Permanent Travellers, Senior Nomads, Elderly Adventurers? We still haven’t decided what to call ourselves, since my husband Chris and I sold our house and sold or gave away all our possessions, and set off on the next great adventure in November 2013. Yes, we got rid of everything, no, we have nothing in storage. Some of our friends think we’re crazy, and say they couldn’t bear to leave their homes and families, and others can’t wait to follow us!
The path we’ve chosen is certainly not for everyone, but it seems to suit us so far. After meeting and marrying in our home country of England, Chris and I lived in California for 20 years, happily childfree. As it does with many people, the question of “what shall we do when we retire” raised its head from time to time. Sometimes we daydreamed about buying a large house with a little land and having a B&B in the beautiful Californian wine country. We often discussed whether we would stay in California, or move back to England, or perhaps renovate a farmhouse in Tuscany, where many of my family live (my mother is Italian). What we did know for sure was that we both believe firmly in keeping our brains and bodies as active as possible, and that we can’t play golf, and weren’t interested in learning!
We’ve been keen scuba-divers for years, and a few years ago while looking for a new dive place to visit, we stumbled by chance across a reef conservation organisation called ReefCI, that operates out of the southern Belize town of Punta Gorda. For less than the cost of a conventional dive vacation, they accept volunteers to their tiny island of Tom Owens Caye, to assist in various reef conservation activities. We were trained how to safely spear the invasive, predatory lionfish, learned how to tag conch, and participated in transect line counts of fish and invertebrates, together with regular surveys of the health of the corals. We spent two weeks there, and came back with a renewed enthusiasm for diving and conservation, and an idea. We wondered if there were other places like that, and thanks to the wonders of the internet, we soon discovered that entering combinations of the words “volunteer + conservation + marine + animals + name-your-country” in search engines, yielded an almost bewildering array of possibilities!
We continued searching online, and thinking and talking about the possibilities. Then one day Chris stumbled upon an article in the Wall Street Journal, written by Lynne Martin* of Home Free Adventures, giving details of their budget for “permanent travel”, and everything clicked into place. We can do that! We’ve been saving over the years, we have retirement accounts, we have a house in California that’s been building equity nicely for the past 20 years. If we sell the house, and add that to our retirement investment funds, how much could we expect to pull out each year? And with no mortgage, property taxes, maintenance costs or household bills, how much would it cost to live in Belize, or South Africa, London or the Galapagos?
We ran the numbers, talked some more about our interests and thoughts for the future, and we came to a decision. We’ll travel. We’ll mix in working as volunteers on marine and land-based conservation projects around the world, together with staying in interesting places, living as much as possible like the locals. We also have family members and friends who are conveniently spread around different countries, we can drop in on them; and we’ll keep on doing this for as long as we feel able to do so.
And so during 2013 we gave away or sold all our furniture and knick-knacks, we culled our clothes and happily donated them to the homeless, we spiffed up the house and sold it, then hit the road at the end of November. We started our journey with a 5 month road trip from California to Florida, sold the car in Florida, and jumped on a repositioning cruise to England. After 3 months in England, Italy and Germany visiting family and friends, we then headed to South Africa to begin “working” as volunteers on a number of conservation projects. Our experiences as volunteers have reinforced our commitment to conservation and meaningful travel, and we’re now planning to work on projects in Costa Rica with turtles, conservation work in the Galapagos Islands, plus a third return trip to ReefCI in Belize over the next few months. Further ahead, we’re thinking about visiting friends in California, and a repositioning cruise to Sydney, Australia, that will set us up for more conservation projects and diving in Australasia, south-east Asia and India.