Remember Gar’s “Three Keys for a Traveling Retirement“? These keys assume you have at least a social security check coming in every month or some other form of uninterruptable cash flow AND some cushion for emergency medical expenses.
Key One: Have no reoccurring debt payments. None, nada, zip. Don’t owe nothing at all, not even a storage space for stuff you “might” need someday if you quit traveling.
Key Two: Spend a lot of time in “less expensive” places – like Mexico, Central America, and most of South America – and very little time in “more expensive” places – like Europe, Australia, and the USA.
Key Three: Have the desire to travel. That assumes you know what is involved in perpetual travel. I’m thinking that people reading this at least have the desire to find out what is involved. More about this in a later article.
Today, I’m not going to discuss any of these keys directly, what I want to talk about is getting rid of all that stuff, all the possessions, all the things you’ve collected over the years. This can be a very hard thing to do — and I am talking about emotional here.
On February 5, 2008 I had a house at the edge of a little town in the Ozark Mountains. I had given up all my dreams of traveling to foreign countries and seeing the great sights of the world. I had chosen a conventional retirement plan with a dog to take care of, a big yard to keep up, a house that was way too big for one person, and a mortgage to pay every month that left me with barely enough money to pay the utilities and eat Ramen noodle cassoroles.
But on that day this was all to change. My house was totally destroyed by a force five tornado – and I was in it. I was lucky. Even though it took me an hour to dig my way out of the debre, I only got one scratch on a leg which didn’t even require a bandaid. But three of my neighbors were killed. In one instant, everything I had been accumulating all my life was “gone with the wind” so to speak. I salvaged barely enough of my possessions to fill up a cardboard box.
After I recovered from shell shock (maybe I really wasn’t as recovered as I thought) I bought a backpack. I then took the stuff out of the cardboard box and put it into this backpack, found a good home for my good dog, and went to Ecuador.
The gist is, I recognize that getting rid of all your stuff can be a real trumatic experience. In fact, having it all blown away by a tornado may be easier on a person than disposing of everything one piece at a time through garage sells, used furniture dealers, and giving it away to friends and neighbors. I recognize this because I did it that way three years later. After I crawled home from Ecuador with a marvelous case of “tourista” or dysentery, I gave up my dream once more.
Once again I bought a house (just before the big bust) in a little town in the Ozarks. Once more it was more house than I could possibly use. Once more I bought the nice truck I couldn’t afford to drive because of the price of gasoline. Once more I was reduced to eating Ramein noodle cassoroles.
And then I got sick. I didn’t have any health insurance. It cost me all my meager savings and I couldn’t afford to drive my beautiful truck at all. Finally, I started thinking about a way out of the trap I was in, a trap of my own making. I started reading travel websites. I started discovering people like Wade Shepard, editor of Vagabond Journey and people like Andy Graham at Hobo Traveler and literally dozens of other people who were perpetual travelers of the world.
There was one big difference between me and those good folks: they had to work in some form or fashion to pay for their journeys. I didn’t. I had my social security check and a tiny little retirement check barely worth mentioning. The reason I couldn’t travel and they could is because I spent all my money on things that actually owned me. I didn’t own them. I spent every dime I had supporting things instead of supporting my mental and physcal heath and actually seeing a few things I wanted to see before I die.
Seeing things in this light soothed the blow when I got rid of everything the second time. Instead of a precarious wind instantly doing the job for me, I had to go through and turn loose of everything one item at a time. I had to sit in my comfortable house and know that soon I would be “homeless” and wonder what it would be like. I wondered if I would survive.
I can tell you now that not only do I survive, I thrive. I have made many new friends. (Yes, it is possible to make friends as you travel.) I am as free as any human being can be in this day and time. I go where I want, when I want. I eat well. Mostly, I sleep well; not all the time but that is part of the “adventure” of it all.
Often when I am questioned about my adventure, I have been asked, “What are you going to do when you get too old to travel.” I’ll answer that with a little story of a friend of mine living in Mexico. She built a house there almost on top of a very steep hill. The only way up there is to walk. Everything that goes up to that house gets carried up there by her. I asked her once, “How you going to get up that hill when you are eighty?” Without any hesitation she replied, “Walk.”
That is what I’m going to do when I am too old to travel.
Read the other articles in the Senior Vagabond series series.