How We Did It

(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.


16 thoughts on “How We Did It

  1. Hi Laura, I’m dipping back in the Blogosphere. I love this post – the quote about hesitancy and commitment most of all. I’m dallying with thoughts of early retirement. Budgeting and living within ones means is the most scary. Giving up our big income – things to go before I can commit to it, things like actually budgeting.


    1. So, so, so very happy to hear from you! I’ve kept you in my thoughts and figured that if all was OK you’d be back when you were ready.

      First, retirement has been every bit as wonderful as we imagined, better even. But it was a BIG adjustment, financially and otherwise. Mentally too. Yes, do the things you want to do before you change your income, but otherwise all things are possible!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think you were smart to go back to Hawaii since they have done an excellent job of managing Covid. Since I have personally known no less than 5 people who have died, including several in their 40’s, and have personally known, at a minimum, 50 folks who have contracted Covid, and been horribly sick, I think you made the right decision. It is nothing to play with. It is unbelievable. I know a 20 year old in the hospital ruht now.


    1. Although our move here was expensive, more than we imagined or dreamed, it was the best place we could have landed. It’s been a very safe place to be overall.

      You have seen too much, and experienced too much grief because of this virus. I remain flabbergasted that people still think there’s nothing to this.


  3. I have been reading your blog for several years, always amazed by your ability to set a goal, plan the steps and the discipline to make it happen. I followed your Big Adventure with interest. You proved that it is possible to travel the world on a budget and still have unforgettable experiences. I was most impressed by your ability to know when to splurge (tour in India, train across Australia, gelato) and when to save (cooking most of your meals, free walking tours, quest for various flavors of KitKats). Staying in one place for at least a month allows you the chance to live like a local and truly experience the people, the food and the culture. I believe that traveling on a budget gives you the most authentic experience.

    Being Occasional Nomads is not the travel style for my husband and me. We enjoy travel but are homebodies at heart. I will enjoy being an armchair traveler whenever you are off on your next Big Adventure.


    1. We have goals these days, but they all seem sort of mushy because they are so far out and there’s still no guarantees we can pull them off even with all the planning in the world. Until we can be more assured all we can do right now is make a goal, save, and then hope for the best.

      We were surprised by how much we were able to do on our budget. Lots of sightseeing in hindsight, but mostly just getting to know the places where we lived and the rhythms of our neighborhoods.

      Brett wanted to settle down more than I did, but now admits he misses our nomadic life. I’m hoping we can find a happy medium.


  4. I agree with a lot of what Susan said above. I like to travel, but I don’t think I’d do well as a nomad since I like having a home to come back to. For me, going somewhere for a few weeks would be my limit, or maybe I feel that way because I’m constrained due to my job and I’ve never been able to be away longer than that. Hmmm, something to think about…

    I also have always admired your discipline and commitment. Once you decide to do something, you make it happen (unless there is a pandemic!).

    I hope we’ll all be able to travel again in the near future. I’m feeling hopeful about the vaccines.


    1. As I said to Susan, I hope Brett and I can eventually find a happy medium between being settled and traveling. Maybe do something like 4 one-month trips a year (longer in Japan).

      I will be glad when we are able to get some of our current goals firmed up but everything is still so nebulous and confusing. I think we’ll have a better idea of how things are going by next fall (hope, hope, hope!).


  5. Great post as usual. Have you ever thought of touring in the US and Canada in an RV? Does RV life appeal to you? I keep thinking about it and feel like I would like that although, I do not know if doing it solo would be safe. I have traveled the east coast from NY to FL by car a few times, staying at hotels and that was perfectly fine. I am concerned about the safety of solo RV travel though.


    1. We did think of RVing . . . for about 5 minutes! Brett has no interest in driving an RV or towing a trailer, although a life on the road has its appeal.

      I think you would be fine traveling on your own as a single woman as long as you stayed in well-regulated campgrounds, and knew how to do everything on your RV on your own (pumps, water, electric, etc.).


      1. T’Pol, I’m just jumping in here to say I had an aunt, Lois, and in the 1960s-1980s, she traveled by herself in a camper, joining up periodically with others in something called “Loners on Wheels”. I understood it was a support network that helped in several ways to make solo RV travel safe and enjoyable. I haven’t thought of that for a long time, but it seemed so amazing.


  6. Laura, you laid out the golden rules of extensive traveling. I’ve met a lot of people who are convinced that one needs a boatload of money to be able to travel when in fact planning ahead and smart budgeting is all one needs if there is a solid commitment to it. And when I talk about commitment, I also think of a strong sense of what one wants to accomplish through travel. Is it curiosity to discover how other people on this planet live or is it the desire to see different landscapes, places? Is it a sense of wonder, a desire to expand one”s vision about the world we live in or it is a desire to show status? I think once someone has the vision of what they want to accomplish, it is much easier to plan, budget, and go.
    I’ve followed your travels for quite some time and I admire your detailed planning that somehow leaves enough room for changes and unexpected situations. I’ve learned a lot from you and I can’t wait to see you back at it. This pandemic has been truly cruel but maybe will give us a little respite before we get too old:))


    1. We really didn’t need a boatload of money to travel, and we stayed in nice places and had fabulous experiences too. Our desire to travel was fueled by both seeing how others live and seeing different landscapes and trying things we’d only read about before, and we got to do it all, and on a budget. This was never something we could have pulled off though without a LOT of planning, and saving before we traveled. Having as much paid for as possible before we left made a huge difference.

      I can’t wait to travel again. It won’t be the same but we’ll be ready for the changes as they arise and adjust as needed.


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