A new memoir chronicles a couple’s bold decision to travel the globe without a permanent place to call home.
In 2011, retirees Lynne and Tim Martin sold their home in California, divested themselves of most personal belongings, and said farewell to somewhat-shocked friends and loved ones. Relieved of the financial obligations and other burdens of home ownership—with only two suitcases, two computers, and each other—they took off in pursuit of a dream: To live as locals while traveling abroad, staying in various cities for two or three months at a time.
Later that year, Lynne wrote about their decision to “unretire” in an article published in The Wall Street Journal. The piece not only generated hundreds of comments and emails from interested readers, but also piqued the interest of agents and publishers.
Her new book, Home Sweet Anywhere: How We Sold Our House, Created a New Life, and Saw The World, chronicles the couple's experience and lessons learned. Lynne took time from a flurry of book signings and media appearances to chat with Grandparents.com.
GP: You certainly have chosen an unconventional path in late life. Do you feel retired or “unretired”?
Lynne Martin: It depends on one’s definition of retirement. Historically, retirement conjures up pictures of gray-haired folks sitting on porch rockers, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But today’s more active retirees are taking yoga classes, jumping out of airplanes, skiing, hiking, doing volunteer work worldwide and, yes, even selling their houses and gallivanting around the world like us. We have retired from making a living every day, but certainly not from LIVING every day.
GP: What were the economic considerations in making this decision?
LM: It’s simpler than it appears. This is not calculus; it’s just arithmetic. We calculated the expenses for our comfortable house on California’s Central Coast, including items like insurance, a gardener, repairs, and upkeep. The number was astonishingly high.
Then we calculated what it would cost to live on the road, including transportation, lodging, insurance and all the rest. It was actually less! After three years, we are still taking the same stipend from our investments as we did when we lived in California.
GP: Is it possible for people who don't have a lot of money to do this comfortably?
LM: It depends on what a "lot" of money means. Certainly, if you plan to live on the proceeds from your investments you must have some investments, but there are lots of places to live in the world where it costs very little. The current favorite is Ecuador, where I'm told an apartment goes for just a few hundred dollars and the amenities in the country are first-world quality.
GP: How many countries/cities have you visited since you "retired"?
LM: We've lived in nine countries in the last three years.
GP: What criteria did you and Tim use to select destinations and places to settle?
LM: We usually start planning with weather in mind. We try to dodge extreme heat and cold if we can. Next, we look into transportation, which is a big expense. Once we’ve figured out how we’re going to get to the area where we want to live and how we’re going to get home, we fill in the blanks by choosing our actual landing spots.
GP: How did you handle the logistics of getting rid of your “stuff?”
LM: We were pretty brutal. Only things that had great value to us were placed in our 10 x 15 storage unit in California. It’s mostly full of art and kitchen equipment like my trusty stand mixer and my much-loved Cuisinart food processor. Of course, family pictures and off-season clothing are there, but almost all the furniture is being loved now by family or friends. Once we got started, the project became easier. The books were difficult; we did keep some that we just couldn’t bear to part with.
GP: What other logistics did you have to take care of?
LM: I wouldn’t be truthful if I didn’t tell you there were about 5,000 details—from getting glasses’ prescriptions to take along, to dealing with the Schengen Agreement (the EU rule that allows U.S. Citizens to be in the EU for no more than 90 days out of 180), to getting insurance for the things in storage, to getting inoculations for places we planned to visit. It was a whirlwind, but worth every moment.
Still, when we go “home” to California to visit (where we rent places near our children) we spend much of our time seeing our doctors, dentist, and ophthalmologist for check-ups. Thankfully, we always check out well. We just condense a year’s worth of practical stuff into a few weeks, and we’re off again!
GP: You married Tim relatively late in life after being widowed. How has living home-free affected your marriage? Your relationships with children and grandchildren?
LM: Our life on the road has made us even closer because we know we can depend on one another. We’ve both become more flexible and tolerant of each other and the world around us. Travel does teach people to be more resilient.
Our children were astonished by our decision at first, but after three years they can see that we are healthier and happier than ever, and they’re wonderfully supportive. Our grandchildren (there are seven) find us infinitely more interesting than when we lived down the street.
Our friends are delighted to hear about our travels, and we keep in touch with them through the wonders of the Internet. And now they’re coming to visit! This coming summer, which we will spend in Paris, friends from several countries and from home are coming to stay nearby so we can enjoy that fabulous city together!
GP: What has been the best part of this experience for you?
LM: The best part of living home free and being able to stay in one place for a significant period of time is having the opportunity to meet so many people. When you're in the same neighborhood day after day, the neighbors and other local people finally open up and a nod soon leads to a conversation. We have friends all over Europe and South America now!
GP: Do you plan on settling down any time soon?
LM: Not until the wheels fall off! Seriously, as long as our health and energy continues to hold up, we intend to keep traveling. Probably in the next few years we may decide to make shorter trips of only two or three months rather than being away eight or ten, but that will be the only change we can foresee right now.
GP: What advice can you offer to others to make retirement the best phase of their lives?
LM: We would advise seniors to give some serious thought to the things they really want to do with the last third of their lives. People are living much longer and as medical advances have helped older people to maintain a higher level of mobility, almost anything is within reach of the older generation.
Certainly not everyone would like to give up their homes permanently as we have, but house trading is a wonderful option for people who want to travel longer than the standard two-week vacation. Even if travel isn’t a priority, we urge seniors to take advantage of the gift of time they have been given to accomplish their dreams. Something as simple as building that garden shed you’ve always wanted, going back to school to learn the things you missed in college, or volunteering for a cause that’s dear to your heart can make your later years more challenging and rewarding.
The only thing we wish we had done differently is to have started sooner.
*You can follow Lynne Martin’s blog at www.homefreeadventures.com/
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