Contemplating a life of travel? It sounds romantic, adventurous, a dream come true. But is it really? After 9 months I can say it is all of those……..sometimes. And other times it is frustrating, disappointing, and induces homesickness and doubt. As we say, it is not for the faint of heart. Like all things in life, it is complicated. Feel free to send us your questions, we are happy to answer any we can.
After 30 years of owning a home, going to work every day and vacationing for a few weeks a year it is difficult to adjust to a completely new way of life. Many ask why didn’t we keep our home and rent it out. The answer is that it simply wouldn’t work financially, adding to the analysis were the facts that we wanted to escape Seattle winters and our home on a steep hill with lots of stairs would be a poor choice for retirement as we age. Bottom line, keeping the house would mean we keep working for a home we loved but which would not fit our retirement plans. Selling the house gave us the option to stop work and investing the equity from the house gave us the money to fund our budget until social security, pension, and 401k become available. We watch our budget and investments closely, so far it was been a good financial decision as investment earnings have exceeded spending, but as they say, there is no guarantee of future returns.
Life without a home is difficult. Banks and government agencies always insist on knowing your address. We invest so much both financially and emotionally in a home it is difficult to let it go. Home ownership is often viewed as the American dream and a life goal for many. It provides security, a sense of community and a place to store all the stuff you can’t fit in a suitcase. But homes are expensive and when you honestly sit down and add up every dollar and hour of labor you put into them you realize they are rarely a great investment. Regardless, we will probably own a home somewhere again. When that will be and where it will be is yet to be decided. In our constant conversation on this issue I often say that if money were not an issue, we would probably own a condo in Hawaii for winters and a condo in Seattle for summers and still spend 3 to 6 months a year traveling. But alas, money is an issue, especially with Hawaii, Seattle and the US in general being some of the most expensive places to live in the world. Which is why most Americans who choose early retirement have chosen to live abroad.
Moving on to questions often asked by friends:
Are there places that you loved and will most likely return to for a longer visit? We liked everywhere we visited but enjoyed some more than others. We didn’t set out with a list of places to see then simply check the box or snap a picture and move on. We tried to spend time in each location seeing a few of the sights and getting to know a place. Many places we will probably never see again only because there are so many places yet to see in the world. We will certainly return to those locations where friends live. Like Sweden, England, and Nice. The three locations we will most likely return to are London, Paris and Croatia. London and Paris because they are vibrant cities with a million things to do and would be great places to just live for a while. Croatia because it is a budget friendly location to spend a summer at the shore just relaxing, swimming and watching the sunset, or I would love to spend time cruising the Adriatic on a boat.
What have we learned from nine months of travel? Short answer, a lot. We learned about places we visited and the people who lived there and plenty about how to travel and about ourselves. A few more prominent lessons.
Travel is very personal, one size does not fit all. We have friends who hated Paris and would never return. Friends who would never stay at another Airbnb. Friends who love spontaneous travel with no real plan and no room reservations. We, on the other hand, loved Paris, swear by Airbnb, and like to plan well in advance. In a conversation with our friend Anya she explained how traveling without a plan allowed for the serendipity of finding a place you never knew existed. I countered that without a reservation, months in advance, we never could have stayed at our wonderful apartment in Paris or our waterfront home in Croatia where we enjoyed long dinners with our Croatian host family. Both options have their benefits.
We like longer stays that allow us to unpack and get comfortable in a neighborhood. For us, living out of a suitcase and moving every few days gets old quickly.
Budgeting is both enlightening and empowering. Having a set budget number and keeping honest track of exactly what you are spending daily is something everyone should do, even when they aren’t traveling. It is too easy to overspend and run out of money when you don’t keep track.
It is much better to make a conscious decision to blow the budget one day knowing you will need to underspend another. Yes, I know we were constantly over budget but never so much that it had a significant impact on our lifestyle.
On this same issue, we learned that we spend more than we planned. I honestly thought that once we were settled into a place we would have several days a month where we would spend $0. We were lucky if we had two days a month where we spent nothing. $100 a day is plenty for food, but when you average in plane tickets, train tickets, tours etc. it is difficult to stay under $100. $100 a day for lodging is fairly easy even with some very nice water view apartments.
Will we continue to travel or settle down? For now, we will continue to travel though we will return to the Pacific Northwest more often. Being away for 6 months from family and friends is too long. Settling down is not an option as we really don’t know where we would settle. Weather and money are significant factors. Owning or even renting really does not make financial sense if we plan to be gone traveling for months at a time. Paying a mortgage or rent for a place to keep our stuff does not make sense. Which leads to another conclusion we reached over these months of travel. We need very little stuff.