Chautauqua UK: The Greatest Week of Our Lives

FIRECracker
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FIRECracker

FIRECracker is Canada's youngest retiree. She used to live in one of the most expensive cities in Canada, but instead of drowning in debt, she rejected home ownership. What resulted was a 7-figure portfolio, which has allowed her and her husband to retire at 31 and travel the world. Their story has been featured on CBC, the Huffington Post, CNBC, BNN, Business Insider, and Yahoo Finance. To date, it is the most shared story in CBC history and their viral video on CBC's On the Money has garnered 4.5 Million views.
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We just got back from Chautauqua UK, and let me tell you, this post is NOT easy to write. Because honestly, how does one whittle down a life-changing experience into 1000 words or less?

But I guess since we’re supposed to be writers, I have to at least give it a try. So here goes.

Before we went to Chautauqua, we called it a “super-villain plot-hatching retreat” because, c’mon, how else can you describe a secret meeting of millionaires in a secretive British manor to hatch a plan for world domination?

But now, having experienced Chautauqua first hand, the only quote that even remotely describes how I feel about Chautuaqua is this:

“…Some people make the sky more beautiful to gaze upon. They stay in our lives for awhile, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never, ever the same.”
― Flavia Weedn

Now, as purple as that quote is, it is truly the only quote I’ve found that comes even close to expressing what our experience at Chautuaqua was like.

Because it’s not the place (a 18th-century manor), the food (Spotted Dicks, Toads, and high-tea anyone?), or the activities (murder mysteries, croquet on the lawn, Shakespeare walks) that made it special. What truly made Chautauqua special, if we were to put it into 3 words, according to Wanderer, is this:

“You’re my people.”

There are only a handful of people in my life that I would consider “footprint” people. Basically, these are the people who leave these massive, life-altering footprints on my heart, and I’m a better person for having known them.

And that’s what Chautauqua UK meant to me. People think that coming to Chautauqua is about learning how to get rich from us “expert” FIRE bloggers, but that’s only part of it.

For the past 2 years, we travelled the world and met people from all different walks of life. And from that experience, we learned that, by far, the best relationships are with the people who love you for you. They don’t try to shove you into a box that you clearly don’t fit into.

And finding people who truly “get” you is what Chautauqua is all about.

At Chautuaqua UK, we got to experience that continuously for a whole week straight.

Spending a week with a whole room full of people who get you? YES PLEASE!

Because not only were we surrounded by people who get FI, every single one of these people happily spent hours bonding with you over your dreams, your passions, and your fears.

There were moments I was moved to tears by the personal stories of attendees, not so different from my own, and just as many when I laughed so hard I cried.

Which is why when the week ended, I seriously considered locking all the windows and doors to prevent everyone from leaving and forcing everyone to come live with me on a commune (seriously, Chautauqua attendees, if any of you guys want to share a home-base where we can all live together and be happy forever, hit me up!).

But I guess forcible kidnapping (as super-villainy as that sounds) is probably something our Chautauqua-founding GodFather JLCollins would frown upon.

Oh well.

I guess the only alternative is to keep going to Chautauquas, forever and ever, to be truly happy.

Okay, so now that I’ve got all that gushing out of the way, let me tell you a bit what happened during this life-changing week:

As soon as we arrived at our Windsor hotel and sat down to the meet the attendees, (who came from the US, the UK, Germany, and even as far as Australia), we knew this wasn’t going to be like a typical vacation.

You know how when you meet strangers on a cruise or at a hotel, you need a few dinners with them to get to know them? There are those awkward few days of acclimatizing to a new person? Well, this never happened. Within 10 minutes of chatting with the attendees, we immediately bonded, and after chatting until I lost my voice, when I looked at my watch, somehow 4 hours had gone by. For us, this ALWAYS happens with FIRE people. You sit down with complete strangers and within the hour, you feel like you’ve known them for most of your life.

Just a typical day in Paradise, playing croquet in front of an English manor with your new FI BFFs.

 

Goofing around on celebration night, our last dinner together

Even though the attendees all come from different backgrounds (like the film industry, silicon valley, art school, etc), and ages (this time we had our youngest attendee EVER at 17 years old), our nerdy love of finances and freedom was the common thread that connected us all.

And this feeling of camaraderie continued as the week went on. Especially with our hosts Alan and Katie at the helm, organizing everything and making sure it all went off without a hitch, we were free to completely focus on having the time of our lives and learning from each other.

JLCollins’ talk on Investing
Vicki Robin, right before her talk on Your Money or Your Life

 

My talk on How to Build the Life of Your Dreams

 

Alan’s talk on How to Start a Side Hustle

 

Brandon/MadFIentist’s talk on Life After FI

Incidentally, I learned from one of our attendees, who’d always wanted to have his own drone army, that drones are simultaneously awesome AND terrifying.

So there we were, having our private one-on-ones in the perfectly manicured garden of the English manor, when out of nowhere, a drone appeared above our head, making us think that sentient machines had taken over and Skynet was now a reality.

Of course, we did the brave thing and ran off. We later found out that he had brought a drone to the UK and was teaching another attendee how to fly the thing, but that’s not what we thought at the time. Silver lining though, we ended up retreating to the hotel sauna to finish off our one-on-one. And man, if you’ve never had your finances analysed in a Finnish sauna right before jumping into a gorgeous swimming pool, you’re missing out.

The drone later turned out to be super useful when one of the attendees took its footage and made this awesome video commemorating our week:

And to top it all off, to prove that this really was a super-villain plot-hatching retreat, check out the bad-ass helicopter that landed in the deer-filled country-side surrounding the manor:

So to sum up a week that can best be described as un-sum-uppable, Wanderer said it best when he said “You’re My People.”

And this is why Chautauqua UK was THE GREATEST week of our lives. Huge thanks to all the attendees for making this such a memorable week, Alan and Katie for your hard work making sure we had the time of our lives, and JLCollins for thinking up this awesome super-villain cult. THE WORLD IS OURS!

55 thoughts on “Chautauqua UK: The Greatest Week of Our Lives”

  1. Ok. You got me. I have tried my very best to ignore this feeling inside me, but I can’t contain it anymore.

    I CANNOT WAIT FOR ECUADOR NOW!

    I had a meetup this weekend in Minneapolis and it was 3 hours of awesomeness. Ecuador is like 200x that awesomeness and I’m getting so pumped. Hope to see you for at least a little bit!

    1. And now I know exactly what you mean by “this feeling”. It really is magical and only people who’ve been to Chautauquas get it.

      Hope to see you during the cross over between week 1 and 2 as well! Not sure whether we’ll be at the same hotel but we’ll see.

    2. Hi Gwen…

      Really looking forward to seeing you again in Ecuador. You were one of our stars the last time!

      We can watch the cows together again.

      Maybe this time we’ll kidnap you. Warn your mother. 😉

      Too bad you couldn’t make the UK version: Same thing with a British accent. Plus we could have watched the sheep together here. 🙂

  2. Looks like you had a great time FireCracker & Wanderer. It looks positively…. *English*. 🙂

    Now, I need to retreat to my underground bunker to contemplate where I fit within your world domination strategies.

    1. We had the best time…seriously, Chautauqua exceeded all our expectations, and being a crazy high-achieving A-type I had insanely high expectations.

      Where do you fit in our world domination strategies? Keep writing your awesome posts on how to save money on cell phone bills, groceries, and cable and I’ll keep linking to said awesome posts! Saving the world, one utility bill at a time. Boo-yah!

  3. I’ll be there next year! 🙂 I’m bummed I couldn’t make it this year. The only thing that held me back this year was cost; the UK is unfortunately one of the costliest places on Earth and it was peak travel season (I couldn’t swing flights on miles). I’m looking forward to next year!

    1. Sucks that you couldn’t come this year, but I’m looking forward to seeing you next year! We’re going to have a blast!

  4. That’s awesome to see all the FIers got together. though I am not even close to my target, but getting pumped up to meet you all and get motivated.
    I will plan to meet you guys at Ecuador. btw, can you post the details, so that I can plan to book my flights and arrange my time off at work.

      1. Thanks for the link FIRE, unfortunately its sold out 🙁 I got all pumped up and about to go check out and saw flashing message

    1. Yes, I want to do it again and again and again and again! It totally made my year too and I’m so glad I got to meet you, Michelle.

      We need to have a Chautauqua UK class of 2017 reunion RIGHT THE HELL NOW because I miss you guys already!

  5. Looks like a great time. That must be a great feeling to be around so many like minded people from so many different backgrounds. We will get to one of those eventually. Thanks for sharing.

    1. It is THE BEST feeling in the world. Seriously. I’m not exaggerating. I didn’t even feel THIS much joy when I was accomplishing my childhood dream and doing my book signing in New York. This BEATS that. Prior to this, I didn’t think ANYTHING could beat it. Looks like I was wrong.

      Hope to see you at a future Chautauqua!

  6. How much is the registration fee again? 2700$-ish?
    Sorry, too expensive for me. I will put that into AMZN stock instead because you know that 2700$ will not doubt become 2 million$ in about 7 years. What can go wrong with AMZN? 🙂

    1. No one is denying they’re on the pricey side. All I’ll say is the relationships, advice, and inspiration I got was worth every bit of the potential $2 million…. And who knows, I might actually make that as a result of going to the Chautauqua!

      1. I second everything Gwen said 🙂 Seriously, the relationships you develop and the experience you get is priceless. It’s hard to explain unless you’ve actually been to Chautauqua.

        But that being said, only those who can afford it should go. If you have debt or have financial issues, we definitely don’t recommend going.

  7. I think the cool part about this is that Chautauqua is not just for the attendees but for the bloggers too. Great relationships have benefits on both sides!

    1. Totally agree, Brandon. I learned so much from the attendees and made so many long lasting friendships. Miss you guys already!

  8. Reading this stuff makes me really wish we would’ve gone. I have got a find a way to get there next year or soon. Sounds like an awesome trip with even more awesome people.

    1. Wish you had been there, Jason! Would’ve loved to meet you.

      Hopefully you can make it to a future Chautauqua. It’s magically. My heart aches a little looking at the Chautauqua pictures, wishing we were back there right now.

  9. Please, please, please come back next year !
    My savings weren’t up to the trip this year but I can’t wait for another chance to attend an EU chautauqua. Enjoy the Ecuador edition !

    1. Oh I have a feeling we’ll be back 🙂 I definitely wouldn’t recommend forcing it into your budget, but if you can afford it next year, I would love to see you!

      1. No worry, it would be quite ironic to mess up my budget to attend an event for finance aficionados ^^. No it’s just a matter that I had already budgeted my trip money for another destination this year. Would love to see you too !

  10. Sounds like an amazing week! Always great to read about the Chautauqua’s and how much they mean to the people that have attended (this one and the ones in Ecuador).

    Note to self: must plan to attend one of these in the near future!

    1. Yes, please do, Lance! It’s the people who make Chautauquas so magically, so the more cool people we meet, the better.

  11. Beautifully written. I am an attendee of last years Chautauqua in Ecuador. I couldn’t have summed it up better than you just did…wonderful experience. The people, one on ones, wonderful food, sights and sounds, informative talks, laughter, etc. The best part is feeling open to talk about personal things and financial situations that may be considered ‘taboo’ among our normal friends and family. Reading this makes me pine for my week last year. I would love to do it again…but I’d feel guilty for taking a new attendee’s spot.

    1. Thanks, Kevin! Yes, all those things you mentioned (especially the laughter) is what made last week the best week of our lives. I miss it already!

      Hope you can join us in the future Chautauqua! The good news is that we have multiple Chautauquas now so it’s easier to spread the magic. You won’t have to feel guilty about taking up a spot anymore 🙂

  12. Aha thanks for that awful picture!!! I really look like I’m struggling to pop that thing…It was a great week, can’t wait for next year’s now.

    Was great meeting you guys; enjoy Ecuador!

    1. I aim to please :p.

      And no you don’t. It looks like you’re trying to show that popper who’s boss.

      Glad you could come and have a blast with us!

  13. My husband and I would love to attend one but all the ones this year are sold out. Hopefully we will get a spot next year!

    1. Yeah they sell out quickly. Hopefully you can get a spot next year…putting yourself on the waiting list helps.

  14. Every year, I tell myself I’m going to go to a Chautauqua (if only because I nerded out on Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance back in high school) or at least go to FinCon. Every year, I skip out…

    I may need a nudge, as you all seem like my people, too.

    1. Yes, I agree they are not cheap, but according to the attendees, worth it! 🙂 One of the best things you get out of it is the long-lasting relationships. You will meet people who will encourage you, long after the week is over. You will also develop networking relationships, which will help your career or side hustles. Past attendees have said that this has paid back the cost 10-fold!

  15. I have no doubt that’s true! But fancy pools and drones- that’s lovely, but, as I said, pricey, and not really necessary (in my humble opinion) to the central message, nor to friendship, which can foment just as easily over a potluck meal.

    Now, if I could use points for the hotel…

    1. Before I went, I thought it’s the same as a meet up as well, but really it’s not. Would I have had fun if I had just meet up with a group of people for a potluck? Definitely. Would I have made connections? Yes. But would it have been as memorable, magical, or life-changing? No. I’ve meet FI people before, and that was fun, but it pales in comparison to Chautauquas. It’s hard to explain unless you’ve actually been there. The closest analogue I can give is the $150 we spent going to the robot show in Japan. Could I have spent $20 going to a movie instead? Sure. Would I have been entertained? Yes. But the level of detail and effort that was put into making sure it was the best show I’ve ever seen in my life was worth the $150, and I would gladly pay it again.

      Anyway, I’m not here to argue whether it’s worth it to spend the money or not. It’s up to each individual to decide that. But now that I’ve seen the level of detail and care that is put into the schedule, the places selected, the activities, and the experience, as well as the effort the speakers put into helping each attendee and making sure they get as much value as possible, when all those aspects are considered the price tag is justified. If you judge not based on what I say but based on action, the repeat attendance of past attendees proves that the experience is worth them spending that amount of money a second time, even if it’s the same location and activities. That says a lot.

      Anyway, I definitely don’t recommend spending money on something that you personally don’t feel is worth it. It’s not for everyone. But it’s really hard to explain until you’ve actually been to a Chautauqua. I didn’t get it until I actually went to one.

  16. I’m sure meeting accomplished, like-minded people in a relaxed and nurturing setting is incredible, and certainly the reviews bear testament to the overwhelmingly positive experience of the attendees, many of whom return year after year.

    But is the huge expense for the information and networking or the setting? This isn’t tax deductible for most attendees (unlike, presumably, the presenters), and it’s unlikely work would pay for it. Most of the presenters and, I assume, many of the attendees are from North America. Is it overseas for the ambiance? For the exotic setting? The illusion of wealth and a life of ease? As opposed to a practical, comfortable setting that is more suited towards the FIRE lifestyle? It seems like, at the very least, the Chautauquas could take place in North America (the birthplace of the Chautauqua movement) with no loss of magic and, for the aspiring FIRE, a much cheaper plane ticket and less time away from work.

    Obviously you have no shortage of attendees, so the market bears the price that is charged . But some of us are frugal by both nature and conviction (regardless of our financial situation), and it’s hard for us to understand the need for not only grand accommodations (that, incidentally, don’t take or accrue hotel points), but an expensive plane ticket overseas. I do fully understand the importance of well thought out activities, small group size, and a comfortable setting, but is this impossible to achieve at a North American resort where folks could accrue hotel points and save money on travel?

    1. I can see where you’re coming from. However, for many readers, one of the biggest draws to Chautauquas is that fact that it’s taking place outside North America, so they can visit a new place and see new things. It also helps to have hosts on the ground, who live in the area and can vet the accommodations, activities, etc, in order to make sure the event runs as smoothly as possible. It’s been working out great!

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