A friend and client began doing this last April. This article makes doing this seem quite attractive.
The Let’s-Sell-Our-House-And-See-the-World Retirement
How one couple walked away from all they owned and are putting down new roots— one country at a time.
By Lynne Martin | The Wall Street Journal – Mon, Oct 22, 2012 10:20 AM EDT
- The Wall Street Journal – Martin Family
I’m 70 years old. My husband, Tim, is 66. For most of our lives, each of us lived and worked in California. Today, our home is wherever we and our 30-inch suitcases are.
In short, we’re senior gypsies. In early 2011 we sold our house in California and moved the few objects we wanted to keep into a 10-by-15-foot storage unit. Since then, we have lived in furnished apartments and houses in Mexico, Argentina, Florida, Turkey, France, Italy and England. In the next couple of months, we will live in Ireland and Morocco before returning briefly to the U.S. for the holidays.
As I write this, we have settled into a darling one-bedroom apartment a hundred yards from the River Thames, a 25-minute train ride from the heart of London. We have a knack for moving in. Within a few minutes of plunking down our belongings in new digs, we have made it our own: The alarm clock is beside the bed; my favorite vegetable peeler and instant-read thermometer are in the kitchen; and our laptop computers are hooked up and humming. Together we begin learning how to make the appliances cooperate.
The Martins at Notre Dame (Martin Family)
Given all that, I suppose a better way to describe us is gypsies who like to put down roots. At least for a month or two.
Why we’re doing this is simple: My husband and I—in a heart-to-heart conversation during a trip to Mexico—realized that both of us are happier when we’re on the road. We enjoy excellent health and share a desire to see the world in bigger bites than a three-week vacation allows. The notion of living like the locals in other countries thrilled us, and after almost 18 months of living “home free,” we are still delighted with our choice. Even a “cocooning” day is more interesting in Paris or Istanbul.
How we’re doing this is more complicated. But we think our plan would work for many retirees with a reasonably healthy nest egg. A budget on the road—as in a stationary life—depends on how a person prioritizes expenditures and what kind of lifestyle he or she wishes to pursue. Someone who needs a large wardrobe or thrives on giving lavish dinner parties wouldn’t find our life appealing. (Rented places seldom offer much in the way of attractive dinnerware.)
We certainly have moments when we question our sanity. Being up to our knees in water, completely lost in the middle of a torrential rainstorm in Istanbul, or discovering that we have locked ourselves out on a third-floor Paris balcony does give us pause.
But we’ve learned three things. First, coping with new situations and making complicated travel plans even as we’re on the road keep us sharp.
Second, we aren’t alone. We meet fellow retirees on a regular basis, some who are taking extended vacations, others who are leading a life similar to ours, and some who have settled permanently overseas. A man I met early on in our travels said to me, “There are a lot of us out there who have figured it out.”
Third and most important, the rewards far outweigh the risks. The moments when we glance out “our” living-room window at Florence’s skyline or turn a corner in “our” neighborhood and see the tip of the Eiffel Tower winking at us make the scary times worthwhile.
Taking the Plunge
Becoming international nomads sounded appealing, but we first had to find a way to afford such a lifestyle. Serious number-crunching showed that selling our home in California would allow us to live comfortably almost anyplace in the world. Not having property taxes or a roof that needs fixing can pay for a lot of train rides.
A few specifics about money. Our financial adviser sends us about $6,000 a month, generated from investments. We also collect Social Security and a small pension. We have a “slush fund” of about $20,000, which allows us to make advance deposits—for housing, cruises, flights, hotels and so forth—without affecting our cash flow.
We follow some simple strategies to keep our budget in line. Stays in more expensive locations, like Paris or London, are balanced by living in less pricey countries like Mexico, Turkey or Portugal. We dine out several times a week but eat at home much of the time. I like to cook, and food shopping is a great way to learn about a country. (Finding baking soda in Buenos Aires isn’t nearly as simple as it sounds.)
People certainly could live on less than we do. Accommodations are a good place to start; the cost of rentals overseas varies considerably with size, season, location and amenities.
And when all else fails, walking and gawking are free everywhere.
Ocean of Opportunity
Although we have used airplanes, trains, buses, taxis, cars and ferries, our favorite means of transportation is now trans-Atlantic repositioning voyages.
When cruise lines move their ships seasonally, they offer big discounts. Not many people can spare several weeks in the off-season to cross the ocean. But it’s perfect for us because we not only reach our destination, but we also are housed, fed and pampered for more than two weeks each time. Traveling by ship, we arrive in sync with local time and get a quick peek at interesting places that we probably wouldn’t choose for an extended visit.
We are not married to any particular cruise line. Tim shops for the best deal he can find that fits into our schedule, although we sometimes schedule around the cruises. Prices vary. In May, our Atlantic crossing—16 nights with an ocean-view room—cost about $2,500 for the two of us. That included all of our food, and a wine package for me. Our return trip in November from Barcelona to Miami with the same cruise line will cost about the same.
Our repositioning bookings extend into 2014 and form the base from which the rest of our travels plans will grow. At the moment, we have reservations for next year to live in Portugal, Spain, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Russia. We are already confirmed for a Paris apartment for June/July 2014.
In our experience, vrbo.com and homeaway.com are the most reliable sources for short-term rentals. They offer a wide range of properties to fit almost any budget, and because we usually stay at least a month in each place, we can sometimes negotiate a slightly better deal.
We have had the best luck renting properties whose owners live locally. They offer information about transportation and shopping, grant reasonable special requests and are usually quick to correct any shortcomings. When I mentioned to our apartment owner in Paris that the pots and pans were a bit tired, she appeared the very next day with a new set of cookware and two wonderful stainless-steel frying pans.
Of course, challenges await us at each destination. A partial list: learning how to negotiate the grocery-store routine; using local transportation; connecting to the Internet; getting decent haircuts; operating heating and cooling systems; deciphering exotic DVD players.
Producing meals in an unfamiliar kitchen is often a particular challenge; microwave instructions in French or Turkish can considerably delay meal preparation, And every washer/dryer we encounter presents a whole new group of mysterious settings.
So Far, So Wonderful
Connecting with people we would never have encountered in our regular lives is the most thrilling part of our lifestyle.
In Paris, my favorite neighborhood cheese vendor chose a slice of Brie that he guaranteed would melt perfectly at the precise time our guests arrived, and it did; we met two brilliant young Serbian educators and an internationally known Italian poet at a dinner party on a terrace overlooking Florence; and the owner of a gorgeous 16th-century hotel where we were staying in Kusadasi, Turkey, whiled away an afternoon with me playing fast and furious backgammon. Such moments make the uncomfortable times—like being stuck in a London traffic jam while still learning to drive a stick-shift car on the left side—more than worthwhile.
We also enjoy the freedom of not being weighed down by our “things.” Indeed, one of the benefits of living home-free is that people we meet on the road are interested in us and could care less about our house, our antiques, our art or other possessions. It’s a remarkably forthright way to relate to others.
Most days we’re up by 8 a.m., and we read our newspapers online with our coffee. If it’s a “tourist” day, we try to get out in the morning before the crowds fill up the museum, historic site or event we’re bound for. Sometimes we just attend to life with grocery or clothes shopping, or catching up on our laundry and our reading.
Strolling along the Thames on the way to have a haircut turns a mundane chore into an event, and many times we enjoy a chat with an interesting stranger along the way. My husband devotes some time every day to making travel plans for the future and writing a novel, and I try to work regularly on my blog, homefreeadventures.com. Many evenings we watch our favorite shows or a movie we’ve rented online, and we usually stay up too late, just as we used to do at home.
Since we have eliminated homeownership, we have few bills to pay. We use an online bill-paying service, and we buy almost everything by credit card so we can rack up mileage rewards. One of our daughters receives the mail, which has dwindled to almost nothing.
A good Internet connection is essential. Our computers link us with family and friends, help us plan future travels, and are our source of entertainment in places where movies and television in English are elusive. Each of us has a laptop and an iPhone, and our Kindles house our library and travel books.
We have Medicare and supplemental plans, and when we return to the U.S., we see our doctors for annual checkups. We also have international health insurance covering medical emergencies and evacuations. The plan has a big deductible to help reduce our overhead, since our experiences with health-care providers abroad have been very positive. For instance, Tim awoke one morning in Mexico with raging flu symptoms. A doctor was at his bedside within the hour, administered an injection and gave us a prescription. He charged about $50, and Tim recovered quickly.
Of course, we miss our family and friends terribly, but they have forgiven us for leaving and welcome us enthusiastically when we rent a house near them for a visit. Even our financial adviser has grudgingly admitted that our plan is working well.
For us, giving up 2,500 square feet of gracious California living for a 500-square-foot apartment in Paris or Istanbul is more than a fair trade-off. In place of our heavy-duty gas stove, big-name pots and pans and enormous refrigerator, we now find ourselves using Barbie-size sinks, bar fridges and some pretty sketchy cookware. We share bathrooms with one sink and watch movies on a 13-inch computer screen.
At the same time, we enjoy lunches where the paté comes from heaven, drives through the luscious French countryside where even the cows are beautiful, and strolls along the Arno River in Italy for our after-dinner exercise.
We don’t plan to quit until the wheels fall off.