(This is an updated version of a previous post.)
Some friends once asked us for a blueprint of how we set up our nomadic life, and how we sustained it. The first point we made was that we weren’t the first to do this nor would we be the last, and how we did it was definitely not the only way. We met other nomadic couples during our travels, and every one of them was 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 full-time travel lifestyle started from a casual comment Brett made one day when we were trying to prioritize a list of travel destinations. We were still living on Kaua’i at the time, enjoying our life there (well, except for the humidity), but YaYu, our youngest, would heading off to college in a few months and Brett and I 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 of traveling full time 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 a big travel dream happen.
Many people have assumed that because we traveled full time we must have a large retirement income but that wasn’t and isn’t true. We’re definitely not made of money (our income would probably surprise most people), but we’ve found it was 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 began traveling and our daughters earned enough from work to supplement the scholarships and financial aid they were awarded and paid their own college expenses. Although the Senior Nomads were homeowners when they set out, they still initially sold all their stuff and rented their house while they traveled, and we could have done the same if we had still been homeowners. Because our income came/comes primarily from government pensions – Social Security and Brett’s military retirement (and a small pension from Brett’s last employment) – it was/is consistent from month to month which makes budgeting easier. All we had to do was figure out how to live off of that income while we traveled beyond covering travel expenses, a couple of fixed payments, and getting our college-aged children to and from places. We had/have no other extra income, no big investments to manage, no secret slush fund, and we didn’t take money from anything but our travel savings. Instead of paying for rent, utilities, gasoline, insurance, car repairs or home maintenance we used our income to cover airfare, Airbnb rentals and daily living expenses.
Our travel lifestyle worked from two different directions: 1) we carefully planned ahead and 2) we had a budget and stuck 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 were able to sustain the rest of our lifestyle on what we received each month as we went along.
Planning ahead for where we wanted to go and what we wanted to do gave us plenty of time to find affordable flights and/or other transportation, and affordable Airbnb lodgings as well. Nothing was left to chance and there was very little to no spontaneity involved when it came to those big decisions. Once we committed, we were committed – there was no backing out or changing our minds, mainly because we would have lost quite a bit of money if we had. We also continued to put money away into our travel fund every month to cover transportation and lodging expenses ahead of time.
The only fixed bills we had each month were my student loan payment and our phone plan, deducted from our pay automatically each month. So, the amount we had in disposable income each month didn’t vary. That income covered lodging and long-distance transportation costs, groceries and (very) occasional dining out, local transportation, admissions, souvenirs, etc. Brett maintained a diary of all our spending every day to keep track of how we were doing and to let us know when we might need to cut back or tweak things a bit (he still does this every day). We had to adjust that amount and lower our daily spending average when we started putting money away to help YaYu graduate from college without any debt or at least with as little debt as possible. We were also fortunate that we have military healthcare which covers us worldwide. In fact, we learned that because we have military insurance we didn’t qualify for regular travel insurance! Our credit card benefits covered 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 found the longer we traveled, the more we wanted to continue. We had a much better time than we imagined, and learned things along the way to make the experience go more smoothly. For example, we discovered we preferred 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 provided a sometimes substantial discount for housing. We worked it out where we got together with each of our daughters a couple of times each year as well as spent time in Japan with our son and his family. We made the lifestyle work for us and not the other way around. While we are happy to be back on Kaua’i these days, in hindsight we realize we maybe should have fulfilled our stay in Japan, and then traveled on to Mexico and stayed put there as getting resettled on Kaua’i ended up costing us much more than expected. However, it’s been an extremely safe place to ride out the pandemic; the same probably could not have been said of Mexico.
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 flew from place to place, but have met others that were doing long-term road trips around the U.S. and Canada, staying in Airbnb rentals in the locations they visit. Some were pulling a trailer or driving an RV and camping. Other people we met were housesitting and others had kept their homes but did house swaps. The one thing everyone seemed to have in common was 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. Oh . . . and, no pandemics.