Travelling the way we do, without owning a home of our own, is a unique enough concept that I was asked by my local unit of the Retired Teachers of Ontario to give a talk about it at their fall luncheon held today (the first day of school here in Ontario, but we retirees are not there!!!). The talk was called “No Fixed Address”.
If you’re new to our blog and have not read the very early episodes, this talk explains our “origin story”. What follows is my script. Those of you who know me personally know that I ad libbed a fair bit, but this is what was in front of me on the lectern:
I’m sure that while lots of us are feeling a huge sense of relief at not being at school today for that first day of high energy eager faces, just as many of us are feeling a wee bit sad and nostalgic. If that’s the case for you, then hopefully I’m going to take your mind off any sad thoughts and renew your joy and gratefulness for all the opportunities retirement offers.
When Sharon invited me to talk today, although we are fairly new acquaintances,she already intuited that she’d have to set a strict time limit, because I love to talk – and even more when a topic excites me. I promise to keep to the 15 to 20 minutes she assigned.
For me, the hardest part about giving a talk is always deciding how to pare down and focus the topic. At the beginning of the summer, I was at an author talk at the Collingwood library. The author had written a book whose title really grabbed me, and I wanted to learn more before deciding whether to buy it. Unfortunately, the “book talk” was completely disjointed. The author talked a bit about their life, and mentioned the topics of the other 2 books they had written. They mentioned that they were self-published. They mentioned acting as their own editor. They said that they had no credentials for writing about the topic, and that the book was really one long opinion piece. They said that they had used statistics in forming their opinions, but not included any of them in the book because “statistics are boring”. They said they were offering no solutions, just some thinking points. No excerpts were read. In short, they rambled….and I did not buy the book.
I’m not trying to get you to buy anything, but – beyond that author talk anecdote – I am going to try to stay focussed on the story Sharon invited me to share, which is all about downsizing to the extreme and making pipe dreams a reality.
So here goes. Sharon, does my time start now??
I guess I should begin with the fact that I am homeless, although perhaps not in the usual sense of that word.
Just over 2 years ago, when I joined my husband in retirement, we sat down – just the 2 of us again after 40 years of marriage and raising 2 sons who now have families of their own – and reminisced about the dream we had when we were newly married of travelling full time when we got “old”. Back then, we thought about making a deal with a hotel chain that had locations around the world – and breakfast included of course! – to stay in one of their hotels 365 nights a year. We figured we’d follow mild temperatures so we’d never again need to pack heavy clothes, and we’d use laundromats, and eat “nutritiously” at salad bars. This was way before things like VRBO and Airbnb existed of course….and it was a pipe dream that we never really thought could happen.
But times change. We both ended up with jobs that gave us a measure of income security in retirement. Housing prices in the GTA went insane, which meant we netted far more from the sale of our home than we expected. And of course, VRBO and Airbnb arrived on the scene. We crunched numbers (both of us are excel spreadsheet geeks), talked about it a bit more, and then jumped!
After all, why not?
The 3 big things that seem to hold people back after retirement are health issues, family, and “stuff”.
Ted and I are both fortunate to be in good health. Sure, there are minor aches and pains: a touch of arthritis creeping in, some thyroid medication to take – but nothing to stop us from travelling.
Our boys are grown and settled. They watched us work hard all our lives and immediately loved the idea that we were going to enjoy an active retirement. They get to live vicariously through us until it’s their time…. and we’re not constantly around to cramp their style. Our 3 young grandsons miss us when we’re away, and we miss them, but they have grown up with Skype and FaceTime. In fact, their earliest contacts with us were online, since they are the kids of a proud Canadian military dad and mom who were posted far away from us when the boys were born.
We no longer have a furry family either. We made the conscious decision not to get another pet after the last of our precious trio of Siamese cats died, so that we would not have to look for pet sitters, or restrict our travel to places that would allow us to bring a pet.
So that left “stuff” – a house full of stuff, in fact. Ted’s favourite video is a George Carlin routine called “stuff”, which is a very funny, occasionally profane, rant about how we are defined by our things… and the increasingly large and expensive boxes we buy in which to keep them. I highly recommend it if you need encouragement…. or just a really hearty out loud laugh.
Within 6 months of deciding to “jump”, we sold, stored – for our kids, with a 3 year time limit – or gave away absolutely everything we owned except for one car, a pared-down wardrobe, our i-pads and cameras, my 42 year old wooden rolling pin (for making pastry, NOT for keeping Ted in line, as he insists on telling everyone) and a stainless steel pie pan … oh, and 4 suitcases and 2 bins that fit into the car.
People most often ask if it was hard to divest ourselves of everything. Surprisingly not. We had just been through the daunting task of emptying my parents’ home after their deaths, and resolved that our kids would never have to do that for us. Our sons had no strong nostalgia for our family home. We gave them the opportunity to take any items they wanted – storage of those is now their problem. The remaining large good quality items and artwork we have stored long enough for our youngest to finish his basement this fall and decide which things he can use – under our three year storage time limit! Anything left after they take what suits their place becomes donations. We learned early on that the monetary value of our “treasures” is often rooted in sentiment, for which other people are not willing to pay. I’m first generation Canadian, with parents who immigrated with not much more than a suitcase, and Ted was raised in a downtown Toronto apartment by a single mom, so their are no family heirlooms to complicate things. Ted and I both recognize that there are lots of people who could really benefit from getting our things for free. Someone somewhere won’t have to outfit a kitchen, or buy a couch, and one of our favourite charities may benefit from putting our signed Bateman prints into their silent auction.
Our Canadian mailing address for documentation is our youngest son’s house, which is actually what makes this my “home” RTO district. In an ironic kind of complete role reversal we could actually live in HIS basement, I suppose, but that’s not in the plans! We do spend the requisite 212 days a year somewhere in Ontario to maintain our health benefits, and of course we pay our income taxes here.
But here comes the “no fixed address” part of things:
We do not have a permanent home. Instead, we rent other people’s homes – fully furnished – around the world, supplementing those longer stays with the occasional hotel stay, escorted tour, or cruise.
In the past 24 months we have lived in Mississauga, Collingwood, South Carolina and Florida, and spent time in England, Scotland, and Germany. In the next 18 months we will drive Route 66, live in Arizona, Texas, Collingwood and Blue Mountains, spend a month exploring the east coast of South and Central America from Santiago Chile to Mexico, and make our way to Europe for a 6 or 7 month stay in Portugal, Italy, Spain, Austria, Germany, and hopefully Denmark, Poland and back to the UK too before deciding our next Ontario stay. Stays longer than 6 months out of Ontario take some extra planning, like making sure Service Ontario knows we need an OHIP holiday. Long stays in the US can mean doing paperwork for the IRS so they do not consider us US residents for tax purposes. Stays beyond 3 months in the EU’s Schengen Zone mean applying for a temporary resident visa, in our case through the German consulate.
We now define “living” somewhere as a stay of a month or longer, by which time we start to feel more like residents – albeit newcomers – than tourists. If we stay put more than 3 months, I join the local library and look for ways to give back to the community by volunteering in some way.
Is it affordable? Surprisingly to most people, yes! Even discounting the GTA real estate blip, investing the sale proceeds from a modest home can create more than enough income to supplement a pension and pay for alternate accommodation and the travel costs to reach it without touching the investment principle. Remember we don’t pay for hydro, cable, property taxes or home insurance – those are all included in our rental costs. There will still be something left for the kids – if that is a priority for you – although we keep telling OURS that we’re spending it all! – it just won’t be physical things that they will be splitting up.
What happens when we get too old to travel? The money invested by selling everything should afford us a comfortable retirement residence back in Ontario. Until then, we’ll see the world without worrying about who is cutting the grass, checking the pipes, or shovelling the snow back home.
This might all sound a bit weird; a bit too nomadic. It might even make you wonder how Ted and I survive spending 24/7 together. Well…….. the big thing after 41-1/2 years ..and counting… is that we truly enjoy spending time together. That is obviously key to being able to do this. We’ve gotten used to each other’s foibles: I’m a wee bit OCD when it comes to advance planning, and he’s a wee bit antisocial. Combine those and I get plenty of time to research and book destinations! All kidding aside, like most couples we need our own space. That original hotel room dream could have gotten old fast. When we stay in a hotel for more than 2 nights, we choose the residence type, with a separate bedroom and living room, and cooking facilities. For longer stays, we don’t ever look at bachelor apartments; a one bedroom, especially if it has a balcony too, gives us each a place to use as a fortress of solitude. A two bedroom place is pure luxury! Because we generally like to stay in cities, close to public transit, parks and museums, larger homes are generally not in our budget anyway.
It’s certainly not for everyone. Or…. it might sound attractive. If it does, I’m always happy to share tips that work for us, either 1:1 or through our blog roseandtedsexcellentadventure.com. Writing the blog has become my way of staying in touch with both old and new friends and acquaintances. I’m up to around 50 entries so far, but if you visit the site you can choose to read just the most recent one, or follow us right from the day that the movers emptied out our last home. Interestingly, the blog has connected us with 4 other couples – so far – who are doing the same thing. Who knew? Maybe we “old folks” are onto something…..
Thanks for letting me share my retirement adventure with you!