Could You Travel Full-Time?

Brett came to embracing the idea of full-time travel a bit later than I did, but living on the road and seeing the world was a long-time dream for me. We sort of stumbled into our decision to travel full time back in 2017 after we’d come up with a list of places we wanted to visit and were trying to prioritize them. At one point Brett mused aloud, “I wish we could see them all.” We looked at each other and I asked, “Could we possibly do that?” From there we started investigation, crunched numbers for a couple of weeks, figured out what we would have to do to make traveling full time a reality, came up with an initial itinerary, and the first Big Adventure was born.

For us, it was an ideal time in our lives to travel full time. We had already sold our home before coming to Hawaii and were renting. Our children were grown and independent for the most part: our son and family lived permanently in Japan, and our three daughters were in college and getting ready to start their careers. Other full-time travelers we met along the way were in similar circumstances; that is, not tied down with family obligations (either had no children or their children were grown and independent) or in a couple of cases, we met whole families that were traveling full time.

We initially decided to give the experience around a year and see if and how we liked it. We sharpened our itinerary, created a budget, put some of our things into storage and sold everything else, and set out in August of 2018 after getting YaYu settled at college. We began our journey in South America (Buenos Aires and Montevideo, Uruguay) then headed to Europe (Paris, Normandy, Strasbourg, Lucerne, Bordeaux, Florence, Rome, and Lisbon) before returning to the U.S. for Christmas with our daughters. Then it was off to India, Hong Kong, Australia, and New Zealand followed by a three-month stay in Tokyo. We came back to the U.S. for the summer to provide YaYu with a location so she could work during her break, but she ended up going to Japan for the summer and we ended up playing tourist in our old home town of Portland. In late August of 2019 we flew to England and spent three wonderful months in the Cotswold village of Blockley, visiting the area as well as London and Edinburgh, then returned to Portland one last time for another Christmas with our daughters. We followed that stay with a short visit to Kaua’i and then headed on to Japan for what we thought was another long stay. COVID had other ideas though and in late March 2020 we returned to Kaua’i to wait things out and stay safe. After working through lots of other ideas the past two years we finally realized we wanted to return to full time travel, but a bit more slowly than before, and we will set out again in around four months on another Big Adventure, fully vaccinated and boosted, and armed with additional tools and knowledge that we hope will keep up safe.

Brett and I fell in love with full-time travel because we enjoyed not only the experience and adventure of it, but also the minimalism required, and after 40 years of raising children we loved having the time and freedom to explore and see places we had only previously been able to dream about. Many travelers we met, like us, didn’t start with an idea of indefinite full-time travel, but also grew to love it, especially the ability to travel at a pace that worked for them. COVID certainly turned things upside down, limited the places an American can go, and changed travel forever. However, we’ve found it’s still possible to create a travel itinerary, domestic or international, and make it happen. Many “travel bugs” are already back on the road once again.

There are as many ways to travel full time as there are people, and no way is the best. Some people (like us) stay in Airbnb rentals, but other housesit, house swap, or travel in an RV. Some take advantage of couch surfing or staying with friends, while others stay in hotels full time or even live on a cruise ship! We’re going to be traveling slow(er) this go around, staying in Airbnbs again for at least two months in each place to give us more time to get to know an area. Our goal is not to see everything and every place in the world, but to have a deeper experience and greater knowledge of the places we do visit.

If you’ve ever dreamed of or just thought about traveling full time, Brett and I came up with a few things to consider:

  • Can you give up having a permanent home? This is where most stop when it comes to traveling full time. It’s definitely a major step to consider, let alone take. However, living on the road does not mean having to sell or permanently give up your home. Many travelers rent their homes while they travel, or return home for short stays in between longer jaunts. Some full-time travelers do house swaps. Some find after a while that they want to relocate overseas, and some discover that they no longer need or want to keep their home at all, and plan for a later, smaller purchase when the travel stops. Lodging choices around the world run the gamut from sleeping on someone’s sofas all the way to luxury apartments and homes, with everything in between, and how you choose to live on the road is completely up to you and your budget. We’ve stayed in some pretty wonderful places for not a lot of money.
  • Do you have a way to support yourself when you travel? Food, lodging, transportation, as well as possible sightseeing and so forth all still need to be covered during travel. Some have to be paid in advance, like deposits for lodgings or airline tickets. Some full-time travelers save as much as possible ahead of starting out and then stop and work for a while as needed or stop traveling when the funds run out. Some take advantage of travel hacking to save on travel expenses. Others, like us, have a reliable, steady income that we supplement with savings, and some full time travelers work remotely as they travel.
  • Are you in good health? No one needs to be in perfect health to travel full time, but you should be able to do things like move a (potentially heavy) suitcase around, climb stairs now and then, walk a bit, and so forth. If you take medication you need to plan for how to keep prescriptions refilled, and be willing to visit a doctor or dentist, if necessary, in another country. Health insurance for travel is a non-negotiable necessity and should always be included in any planning or budget creation.
  • Are you able to stick to a budget? This is absolutely critical. Living full time on the road means figuring out ahead of time how much you can afford to spend for things like lodging, food, transportation, miscellaneous costs, etc. and then sticking to that budget just as you would if you were not traveling. Some things – mortgage payments, utilities, car insurance, and such – may go away, but others, like getting from one place to another, pop up. It’s important to know your daily spending limits, set up a spreadsheet or maintain a daily journal, and be willing to track expenses for everything, every day. We eventually figured out that an envelope method worked well for us at each destination, but there are loads of ways to make sure you’re not overspending.
  • Can you save, save, save ahead of time? Unless you have unlimited funds, it helps to figure out ways to boost your savings before setting out and then possibly use those funds to help the adjustment into a full-time travel budget. Savings can come from many directions, including selling your things, even possibly your home. We learned that having savings we could rely on ahead of time went a long way when it came to getting our footing as we began our travels.
  • Are you flexible? While some planning for travel is necessary, are you able to change quickly if necessary? Travel planning means putting a foundation in place, creating an itinerary, and setting goals but it doesn’t mean scheduling every moment you’re on the road or knowing everything you’re going to do ahead of time. Things do and can change, go wrong, or not go as expected from time to time. I know of some full-time travelers who plan things out about six weeks ahead, others just a week or so. Brett and I are more the six months ahead types but we have an emergency fund, always have a Plan B and Plan C, and we can change on a dime when it’s called for without falling apart.
  • Are you willing to embrace minimalism? Full-time travel requires learning to live with what can be carried in a suitcase or even just a backpack. Minimalism does not mean having to get rid of everything, including your home, but it does mean letting go of your stuff at least for a while.
  • Can you and your travel partner’s relationship withstand the give and take of living on the road (if you’re not traveling alone)? Full time travel allows you to play to skills you already have as well as discover talents and strengths you didn’t know existed. Brett turned out to be a superb logistician – he has an uncanny sense of direction, and always got us where we needed to be when we needed to be there. He also loved tracking the daily minutia of travel including our spending each day, how far we walked, etc. On the other hand, I’m good at and enjoy planning, discovering bargains, keeping us fed, and finding entertainment, so those tasks typically fell to me. We made a great travel team! It was also important that we have a solid, loving relationship and enjoy spending time with each other. That being said, our marriage is better and stronger because of our travels.

After we first asked ourselves that fateful question, “could we do that?”, the above were the things we asked ourselves and investigated before we committed to traveling full time. A few were unknowns that we discovered as we traveled, but most of the above were examined carefully before we finally decided we could manage living on the road. The one thing missing from above though? Finances – but that’s a subject for another post.

20 thoughts on “Could You Travel Full-Time?

  1. I’m tentatively stepping into this in the next few years. I will be renting my home out and planning on living somewhere in the eastern US to be closer to friends and family. This because I’ve never lived outside of north San Diego County, although as you know, I do travel a lot. And also because I have two small dogs I’m not willing to leave behind. As I get more comfortable, I will branch out internationally. I am REALLY interested in the finances so I’ll be looking for that post. I love a good spreadsheet! In fact, that’s how I travel with my bestie. We put everything we pay for on the spreadsheet and then total it up at the end of the trip. It works great!

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    1. The finance part of full-time travel is different for everyone, but there are some common factors that I hope I can cover. Brett is our spreadsheet guy, although he also tracks everything every day in a journal and stores receipts, etc. there so it’s easy for me to find things if and when I need them. We’d be lost and in big trouble financially without his efforts.

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    2. The animal factor can be a big one! I’ve gradually become OK with leaving cats for a few days, but dogs are much different- which is why I don’t have them (my schedule)- though I know people who can make it work. My health issues are what’s impeding me now. Sure wish I had known somehow in my crystal ball that this would be a problem, so I could have been a world-traveler at a younger age… but had little money, kids, and work then…so I accept there is a reason for everything and do what I can and read lots and enjoy every day.

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      1. The animal factor is a big one. We allowed our two pugs to be adopted when our vet said they should not come with us to Hawaii – both were elderly, and the trip over, all the vaccinations, and the climate here would shorten their lives if not outright kill them. Thankfully they were both quickly adopted into loving families through our local rescue organization, but letting them go was one of the hardest things we’ve ever done. We haven’t had any pets since we arrived since it’s extremely rare to find a rental here that allows pets.

        Your reasons for not traveling when you were younger were the same as ours: kids, work, money. We did get to live in Japan twice, and make a few trips from there, and of course Brett traveled all over with the navy. I think our nomadic life back then helped plant the seeds for travel now – we’ve always been, as our son says, “restless people.” We’re very, very thankful now to be able in a place in our lives where travel is possible (COVID notwithstanding). But, I so understand why full-time traveling is not an option or desire for others.

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  2. I couldn’t travel full time. I’m way too much of a home body. I love to travel, but as much I think I love getting home. We had our “sailing kids” here over the holidays. Much of their lives are in storage (some at our home) and I noticed our son was making comments like “I miss our own Christmas stuff” and “I miss…”. That’s me. While we’ve gotten rid of a fair amount of ‘stuff’ lately, I do love my own space and always love returning to my own bed. BUT, I love reading about your adventures.

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    1. I think our many years in the navy conditioned us to be able to make a home and feel at home no matter where we are in the world. I definitely get though that it’s not the same for others. We found that our shorter stays had us craving the longer ones, so that’s why we’ve given ourselves a rule of at least two months in a place. The places we stayed in longer (at least three weeks, and especially the three months in Blockley) before really came to feel like home for us. For us, it wasn’t about stuff, it was more about continuity. There are other we know of who spend a few days in a place, maybe a week to 10 days, and then are on to the next location. That schedule would wear us out!

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  3. I have to agree with Laurel. I do enjoy traveling, but I always am happy to be back in my own home and in my own bed! We were recently gone for a week and I was as excited to get home as I had been to go. So I will enjoy our short trips and enjoy your long adventures here on the blog!

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    1. I always felt a bit sad to return home after a trip. Not that I didn’t love our home or comfortable bed, but that the adventure was over. I always imagined every time we traveled what it would be like to live there, etc. and I guess full time travel gives me something of an opportunity to find out!

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  4. I think I could do it if I didn’t have to come back home every three months for a medical treatment. That would be a budget buster. Three months a year in another country might be nice, though.

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    1. I hear what you’re saying Colleen, but one of the great things about full-time travel is that you can make your schedule, itinerary, and budget fit your needs and what you want to see and do. In the past, we came back to the U.S. every three or so months to see our daughters, and worked those trips into our budget and itinerary. I think the same could possibly be done for medical treatment (although I admit to having absolutely no idea what your treatment entails and how long you would have to remain in the U.S.).

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  5. It was such a drama filled return trip by plane from visiting my daughter’s family, that I am still travel fatigued… lol. Covid is going to have to die down a little bit for me to go anywhere except to visit family. But I love hearing and reading about your trips! I do hope to go to Mexico, maybe in 2025, hopefully.

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    1. All it takes is one horrible trip to put the fear into you, doesn’t it? Or at least make you think twice. COVID is raging now, but we’re hopeful that it will have died down a bit by spring. We’re not anywhere near to throwing away Plans B & C yet though – things change and they can change rapidly. Supposedly Pfizer has a new vaccine for Omicron that will be available in March – fingers crossed we can get it before we go.

      We still hope to make it to Mexico one of these days.

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  6. I could not. I COULD move back to central Europe or another continent and make a home there for a few years and travel from that home, intensively even being gone for a week ot three at a time. I’ve considered that. But I need my nest and my familiar things around me . And even without sewing achine and quilting I’m not seeing myself drawing and writing and knitting and reading and baking doing all those other things that I love without a nest to do so. My experience in Europe was three weeks and I need to be home for awhile.

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    1. We all have our individual needs and the things we need around us. For some reason, Brett and I find ourselves needing/wanting fewer of those things as we age. But I so get that others need and want things around them, and why full-time travel would not work for them. I hear you, Barbara!

      We found after three weeks we just wanted more. The longer we traveled the more we wanted to keep going. I often wonder where we’d be now and what we would have seen and done if COVID hadn’t shown up.

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  7. There is no doubt in my mind that traveling enriches one’s life in ways that other life experiences don’t. After a while, it can become quite addictive to some people. Having said that, it comes down to each individual (or couple) to decide how much travel she can undertake. I personally have enjoyed alternating long trips abroad( the longest was 18 months) with periods of staying home or traveling shorter trips nationally. There is something for everyone as you very beautifully said.
    I noticed that in my neighborhood a lot of folks have purchased some sort of houses on wheels, whether stand-alone or towed, which means that people are still hitting the road in the Covid era.

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    1. I heard an interesting comment the other night, that the strongest memories children retain are travel memories, more than any other experiences. I know they are some of my fondest memories from childhood, the trips we took (my mom loved to travel; my dad, not so much though). But you express it perfectly: there is something for everyone when it comes to travel, and there is no one “right way” to do it. For some of us that’s full-time travel, for others it’s local road trips, or short stays.

      RVing is BIG these days. We are not really RV people, but a long-term road trip doesn’t seem as undoable as it did in the past for us.

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  8. Interesting post. This type of travel is not possible for me because I work and it looks I’ll have to go back to the office in March, but I would do it if I could, at least for a little while. I wouldn’t want to do it long term because I do like having a home to come back to. I hope Omicron won’t spoil your plans. Everything is so ‘wait and see’ these days and it’s tough to make any plans. It’s so annoying!

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    1. To travel full time the timing has to be right and several things have to come together: family, work (or not working), income, home, and so forth. If any one aspect isn’t right then the whole thing won’t work.

      Omicron levels are starting to drop in Europe, because of their vaccination and booster rates, while they’re soaring in the U.S. We’ve got our fingers crossed that the U.S. doesn’t move to the “scarlet red” category before we go and we are banned from entering!

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