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Homeless Retirement: Travel the World

Published
April 01, 2013
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Bottom Line Personal
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How Lynne & Tim Martin Did It

How would you like to make the world your retirement home? Lynne and Tim Martin did just that. Two years ago, they sold their home in California, and they have been traveling the world ever since.

The Martins’ advice for anyone interested in a full-time travel retirement…

MAKING THE MONEY WORK

Our financial manager sends us $6,000 per month generated by our investments, but we also have Social Security and a small pension. People certainly could live on less than we do. Accommodations are a good place to cut back—the cost of rentals overseas varies considerably with size, season, location and amenities.

• Housing. Most tourists stay in pricey hotels and visit areas for only a week or two. We rent furnished apartments and stay a minimum of one month in each location, usually longer. That greatly lowers our housing and travel costs and lets us get a far better feel for the area before we move on.

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In California, our total housing expenses added up to around $3,600 a month, including the mortgage, home-maintenance bills, utility bills, homeowner’s insurance, taxes and so forth. On the road, our rentals typically cost $1,500 to $2,500 per month and include utilities and Internet service. Those rental prices are modest in part because we usually rent one- or two-bedroom apartments, not large homes. With just the two of us and few personal possessions, that’s sufficient space.

Renting tips: We’ve had success using the rental-listing Web sites VRBO.com and HomeAway.com. These sites seem to do a good job vetting their property owners. Also…

We arrange rentals at least several months in advance—even longer for popular travel destinations such as Paris. The best deals are long gone by the time the rental date approaches.

We favor properties whose owners live nearby. That makes it much easier to solve any problems that arise.

We avoid properties that receive negative feedback on the rental Web site from prior renters.

We use the Internet—and conversations with other travelers we meet—to vet neighborhoods before renting there. Google Maps can supply a look at the neighborhood, and Googling the name of the neighborhood can provide a sense of what others think about it.

• Destinations. We try not to spend too much time in pricey cities such as London and Paris. When we do visit an expensive location, we balance our budget by staying some place much more affordable next, such as Portugal, Mexico or Turkey. We often can keep our spending to $5,000 a month in such places. Turkey was extremely affordable and is among our favorite places.

• Dining. We try not to eat more than three or four meals per week in restaurants. Furnished rental apartments include kitchens, cookware, dishes and utensils, so we easily can cook for ourselves. One of the first things we do when we arrive in a new rental is find a nearby grocery store—the sooner we get groceries into the apartment, the lower our temptation to eat out.

We also look for local farmers’ markets. They’re a great source of fresh and affordable local ingredients and fun to visit, too. We avoid stocking up on ingredients that we won’t finish before moving on in a month or two.

• Transportation within a country. We usually choose properties near a public transit system. Monthly public transit passes are quite affordable in most cities, and there often is a senior discount. In many months, our transportation expenses are comparable to, or even below, the $700 we previously paid each month to own and insure two cars in California.martinstravellight

• Transportation to and from countries. We take planes and trains and, when it’s practical, rent cars. We buy almost everything with a credit card so that we can rack up mileage points.

We also use repositioning cruises. These are voyages that cruise lines schedule primarily to move a ship from one part of the world to another. They can be an economical and enjoyable way to travel between continents. You can find repositioning cruises listed on RepositioningCruises.com or on the cruise lines’ own Web sites.

Example: We recently paid $2,500 for a nice cabin on an 18-day cruise from Miami, Florida, to Venice, Italy. That’s a great deal considering that in addition to passage for two to Europe, we got all of our food, housing and entertainment for more than half a month.

LIVING WITH LESS STUFF

When we decided to travel full-time, we put some of our possessions in storage, gave some to our kids and got rid of the rest. One of our daughters receives the mail, which has dwindled to almost nothing.

We each have a 30-inch rolling duffel bag and a carry-on bag. We initially worried that living with limited possessions would be a challenge. In fact, it’s been liberating and wonderful. Our lives have become less about our stuff and more about the things we do, the places we visit and—above all—the people we meet.

Traveling light does mean that we have to wash and rewear relatively few garments over and over again, but that’s not a great inconvenience.

One thing we do travel with in abundance is electronics. We each have…

• A laptop computer. These allow us to pay our bills online, though we have few bills since we eliminated home ownership.

We also use our computers to stay in touch with friends and family via e-mail and Skype. And we can watch movies and TV shows over the Internet when we wish to spend an evening in.

Helpful: We travel with an HDMI cable so that we can connect our laptops to TVs to watch movies and shows on full-sized screens. We also travel with a portable speaker so that we have decent sound quality when our only option is to watch shows or movies on our laptop screens.

• A smartphone. These serve as our phones only when we’re in the US. Overseas we use them to run apps, but it can be difficult and expensive to make a US cell phone work abroad. We’ve found that it’s usually cheaper and easier to purchase inexpensive local cell phones when we arrive in a region and load minutes onto them.

• An E-reader. We use Kindles from Amazon, but you may prefer a different brand. E-readers allow us to travel with an entire library of books without carrying much weight.

FRIENDS AND FAMILY

Skype and e-mail aren’t our only options for keeping in contact with friends and family. When we want to reconnect with our old life, we simply rent a furnished apartment back in our former hometown. We recently spent two months there.

And once your friends and family realize how much fun you’re having traveling the world, don’t be surprised if they want to join you on occasion. One of our daughters visited us in Italy last year, and another is meeting up with us later this year in Paris. She’s even bringing along one of our grandkids.

FLEXIBILITY NEEDED

Full-time travel isn’t worth the trouble unless you and your partner are both onboard with the idea and can be flexible.

Consider how well each of you copes with inconveniences such as language barriers and unfamiliar public transit systems, grocery stores, plumbing and appliances. Some retirees consider overcoming changes and challenges such as these a fun way to keep their minds agile…while others find such things extremely frustrating.

HEALTH MATTERS

Health care can be a concern for full-time travelers. Living on the road means that you can’t see your regular doctor when you’re sick…and Medicare doesn’t cover medical care obtained outside the US.

We pay around $400 a month for a high-deductible international insurance policy that provides coverage for foreign medical emergencies and will evacuate us back to the US for medical care if necessary. Companies offering policies such as these ude Seven Corners and Allianz among others.

We’re fortunate to be very healthy. We take few medications, and the prescriptions we do use, we take along with us. We schedule checkups with our regular doctors and dentists when we return to California. If we become ill in another part of the world, we ask the owner of the property we’re renting for a doctor recommendation or we ask other ex-pats or locals we’ve met in the area.

In our experience, very good medical care is available around much of the world, and it often costs substantially less than in the US.