How We Do This

This past summer, some friends asked us for a blueprint of how we were able to set up our current nomadic life, and how we sustain it. The first point we made was that we weren’t the first to do this nor will we be the last, and how we are doing this is definitely not the only way. We have met other nomadic couples along the way, and every one of them is doing long-term travel differently from us and funding it differently as well. Our inspiration came from Michael and Debbie Campbell, the original Senior Nomads, but everyone who has committed to a big travel adventure is doing what works for their energy level, bucket list, and budget.

Our current lifestyle started from a casual comment Brett made one day when we were trying to prioritize a list of travel destinations. We were living on Kaua’i at the time, enjoying our life there (well, except for the humidity), but YaYu, our youngest, would soon be off to college and we were eager to hit the road on our own and go somewhere we hadn’t been before. As we were discussing different locations, Brett said, “I wish we could see them all.” We both stopped immediately, looked at each other, and at the same time asked, “Could we do that?” We spent the next few weeks talking about the possibility and crunching numbers and eventually figured out that by saving every extra penny we could, getting rid of almost everything we owned, and giving up our life in Hawai’i we could make our travel dream happen.

Many people assume that because we travel full time we must have a large retirement income but that isn’t true. We’re definitely not made of money (our income would probably surprise most people), but we’ve found it’s possible to travel full time on our income as well as cover our expenses with careful planning, no debt other than my student loan, and an ability to stick to a budget. Our situation was somewhat unique in that we didn’t own a home when we started and up until this year our daughters earned enough from work to supplement the scholarships and financial aid they were awarded to pay their own college expenses. However, homeowners like the Senior Nomads were initially still sold all their stuff and rented the house while they traveled, and we could have done the same. Because our income comes primarily from government pensions – Social Security and Brett’s military retirement (he also receives a small pension from his last employment) – it’s the same from month to month. We just had to figure out how to live off of that income while we traveled, covering our travel expenses and a couple of fixed payments, and still get our college-aged children to and from places. We have no other extra income, no big investments to manage, no secret slush fund, and we don’t take money from our savings. However, instead of paying for utilities, gasoline, insurance, car repairs or home maintenance we use our income to cover airfare, Airbnb rentals and daily living expenses.

Our current lifestyle works from two different directions: we carefully plan ahead and we have a budget and stick to it. For almost a year and a half before we set off on our Big Adventure, we saved as much as we could to cover as many up-front travel expenses as possible, like our train journey across Australia and our tour in India, and as many flights, Airbnb reservations and other expenses as we could. That got us started and we’ve been able to sustain the rest of our lifestyle on what we receive each month as we’ve gone along.

Planning ahead for where we want to go and what we want to do gives us plenty of time to find affordable flights and/or other transportation, and affordable Airbnb lodgings as well. Nothing is left to chance and there’s very little to no spontaneity involved when it comes to these big decisions. And, once we commit, we are committed – there’s no backing out or changing our minds, mainly because we’d lose quite a bit of money if we do. We still put money away into our travel fund every month to cover transportation and lodging expenses ahead of time.

Because our monthly income doesn’t change from month-to-month or isn’t dependent on outside variables – the only fixed bills we have are my student loan payment and our phone plan, deducted from our pay automatically each month – the amount we have in disposable income doesn’t vary. This amount covers everything outside of lodging and long-distance transportation costs, things like groceries and dining out, local transportation, admissions, souvenirs, etc. Brett maintains a diary of all our spending every day to keep track of how we’re doing and to let us know when we might need to cut back or tweak things a bit. We’ve had to adjust that amount this past month and lower our daily spending average because we want to help YaYu graduate from college without any debt or at least with as little debt as possible. We are also fortunate that we have military healthcare which covers us worldwide. In fact, because we have it we don’t qualify for regular travel insurance! Our main credit card benefits cover most of the other travel insurance items, such as canceled flights, lost luggage, etc.

We initially thought a year or so of full-time travel would be enough, and afterwards we’d be ready to settle down somewhere, but we’ve found the longer we travel, the more we want to continue. We’re having a much better time than we imagined, and have learned things along the way to make the experience go more smoothly. For example, we prefer longer stays of at least a month in a location versus moving every few days or even every couple of weeks – we tried that and it was exhausting – and that longer stays usually provide a sometimes substantial discount for housing. We’ve worked it out where we get together with each of our daughters a couple of times each year as well as spend time in Japan with our son and his family. We’ve made the lifestyle work for us and not the other way around.

There is no one-size-fits-all way to do long-term travel. How one accomplishes it or adapts to it is completely customizable according to one’s own circumstances, financial and otherwise. We’ve been flying from place to place, but have met others that are doing long-term road trips around the U.S. and Canada, staying in Airbnb rentals in the locations they visit. Some are pulling a trailer or driving an RV and camping. Other people we’ve met housesit and others have kept their homes but do house swaps. The one thing everyone seems to have in common is living within their means and living with minimal possessions, and prioritizing experiences rather than having things to show.

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. 

Although the lifestyle is not for everybody, if you’ve ever dreamt of trying out the nomadic life for a while, I firmly believe a way can be found to make it happen in a way that works for each person or couple or even family. All that’s needed is imagination and the courage to take the first step.


16 thoughts on “How We Do This

  1. I love reading about your travels. I especially loved reading about your meeting with your brother in Australia because he seems also to have made a very good life for himself there and settled into a place he is not originally from. I always admire folks like you who are able to plan and execute a plan well.


    1. Seeing my brother in Sydney turned out to be a nice experience as it was doubtful that we’d see each other again otherwise (hard for me to get to Australia, and after my mom died he doesn’t have a big reason to make the trip to the U.S.). We had a good few days there with him!


  2. As always another great post! However I’m confused by the following:
    This amount covers everything outside of lodging and long-distance transportation costs, things like groceries and dining out, local transportation, admissions, souvenirs, etc.
    Does the above cover everything or did you mean just lodging and transportation?
    Stay safe and enjoy.


    1. We put money into a savings account every month to cover lodging and long-distance transportation. After this is put away, and after we put some into savings for our daughter’s college expenses, the rest is left over to live on each month (right now @$35/day). I think the Senior Nomads work about six weeks or so ahead with their income, paying for Airbnb and travel costs as they go. Hope that makes it a little clearer.


  3. I need to quit adopting dogs for a while, and find a travel partner, and I’d be on my way. Half of my current plan for the next few years is to travel to my close friends in this country for longer stays. I’ve been back to Oregon, Texas and Virginia this year doing just that. Next month is a nice ten day jaunt to Tennessee and Virginia. The other half of my plan is to take longer trips – a few weeks to a month – to more far flung places. I really want to go back to Argentina, and spend more time in BsAs, Mendoza, and head down to Patagonia. And I have a possible trip around SE Asia in the planning stages for about a year from now.

    Another idea is to live in a few different areas of the US for a while – say six months at a stretch. I initially came up with this idea when visiting my aunt and uncle in Tucson. They are still very active, but I do notice them aging, and would like to spend more time with them. I could possibly take the dogs with me depending on where I stay. I think that would be a good way to start. I’ve lived in north SD County my whole life! I also have a close friend in Austin and I love it there, so that is another possibility.

    Thank you for this post, it’s very informative – and inspiring! Here comes the next group of Nomads!


    1. All of your ideas show that there is just no one way to do this. I guess the biggest point I wanted to make is that if this is what you want to do, then you will find a way that works for you. There just isn’t one way to do it.

      I’d like to go back to Argentina as well – it was a great, positive start to our adventure, but there’s so much we didn’t get to see and do.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you so much for this post! I’ve always been concerned about how medical insurance would work if I ever wanted to be away for a long period of time. I know that’s not a concern for you since you’re covered under the military plan, but reading your post reminded me it’s something I wanted to look into, so I went over to the Senior Nomads blog and found some posts where they explain how they do it. It doesn’t seem too complicated or mysterious, so that’s good to know.

    I think I would do what you did and not own a house or rent an apartment in the US because it doesn’t really make any sense to be tied to a mortgage/rent when you’re not spending any time living there, but how does it work as far as taxes? Also, regarding mail, I think you’ve mentioned before that Brett’s sister lets forward your mail to her (which is great) but I wonder how it would work if you had no one to do that and no permanent address?

    I still work full-time so a nomadic lifestyle isn’t in the cards for me at this point, but it’s fun to read about your adventures and live vicariously through your blog. I’ve learned so much about a lifestyle that I didn’t know was possible!


    1. Travel insurance is one of those things I don’t write about because we don’t have to deal with it. I had no idea though before we started that we didn’t even qualify, and it was nice to find out that our credit card provided much of what travel insurance does. The only thing we don’t have is evacuation insurance, but I’ve never been able to find it sold separately.

      This was something that never would have worked for us when we were working or the girls were at home, although we have met families on the road that are traveling the world with their kids (we got great advice about luggage from one family we met!).

      We are fortunate that Brett’s sister is willing to do this for us, but there are mail forwarding services that can handle this. Some will even open mail and scan it for you so you can keep up with it. We asked Linda to open our mail for us, but I think the idea makes her uncomfortable so she just sticks it into a big envelope and whenever we have an address to receive mail she sends it on. Most payments can be handled online, as can check deposits, etc.


  5. I love to travel and I do travel solo. I have an upcoming vacation in the US for almost three months. I will be spending some of that time staying with old friends and some of it on the road and staying at hotels. I have already paid for my air travel and a couple of hotel stays because it made sense to take advantage of the cheaper alternatives (even with added travel protection). I will also be collecting hotel points for next year since, I am staying at places that belong to the same chain. If I wanted to go to other parts of the world, I am sure I would want a travel buddy. In that respect, I think both you and Brett are very lucky to have each other not only as a couple but, as best friends too.

    I have also worked up a budget and determined a daily allowance just like you did. Your travels are really inspiring and I love the fact that you take time to write about them in detail and share wonderful pictures. Now Japan and British countryside are on top of my list. I will not be traveling abroad next year. In 2021, I would like to visit either of those destinations for about three weeks or so.

    Thanks again and please keep inspiring us!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Where are you visiting in the U.S.? Your plans sound well thought out – I’m sure you’re going to have a great time.

      Brett and I are a good “travel team.” I’ve always traveled with someone, and now with my best friend, but think I could travel solo if that’s how things turned out. I’ve learned so much this past year.

      The budget, as we have discovered, it the key to a successful journey. Get it right, stick to it, and everything else falls into place.


  6. This post is so well written and thought out. Indeed, there is no recipe working for everyone’s circumstances but you covered a lot of topics from planning to adjusting to real life occurrences such as family events, unexpected changes and such. I would only add a couple more things :
    – international long time traveling comes down to 2 time intervals : up to 90 days, which means one can stay in a foreign country as a visitor( most countries adhere to this period of time) or longer than 90 days, which means one needs to establish temporary residency, so before booking anything one must be well informed about that aspect.
    – medical insurance can be bought prior to traveling from specialized insurers for the whole duration of the trip, however some health care providers (such is Kaiser Permanente) do offer medical insurance abroad but with certain conditions-check with your health provider first to learn what is available to you.
    -people who take medication and cannot secure the full supply for the duration of the trip will need to look at what options are available in the destination country : buying the same drugs from a pharmacy ( it may have a different name, but the active ingredient and dosage should be the same) or going to a local doctor and get a local prescription. In most of Europe, a consultation with a private physician is about $25 and if you have a documented medical history, you’ll most likely leave that office with a prescription for 3 months.
    -for mail I used excelent service! They opened, scanned, deposit checks, and forwarded to the address we indicated for a monthly fee.

    I would advise everyone to start small, with maybe a month at the time around US first, to get a feeling for what’s like to live like a nomad. If that’s one’s cup of tea, then move abroad for a month and experience. The reality is that experience matter, the more one does it, the more one understands what works and what it doesn’t. Planning ahead is a must as there are going to be a lot of unexpected things to deal with and it’s good for sanity to have at least a well thought out plan and a plan B in place. Horror stories of the AirBnB going out of business the day you arrived have been seen. And if traveling is a priority, that should be reflected in saving money for it. I know people who go on a trip, max out their credit cards and spend the following 10 years paying that debt. That is the wrong way to travel IMHO.


    1. Thank you, Niculina, especially for your additions. We sure didn’t start small with our adventure, but did have lots of travel experience under our belts before we started.

      All the points you made are important, especially the one about medication and medical care out of the U.S. All our prescriptions regularly come in a 90 day supply, but our pharmacy did an”emergency” refill (we get one per year) so that we could travel with a 6-month supply. U.S. medications CANNOT be mailed to another country – even some OTC cold medications are illegal to bring into other countries, so it’s important to either bring enough medication along with you (with accompanying paperwork) if you’re doing extended travel, and/or a copy of your prescription(s) so that you can get medication overseas.

      Re. Airbnb hosts cancelling at the last moment. It does happen but one way to protect yourself is to book with superhosts. They work hard for that designation, and will lose it if THEY cancel on someone. But, always have a Plan B.

      We recommended Traveling Mailbox to our friends!


  7. Just out of curiousity (and not that I put any faith into any of it), what are your astrological signs? I’m a Gemini, husband’s a Capricorn, so we’re at opposite ends. I would love to travel around Europe in a VW camper but I’m afraid my SO is too grounded to consider such a thing!


    1. Until this year Brett and I both considered ourselves Tauruses. However, when we were in Jaipur early this year, when we toured the ancient but still accurate astronomy center, the astronomer that was leading our group took information from us and then told Brett he was an Aries (astrology is very important in India so they’re very accurate about these things). Oh well – we still get on well. In Chinese astrology, he is a tiger and I am a dragon, either the worst or the best combination possible (the immovable force (tiger) vs. the irresistible object (dragon).

      I’m with you about traveling in a VW camper; I know Brett would be far less enamored with the idea.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Following along on your Big Adventure has certainly caused many, including myself to stop and think about your ‘experiences over things’ quote! You have surely been an inspiration to me 🙂


    1. I still like things but these days I mostly prefer looking at them rather than owning them. I’d rather be doing something (or tasting something).


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