Back this summer, I heard that Paula from Afford Anything was coming in Switzerland for some vacations.
I'm following her blog since more than a year now and thought it would be cool to catch up for a lunch so to meet one fellow PF blogger from the US to chat about money, travel and more.
But also about why the hell an American would choose Switzerland to spend her holidays when you have other European countries at discount prices (like France, Italy or Germany)?!?
In the end, her busy holiday schedule combined with mine (professional, we work here dude!) made that we couldn't find time to meet.
We decided to not stop here though, and exchange a bit more via a 1-question-1-answer email chat.
It reminded me that there is a - sometimes huge - gap between our two continents.
Hence I wanted to exchange with Paula on the topic (with questions like "what you hated most in CH").
Meeting Paula Pant from affordanything.com
Some forewords about Paula: she is a globetrotter, entrepreneur and investor.
She has traveled to 33 countries and owns seven rental property units. She is her own boss and lives on her own terms.
My single advice if you meet her in real life, don't start any sentence with "Wow, your life is so great/incredible/inspiring/younameit, but I could never afford such a lifestyle." - she would really get mad at you.
Here is the first question we talked about (expect more about this privacy blogging topic in the future as this really intrigues me):
1/ Did you decide to go public from the start with your blog?
"Yes, although when I started blogging, I wasn't financially independent (nor was I really thinking about FI). I had just returned from traveling in southeast Asia and Australia, and several friends were asking me how on earth I could have afforded the trip -- particularly since everyone guessed that I earned a mediocre salary (small-town newspaper reporters are not a well-paid group of people).
I started Afford Anything to explain how I paid for my travels, and more broadly, to explain the idea that every dollar is a decision. You can afford anything, but not everything, and each dollar that you spend on X is one that you can't spend on Y.
You can afford anything, but not everything!
After I started blogging, I became interested in real estate investing.
Initially, I didn't think of it as a path to FI; it was just an investment that created some cool cash flow.
After my first property, I realized the power of passive income - and then I was hooked. I learned as much as possible about FI and passive income, and blogged about my experiences along the way. I found a few great cash-flowing properties that put me on the fast-track to FI, and I came much further, much faster, than I had ever anticipated.
So yes, I've been public about my finances the whole time, although in the beginning, those finances were rather dull and unimpressive. I've learned a lot in the past five years, and I think my longtime readers enjoyed seeing that journey unfold."
MP: I really have to dig into rental properties. Although in Switzerland it's damn expensive.
Do you target small 1-2 bedrooms or it depends?
"If I'm buying a single-family residence, I prefer to buy a 3-bedroom, 2-bath that's at least 1,200 square feet (though I make exceptions. I bought one house that's a 3/2 with 1,000 sq ft., and I bought another that was a 3/1 and then I added a second bathroom.) If I'm buying a multi-unit property, by contrast, I prefer 1-2 bedroom units.
I'd theoretically prefer more multiunit properties, but I typically find better deals with SFRs."
MP: Thanks for the detailed explanation!
About "privacy", you decided to reveal your name/face from the beginning or not? (I plan to blog about this topic and look for examples of public figures and anonymous ones to include).
"Yes, I revealed my name/face from the beginning. I think that was important in helping my readers establish a bond / trust with me. Although if you're going to choose to be anonymous, then at least create a strong "character" like MMM or J. Money from Budgets Are Sexy. Even though they're anonymous, they "feel" like they're not, because their online character is so strong."
2/ What's your hometown in USA?
"I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, but I left when I was 17 and haven't lived there since. I spent about 7 years living in Boulder, Colorado, before I left the U.S. for a few years, to travel. When I returned to the U.S., I moved to Atlanta and lived there for 5 years. I recently moved to Las Vegas."
MP: Wow. Interesting to see how much you moved in the U.S.
Was there a common denominator to all these moves? Looking for something specific each time? Or the pleasure to travel and discover new things/people?
"My first move -- to Colorado -- was to find people who shared my interest in traveling / adventure / outdoors. Then when I left Colorado, it was to spend a few years outside of the U.S., so that was just purely the pleasure of travel.
I moved to Atlanta partially for business-related reasons and partially because I had family there.
I moved to Vegas because it has 300+ days of sunshine per year, mild winters, mountains, canyons, hiking, camping, snowboarding, proximity to southern California (where many of my friends live), and NO STATE INCOME TAX!!! Wahoo!!"
An American point of view about Switzerland
Now that you have a new blog to read (I know, life is hard, Internet is too big and days are too short...), let's prove you that you also have another destination to add to your wishlist!
More seriously, I'm in love with the country I live in because I decided it. It's by design that I'm in Switzerland. It's a choice.
After living since birth in France for many years (gorgeous country too, but it's more its system/politics/people with whom im not aligned), I spent half a year in Canada which opened my eyes. Something else existed.
It was up to us to decide where we live. Not a definitive choice made by our parents our ancestors.
We moved to Switzerland, seven years ago.
It's by design that I'm in Switzerland. It's a choice.
Since then, everytime I meet someone who also has chosen to come to Switzerland (holiday or definitive move), I'm always curious about his/her reasons to compare our visions, and to know more about the people from the world.
When I heard that Paula was coming, I couldn't resist to ask her some questions.
3) Why the hell would you spend your money for holiday in a very expensive country?
"Haha, great question!! I'm fascinated by everywhere.
Traveling is my #1 passion in life, and I want to see (almost) every country (although I'll stay away from war zones).
When I was younger and money was much tighter, I could only travel in countries where the dollar-exchange rate worked in my favor: Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam.
I always wanted to see Europe, but earning in dollars and spending in euros was unthinkable. After college, I made some brief trips to Europe, camping in tents or staying with friends, eating bread and cheese from grocery stores. Paying for a $15-per-night hostel was a major splurge. Now that I have more disposable income, I'm finally pursuing a long-held dream/goal of exploring Europe -- though I'm still staying in hostels (sometimes), and upgrading to Airbnb spots (at other times). That's a huge luxury.
Switzerland always fascinated me -- it's smaller than most U.S. states, yet it has a huge international reputation.
Ohio isn't that famous -- and its the birthplace of aviation.
Why is tiny little Switzerland so famous? How did this country give the world gruyere cheese and great chocolate and global human rights and our best chance at creating world peace? I wanted to go there myself to get a sense for the answer."
3.bis/ Did you manage to get sort of an answer in the end?
"My best guess is that Switzerland is at "the crossroads of the world" -- located in the middle of powerhouses like Italy, Germany and France, yet distinct from them all.
One thing that fascinated me is that Switzerland has the 4th highest gun ownership rate in the world (after the U.S., Serbia and Yemen), and yet you manage to not kill each other. How?! In fact, you're a symbol for world peace.
In theory, that makes sense: your attitude towards Italy/Germany/France is full defense. "We'll leave you alone. But we're going to protect ourselves. We have mountains and guns. Don't invade us, because you'll lose. In fairness, we won't invade you either. Deal?"
And in theory that makes complete sense. But I'm still amazed by the fact that Switzerland actually managed to pull it off. And I'm extra-impressed that you all don't turn your guns against each other, at an individual level, the way that we do in America. That's the part I still can't answer.
MP: I must say that I was clueless about this gun fact. Paula raised my curiosity as hell!
I think this article from 2011 is explaining it all very well.
I'll have learn something about my own country, Paula. Thanks!
4/ So what was your itinerary in Switzerland from landing to leaving back to U.S?
"I started in Zurich, then went to Interlaken, then Bern, then Montreux, before flying out of Geneva. (Plus plenty of stops in small towns like Lucerne, Gruyere, etc.).
Next time that I'm there, I'd like to visit the area near the Italian border -- I feel like that was the a major section of Switzerland that I missed completely. :-)"
MP: About the Italian part, I still didn't go to Lugano where I have a good friend.
This part of Switzerland is indeed famous here for its climate which is very sunny and its culture more latin. Will share some pictures once I get there (if you don't go before I do!).
Lugano, Ticino (Switzerland)
5/ What is the ONE thing you loved the most about Switzerland during your trip (sunset, place, chocolate, younameit)?
"Oh wow ... that's a tough question. Mountains? Cheese? Architecture? Diversity of languages and cultures in a small setting? I love those all.
But if I had to choose just ONE thing, I'd say that I love it's cleanliness.
Seriously. Switzerland is so clean that I feel like I could eat food that's dropped onto the roadway. There was one day, after a hike, when I was tired -- and I laid down with my head on the pavement of a parking lot. I wouldn't do that anywhere else. Switzerland might be the cleanest country I've ever seen."
6/ And of course, what is the ONE thing you hated the most?
"It never got warm! That's fine for a 10-day visit, but I think it would wear on me if I lived there. :-)"
MP: I guess you came in the worst summer days...
It was horrible during 2 months with highest temperature ever in Europe like 40-45 degrees.
Last 2 questions to start a little local battle on the blog:
7/ What side of the Röstigraben (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Röstigraben) did you prefer in term of culture/people/language? Swiss German or Romandie (Swiss French), and why?
"Hmm -- that's tough. I liked the food on the Swiss French side better (mostly because I love cheese), but I liked the architecture and buildings on the Swiss German side better. So -- different sides for different reasons."
8/ What city did you prefer during your Switzerland trip, and why?
"Geneva was interesting, because of its mix of people, and Bern was incredible just because it was so pretty. But if I could choose a small town (rather than a big city) I'd say somewhere like Montreaux or Gruyere or Interlaken. :-)"
Hey, but wait! We didn't talk about money/cash yet. Last question I swear!
9/ How did you feel the cliché that every Swiss citizen is a billionaire, with plenty of secret bank accounts and gold in the basement?
"I've never heard that cliché before. I've watched movies that play on the idea of secret Swiss bank accounts, but I haven't heard the stereotype that everyone who lives there is stashing gold in their basement. :-)"
MP: This must be a cliché only here in Europe then.
All people/family from France think we drive a Ferrari on weekdays and a Lamborghini during weekends when we say we live in CH!
Thanks again, Paula, for this virtual meeting. Hopefully next time it's in real life!
And you, dear readers, what's your take on Switzerland? Love? Hate? Any preconceived ideas?