Sunday, March 22, 2015

Michael Answers Reader's Questions



Ready to Answer Questions about being Senior Nomads
When we left Seattle in July 2013 to begin our Senior Nomad adventures many friends and family suggested we start a blog. We'd never written a blog before but it sounded like a great way to share our adventures with those closest to us. We hadn't expected anyone outside family and friends to read it. You can probably tell, because Debbie's stories are like sending breezy personal letters home. So we were a bit unprepared after the New York Times ran the story about us (picked-up by many other newspapers and websites) that resulted in so many new people finding us. And of course there were lots of questions! The most popular queries came from people who dream about trying to do what we are doing in some way or the other.  Here are the top 10 questions we were asked:
  1. How much does it cost you every month? Do you have a budget?
  2. How can you stay in Europe for more than 180 days at a time?
  3. What do you do for Medical Insurance both in Europe and back home?
  4. How do you pay your bills and keep up with mail back home while you are gone?
  5. How do you pack for such a long trip? What did you bring besides your  pillows?
  6. How do you get from place to place?
  7. What apps or websites do you use to for travel planning?
  8. How far out in front do you book your travel and apartments on Airbnb?
  9. What do you do about cell phones - especially calling friends and family.
  10. How do you avoid foreign currency transaction fees and ATM fees?
I'm going to start with "The Budget Question". Cost seems to be the biggest hurdle for those who want to try long-term travel as a way to rethink retirement. In future posts, I'll answer more of the questions in between Debbie's travel stories and my occasional "football" post.

Ongoing Expenses Back home - We reduced our monthly expenses as much as possible by renting our house for a year, selling one of our cars and our beloved sailboat. We donated many of our things to charity, or gave them to friends and family. Whatever was left, we put in a small storage unit in Seattle. So now, our monthly expenses are down to our health and life insurance premiums, our storage unit, and a monthly post office box rental.  

Our Daily Journal for tracking our adventures and expenses
Place to Sleep - This is our single biggest line item each month. As we said in the New York Times story we spend $90/night using Airbnb. We work hard to find the right balance between what we want and what we can afford. In expensive places like London, Paris, Oslo and Stockholm we spent more, but we make up for that in Bosnia, Morocco, Greece and Turkey.

Door to our first Airbnb apartment in Amsterdam

Travel - This comes in two parts. 1) Travel from the USA to Europe. If you come and go often this could be a significant line item. But if you travel for a year then it is just a matter of round-trip airfare to wherever you start your journey and back home. 2)  Travel between cities. We generally stay from 7-10 days in each city so we are on the road 3-4 times per month. We use a mix of transportation: planes, trains, buses and ferries depending on the situation. Flying in Europe on the most popular routes can be really cheap but extra fees like baggage weight and seat selection can add-up. Super fast inter-city trains can be expensive; we've found local trains are very affordable. Another option is taking a bus. Besides being affordable, it is a great way to see a lot of countryside. We love going by bus whenever that's an option if the journey is less than 5 hours. Once we are in a city, we walk as much as we can and then use the public bus and metro systems. We've only rented a car twice in 20 months. Taxi's are a luxury and we only used them when it makes sense. 

One of the many luxury buses we rode in Lithuania
Waiting for the city bus on the Island of Rhodes
Medical Insurance  - When we visited Europe in the past as tourists, we never purchased travel insurance or medical insurance. However, to obtain our one year French visas to allow access to the Schengen zone (more on that in the next blog), medical coverage in Europe was required. I'm not sure we would have purchased it otherwise, but now we have it. Like any other health insurance one can trade-off the amount of coverage vs. deductibles and of course premiums are impacted by age. We got our coverage through an online company called Insuremytrip.com but there are lots of options on the web. 

Ice cream must be in one of the food groups
Food - This category is the quintessential "how long is a piece of string" question. Only you know if you want to eat in restaurants most of the time, and what that expense might look like. Debbie loves to explore the local markets and cooking is something she really enjoys so we eat most of our meals at home. Breakfast is almost always at the table while planning the day. Lunch is split between packing a picnic and grabbing local street food (always delicious) on the go. Of course we eat out on occasion to get a flavor for the local cuisine and to give Debbie a break from cooking and me from doing the dishes. 

Debbie shopping in Stockholm outdoor market for fresh mushrooms
Debbie enjoying a recent lunch in Greece because who wants to cook an octopus at home?
Entertainment and Education - This is another bucket that only you can decide how to fill. We are not on vacation, so we don't feel obligated to hit every tourist attraction and museum in the guide books. We know what we like and plan accordingly. Free walking tours (just tip the guide at the end), are one of our favorite activities. Debbie is always on the lookout for a good cooking class and I've got my eyes out for sporting events especially football matches. We both love to read, explore our neighborhood and the city by foot and then at the end of the day we are home for dinner followed by one of our favorite games: Scrabble, backgammon, cribbage or dominoes. Of course we also try and find free or affordable concerts in local churches or small venues.

Couldn't miss the Louvre! Cultural experiences of any kind are a bargain.
Debbie taking a cooking class in Marrakesh, Morocco
Daily Living  - This category covers everything not included above. Most are not really significant by themselves but they add up day after day. Just staying comfortable on the road  seems to constantly require top-ups of things a person needs: socks, soap, makeup, toothpaste, shampoo, band-aids, laundry detergent and/or laundromats if your house does not have a washing machine, e-books for the Kindle, apps, the occasional English newspaper, snacks, cookies (that's a category all by itself), haircuts, manicures, flowers and candles for the apartment, cooking ingredients (must have spices and olive oil)  and every now and again a jigsaw puzzle - which we leave behind for our host.
Saving money - our host in Dublin's barbershop gave me a free haircut
Hopefully these categories will help you start your own budget. Six months before we left Seattle, I created budget that projected monthly spending with low, medium and high columns. Three months later I revised it. Upwards of course. Now looking back after 20 months on the road we're probably running 10% over projections but Debbie and I are in agreement. It has been 100% worth it.

Most apartments have a washer, but still have to buy laundry detergent some times
I suspect that when you sit down and start crafting your own budget you too will find a sweet spot. I think you can reinvent your retirement and be fiscally responsible at the same time. You may need to make adjustments along the way, and not do everything on your wish list but that's half the fun. 

My favorite entertainment expense - football matches. Here I am in Athens with our host Vaselli.
Thank you for joining us and we wish you safe travels where ever you go. Next time: How we've stayed in Europe for more than 180 days at a time. 

 Michael

8 comments :

  1. Thank you Michael for such a comprehensive and interesting post. I have just one more suggestion for another post - could you describe the criteria you've used to fine tune your airbnb apartment selections, and the reasons why you only use that company.
    We are on a similar journey but only for three months and we are mostly only travelling in Italy. Love your blog!
    Jenny and Stephen

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  2. thanks for the tip about insurance--i have an annual policy but like to check alternatives. looking forward to your posts.

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  3. Thank you Michael. I have so enjoyed reading Debbie's posts of your happy travels.

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  4. We have really enjoyed reading about your adventures! I was one who learned about your travels through the NYT posting. Of course I am very jealous that you have the luxury of leisure while seeing these wonderful places. While my wife and I have been to Europe several times, they have been for 2 or 3 week vacations. The info in this post is excellent food-for-thought for future (and hopefully extended) travel to Europe. Thanks for sharing!!
    Best wished from a fellow PNWesterner (Kingston)!
    Curtis

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  5. I have been thoroughly enjoying keeping up wit your blog! SO interesting!

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  6. I've really liked digging through your blog, which my husband Bruce Howard turned me on to. We've talked about 6-12 months in Prague as a home base for Europe travel (after we're finished with our 14-month road trip through the US, which Bruce may have told you about. We're at traverse.us.com). But your Airbnb approach is worth considering - it has many advantages over 1 home base! I look forward to your continued adventures.

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  7. Can't wait until we retire and travel the world. I have mentally put in $100 a night for lodging.....

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  8. I have been through your blog and I found it very helpful for planning my travel in future and also will help in planing tour for others too.Car Hire for Agra

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