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.