Friday, January 15, 2010

"How Can You Afford To Do That?"

Every time I call my Mom, generally twice a week, she asks the same thing, “Did you win the lottery?“ She has vascular dementia from years of smoking and doesn’t remember that she asked before. Each time we move she asks, “How can you afford to do that?“ Our dear friends and family always ask the same question. And when we meet new people - you guessed it - “Wow How can you afford to do that?“

“That” is full-time travel and Yes, Yes, Yes -that’s the right question - How? Because it is how we travel that makes it possible to live this dream.

(Dream = Mexico for 10 months, Chicago for a week, Florida for 4 months, New York for a few days, QM2 transatlantic crossing, France for 2 ½ months, London for a week, Edinburgh for 6 months, and then what next?? New Zealand? Greece? Italy?)

So, HOW do we do it?

- We don’t own a house, a car, or much of anything else.

We got out of the housing market in 2005. Oh, we took a bath then, but not nearly what it would have been if we were still invested in real estate 4 years later. Renting allowed us to invest the money we would have been losing in home value. We have no mortgage, no homeowners insurance, no property taxes, no car payments, no car insurance, no gas expense, no upkeep. No cable, no phone bill, no internet service. That frees up a lot of money for things I consider more fun than mowing a lawn or washing a car.

- When I say “much of anything else” I really mean it.
We sold almost everything and it was an amazingly freeing experience. In fact, it has almost turned me into a Buddhist (another topic - gotta keep track of those.) We called auctioneers, art dealers, book dealers, furniture sellers, consigners, friends and family, and we had yard sales. The things that were left we gave to charity including 650 books to the University of South Florida Library. (Topic for another time: How did we do it?) We have several boxes of family photos and other mementos in a storage facility near where Tavish lives and as soon as we get a chance to scan the photos those will be given away, too.

- We don’t just visit, we live wherever we go.

We try to adopt the habits of the locals even if we are in a location for only for a short time - what to eat, where to find bargains, cooking at home whenever possible, local entertainment/social events and so forth.

- We stay as long as possible in one location.

Even a week long stay at a hotel will merit you a discounted rate. Haven’t found that, you say? Have you asked? I never book a hotel room without talking to at least the reservations manager if not the hotel manger - certainly the manager of guest services. Look up rates on the internet, then call the hotel directly and negotiate. It never fails - well, unless the Super bowl or Olympics are in town or it is Carnivale.

- We rarely stay in hotels and, when we do, we stay where the locals stay - two-star clean locations, not expensive tourist palaces.
Whenever possible we rent an apartment. Occasionally, if I want a treat , I go to a spa; I don’t pay extra money just for a place to sleep. (A later post: How to find an apartment in a strange land?)

- When we are in a hotel ( or even in a flat) we live frugally.

In London, for example, where we spent a week in a lovely hotel in a wonderful part of town for only $700, full English breakfast included (!!),we ate in inexpensive pubs and ethnic restaurants which as anyone who knows London can tell you is not skimping and can be fabulous.

Food is a major part of my life. I love to cook and if I can find the best ingredients, I can make dinner as well as the best chef ( I’ve taken classes from many.) So, it is much more fun to locate an inexpensive but wonderful meal than to pay a ridiculous amount of money for little bits of food in an overpriced and all too often pretentious restaurant.

And have you ever had a full English breakfast? We’re talking at least two eggs any way you want, bacon ,bangers (sausage to you Yanks), black pudding (don’t ask what it is, just know it is delicious), grilled tomato, grilled mushrooms, beans and all the toast you want - with butter, marmalade, honey, brown sauce (definitely a topic for a later post), ketchup, Tabasco, and tea, coffee or hot chocolate. Oh, I forgot to say that it all starts with a buffet of juice, fruit, yogurt, cereal and oatmeal while you wait for your cooked breakfast. After that, who needs to eat again until tea time at least?

- We hang out or entertain at home

On our "must have" list for the places we rent are a comfortable sitting area, preferably with a fireplace, a well-equipped kitchen and some sort of comfortable outdoor space (in a city that may even be a nearby park.) We are where we are because we want to be so why not enjoy it. Besides, it is much more affordable to drink good wine or have marvelous cocktails at home. But let me tell you, there are no proper cocktail glasses in Scotland. We've shopped everywhere for them. A dear martini-drinking friend of mine said that is because in Scotland, whisky is the preferred drink. Scots hate the English and so don't drink gin. Well, that's not entirely true. The Queen Mum was a Scot and she always had gin in her teacup. But it may explain why David drinks vodka martinis and doesn't stand for "God Save the Queen."

- We do everything we can online
pay bills, manage accounts, file taxes, write letters, share pictures, shop - in Edinburgh, our local Sainsbury (supermarket) delivers groceries for free if you order on the Internet.
If it can go on the computer, it goes there and the associated paper goes in the bin. No postage, less time and far fewer headaches.

However, we do have to make the occasional call to the U.S. to talk to some idiot in a health insurance company, doctor’s office, hospital or collection agency who can’t find their way out of a box or realize there are multiple accounts in our names. Let’s say, two with several hundred dollars in credits and one with an outstanding balance of 57 cents and for that they have sent 4 letters, two to the wrong address and we have been sent to collection. And you peeps wonder why I am so adamant about healthcare reform. Healthcare idiocy and the resulting costs is the single biggest thorn in my side (and worthy of many future posts.)

- I can’t wait for David to get on Medicare

so we can reduce some of our medical insurance costs. It would be nice if part of the healthcare overhaul included transportable Medicare like in Europe. ( onto the future topic list, for sure)

- We shop constantly for travel bargains.
While I know many of you think I live online, I don’t. Hey, if I was chained to my computer I wouldn’t have anything to write about now would I? I use many different tools but in most cases I take advantage of the help available from the websites. I get lots of emails every day telling me when the airfares have dropped to my preferred destinations, or when a hotel chain is having a sale, or where the best places to go now are.
(I’ll do a post on travel search options later) but I am sure you already use at least a few. Check out what capabilities there are for automatic updates to meet you requirements. I saved hundreds of dollars on Toby’s ticket to France on and got our cheap QM2 crossing on a cruise search engine that sent me an e-mail.

- We do everything we can for free and apply for every possible discount.

When we lived in Aberdeen, Scotland for 9 months while David worked on his PhD at age 56, he qualified for a student discount card. It was called a “Young Person’s Card.” He loved it every time he presented it to a ticket agent.

Most museums have a free day. Many concerts are free of charge. Get to know the folks at the venue and you can often get in free - Toby almost never pays admission. Volunteer. Write away for free offers and special promotions. Use the coupons restaurants leave in your mailbox.. Just keep your eyes and ears open and don’t shy away from the bargains.

- We take public transportation.
And we always use the discounted day, week or monthly passes when appropriate. (Much, much more about this later.) We are committed to living only in places where transportation is available. If we need a car, we rent it for the shortest possible period of time. We pay a small fee to American Express each year to give us full insurance coverage so we don’t have to pay the ridiculous amount charged by the rental car companies.

- We accept the kindness of friends.

We expect you peeps to do the same! There is always space available at our place if you want to visit. Just know we may have to share a bathroom!

We ask for rides to the airport. We ask to stay over for a couple of nights - or longer if we are really good friends. We accept offers from our generous wonderful friends. Last summer we swapped a month of rental in Mexico for a month when we needed to see doctors in Florida and then amazing life-affirming friends offered the use of their condo until the procedures were completed. In the past we may have been embarrassed to accept but not anymore. Life is richer if we all pitch in for each other however we can.. Spending time with friends is often a bonus to this. We have the most amazing network of peeps you could imagine. Well, you know who you are and we can never say thanks often enough.

We belong to the Church of the Larger Fellowship (UU)

which is designed for people just like us and because I think it is important to have some spiritual grounding ( some would say a "church home") I also seek out Shmabala meditation groups and yoga classes wherever we are.

- I’ve taken the 100 things challenge issued by
Last year, “Dave” issued a challenge for folks to try to live with only 100 things and many, many people joined the effort. Although not there yet, I am many ,many hundreds of things closer than I was in July of 2008 when all this started. I will admit, though, that I will never make it if I cannot continue to count jewelry and makeup as one thing each .

- Everything we carry fits into a large checked bag , a carry-on and a briefcase/travel bag for each of us.
I used to pack more than that for a week at the beach. What was I thinking?
Seriously, I have been leaving things behind at every location for a year in order to get to this point. And, according to the Professor’s rule, I can’t add anything unless I get rid of something (see below) Ah, packing, yet another post.

- The Professor buys only what he needs and I am learning to do that.
Something new can come in only if something old goes out. There is just not enough time in a day to spend any of it taking care of stuff - well, except perhaps for a little laundry now and then.

- We don’t buy books.
That may sound like a minor expense reduction but remember we gave away 650 books after we had sold all we could to three booksellers. We used to buy a lot of books!

When we first moved in together we had a bed, two chairs and a table and 35 boxes of books between us. Ask my dear friend Anne how much she spends for books each year, or how much it has cost her to put in custom made bookshelves just to house her collection each time she has moved.

We use libraries (we have library cards in four countries), we borrow, we read what is on the shelves in the places we stay, and we shop at used bookstores that give credit for exchanges and returns. My next big purchase may be a Kindle to cut down on the weight of traveling with the few books I invariably have with me but I will have to weigh the cost of buying the downloads. (Another topic: How did we get rid of our beloved books?)

- We do our own manicures and pedicures and other types of personal maintenance, most of the time.

There are times when it is absolutely necessary to go to a professional. Like when you have been walking in flip-flops in the high Mexican desert in 0% humidity for 10 months and your feet look they belong to a lizard. And you would be surprised how long you can go without a haircut just by telling folks that you are trying to let your hair grow out. While in Mexico the Professor took the grey-haired gringo challenge and tried to grow a pony-tail.

Despite what my mother may think we did not win the lottery and we are certainly not rich. We are old - well not really, old, but old enough to have retired. Although like many of you I would guess we never saved enough while we were working for when we are really old. But that is absolutely not a requirement for what we are doing!

I almost didn’t add this point for fear of discouraging younger people from trying out the vagabond lifestyle. I sure wish someone would have talked to us about doing this many years ago. Our children are already world citizens but they would have had an even greater understanding of global society if we had taken them on the road as pre-schoolers. ( someone remind me to do a post on “The Four Hour Work Week.”)

So I’ve rambled on again but I hope I have inspired you to look into at least some longer than the average U.S. vacation travel options. We generally have space on our floor (see “willing to accept the kindness of friends” above)


  1. Cindy,

    What a great post. I'm so glad you're enjoying the "vagabond lifestyle" but I'd still have a hard time giving away my beloved books :^)

  2. Cindy - I've always sort of wondered what your secret was. Thanks for sharing. Can't wait to see where you guys wind up after Scotland. Hopefully somewhere in there is another pass through NC. This time when I'm actually here!!!