When we started this nomadic life we did not know how long it would last. As Tolkien say’s “it is a dangerous business going out your door…who knows where you will be swept off to”. Would we travel 6 weeks or 6 years? Well, the pandemic has put a halt to travel for a while and my personal opinion is life as we knew it will not return for a year or two at best. I think travel will be very limited until most of the world is vaccinated or the virus is eradicated. Trains, planes, cruise ships, festivals, concerts, and sporting events are not conducive to safe social distancing. Much of the joy of travel involves meeting and interacting with people and travel seems less exciting unless we are free to safely interact with the world.
So, what are nomads to do? Over the course of the past year we have learned to be flexible, to constantly evaluate our situation and ask each other where do we go from here. For us, the pandemic is not much different than the other turning points in our life. Our lifestyle and plans adapt quite well to the pandemic. We have no jobs to worry about and having no paycheck has been our norm for over a year and half.
We had set up our investments and finances to protect against the inevitable downturn in the stock market. While we rely heavily on the market for our future financial success, we keep enough money in cash and bond funds to cover our living expenses for 3 to 5 years. Before retirement I avoided boring bonds like the ……pandemic. But now looking at the portfolio and seeing our stodgy old bond funds up 3% since December I am beginning to believe we actually know what we are doing. Our working assumption is that any downturn in the market should recover in three to five years. There are no guarantees, but we can re-evaluate in a couple of years and if needed adjust spending, or heaven forbid get a job.
Over the past year we have been looking for a place to call home. I could probably continue to travel for a couple more years without a home base, Kelly would prefer to have a home base but still travel several months of the year. There was never a question that we would have a home base at some point in the future the only questions being when and where. Each stop we asked ourselves “could we live here?’ In most places we readily agreed we could spend more time, maybe weeks or months, but we found nowhere to really call home.
Even nomads have emotional ties that must be considered. Could we comfortably live halfway around the world from friends and family? Probably not. We survive quite well traveling with our passable English and no real knowledge of any other language beyond saying please, thank you, and where is the bathroom. However, calling a foreign country home would certainly require knowing the language. This became abundantly clear as I attempted to google translate the labels on what could have been hand sanitizer, or possibly hand soap, or maybe hand lotion as the pandemic spread through Mexico. In the end I bought a bottle of rubbing alcohol because alcohol is one word I know in Spanish, well actually it’s spelled the same in both languages. Our experience has been that Americans living abroad rarely master the local language. You can get by with English in most places but then a true crisis arises and you would really like to easily communicate with the local policeman, doctor or pharmacist.
Beyond language, living abroad presents numerous challenges. Do we understand the legal system, the medical system, or the thousand small bits of local knowledge you take for granted living in your home country. Finally, a wise man (Michael Campbell) told me over a glass of wine in Puerto Vallarta, “don’t choose a place to live based solely on the cheap cost of living, you need to ask yourself “are these my people”. Whether you live among locals or expats you need that connection with people around you to truly feel at home.
Taking all of this into consideration we have spent our days in isolation looking for a place to call home , a more permanent base for our travels. Hawaii looked great, an easy flight, friends and family would certainly visit, warm winters, but the price! We could only afford a very small place in Hawaii and with the high HOA fees the carrying cost on a Hawaii condo would greatly limit travel. Mexico looked great too, low cost of living and low carrying costs, great people, great food. Prices for a water view were better than Hawaii but I wouldn’t call it cheap. Additionally, you have the language issue, the legal issues of owning property in Mexico, the poverty, and the reality that some family and friends would not visit Mexico. We concluded that Mexico will remain a great place to visit but probably not a place to retire.
Our current focus shifted to Arizona and about a month ago we started looking online. We have friends who live and/or own homes around Phoenix. Arizona has three very nice seasons and a very hot summer which would be a good time to travel in most of the Northern Hemisphere. Housing prices are reasonable and there are plenty of communities with amenities like golf, swimming, walking trails, etc. We considered renting but prices are reasonable, interest rates are low and we just like the idea of owning as long as the price does not severely limit travel. So as things began to open up we packed the car and drove to Arizona where we rented a house for a month. We had been watching the market and looking at homes online while isolated in Spokane. By the time we arrived we had a pretty good idea what we wanted. After inspecting about 20 homes we made an offer on a three bedroom two bath rambler in Sun City Grand. We are under contract and set to close in mid-July. We expect to spend the next 6 to 8 months updating, upgrading and generally making it our home. Hopefully by this time next year we will be escaping the Arizona summer for somewhere in Europe or maybe Asia. There is still a lot of world out there to explore and the globe does not stop turning!