Peter Brill and Wendy Lewis: World Travelers & Thoughtful People

Corenna Roozeboom Life with Money

Park Piedmont clients are entrepreneurs and homemakers, world-renowned physicians and award-winning authors and directors, the founders of startups and the owners of closely-held businesses, and young professionals and retirees.

The common thread is that they are thoughtful, intelligent people doing good and interesting things with their lives.

Today we’re kicking off a new series to help our clients get to know other clients in our extended community – others who look to Park Piedmont for financial guidance that’s principled, personal, and practical.
Peter Brill and Wendy Lewis
We begin with Peter Brill and Wendy Lewis, who have been traveling the world together since January 2022 – by sailboat. We caught up with them as they prepared to pass through the Panama Canal and asked them to share a bit about their adventure around the world – and to reflect a bit on life with money.

The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

• • •

Whose idea was it to travel the world by sailboat? Did either of you need convincing?

Wendy Lewis: We first went sailing together off the coast of Hawaii, and I was overwhelmed with joy because it was so much fun. And then later we were out on a charter in the British Virgin Islands, and I turned to Peter and said, “Have you ever thought about sailing around the world?” And he said, “Don’t mess with me because I have. It’s a dream.” And I said, “Really? Let’s do it.”

Peter Brill: Yeah, we shared it from the beginning. And the timing was right. Our children were adults and in a good place, and both sets of parents had passed away so we were no longer caring for them. And things were opening up after Covid. So we made the decision pretty quickly, but we’ve remained flexible in terms of making travel plans. There are different constraints to consider for traveling by boat versus over land – like hurricane or cyclone seasons, winds, and currents. And when you’re traveling the world, you’re also thinking about changing political climates, safety and security, and of course budgeting. Park Piedmont’s “How Long Might Your Money Last?” illustration has been helpful in that regard.

What is one purchase you’ve made that felt especially weighty – or filled with possibility?

Wendy: Buying the boat! We knew we wanted this particular boat because it’s set up for sailing in the way that we wanted to sail. It’s safe and it’s sturdy, but it moves fast and it’s fun to sail. So that purchase felt like a leap!

Peter: Yeah, we sold everything. The house, the cars – the boat is our home now. We purged a lifetime’s worth of stuff. We don’t have any possessions except for some artwork, books, and photographs – some personal stuff like that, but no furniture or anything. If we have it, it’s in the boat with us. And we’re just going to do this until we decide otherwise – I guess if it stops being fun, or if there’s a health issue, or if something else comes up that shifts our thinking.

Wendy: We’re thinking 5-7 years, or maybe 7-10.

Peter: And we’ve been aboard for over two already!

Have you discovered any tips for saving during your travels?

Peter: Yeah, here’s a big one: if you don’t purchase health insurance coverage for the US, you save an enormous amount of money. Colombia is an example of an advanced, modern, cosmopolitan country with good, affordable healthcare. There’s actually something called dental and medical tourism – people who fly from the US to Colombia to get first-rate, affordable healthcare. So we’ve saved a lot of money by paying out-of-pocket for minor expenses and by purchasing insurance based in London for major medical expenses we incur anywhere in the world – even in the US, though not for longer than a month.

What’s the last thing you purchased that brought you joy?

Wendy: We love artwork, and we recently purchased a little wooden sailboat that someone made in the Guna Yala part of Panama, an indigenous area. They make the sails out of anything – just sheets sometimes. And there are these beautiful traditional textiles that the Guna Yala make, called molas. They’re entirely hand stitched, and many of the women wear these on their clothing – like with a collared blouse. They’re so beautiful. So we bought one of those too. Both purchases have brought us joy.

What do you wish you could tell your 20-year-old self about life with money?

Wendy: It’s okay to follow your heart, and money will follow. I really bet that you’ll work it out. Another thing is that it’s okay to splurge every once in a while. You do need to save, but – my dad was a great caregiver and took care of our family financially. But one day after he retired he said, “You know, I think it’s finally time to start spending this money that I’ve saved.” And that really struck me. He and my mom had dreamed of going to Europe and to places where he had served in the war. And then unexpectedly, he was sick. He’d always been super healthy, but he passed away in six months. So they didn’t get to go on that trip. I was just barely 30 when he passed away, and it really stayed with me. So in a way, that was also a lesson to that younger self: save but also enjoy, because all you have is what is immediately in front of you, you know? So much about money is about saving for the future. That’s important – I don’t want to discount that – but all we have is right now.

Peter: I would say, “Tranquilo.” Don’t worry so much about money. I think I spent too much time worrying and feeling anxious about it. There’s so much energy consumed in worrying, and it isn’t helpful. So I would tell myself to spend that energy on something else.

What is one decision you’ve made, or step you’ve taken, that has made your life with money less stressful?

Peter: Before we left, we needed to organize our finances and streamline everything. Turning everything over to Park Piedmont pursuant to our values and our desires has been great. We don’t fuss over it, it’s not something that requires a lot of energy or bandwidth on our end, and that’s the choice we like.

Wendy: The thought and care that the Park Piedmont team puts into their work has been great for us – it’s something we don’t have to worry about when we’re traveling, so that’s huge.

What’s the best gift you’ve ever received or given?

Wendy: Time – the gift of spending time together. And also unconditional acceptance from someone. Money can of course help with things like spending time together – like giving us the ability to bring our kids here, or for us to go back and visit them. But if we’re talking about something specifically related to money, the best gift I’ve ever received was when I was traveling in Africa with my brother. He paid for us to trek and visit gorillas in Rwanda. We loved it so much, we went a second time and were lucky enough to see a newborn baby gorilla. The whole band was celebrating its birth. It was amazing.

Peter: I think the best gifts are experiences – being with loved ones, with family and friends.

During your travels, have you noticed differences in “life with money” (approaches, mindsets, etc.) in other parts of the world – that perhaps have even changed your own?

Wendy: Traveling has allowed us to meet so many creative, resourceful, entrepreneurial, and funny people – and to experience value systems that are different than we typically see in the US. For example, we’ve experienced overwhelming generosity from people who may live very differently economically. They’re so eager to help us – sometimes it’s related to money, sometimes it’s related to time, and sometimes it’s related to understanding the language. It has changed me in ways that will impact how I interact with people when we go back to the States.

Peter: Yes, and if someone helps us out with something, our reaction is to ask, “How can we pay you?” And they’re like, “Pay us? You don’t need to pay us!” In many ways, resources allow us to do amazing things like travel. But money makes life more complex – it doesn’t guarantee happiness, fulfillment, or peace.