Eighteen months ago, my husband, Don, and I pulled the trigger on our roving retirement with great enthusiasm. We were off to experience the world! Our goal was to go beyond the tourist attractions and really get to know the local culture and customs of the places we visited. With a budget of $2,500 per month, including transportation, our challenge was how we could go everywhere we wanted to go and see everything we wanted to see without breaking the bank. Enter three strategies…
1. Take It Slow
Taking it slow has been a great money saver. Rather than spend a short time hopping around to several locations, we have enjoyed favorable long-term apartment rates with Airbnb and through local real estate agents by agreeing to longer stays (six to nine months). Our rent—including electricity, water, cable, and internet—averages $850 per month. We locate a city with a good network of affordable, short- and long-distance transportation alternatives and settle in. Quito in Ecuador, Cusco in Peru, and Málaga in Spain are a few examples. This gives us the opportunity to experience the local vibe, make friends, and visit nearby sites (some favorites are the Otavalo market in Ecuador, Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley in Peru, and Spain’s Costa del Sol).
But what to do if we want to venture further or experience more remote areas? Here’s where our second strategy kicks in.
From the comfort of our apartment, we arrange short-term house sits, which are accessible by bus or train, in villages, towns, or the countryside near places we want to visit. These multi-day to multi-week sits are ideal as lodging is free in exchange for caring for the owners’ pets and/or gardens while they are away. We take public transportation from the city we’re living in to our destination, often for $15 or less. The trip is exciting in itself, as we enjoy varied terrains en-route to our destination. We travel light, leaving most of our belongings behind in our apartment. Except for the bus/train ride, there is no incremental living cost.
Housesitting means “living like the locals.” It means meeting the neighbors who are curious about us and invite us in for a cup of coffee, a meal, or to a family fiesta; visiting small villages, farms, and other curiosities that are off the beaten path; experiencing the great outdoors while hiking, with pets in tow, on historic trails that remain in use today. One such hike we recently took was along the “acequia” system in southern Spain that was built by the Moors in 800 AD; today it remains the primary irrigation system for farms in the stunning, mountainous Alpujarra region of Andalusia. Talk about living history!
What if we want to dive even deeper into a facet of local life? This is where strategy three delivers.
This is our latest strategy and we are hooked! From our apartment, we check out nearby volunteer opportunities that put us in the center of the action. Volunteer experiences abound that afford a chance to get involved in local culture.
While in Quito, we helped teach English to elementary school children in one of the local schools. What fun we had with the children, and they with us gringos, all while we got a first-hand look at the Ecuadorian education system. We forged a friendship with the Ecuadorian teacher we assisted and, as a bonus, improved our Spanish.
In another setting, we planted orchids and harvested yucca in the Ecuadorian rainforest while residing for two weeks on a preserve run by native Quechuans. We performed our work as the Quechuans have done for hundreds of years, with a simple machete and ample respect for the land. Meals and accommodations were free in exchange for our labor. Our only cost was transportation to the preserve, about $15 each by bus, which was more than covered by the free meals we enjoyed over our two-week stay.
For both of these Ecuadorian volunteer experiences, we made our arrangements through a fundacion (foundation) in Quito. There are many of these throughout Latin America, linking wannabe volunteers with exciting, unique opportunities.
We’re in love with our roaming retirement, and enjoy it even more using these strategies that enrich our experiences beyond expectation. Next, we’re moving to an apartment in San Sebastian, Spain for six months. We’ve already booked a weeklong housesit just over the Pyrenees near Bordeaux, France while there; it’s our opportunity to explore the vineyards of this renowned wine region.