The Gift of Travel

Travel to Retire in BaliDon turned 65 in October 2007 and thoughts of wanting to retire and travel more began to take precedence over his former enthusiasm for his work as a private-practice neuropsychologist. However, because of some very poor financial decisions we’d made a couple of years earlier he was not in a position to retire, so he recommitted himself to continuing to work until he was 70. By May 2011, now 68, he was almost at the end of his tether. He had begun experiencing problems with his heart and with his mental abilities. He had no enthusiasm left for his work, but could not see a way out of the dilemma: continue to work to maintain our current lifestyle and do a little travelling, or retire and live a very restricted life with little or no opportunities for travel. He was feeling constantly worried and anxious about money and financial security.

Don went to see a counselor and she suggested that he read Julia Cameron’s book, “The Artist’s Way” and begin the exercise of “Morning Pages”, which involves writing three pages every morning immediately after waking up, of whatever comes to mind. The purpose of this exercise was to put on external speaker, as it were, everything that was troubling him. On the second day of writing Don wrote “As I look back on the past few months I see that I’ve been in a place of despair and hopelessness without realizing that the depths of despair and hopelessness about the future have tainted my every waking and sleeping moment and have caused my body, heart and mind to malfunction.” Travel to Retire in Argentina mxcOn the third day of writing he came up spontaneously with an alternative solution to working forever to pay the mortgage: sell everything, invest the money that we would realize from the sale of our home, and go travelling until those funds run out, and after that start spending our retirement savings. When he told Alison about this she was immediately enthusiastic about the idea. As Don wrote “By the time we’ve spent all of it (in 10 years or more) we’ll have both written best-selling books and be living in a beautiful home by the ocean.”

So that’s what we did: we put our beautiful apartment on the market. It sold quickly, right at the peak of the Vancouver housing market that year, and we made more than we’d originally expected after paying off the mortgage and other debts. We sold our car and sold or gave away most of the rest of our possessions. It was an amazingly freeing experience. By September 2011 we had put our few remaining possessions into a 500 cubic foot storage unit and were ready to begin travelling in earnest. That fall we went to Italy and Spain. For the first time Don didn’t worry about how much we were spending, we just wanted to have the best possible time.

We had similar bucket lists, places we’d always wanted to see: Italy (especially Tuscany), spending an extended period meditating at Ramana Maharshi’s ashram in Tiruvannamalai, India, and exploring the island of Bali. We did all of these things and more in the first six months of our travels after we sold our home.

In the past two and a half years since we became nomadic we’ve also been to Sweden, made another trip to India, traveled all through Southeast Asia (including Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar), traveled around Australia, spent a few months in a seaside village in Mexico, and are currently spending six months travelling through South America, including Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador.

Travel to retire in ArgentinaThe greatest gift in all of this travelling has been the inner growth that has come about for both of us. Travelling all the time has taught us to be much more flexible in our thinking and much more accepting of whatever happens, regardless of the consequences. It has also given us a much greater trust in the wisdom of the universe: to trust that we are always being guided to whatever is next. The more we travel the more we appreciate that unseen hands are supporting us the whole way, and so we live by intuition, feeling the way by the tips of our fingers. We’ve learned the miracle and power of gratitude. We’ve learned that people are the same the world over and that openheartedness is almost always responded to with openheartedness.

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  1. It’s so great to read about your experiences here. Even though I read Don & Alison’s blog a lot, it’s funny how a little jolt ran through me when I got to the end of “things we’ve seen and done.” And I as all “I remember that post about riding a boat under the falls in Argentina.” As if in some way I had experienced it with you. 🙂

  2. Oh I remember that post *and* that boat ride! It was pretty exciting. Good to hear you felt as you’d experienced it too!

  3. Paulette Mahurin

    February 13, 2014 at 2:12 am

    What a marvelous inspirational couple Don & Allison are. I’ve been following their blog now for close to a years. A better travelog cannot be found. A better inspirational site cannot be found. They are a treat to read. So happy to see them featured here.

  4. Thanks so much Paulette for your wonderful compliments!

  5. leni garfunkel

    June 7, 2014 at 2:09 pm

    Hi Don and Allison,

    I am incredibly excited to read about your travels. I am a 70 years young woman and although I spent summers in Europe and Israel when I finished my first and second years of teaching, it’s been almost 50 years that I really traveled. I have wanted to spend a year in Europe for many years, but financially couldn’t do it. I was going to try to spend a month in Nice this summer, but it would be a strain financially as well as psychologically. I always had the fear that if I wait, I might become sick and not be able to do it. When I came upon your story and blog, I was hit with the light. What I will do is to wait till next May, save my money and really spend the year. Thanks for an incredibly inspiring story~~

  6. Hi Leni, Don and I were delighted to read your comment, and very excited for you. You must feel wonderfully free to have finally made the decision and set an intention in place. Don’t let anything talk you out of it! “Life’s too short!” I can’t recommend enough to write, over the next year particularly, when you get disheartened or doubtful – just get all that out on paper so you can be free of it. And then as you write further the good stuff starts to come. I wish you much courage and much joy. You’re doing the right thing. Blessings and happy travels.

  7. Hello There, I hope you are well. My husband and I are returning to Brazil for a visit and then going to Ecuador. I have been reading your Ecuador posts. Can you please tell me what cruise ship you were on? Any suggestions or hints? We will be in Galapagos late October and early November. Thank you so much. Jamie

  8. Hi Jamie – The ship is Galapagos Legend, run by Klein Tours. I was going to put a link to their website in the blog post but it appears to have been hacked by something Russian. Hopefully they will discover it soon and fix the problem.

    We paid just over $4000 each (including airfare from Quito) and booked through

    If you Google Klein Tours you’ll get a link to their website, but I’m not sure I’d recommend it. It went to something Russian and I had to shut down the computer. Other than that it doesn’t seem to have done any harm. Fingers crossed. This was nearly 2 months ago so maybe it’s okay now. is fine and offers many alternatives for tours of the islands, including those run by Klein Tours.

    One thing we loved about going in March is the water is really warm at that time of the year so we didn’t need wetsuits for swimming. You can Google for best times re climate and water temp. Also our ship provided wetsuits at extra cost. I don’t know if this would be available on smaller boats.

    Suggestions/hints – depends on how ‘rough’ you’re okay with, and how seaworthy you are. We chose the biggest ship available because we wanted something stable. You can go by yacht with only 16 people if you want to. We did have some ‘hanging around’ time with the change of passengers mid cruise (each segment with the Legend is a 4 day cruise) but we were okay with that.

    Hope all this helps

    Cheers, Alison

  9. Hello Alison,

    I’m hoping to visit Tiru in the next 3 weeks or so and stay for up to 3 months. I really appreciate the time you’ve taken in your blog to introduce us to the sites and sounds there and I’m very excited to be going 🙂

    You mentioned that you had some friends Bhakti and Ram who helped you find an apartment and the like. Are you comfortable providing their contact information or could you direct me to others who may share the same credibility and could help me locate an apartment comparable to the one you and Don had?

    Any direction would be appreciated.

    Thanks again for your insights. I hope you’re feeling well 🙂

    ps. I posted a comparable request to you a week ago or so but I can’t find where I posted it to see if there was a reply. Sorry if I’ve duplicated 🙂

    Jamie Ans
    Orillia, Ontario

  10. Hi Jamie, I will email our friends and see if they would comfortable with me sending you their email address. I’ll let you know.
    I haven’t received any other request from you so that’s a bit of a mystery.
    Anyway I’ll email you to let you know what our friends say. (Your email address comes to me with your comment)
    Hope you have a wonderful time in Tiru.

  11. Thanks Alison. I appreciate that 🙂

  12. Just found your site, what fun reading. Just curious do you have an entry blog somewhere describing your travel and packing habits? How much clothing are you packing and are you backpacking your things or rolling around a travel case or two? Also do you often base yourselves out of one location for an extended stay? We’re a mid sixties couple hoping to travel more but don’t care for moving to a new location every other day and like to keep our bags on the light side. Thanks so much for sharing your journey.

  13. Hi Frank, thank you so much for your kind words. This post contains a list of the contents of our cases:
    We travel with carry-on size cases and medium-size day-packs (they’re college book bags so quite roomy but they are not full-size back packs).
    We now carry disinfectant gel rather than hand wipes (takes up much less room) and don’t carry mosquito nets since they seem to be always provided when necessary. Our cases are hard-shell spinners and can be expanded.
    Clothing is minimal. Rule of thumb is three of everything – one for washing, one for wearing, one for spare – socks, underwear, t-shirts, long-sleeve t-shirts, pants. We also have a padded jacket each that squishes down to nothing, and lightweight shells for rain.
    Travel habits: hmmm – that’s pretty broad. We like to stay at about the 3 star level – apartments, hotels, hostels (private room). We want our own bathroom, wifi, central location or close to easy local transport. Almost always we travel independently though we have recently done tours through Jordan and Egypt. We usually combine day tours with independent exploration. Day tours are great to get you oriented or if you don’t have much time. We do loads and loads of online research.
    We do a combination of more extended stays and being on the move. We *rarely* move to a new location every day, but from time to time may move every three days if we’re exploring a region – about three weeks of this is our limit and then we need to stop somewhere for a bit.
    This should give you an idea:
    Five weeks travelling independently around Turkey – road trip/train/flight (spending no more than a week in each place, but mostly less than that)
    followed by a one week tour of Jordan, followed by a 12 day tour of Egypt. The 2 months back in Vancouver, 3 months in San Miguel de Allende in Mexico, then two months in La Manzanilla Mexico then back to Vancouver where we are now housesitting until the end of October. Nov-Feb we plan to explore more of Mexico, Cuba, and Central America.
    Hope this helps. Good luck on your travels.

  14. Nicolle Thompson

    August 15, 2016 at 2:08 pm

    Hi Alison. Love the blog, reading about your adventures is very inspirational! Can you share some advice about planning? What dictates your where you travel? How far in advance do you plan? When do you determine details like accommodation (or perhaps you just arrive and search?) and booking flights? Also, how do you cover off health care? We are retiring at the end of this year and are eager to begin a life of unfettered travel but a little overwhelmed with all the options and how to start 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing your adventures!

  15. Hi Nicolle,
    Thanks for your kind words.
    Deciding where – initially it was about the bucket list. Then it became about serendipity and the weather and the bucket list. The bucket never empties. The more we travel the more it gets filled so the biggest dictate these days is weather and the cost of living. We try to stay with warm weather, and we tend to avoid the really expensive countries.
    We mock up a ‘plan’ as often as 12 months in advance, but anything can change it. We don’t make and bookings until we’re really sure. It’s all very loosey goosey. It’s the no-plan plan for a while as we bounce around ideas. And then suddenly it’s time, a decision has been made and we start to make some bookings.
    We *always* have accommodation booked for when we first arrive anywhere, and a way to get from the airport/train station to our hotel. When we went to South America for 6 months all we had booked was an apartment in Buenos Aires for the first 3 weeks. We spent time there booking a 3 week trip around Patagonia. At the end of that we flew to Mendosa for 2 weeks and there booked the next forward movement north. Once on a continent we basically make it up and book it as we go along.
    We have Canadian health care coverage which we keep up to date. It means we have to be in BC for 5 months of every year. Apart from that we buy travel insurance if we’re going to developed western countries where health care is expensive. In third world countries we don’t bother with extra insurance because health care is so inexpensive that we just pay as we go. We can also claim it back from our Canadian coverage. We also have Medjet Assist which costs about $800 (Cdn) per year. This is repatriation coverage if either of us is hospitalized with illness of injury.
    Start with the countries you have always wanted to visit. Don’t try to book too much in advance – that’s what’s overwhelming. Just have a general idea and then book the first few days or couple of weeks and then make it up as you go. Trust the unfolding.
    You’ll find a bunch of posts here that may be helpful
    And have a wonderful time! It will be more amazing than you can even imagine.

  16. Nicolle Thompson

    September 4, 2016 at 4:05 pm

    Thank you Alison! Your information is very appreciated! We just returned from a quick 2 week “open-ended” vacation where i was able to put some of your advice to work. It was a good first foray; dipping my toes in the water, so to speak 🙂 Now to go in a little deeper….

  17. Thanks Nicole. Sounds like you had a good time dipping your toes in the water. May you dive right in! 🙂
    Travel is an incomparable experience. Somehow it opens you to an inner life that you never knew you had.
    May all your travels be wonderful!
    Cheers, Alison

  18. Prabhu Prakash Khalsa

    October 24, 2016 at 2:08 am

    It’s so refreshing and reassuring to read you articles. I found the interview with you guys on Nomadic Matt. My husband and I are from Austin, TX and we are preparing our house to sell with the intention of doing much the same thing you are doing. We’re starting out in our car because we want to see many of the beautiful national parks in the U.S. But we have plans to start international travel in Ireland and Scotland, visit friends who are living in France and then see where that leads us. Thank you for inspiring us with your story!

  19. Thanks so much Prabhu. I don’t think you’ll regret it for a minute! We’re still having an amazing time even after five years. We still don’t have a home ad don’t miss it at all. We always have a roof over our head when we need it and that is enough. We’ve found that the more of the world we see the more we want to see. Wishing you all the best for all your travels wherever they may be.

  20. Alison, my dear, I’m very sorry to admit I hadn’t found the time to read your blog until today. Better late than never, though!

    I love your story. Beloved and I are a couple of years from (semi) retirement, and though we’ve set ourselves up a relatively modest life with early retirement in mind, we still don’t have enough saved to travel the way we’d like. Maybe someday, we’ll sell it all and pick up and wander the earth like you two do. You’re my new heroes!

  21. Thanks so much Donna! Selling everything to travel was the best thing we could have done. This article is now a few years old. We travelled, homeless by choice, for nearly six years in total. Then earlier this year we reestablished a home. For the first time in 6 years we own a car and furniture again. It’s another adjustment, but we are certainly not done travelling. I hope you get to do some of the travelling you would like to do. It’s so good for the soul! We’re planning on travelling to japan and China in May-June. It will be a whole new adventure.

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