retired—to become a full-time world traveler and blogger. She’s not independently wealthy, and she didn’t win the lottery. Instead, she spent years following a time-honored financial technique called saving money. Now Dhake is helping others do the same thing through her blog, the Power of Thrift. There, she pens a variety of posts, including observations on life and love, humorous travel notes and, to the delight of her growing audience of aspiring young retirees, candid financial advice about the strategies she uses to maintain her life on the road.
Q. Your story has been covered by Forbes, Yahoo Finance and a number of popular personal finance blogs. What do you think of all the media attention?
A. It really makes me happy that this is a thing, but I don’t want what I did to be abnormal. I want more people to take this path. To me, it’s such a simple concept: Money lets you live whatever life you want to live. There are so many souls out there who don’t understand that. It drives me nuts when I hear someone say they hate their job but continue to waste money on stuff instead of saving for their preferred life.
Q. On the blog, you’ve addressed the importance of having a financial strategy that values systems over goals. What do you mean by that?
A. It might just be semantics, but it’s a different way of thinking about achievement. While chasing a goal, you’re in failure mode—not having achieved the goal until the often anticlimactic moment when you achieve it. With systems, you make it a habit. It’s what you do every day and how you live your life. You’re always succeeding because you’re doing what you set out to do. So for personal finance, a goal is to get out of debt. A system is to avoid buying stuff you don’t need.
Q. You obviously didn’t enjoy practicing law. How did you last five years?
A. My initial goal was only to stay as long as it took to pay off my student loans. That I stayed five years is shocking. But paychecks are hard to give up.
Q. When you retired and hit the road, what did you do with all your stuff? I mean, I assume you had furniture, books, clothes … .
A. I threw a party and gave away a lot to friends. I sold a bunch more. The few things I kept, like my law school diploma, live in a box in my parents’ basement.
Q. Where did you develop your sense of thrift. Was it how you grew up?
A. Yes. My parents were both superthrifty. As first-generation immigrants from India, they frequently recounted their struggles when they first came to the United States. Growing up, we talked about money all the time. I always knew what we could and could not afford.
Q. Did you always know you wanted to become a full-time traveler?
A. Ever since I was a little kid, I loved going places. I had a map in my diary, and I’d color the states I’d been to.
Q. Are you ever worried you’ll run out of money?
A. Not really. I’ve been tracking my expenses for years and know what I need. I’m also superflexible with life and can get by on what most people would consider a small sum of money a year. Plus, I could always go back to work. But, theoretically, my investments should cover me. I check in on them every few months to make sure my passive income is above my expenses, and that’s the only time I think of money.
Q. How do you decide where you’re going next?
A. I ask myself: What do I want to learn? Where have I never been? Where do people I love live who want to hang out with me? I also try to minimize, if not eliminate, my time in cold weather. I hate the cold.
Q. Are you ever bored?
A. Not at all! If anything, I wonder how I had time to work! I have a huge life bucket list—there’s so much to do and so much to try. I’m working on a book proposal, learning how to cook my mom’s recipes, writing for my blog, reading and traveling. When I was working, I used to come home from work and watch TV just to shut my brain off. Now I never watch TV! I’m doing what I enjoy, so I don’t need time to recharge or relax.
Q. Do you ever get lonely?
A. That’s the biggest thing I’m struggling with now. I am happy so much of the time, but there are times when I’m sitting alone at the airport and I just feel isolated. Whenever I get sad, I remind myself that this is my choice. I have as much control over my life as anyone, and this is how I chose to live it. If the worst thing that happens to me is the occasional feeling of loneliness at an airport, that’s pretty great.
This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: "From Associate to Adventurer: Anita Dhake left BigLaw to travel the world and blog about the strategies she used to earn financial freedom."