Roving Retirees Enjoy Unique Travel Adventures Overseas

 “A Monthly Budget Similar to What We Spent Before Traveling”

Names: Dan and Char Marshall

Ages: Both early 60s

From: California

Living in: Spain

Almost everyone loves the freedom of travel, seeing new things and meeting new people. Why not do it all the time?

Semi-retired and up for adventure, my wife Char and I have been traveling in South America for the last 11 months. We’ve rented a car for seven weeks to explore Chile; trekked in Patagonia; lived and cruised for one month in the Galápagos; ridden horses into a remote valley similar to Yosemite; hiked over a mountain pass to Machu Picchu; attended a gaucho festival (cowboys showing off their stuff); explored a remote Peruvian jungle; hung out in a grass shack on a beach; learned to cook Peruvian food; taken kitesurfing lessons; swam with baby sea lions; and cheered at soccer games.

We realized that if we rented out our house, we’d be able to engage in extended travel. There are few times in life when one has the health, time, money, and lack of responsibilities to do this.

We’d raised two kids and lived in the same house for 25 years. We had two rental properties and we both had consulting jobs. We had a horse, a cat, and a bunch of fish. So it took a while—18 months—for us to organize everything to a point where we could live a traveling lifestyle.

We sold our two rental properties, found homes for the pets, and got our house ready to let. We went through all our stuff, gave a lot away, threw a lot away, and put the rest in storage. We scanned our critical paper documents, including the information we’d need to file taxes. We transferred one cell-phone number to Skype and “parked” the other. We sold our cars. We turned off our phone, Internet, TV, cell phone, gas, electric, gym membership, and car-insurance accounts.

We decided what to do about medical insurance and established a plan for obtaining medicine. We went to the travel clinic to learn about, and get medicines for, the countries we might visit. We updated our estate plan and trust documents. We determined what we needed to take with us in terms of clothes, electronics, cameras…

Our approach to all this worked out well. Generally we tackled one task at a time. For example, the first task was to sell one of the rental houses. And we didn’t set a firm start date until almost everything was wrapped up; this reduced our stress.

Originally we intended to go somewhere, rent an apartment, and stay for at least a month. We did this in Cuenca, Ecuador, partly because there is a large expat community there, partly because we were tired of hotels and restaurant food, and partly to meet local people. We were able to participate in local community activities such as the daily bailoterapia (dance therapy) classes in the nearby park. The Ecuadorian government sponsors these classes in every town, and it was a great way to meet people.

But generally we’ve been most comfortable staying in one place for several nights and then moving on. Perhaps in the future we’ll yearn for more stability and rent apartments to stay longer.

We do our planning by downloading travel guides to our Kindles, checking the long-term weather forecasts online, and talking with fellow travelers. The Internet is key, not only for planning, but also for communicating with friends and relatives and managing our affairs at home.

We both studied Spanish before coming; one of us took classes and the other used language tapes. When we first arrived in Ecuador, we took Spanish classes at a formal language school for two weeks and strongly recommend doing this. Now we’re able to communicate in most situations, and we’ve even engaged in discussions of some complex topics such as economics.

How do we afford it? We use some of the monthly rental income from our house (over and above expenses) and quarterly withdrawals from retirement accounts. We have established a very conservative withdrawal amount, and we live within a budget. Surprisingly, this gives a monthly budget similar to what we spent before traveling, so we have flexibility in our travel choices. We control how much we spend, so we stay within our budget by making tradeoffs between buses and airplanes, boutique hotels versus hostels and camping, and restaurants or cooking in the hostel kitchen.

Will we live like this forever? Well, one of the benefits of this lifestyle is that we can stop and go back to living in our house almost any time we want. We could also live for an extended period in one of the locations we’ve found that we like. Right now, we’re enjoying ourselves, and we’re keeping a record of our experiences on our blog.

“Being by the Ocean During the Great-Weather Months has Been the Major Appeal”

Names: Jo Thomson and Marc Brand

Ages: 62 and 63

From: Madison, Wisconsin

Living in: Nha Trang, Vietnam

It’s impossible to keep Jo Thomson and her husband Marc Brand  in one place for long. For them, living the “good life” means bouncing around the globe to hidden corners of the world that some of us only dream of visiting. For many years, they’ve had a particular interest in the delights and mysteries of Southeast Asia, and they’ve found a remarkable home base from which to explore the region: Nha Trang, Vietnam.

Nha Trang lies on southeastern Vietnam’s Nha Trang Bay, about 275 miles northeast of Ho Chi Minh City. It’s a popular Vietnamese vacation destination, with more than four miles of beaches. And it’s home to 400,000 people, including hundreds of expats. The city has a tropical climate, with high temperatures ranging from 82 F to 91 F and lows in the high 60s F. Best of all, Nha Trang has a long dry season, which runs from January to August. It experiences its heaviest rainfall in October and November. Mountains surround three sides of the city, and a large island just off the coast shelters Nha Trang during heavy storms.

Since Nha Trang is a popular tourist spot, Jo and Marc have numerous options for traveling into and out of the city. The Cam Ranh International Airport—16 miles south of Nha Trang—offers daily direct flights to and from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. The North-South Railway, which runs between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, makes daily stops in Nha Trang. National Route 1A, which extends nearly the entire north-south length of the country, also passes through Nha Trang. In town, they can hop on a local bus for less than 20 cents or take a taxi for $1 or less.

Life abroad brought Jo and Marc together, and their passion for travel has never abated. They met in 1982 in Saudi Arabia, where they were both working, married in Cyprus, and spent their honeymoon backpacking through Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey, and Greece. Even after having two sons, they continued to visit Mexico and Central America, and they spent a few years living in Japan when the kids were young. Before retiring three years ago, Marc worked as a highschool world-history teacher and Jo as a school nurse. They’d spent the better part of 30 years living in Madison, Wisconsin. But the thought of watching the world pass them by wasn’t their idea of getting the most out of retirement. Instead, they returned to the adventures of their youth.

Marc and Jo spend about four months each year visiting friends and family in the United States. They dedicate the remainder of their time to living in Southeast Asia and discovering new places throughout the world. For the past two years, they’ve used Nha Trang as a jumping-off point for exploring the Southeast-Asian countries they love most—Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Sri Lanka. Their Nha Trang way of life practically defines the lifestyle many retirees long for.

“Being by the ocean during the great-weather months has been the major appeal,” Marc says. “We go on long walks in the morning. In the afternoon, we relax, go on adventures in town, read at the beach, or go to a beach club, where we can swim in the pool and rent a chaise longue for about $2. After our late-afternoon walk, we relax at home and then go out to one of our favorite restaurants—Vietnamese, Japanese, Indian, Korean, you name it. Some nights, we go to local American- or Canadian-run bars for live music—rock, blues, or jazz—played by both expats and locals.”

Hundreds of expats—Europeans, Australians, Asians, Canadians, and Americans—live in Nha Trang, either full- or part-time. Warm weather and fresh ocean air may have attracted them to this seaside gem, but they’ve brought with them a bit of their own culture, especially food. And that’s important to Marc and Jo, who are dedicated foodies. For a mid-sized city, Nha Trang offers an extraordinary selection of international and local cuisines. Ganesh Indian restaurant serves delicious Indian cuisine; HY Lap Mini restaurant offers Greek dishes; Texas BarBQ & Steaks restaurant serves Texas-style baby-back ribs; and The Watering Hole offers British pub-style food and drinks. If the culinary wonders of Vietnam tempt Jo and Marc’s taste buds, they can head over to Nha Hang Yen’s restaurant or Lanterns Vietnamese restaurant to dine with locals, expats, and tourists.

“Vietnamese street food is tasty and cheap, about $1 to $2, and in restaurants you can get a meal for $3 on up,” says Marc. “You can also splurge for expensive seafood at Western hotels, such as the Sheraton or Novatel, for $25 on up. Buffets at many hotels offer great deals, with Western and Vietnamese dishes for under $5.”

Overall, Nha Trang’s cost of living is much lower than Madison’s, enabling Jo and Marc to live a full life without worrying about expenses. “You can rent a house in Nha Trang for as little as $200 per month,” Marc says. “We rented a modern studio apartment—a five-minute walk from the ocean—that was fully furnished and included cable, WiFi, a small kitchen, maid service, laundry six days a week, a security guard, a weight room, and utilities for $300 a month.”

Long-term hotel stays are available for as little as $200 a month, and you can find plenty of short-term and long-term apartment rentals, most of them furnished.

Grocery prices don’t put much of a dent in Jo and Marc’s pocketbook, either. The French colonial legacy left residents with a taste for fresh baguettes, which these days cost about 10 cents, and the couple can buy 10 eggs for under $1. Two pounds of potatoes cost less than $1, milk runs about $1.30 per liter, and a two-pound bag of tomatoes comes in at about 65 cents. They can also buy two liters of Vietnamese beer for around 70 cents.

Marc has made friends with other expats through the Hash House Harriers running and drinking club, and Jo has developed friendships with several locals. “The people are kind and willing to help, even when you don’t speak any Vietnamese,” she says. “I’ve made wonderful friends who take me to interesting places, and in return I enjoy helping them improve their English.”

Marc and Jo have been lucky and haven’t needed major health care services in Vietnam. For serious health issues, most expats travel to Ho Chi Minh City, but Nha Trang has several new hospitals and clinics, some with English-speaking staff. The Nha Trang lifestyle of exercise, fresh food, and traditional medicine keeps Jo and Marc in tiptop shape. “My life generally is healthier in Nha Trang than in the States, due to diet, walking often, easy living, and less stress,” Jo says. “A wonderful acupuncture center that is very affordable—$2 a session—keeps me quite healthy. The most stressful thing on a daily basis is where to eat at night.” –Michael Evans

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