We agree on most things most of the time. But deciding to sell our house and leave the country indefinitely wasn’t one of them. For decades, Tom was ready, if unrealistic. For decades, I wasn’t, insisting on the status quo with my overblown sense of responsibility. Then in 2010, there was a moment. We sold our house and most of the stuff in it, and left Minneapolis.
That got our friends’ attention. Some were envious, some were appalled, some just wanted to know how we got rid of the boxes in our attic. We’ve been answering questions about this vagabond lifestyle ever since.
Full-time traveling is not for everyone, but we’re not the only ones roaming around. We’ve discovered a community of travelers. Most are young, like we were when we first got the travel bug. But many, like us, have dropped out or retired from more traditional careers. They travel solo, as couples, or with kids. For all, it appears to be a way to jump out of responsibilities and routine and into new and unexpected places, without schedules.
At our age, we know we’re lucky to be on the move and enjoying these expansive experiences. We’re glad we can walk and climb stairs and deal with bad beds and hard pillows. We are fortunate we’re interested in similar sites and topics (although I’ve about had it with churches, graveyards, and battlefields, our de facto area of special interest).
How do we decide where we’re going? Every six months or so we book round-trip air travel. Then we read and plan as we go. We listen to recommendations we get on our “Travel Past 50” Facebook page. We’re inspired by history and art and go out of our way to visit World Heritage Sites, as designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). We go to countries we haven’t visited before. We migrate toward cities, but we veer off into mountains, jungles, and seaside. Adventure is good, in moderation. We speak Spanish, but we’re intrigued by places where we’re not conversant. Travel, in a nutshell, is embracing the uncomfortable.
On a day-to-day basis, we might navigate toward a specific museum or landmark, but just as often we go for a walk without a destination. We browse in shop windows, find local neighborhoods, ride public transit, read maps, get lost, and stop for lunch.
As to the logistics, we tussle with plans, struggle with small quarters, and ignore each other as an antidote to never-ending togetherness. We pack everything and nothing. No pets, no children, no close friends, no kitchen, no front porch or back yard, all of which we miss. We carry earplugs, shoes, and multiple devices for reading, writing, and connecting. We’re the couple you see at a restaurant not talking to each other but absorbed in our phones. Don’t pity us. This is our rest time. We are happy to be off our feet and checking in on the “real world,” as we call the Central Time Zone and the people in it.
We carry our own comfort zone. It helps to be easily amused by grocery shopping in a new market, deciphering a sign, or imagining what the cafe staff is chatting about. The laundry still has to be done, and the bills auto-paid. While the logistics of travel put some people on edge, we expect to be caught off balance. That’s sort of the point.
To make it easier on ourselves and the pocketbook, we alternate intensive sightseeing travel with extended stays, renting or house sitting. These respites provide us with a kitchen, pets, a sense of home, and time to catch up and digest all we’ve seen. Then we’re in the wonderful position of having a dog as well as free rent.
Financially, we’ve traded the cost of maintaining our Minneapolis home for the cost of living on the road. Other “empty-nesters” we know have done the same, keeping to strict budgets they established at retirement’s onset.
Travel is our entertainment, education, distraction, good exercise, and practical living all rolled into one. For now, the more places we see, the more places we want to visit. Without the pressures of a house full of stuff, we’re perennially ready to move on … to the next destination.
Tom Bartel and Kristin Henning are the former owners and publishers of City Pages, Minnesota Parent Magazine and The Rake Magazine. They have been on the road more or less non-stop since 2010, and blog about their travels at www.travelpast50.com. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest at @travelpast50.