Lessons Learned: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

We learned all sorts of new things about ourselves during our travels. Unlike shorter trips we’ve taken, our long-term travels challenged us in all sorts of new ways. Some of them were more positive than others, but we’re determined to do this next round better and learn from and change the things we didn’t do so well before. Growing older is only part of it. Here’s what we’ve figured out we either need to change or stick with in the future:

The Good:

The Taj Mahal was even more amazing and beautiful than all the hype it gets.
  • We’re still open to adventure. We continue to enjoy trying new things and new foods, and going places and doing things we haven’t done before.
  • We maintain a sense of wonder. We continue to be amazed, awed, astonished, curious, contemplative, and humble about what we know about the world. We haven’t seen it all, and what we have seen is usually better than we expected.
  • We’re very good at packing just the right amount. We traveled with just the right amount of clothing on our Big Adventure and have just the right amount of luggage to keep track of. We’re going for even simpler this next time though in order to get more out of a little bit less
  • We’re still flexible. During our Big Adventure we found we were able to adjust our plans easily if we had to without throwing everything off, or feeling disappointed or angry. Change doesn’t scare us – it’s an expected part of the nomad experience.
  • We’ve gotten better at managing our travel funds. Lots of things caught our eye during our travels but we were very good at telling ourselves no, that we didn’t need something, and reminding ourselves that we’d much rather use our money for other things, like more comfortable seats when flying or a special meal somewhere. We’re honing our minimalist skills these days and will put them to good use on future travels.

The Bad:

Even a soft walking surface doesn’t help much when your shoes are uncomfortable.
  • We need better-than-good shoes for walking. The shoes both Brett and I took along when we began our Big Adventure turned out not to be so great. My somewhat inexpensive Skechers slip-ons were initially comfortable but they wore out quickly and made my feet miserable. Brett discovered he needs more support around his ankles for long-distance walking. I purchased some great boots and shoes during our summer in Portland, but before we travel again we need to invest in some good-fitting, good quality walking shoes, and already know they will not be cheap. However, as we discovered last time, they are the most important part of our wardrobes.
  • Jet lag affects us more than it did in the past. Along with the difficulty of doing long flights, we noticed it takes us much longer to recover from jet lag than it has in the past. We don’t bounce back as quickly as we did, and didn’t do a very good job of accounting for it. This is something that we’ll want to do a better job of factoring in as we make travel plans.

The Ugly:

This picture horrifies both of us. Who are these people?
  • Both Brett and I gained way, way, way too much weight during our travels, much more than we realized. We were both very overweight when we landed in Hawaii, and in my case carrying around those extra pounds not only caused my bursitis to act up but made me miserable overall. We’ve made a serious effort over the last year to get more exercise and eat less and both of us have lost a quite a bit of our extra weight and we intend to maintain it. We’ve both promised ourselves: never again.
  • Long plane trips affect us more than in the past. Even when we booked more comfortable seats, long plane rides affected us more than they did in the past. There’s no way we can avoid long journeys if we want to travel overseas, but we have decided we can mitigate their effects by breaking up other journeys into shorter sections, sometimes with a period of rest in between.

We won’t be traveling again for the rest of this year, and for nearly half of next year, and although we’re in good shape once again we’re going to take advantage of the time to get ourselves in even better shape. As we get closer to setting off we’ll work at planning a (hopefully affordable) flight schedule that works for us that will most likely include some built-in rest periods. The hunt for good walking shoes has already started, although we’re nowhere near to purchasing anything at this point. For now it’s fun to have all this to think about but we know there will be some serious work to do before we set off again.

Is There a Plan B?

(photo credit: Egor Myznik/Unsplash)

I will begin by saying Brett and I always have a Plan B. Always. Until the pandemic hit we’ve never had to activate one though because of all the research and planning that has gone into our original plans.

The pandemic upended everything. Plan B during our travels was always to return to the U.S. if the flag went up, but we had never thought about returning to Kaua’i until our daughters suggested we eventually move back when we were together for Christmas 2019. After a short visit to the island in January of 2020 before we set off for Japan, when U.S. citizens were told to return we headed for Kaua’i. Our unexpected and early return to the island was expensive, but in hindsight we are very grateful we did come here – it’s been a very safe place to live during the pandemic, and we’ve been very happy here.

The U.S. State Department recently announced that 80% of the world’s countries are currently unsafe to visit, and we know there is a possibility that even by 2023 it may not be safe to travel to some of the locations on our itinerary, although hopefully that possibility will be very small by then. We may have to make changes to the itinerary before we go, but overall we think that waiting longer to start traveling again, staying vaccinated (with boosters if necessary), and being careful overall will mean we’ll be able to become full-time nomads again.

So what’s our Plan B if the Big Adventure Part II isn’t possible? If full-time international travel isn’t possible? We’ve come up with a very simple plan if that’s the case: We’ll still become nomads, but will travel to the west coast on the mainland, buy a car (most likely used), and then travel around the U.S. for a while. We’ll do month-long stays in cities throughout the country with a goal of staying in smaller places versus big metropolitan areas, getting to know both the cities and what’s in the area around them. We’ll make an effort to visit national parks along the way, and other places of interest as well. We would still plan a yearly visit to Japan, storing the car during that time, but then picking up our travels again upon return to the U.S.

We’ve also come up with a Plan C if things get really bad: we’ll settle down somewhere. We’ve made a decision about where we want to park ourselves whenever we decide to stop traveling full time. It’s not perfect (no place is), but the location offers most of what we’re looking for in a permanent location. Hopefully that won’t have to happen though for a few more years.

Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C : we don’t leave home without them!

First Draft: An Itinerary For the Next Big Adventure

It’s taken a few weeks, but we’ve put together what we think is a good plan for two years of travel! We started off thinking we would figure out a year’s worth but somehow we just got going and couldn’t stop at a year.

I’m sort of happy we did this because it gives me lots of think about when it comes to planning and how much we should save in advance. There’s a big splurge in the second year which will require extra advance saving, but now that we know we’re better prepared to work on a monthly budget for that.

Before we started putting together an itinerary, we set three simple ground rules:

  • A minimum of 30 days in each location
  • Include at least one “long weekend” or getaway to a nearby location (around four or five days)
  • Ninety days in Japan each year
  • Special attention given to the weather and time of year; i.e., other than going to New England in December to spend Christmas with our daughters, no northern visits in the winter, no southern visits in the summer, and so forth.

Locations we have not visited yet were the priority, but there are some return visits. We also wanted the order we traveled to make some kind of geographical sense with not too many long flights in between.

After much deliberation and back and forth, here’s the first draft of an itinerary for the next Big Adventure. We’re pretty sure some things will change as we move closer to 2023, both because of costs and because lots can happen during two years that we have no way of knowing now.

photo credit: Danae Dal Bianco/Unsplash

We’ll start with an month-long stay on the island of Crete in Greece, with a long weekend in Athens and possibly a trip to Santorini.

photo credit: Fatih Yurur/Unsplash

From Greece we’ll head to Istanbul, a place both of us have longed to visit.

photo credit: Julia Solonina/Unsplash

Instead of returning to Rome, we’ve decided we would rather go north and spend a month in Verona, with easy access to Venice, Vincenza, Padua, and Milan.

photo credit: ERROR 420/Unsplash

Next is Western Germany. We wanted to stay in Amsterdam for a month, but lodging is very expensive there so instead we’ll make Amsterdam a long weekend visit. We’re thinking of staying in either Cologne or the area around Frankfurt so we can also go back to Strasbourg for a few days.

photo credit: Candy Good/Unsplash

We’re heading back to the UK after Germany, for just 30 days this time. We can’t decide whether to return to the Cotswolds or instead stay in Derbyshire, but it’s looking like the Cotswolds may be too expensive for a month’s stay (last time Airbnb covered the cost). We plan to rent a car this time, so a trip back to Blockley for a long weekend would be doable from Derbyshire and probably more affordable. We also want to add on a week in London at the end of our stay to see the things we missed before. After nearly missing our flight out of London in 2019, we want to make sure as well this next time we’re already in London before our flight!

England will be followed by a 90-day stay in Tokyo. We hope to find lodging this time nearer to our son’s new home but there currently don’t appear to be any affordable rentals in the area. Sangenjaya, the neighborhood where we stayed before and love, would not be as convenient as before but still doable. There are nonstop flights from London to Tokyo, and this will be where our air miles will come in handy, to upgrade to comfortable seats for the long flight(s).

photo credit: Clifford/Unsplash

If all goes as plans we will leave Japan in mid-December, and head back to New England for a month to spend the Christmas and the New Year’s holiday with our daughters, and re-provision before setting out again. Japan to the east coast of the U.S. will be another long journey, but we are already thinking that unless we find a fantastic fare to Boston we will break up the trip with a short stay in Portland so we can get together again with friends.

At the beginning of 2024 we want to return to Buenos Aires, not only because of a strong desire to experience more of the city, but because it will be summer there! We would like to visit Iguazu Falls this time, if possible, so that’s one idea for a long weekend getaway. We missed seeing Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay on our last visit, another great getaway (it’s just across the river, and a World Heritage site), or maybe spending a few days in Tigre, a natural area on the northside of Buenos Aires. Tierra del Fuego would make a wonderful long weekend visit as well.

photo credit: Miranda Garside/Unsplash

Following Argentine our destination will be Mexico for 60 days, spending the first month exploring Mexico City, and the second in San Miguel de Allende, which would have been our destination following Japan in 2020.

photo credit: Scott Walsh/Unsplash

Leaving Mexico, we will head north again, this time to Canada! Our idea is to spend 30 days somewhere in the Maritimes, 30 days in Montreal, and finish with 30 days in Vancouver. We would rent a car during our stay in the Maritimes but otherwise rely on public transportation in the other two cities.

photo credit: Ondrej Machart/Unsplash

Another l-o-n-g journey awaits us when we leave Canada because we want to head back to Australia for 60 days! We will break our 30-day rule here as there’s several things we’d like to do, and this is probably the last time we’ll go to Australia. We’ll start with a week in Sydney, then travel to Adelaide in South Australia for a 30 day stay. The train made a stop in Adelaide on the way to Sydney during our last visit and we were enchanted by what we saw. At the end of our stay we’ll board The Ghan for hopefully 10 days of travel through the center of the country, with stops in Alice Springs and overnight visits to Uluru and other sites in the outback, and finishing the journey with a short stay in Darwin. Afterwards we’d like to visit my brother and other family in Queensland. A train journey tour package would be our only big “splurge” this time around.

Then it’s back to Tokyo for another 90 day fall stay. While we love seeing the cherry blossoms, the changing leaves, autumn foods, and the chance to celebrate our son’s and granddaughter’s birthday make the fall a great time for us to be there.

We’ll end 2024 with another stay in New England for the holidays.

After coming up with that itinerary, we decided it was time to stop although we have some ideas of where to go after that. There are so many places we want to visit but those can wait until later!

On Being a Nomad

One of the joys of being retired is that I have the time and luxury of thinking deeply about things. It’s not that I didn’t think about things before, but I have the time now to stop in the middle of the day to relax, empty my mind and focus on something without feeling rushed or pressured.

Lately I’ve been thinking quite a bit about why I feel such joy whenever I think about us becoming nomads again. Why, beyond seeing new places, and having new experiences, did it make us so happy before? It certainly wasn’t a perfect lifestyle, by any stretch of the imagination, and yet it was a very good fit for us.

Brett and I have always been “restless people,” probably stemming from our time in the navy where we moved every two and a half years or so. Although the parameters of Brett’s job basically remained the same, moving to a new location was always an adventure, especially since we knew it wasn’t permanent. We had a limited time to explore the areas we lived in, try new foods, and get to know about the place. There were some locations we enjoyed more than others, but on the whole we always found something to like about every place we lived, whether that was the central valley of California, southern Maryland, Key West, or Japan.

When I think about embracing a nomadic life once again, I realize that the aspects we liked about of our previous semi-nomadic navy life are what continue to appeal to us now.

Our nomadic life cost less. During our navy days we had to live within our means, and live minimally because the navy was only going to do a certain amount for us; there were always limits imposed. Any purchase, from groceries to household items, had to be carefully weighed against a fixed income, and we learned not to accumulate things because of household goods weight limits when it was time to move. Those skills were put to good use when we traveled, especially living within our means and not accumulating more than would fit into our suitcases (as well as keeping them under a set weight limit). The goal was always to get all we could from and make the most of what we had.

Being a nomad meant freedom from things. We were tied only to what we could carry in our suitcases. Returning to a settled life has made us realize we no longer enjoy owning a lot of things. We also liked being free from the chores and maintenance of home ownership or even renting when we were on the road, and from things like utility payments. Yes, we had to pay for our lodgings, but utilities and maintenance were included and we always tried to choose places where the furnishings and decor fit our preferences. We still kept our lodgings clean and tidy wherever we were, fixed or repaired on our own what we could as necessary, but the burdens and responsibilities of ownership belonged to someone else.

A life on the road allowed us to experience the world in all its beauty . . . and ugliness. Meeting new and different people and experiencing a variety of cultures was an obvious benefit, but seeing both the good and the bad, from stunning architectural, historical wonders, and eating mouthwatering foods, to oppressive poverty, urban ugliness, and extremely crowded conditions went a long way toward helping us to reassess and balance our world views. We were always grateful for the chances we were given to see life through a different lens than our own, even if we sometimes felt we were taking and not giving back.

Even as seniors, our nomadic life strengthened character. Things went wrong and weren’t perfect. Our lodging sometimes wasn’t what we expected, or transportation fell apart. We got sick. The pandemic had us making decisions and changes without a lot of time for thought. However, having to leave the safe bubble of American life and our comfort zone gave us loads of opportunities learn what we were capable of. We sometimes had to push ourselves to new extremes to accomplish goals or get where we needed to be under less than idea circumstances, but the hard parts made the good ones so much better.

We off course missed family and friends while we traveled, but technology kept us connected, and we found we worked harder at making sure we did get together once or twice a year, or in the case of our son and family in Japan, for longer stays than we would have otherwise been able to do. Since we’ve settled back on Kaua’i, we’ve come to see that it was actually easier for us to arrange reunions when we were on the road than it is now that we’re located very far away from everyone.

The best part of being a nomad is that travel changes us; we are never again who we were before we set out. That’s what excites us and brings us joy: we still want to continue to grow and learn about the world and travel provides that for us and more. We’re still not ready to settle down and accumulate all the stuff that goes along with living in one place. Instead, we’re looking forward to embracing the nomadic life once again and whatever it brings us, challenges and all.

Saving, Saving, Saving for Travel Once Again

Posted on  by Laura & Brett

For some people, saving is easy. For others it’s a matter of discipline. We fall somewhere in the middle, but tend move closer to the easy side when we’ve got a goal to meet.

We’re saving now for a return to our nomadic life. We’re throwing every spare dime we can into our travel account and making saving a priority because once again we have a big goal that we’re excited about.

Our unexpected and sudden move to Kaua’i last year was expensive. We had to buy a car, rent an apartment, and purchase everything from scratch to set up housekeeping again, from furniture to kitchen goods to linens to small appliances. Because everything was shut down because of the pandemic, there were no yard sales, and thrift stores were also closed so bargains were few and far between. While we got lucky and were able to buy our old car back from friends, everything else had to be purchased new, from Costco, Walmart, Amazon, and two furniture stores on the island that graciously opened for us and allowed us to shop privately (but no delivery – we had to rent a van and pick up and move our purchases ourselves). We paid $$$$ to have our stored items shipped back over to us, but it was good to have our own stuff back with us even if the movers did lose one of our boxes.

To put it mildly, the move decimated our savings. Still, we’ve been able to live well on our income, help with YaYu’s college expenses, and put a small amount away every month into our travel savings. We were able to pay for our recent car repairs. But there hasn’t been much of anything else left over for travel except for that small allotment every months and from saving change and $1 bills.

However, now that we have a travel goal once again, to say we are once again motivated to beef up our travel savings would be an understatement. Wants, other than wanting nice, healthy balances in our travel account, have been set to the side. Brett and I have everything we need, and are now working at finding ways to tuck more into savings any way we can. I will continue earning Swagbucks to earn as many airline gift cards as possible. We’ve decreased our grocery budget a bit and so far are doing fine with a smaller amount. We have found ways to cut back on driving to keep those expenses lower. YaYu’s college costs will finish in January 2022, and after her final payment the amount we now dedicate to her will be directed into travel savings. I’m not sure there’s ever a good time for this, but Brett ages out of his life insurance policy this year, and that long-time monthly payment will go into savings instead. We are already making adjustments to future travel plans in order to save more. For example, while we still plan to go to Tokyo in the fall of 2022, we’ve decided to only visit for a month, and that there will be no fancy walking tour this time. We can do some great day hikes in the Tokyo region and through the city on our own. In other words, every spare dollar or cent that comes our way for the next two years will be saved.

We’ve accomplished big goals before – we paid off nearly $60K of debt in three years, and in the 18 months between when we decided to take our Big Adventure until the time we left, we saved just over $30,000, and with less discretionary income than we have now. We won’t have much to sell this time to add to our savings, but by carefully sticking to our budget, and keeping to needs versus being tempted by wants, we believe we can come close to that amount again in the next couple of years.

We’ve once again moved ourselves over to the easy side of saving, but are bringing our former discipline back again to reach our goal this time. We can do this!

Someplace Old, Someplace New

 

With a firm decision to become full-time nomads once again, we are now beginning to think about where we might want to go on this next round. There are so many places we did not get to visit before, but also several places we did visit that we’d love to experience again, mostly because there was so much there we did not have time for (or we were sick). 

The process of creating an itinerary will be ongoing for a while, and even once we get an initial itinerary drawn up we expect things will change. Our goal is to have a firm schedule set up a full year before we depart in April of 2023, which we’ve chosen as our departure date.

Once again, several things will be under consideration: cost, time of year and weather, lodging availability, and transportation costs and time to and from each location. We know there may be a few other variables we haven’t thought of yet.

Some of the places we visited before and would like to see again (including Tokyo, of course) are (in no particular order):

  • Rome: While we enjoyed our 10 days in Rome in 2018, we both had bad colds there and were also fairly anxious the entire time about crime, touts, etc – it was the first place we ever felt a real potential for theft. Also, it felt “too big” after a wonderful month in Florence. We didn’t give the city a very high rating when we left, but it has grown on us since then and we have often talked about giving it another chance.
  • Lisbon: Portugal was our destination following Rome, and if anything we were even sicker during our time here, and ended up experiencing very little of the city or the surrounding area. We’d like to give it another try as well.
  • The UK: We absolutely loved our time in the UK, and in Blockley, and could happily do another long stay there. We’re sure we’ll return to England, but I’ve learned where some of my ancestors came from (Derbyshire, the Peak District), and am now wondering if that area might be a place to visit instead of or alongside the Cotswolds.
  • Buenos Aires: We spent 10 days in this wonderful city at the beginning of our travels, and have wanted to go back ever since as there was much we didn’t get to see and experience. It’s a long and expensive trip to get down there though.
  • Australia: There’s another long train journey though Australia we want to take, from south to north this time (The Ghan) through the heart of the continent, and we’d also very much like to visit my brother and family in Queensland as well as spend a few more days again in and around Sydney.

Then there are places we initially wanted to put on our last itinerary but couldn’t make fit:

  • Athens: Brett spent time here early in his navy career and would love to visit this city again (me too, for the first time).
  • Germany & Austria: This is a big area, with lots of choices. Vienna has always been a dream destination for me.
  • Amsterdam: Another dream destination for both of us.
  • Morocco: Marrakesh was on our original itinerary back in 2017 but eventually was cut due to time and the cost of getting there and back. We very much also would like to visit Casablanca and Chefchouen (“the blue city”).
  • The South Island of New Zealand: We only had time and money to visit the North Island on our last journey, but promised ourselves we would go back some day to visit the South Island. I was also sick and missed out on seeing Wellington when we were there so I’d like to slip in another stop there as well.
  • Ireland: We have often talked about doing a road trip around Ireland, like we did in New Zealand.
  • Scandanavia: It’s an expensive area to visit, but we still want to go. Copenhagen and the Norwegian fjords are at the top of the list for me.
  • Southeast Asia: Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Cambodia, and Malaysia in SE Asia all call to us. 

A photo safari to Botswana remains high on my bucket list but still seems almost impossibly expensive right now. Who knows though? Maybe I will put a little away each month into an “Africa fund” after we get started and see where that takes us. We also very much want to go back to Strasbourg, but there’s a tiny bit of fear that it might not be as magical the second time around as it was the first. We feel the same about Florence, and think maybe only doing short stays in what were dream locations for us the first time around might be the way to go this time. There are loads of new-to-us places to explore and stay, but the goal this time around is to not wear ourselves out by being on the move so frequently.

Any itinerary we come up with now is going to be a process in flux for a long while, especially as we research costs, available lodgings, things to do in the area, and so forth. We want to do this smarter than we did before and that gives us even more to think about as we plan. 

Let the Adventure Begin . . . Again

. . . again.

For the past few weeks, as Brett and I have researched and discussed options for our future, a few things became clear:

  • We do not want to own a house again. We came to realize what we liked was the idea of owning a house, but actually have no enthusiasm or real desire for taking on the reality of home ownership again.
  • We are also unenthusiastic about car ownership. Again, we like the idea of buying a new car but are less than excited by the reality of car ownership.
  • We do not want to accumulate a bunch of stuff again, which is exactly what we could see happening if we bought a house.
  • We could easily imagine ourselves feeling restless, unhappy and possibly even miserable if we permanently located in one place.

Over the past few weeks we researched living in New England, and other places on the east coast, to be nearer our daughters. We then went across the U.S., state by state, and asked ourselves if any place there appealed to us. Although some areas ticked off many of the criteria on the list we had made, no place sparked any joy whatsoever. We examined and evaluated all of our options and outcomes for staying on Kaua’i, from best- to worst-case scenarios and got nowhere with that. For a few days we got excited about possibly relocating overseas. We looked into moving to Strasbourg or Bordeaux in France, or to Florence in Italy, but after an initial burst of enthusiasm and looking at the realities of having to obtain visas, learn a new language, set up housekeeping in a foreign location and all that goes along with that, it became a non-starter as well.

Feeling very discouraged at one point last week, I sighed and said, “I miss our nomadic life. Maybe we could just go back to that.”

And that was the spark for both of us.

Although travel days were hard, during the time we were traveling full time we were involved in new places, learning new things, meeting new people, and seeing and experiencing locations we had only dreamed about before. We were happy, never bored, we lived the way we wanted, and we were still able to see and connect with family, much more in actuality than we can now on Kaua’i. Brett and I enjoyed each other’s company to the fullest and we enjoyed working as a team.

We know we have a few more good years in us. We continue to be in good health and good physical shape, and agree we want to use this time to our advantage. Settling down is something that can wait for a few more years.

We have decided to once again become full-time nomads beginning in the spring of 2023. We don’t feel that international travel is a good idea for the rest of this year, vaccines or no, and we already have commitments for 2022, and would also like to see how things shake out COVID-wise in that year, to decide if traveling will be safe or whether it makes more sense move to some kind of Plan B. We need time to rebuild our savings, and much planning needs to take place before we could travel full-time again. We learned a great deal during our previous time as nomads, but would like to do an even better job of it the next time around. There are logistics to be figured out, an itinerary to plan, a budget to be set up, and decisions to be made about our remaining stuff, and lots more on top of that. One more seeming small but important part of waiting until 2023 is that both of our driver’s licenses expire in early 2023, and we want and need to renew them so that we can continue to rent cars overseas as necessary or desired.

We have already made a few decisions that will drive our planning going forward. We want to do at least one long stay (90 days) in Japan every year, and otherwise spend at least 30 days in a location as we do not want to move around as frequently as we did before. We both want to travel once again with just one checked suitcase each along with our rolling carry-ons. While we have a few ideas of places we’d like to go this time, an itinerary is still very nebulous and won’t be firmed up until later. There are places we want to revisit, but loads of places we didn’t get to last time and we want to balance those two things.

We’ve presented our decision to our kids and every one of them was and is excited for us. There will be much to do before we leave, but based on past experience we know the time will pass somewhat quickly. In the meantime, we will enjoy our time on Kaua’i to the fullest and continue to work at staying healthy and getting ourselves in even better shape than we are now.

I hope you’ll stay along for the ride as we plan and get ready for our Big Adventure, Part Deux!

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.

What I Did On My Winter Vacation

Travel planning has begun . . .

I had a very good time during my break doing some travel planning . . . for fun. I focused on a return to England, to the Cotswolds again, and sort of put together an itinerary, then looked for lodging, tours, and other things Brett and I would like to include on our next visit. I absolutely love travel planning, so this was a very enjoyable and relaxing way to spend (waste?) my time for several days.

We hope to do another three month stay in 2023, this time from August through October. Our last visit was September through November, and while September was lovely, by November we were pretty much confined to our cottage and unable to get out much for walks and such because of the weather. We think moving things forward by a month we’ll be able to enjoy better weather while still getting to enjoy the best of summer and fall.

YaYu and I spent an enjoyable amount of time last week pouring over the Character Cottages website, looking for an ideal cottage for our stay. Character Cottages is a booking agent for a large group of cottages in the Cotswolds (not property managers though); even if you find a cottage on another site, its rental is often still handled through Character Cottages. They have properties in many villages, and rentals in all sizes and price ranges. The cottages each have at least one of what the firm calls a “character feature,” which could be anything from the architecture to a stone fireplace or inglenook in the living room. 

Choosing a location took some time, but after some discussion Brett and I decided we’d like to return to Blockley or very nearby, for a variety of reasons, most especially location and familiarity. YaYu and I did most of our searching among those properties. Must-haves included two bedrooms (all three of the girls have said if we go back to England they are coming to visit); a full kitchen with a dishwasher; a washer/dryer; and convenient parking as we plan to rent a car on our next visit. I also wanted a gas fireplace (easy to turn on and off, and they do a better job of warming a room). In the end we came up with three potential cottages that had everything we wanted this time, at prices we felt we could afford. I’m not going to order them, because we like all three, but one is our top choice. I would love to know how you would rank these (you can click on the link under the picture for more information)!

 

Primrose Cottage

Brook Cottage

Green Cottage

Although we did used public transportation during our last visit and managed well with that, we decided we’d rather have a car this next time, so I also investigated long-term car rentals. At first we thought we’d get ourselves to Oxford from either Heathrow or Gatwick (preferred) to save some money, but eventually figured out that logistically and cost-wise, it made more sense to pick up a car at either one of those airports and drive the little over two and a half hours to our destination. This is what we did in New Zealand, and it worked out well. We can reserve a rental through Costco at either airport.

Bourton-on-the-Water is one of the stops on the tours. We missed getting to visit here back in 2019.

Finally, Brett and I still want to do a long hike while we are there, and initially thought we would fit in a Cotswold Way walking tour into our stay. One evening when I was canoodling around though, I discovered this Cotswold Cooking & Culinary tour, and after doing a bit more investigation and sharing with Brett, we decided we’d rather do this! So, somewhere in the middle of our stay, we want to hit the trail (footpath) and eat our way through the region for eight days (hopefully walking off the calories).

Since this trip is currently over two and half years away, all I did this time was take notes, and get a general idea of how much we’ll have to save (including airfare) to make this dream a reality. None of it may come to fruition in the end (cottages not available, hosts might not want to do a long-term rental, etc.) But, the planning was a whole lot of fun, I learned a lot, and we more definite than ever about returning to England in 2023!

A Year Without Travel

We have no plans to go anywhere in 2021. Nothing, nada, zip. It will be our first year without travel since I don’t when. 

While it makes me sad to think about that, I’m someone who likes to make lemonade from lemons, so while it may be a year without travel, it will be a year for saving, making plans for the future, and getting ourselves in the best shape possible for traveling in 2022 and beyond.

Here’s how we’re going to spend the coming year:

#1: A Year for Saving

  • Next year will be our year of pretty much buying nothing, and saving as much as we possibly can. We’ve set a big goal for ourselves in this regard: adding an additional $8,000 to our 2020 travel savings total by the end of the year. We are going to increase our monthly automatic allotment to the travel account beginning January 1, and then throw everything else we can into the account whenever possible. We spent this last year getting ourselves resettled on Kaua’i, but that’s been accomplished and we now can turn our focus to future travels. We have only two purchases planned for next year: a good recumbent bicycle for cross training, and a new pair of walking shoes for me. I think I can get to the middle of the year before needing the shoes, and they will be a transitional pair until I get trail shoes in 2022 to wear on our big walk in Japan. We’re also planning to do something special for YaYu’s 21st birthday since she’ll be here with us, but have not made any plans for that yet. Not sure exactly when we’ll be getting the bike, but we have one picked out and when we’re ready to segue into training mode we’ll order it. Otherwise, we plan to buy nothing new next year except for food, toiletries, and household supplies, and renewing our passports.

#2: A Year for Planning

  • Although our travel plans for 2022 are pretty well set at this point (YaYu’s graduation in May, then Japan in September & October, ending with an 11-day walk on the Nakasendō from Kyoto to Tokyo), we are beginning to flesh out travel plans for 2023 through 2025. In 2023, besides a one-month visit to Japan in the spring, we’d like to return to England for three months, stay in the Cotswolds again, and concentrate on walks in the area including a full-length Cotswolds Way walking tour. Ideas for the two years after that (2024 and 2025): a spring visit to Japan, and then one year we’d either like to take a three-month late-summer, early fall trip again to Europe, with one-month stays in Denmark, the Netherlands, and London (which we didn’t get to see much of last time), or go back to Strasbourg for two months, but for the purpose of studying French, and then follow up that stay with a one-month visit to another city in France where we can use what we’ve learned. We fell in love with France during our 40 days there in 2018, particularly with Strasbourg, and thought this would be an interesting way to not only go back but engage more with the country and people there. We’d also like to do another rail journey in Australia, but that’s way out there for now. These BIG plans for the next few years are just ideas at this point, but we already know it will take lots of planning and saving to make any and all of them happen, and we will definitely have the time this year to start putting things into place to turn dreams into goals and then make them happen. In 2025 Brett will be 75, I will be 73, and at that point we’ll reassess how much and what kind of traveling we want to continue to do at that point.

#3: A Year for Training & Staying Healthy

  • It goes without saying that good health is our primary goal in 2021, but beyond that Brett and I will continue to get in shape to successfully complete the long walking tour in Japan we’ve planned for the fall of 2022. We’re off to a good start, but still have a ways to go. This past year we’ve been walking for exercise; that is, we’ve been walking at a fast clip with a primary goal of losing weight. Next year the goal will change over to walking for endurance. Walking tours move at a slower pace than we walk now, but the length of walking time is much greater so we’ll be focusing on walking for longer times, and to that end we will put ourselves on a training schedule to get into top shape. I’ll have more up about that later, but it will involve cross training and strength training as walking. We will continue with our annual doctor’s visits and testing, maintain our current way of eating, and practice other healthy behaviors to ensure we finish 2021 where we want to be.

So, although we won’t be traveling next year, we will have plenty on our plates, and much to do to get ourselves ready for the future. We’re very motivated to make 2021 a great year for both us, all while continuing to enjoy our laid-back life on Kaua’i. We have much to be grateful for, but there’s nothing like a few goals to keep us motivated and looking forward, and we’re ready to get going!