And so we have reached the final NW update of 2020.
WHAT. A. YEAR.
I finished my contract in early December before Mrs. FB and I jetted off to Sweden for Christmas and some sightseeing.
I’ll be honest… the last couple of months in London were a real struggle for me. The second lockdown plus our housemate testing positive for Covid in November (which resulted in us being locked inside for two weeks) really got me down. It felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders when I finished up work and secured my bonus. We’re going to miss this amazing city and all the friends we have made here a lot, but because of Covid/lockdown, the goodbye was a lot easier and we were keen to get out of the UK if I’m being truthful.
With that being said, I made it into the office during our last week to see that killer view one last time… and I actually managed to get Mrs. FB a guest pass too. She got to see this beautiful sunset with me on my last day which was very special.
After saying our goodbyes and packing up our London life it was off to Stockholm to squeeze in one last trip before returning to the motherland.
We originally wanted to do a Scandinavian tour that also included Iceland and Norway to end the year but given the current environment, I’m just thankful we at least got to see Sweden. I was super interested to see how the Swedes were handling Covid because they were one of only a few countries that didn’t implement strict lockdown measures. It was a bit weird to be walking in and out of shops without putting on a mask in Stockholm and tbh, you wouldn’t really know that there was a global pandemic if it wasn’t for the signs.
The Swedes have a bit of social distancing already built into their culture (they rarely stand close to each other in general) which was a common explanation I received from asking the locals what they thought about their country’s response to the situation. That and their government seems to trust the citizens to do the right thing and for vulnerable people to isolate.
We then made our way up north to a town called Abisko to see the northern lights. And when I say up north, I really mean up north.
I was staring at the map when we got to Abisko and I’m pretty sure it’s the furthest away from home I’ve ever been (in terms of distance). We went there with the sole purpose of seeing the aurora borealis dance across the sky which has been a bucket list item for many years.
If you’ve ever been this far up north, you’ll know that it starts to get dark around 2:30 PM 👎 which feels so unnatural. I honestly don’t know how people live up there. I can handle 6 hours of light for a few days but I could never do a full season.
Anyway, the first night was -4°C and full of clouds. We couldn’t see any stars which is a bad sign. We lasted around 2.5 hours on the lake (you have to head down to the lake to reduce the light pollution from the town) before we called it quits at around 10:30 PM freezing our asses off!
We booked a photo tour on the second night because we had read that they will drive you to the best spots and you need a good camera to capture the lights properly. The tour wasn’t cheap at around $170 AUD a head 💸 but we thought “What the hell, when are we ever going to be here again”. Off we went into a chilli -7°C night chasing the aurora in the minivan. We pulled up to a few different spots but the issue remained… more… god… damn… clouds. Try as we might, the heavens just wouldn’t play ball and we ended up finishing the tour seeing diddly-squat. The tour guide did give us some good pointers and basically said that to see the lights, you just need to be patient. Abisko is one of the best places to see the aurora because it’s situated between a mountain and a lake which means the clouds have a tendency to clear up to reveal the magic of the lights that sit behind them. I headed back out to the lake after we got back from the tour just in case the clouds cleared up but I could only last until about 1 AM before calling it quits.
Google weather was predicting that our third and final night was going to be clear up around 11 PM and I was absolutely HELL BENT on seeing this goddam spectacle. And just my luck, this night was also the coldest of the three with weather dropping down to -10°C plus wind 🥶. I bought some firewood from the shop and put on 100 layers of clothes and headed out to the lake at around 8 PM to start a fire in the pit.
The annoying thing is the town has a ‘webcam’ live feed pointed at the sky which you can look at from your phone/laptop in the cabins. It’s theoretically meant to show you when the lights are visible so you don’t have to sit down by the lake in the cold all night. But the issue with that feed is that the camera picks up lights that you can’t see with the human eye. I was down on the lake for a few hours before a lot of people from the town came down because the live feed was showing green streaks in the sky. But if you looked up, you couldn’t see anything 😕… it was at this point that I started to wonder if the aurora was just made up by the tourism industry 😅.
Mrs. FB tapped out around 11 PM and I pushed on into the night waiting, hoping, praying that I would see a glimmer of green. I kept updating Google weather waiting for the sky to clear up but frustratingly, every time I did, the predictions were continually pushed back 30 minutes and before you knew it, 4 AM was upon us and I had to wave the white flag.
We left Abikso sad and exhausted after not being able to see what we went there for. But in a weird way, I guess that’s what makes the northern light so special. You aren’t guaranteed to see them and you’re very lucky if you do. I’ll try again one day but after failing this time around I definitely have some pointers for anyone out that wants to see them.
- Don’t plan your trip with the sole purpose of seeing the lights
- I’d personally go to the Norway city of Tromsø next time. Abikso is meant to be one of the best places to see the lights in the world but there’s literally nothing else there. At least you have a lot of other activities to do in a city
- The odds of seeing the lights as epic as they are advertised on tourism ads are extremely unlikely. Our guide said they only really come out like that and dance across the sky a few times a season. You can get some good photos with a proper camera but the naked eye experience can be a letdown
- Try to stay for at least a week to ensure you have multiple chances of seeing them
- Don’t trust any website/app. The accuracy of forecasting the lights is incredibly low.
We then caught the overnight train to a snow mountain called Åre. It had to be one of, if not the most scenic mountains I’ve ever been to because of the unique sunrise/set that lasts for hours whilst you’re snowboarding. It also has an incredibly pretty little snow village that looks like something out of a movie.
One of the most impressive things about this mountain was the fact that it had a train station in the middle of town.
I’ve never seen that before. It must have a really gradual incline up the mountain for a train to work right? Whatever black magic the Swedes were casting, I was very grateful it was there because it made travel super easy for both up and off the mountain. We caught a sleeper train off the mountain to our friends home town of Ängelholm to spend Christmas with her and her family.
We almost had a meltdown in Åre when we read on the news that Singapore had stopped transit flights from the UK after a new strain of Covid was discovered 😩. Our ticket home departed from London on the 2nd of January and included a stopover in Singapore before flying to Adelaide… It was so hard to figure out what our options were and if we were actually allowed to fly home. Because things were moving so fast, Singapore Airlines couldn’t really give a definitive answer on anything. What a nightmare. After a really intense 4 hours of phone calls and panic Googling, we decided to switch our first leg to leave from Copenhagen instead of London. Thank God Singapore Airlines had an available flight from Copenhagen that they let us switch to free of charge.
Christmas was very fun and NYE was a bit boring which was fine, our focus was well and truly on getting home at that stage.
On the 2nd of January, after two years of being away, we finally boarded the plane that began our journey home.
Arriving in Singapore was an experience I’ll never forget. We got out of the plane to 6 people in full on hazmat suits lol. I’d heard about how serious Singapore was taking Covid but it was still pretty surreal to go through it.
You know those movies where the army sets up a makeshift camp with quarantined off areas and there will be a bunch of people trying to get through all different stages of security… yeah it was like that. The only thing that was missing was a dude with a huge hose blasting naked people down before they’re allowed to enter 😂. I’ve got some videos of the whole ordeal that I’ll be showing my kids one day I’m sure. Crazy times!
We finally got to Adelaide and were ushered away to The Playford hotel in Adelaide where I sit typing up this post in quarantine. We have been really lucky with our hotel which includes an upstairs loft, big 50 inch TV and spa 🤩. We’re apart of the ‘Aussies in Quarantine’ Facebook group and some of the stories we have been reading have been horrific
And with that, our overseas adventure has come to an end. We’re now onto the next chapter in our lives and even though we’re stuck in this hotel for another 10 days, damn it feels good to be back home 🐨🦘♥.
Net Worth Update
The NW had solid contributions from our share portfolio and Super this month. But the big bump came from my bonus I received which was £20K.
We started the year at $770K and finish at ~$860K. A $90K increase in net worth is the lowest yearly jump for us since 2014-2015 but considering we had one of the worst stock market crashes in history, I’m very happy with those results.
I thought we might be on track to crack a mil in 2021 but this is looking less likely now unless there are some big gains coming up. I used to dream about becoming a millionaire before 30 when I was a kid and you know what, I came pretty damn close. Mrs. FB is keeping that dream alive though as she won’t hit the big 3. 0. until late December this year.
There are two big factors that will have major impacts on the net worth for us in 2021.
- I’m officially unemployed 😁. This means no fat London contracting checks anymore. Mrs. FB is back into fulltime teaching in two weeks which means we’ll be on a single salary until I figure out what I want to do (I’ll have more on this in the next update)
- We’re going to buy a home this year 🏡🎉. This will have a pretty big impact on our net worth because I don’t classify a PPOR as an asset. It doesn’t really make a difference to us in terms of reaching our FIRE goals but the deposit we use as a down payment for a house will essentially be removed from these updates. I’m looking at debt recycling atm because the plan is to put as much money into the home loan as possible and either withdraw or use a line of credit to get that money back out so we can invest it but have that portion of the loan be tax-deductible (AKA debt recycling). I haven’t been able to sink my teeth into the finer details just yet but please rest assured I will be making an article detailing my experience.
No changes in the properties this month.
The current value of our properties is a rough guesstimation based on similar surrounding properties. I only really update these when we get an official bank valuation
Not much going on here.
We didn’t buy any shares in December and won’t be buying any for a while now. The priority has shifted to buying a home and increasing our deposit for when the right property comes up. We were looking at spending around $400K-$450K but house prices have jumped significantly in 2020 and I think we won’t be able to get what we want for under $500K.
We have ~$70K in cash right now and I hate holding this much without doing anything. I’m obviously a big fan of having an emergency fund of around $25K (that’s what we’re comfortable with), but anything past that feels like wasted gains. We do have an offset that makes holding a lot of cash much more attractive (vs storing it in a HISA) but the amount of money being created all around the world worries me a lot. I don’t want to be holding the bag if inflation gets out of control.