Four More Years! What Have We Found So Far?

Four years ago, Diana and I chose to launch our Adventures, Challenges, and Insights in Early Roving Retirement. Our home-free adventure is bold and exciting for some and just plain scary for others. What have we learned so far and how might we boldly go from here?

A Brief History of Time

Having achieved FI in 2018, we chose to exercise the RE option of FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) when our kids graduated from college in May 2019. We sold the house and started Our Big Trip (OBT) with a flight to the Great Barrier Reef.

The longer-term plan involved visiting family after completing OBT, followed by winter skiing in the Alps and a long, slow Mediterranean road trip in search of a home base from which to launch further European forays.

The Fall…

Our travel plans were going fine until one day, in mid-November 2019. We happily embarked on a brief walk to see Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. Fate had other plans as Diana stumbled on the path and wound up breaking her left femur clean through.

Frankly, this turn of events 3+ years ago still impacts our lives today. Arguably, even Diana’s current knee replacement rehab can be traced back to it. She’s a trooper, but her effort to recuperate comes at a cost.

And Covid Forced Changes

The other elephant in the room was Covid, of course. Being home-free during lockdown(s) created its own unique challenges. As did most folks, we found a way through. For a time, further European forays sputtered, until vaccines and science got a handle on things.

Meeting family through a window on a noisy street

Meanwhile, we began to understand our idea to spend a year or two in France or Spain wasn’t really what we wanted. The winter weather is too cold in Europe and our interest in seeing new places meant that staying in a single location for that long was probably not in the cards.

Jackets required in November on the French Riviera

The Summer of ’21

Europe finally opened for the vaccinated in the summer of 2021. Sporting our freshly minted vaccine cards from Hawaii, we were in an early wave of tourists in Spain and Portugal. With some effort, we were finally able to renew our French visas so we could spend as much time as we wanted in Europe. Things were looking up.

Tourist spots were recovering from two summers of lockdown. Those that survived welcomed us, although many public sites were still closed as vaccinations were still rolling out. We set out from Barcelona with an aggressive, three-month travel schedule, which turned out to be one month too long.

One day while checking into a crappy hotel in Zaragoza, Spain, Diana had a meltdown and said our travel schedule was too hectic.  I had been saying this for a while, but she finally got it that day. We discussed it at length and decided fully home-free was too tiring. We needed our own place to hang out periodically to rest up and then prepare for more adventuring. But, how can we pick a spot?

Selection Criteria for Our Ideal Place

Some criteria are applicable anywhere we stay: a great bed in a decent size 1 bedroom apartment with a bathroom bigger than a broom closet. Also, comfy seating, working AC and WiFi, and a kitchen with enough space and furnishings to be able to make dinner.

This combination has proven impossible for us to find for rent reliably at any price. Most providers fail to have several of these things. Frankly, if it exists, someone else has probably already rented such a unicorn before us.

Another key feature is location. We want to be somewhere where we can walk to dinner from time to time. Having to drive means finding an apartment with parking as well as a place to park when we go out. Sometimes, the driving hassle isn’t worth the reward of a dinner out.

Accessibility and Critical Mass

A couple of other key criteria are accessibility and what I call “critical mass”. Accessibility works in two ways: for disabilities and travel convenience. Concern over disability is obvious, if we are going to purchase a place for the long term, we want some future proofing in case of a decline in mobility. Stairs and narrow hallways are no bueno, for example.

The other aspect of accessibility is how difficult is it to get to and from, either for travel or simple day-to-day needs like shopping. Our preference is to be within an hour of an international airport to facilitate our further adventures. I also don’t want to be in a food desert, i.e. the nearest decent grocery store should be a 10-minute drive or less.

Critical mass is about whether the setting has enough people for interesting activities and decent food variety. I mean, Hanalei Bay in Kauai is beautiful, but many months in a Tiki bar is not stimulating enough for me in the long term.

The Search Begins

Years ago, we subscribed to a service called International Living, to help us find potential targets for settling abroad. Every year, they publish their Top 20 destinations. They used criteria centered around quality of life and cost of living, including medical services. The usual suspects would appear again and again: Spain, Portugal, Mexico, Panama, and Columbia.

So, we set about visiting many of these places as well as others that our nomad friends suggested in Southeast Asia. After checking them out and applying the criteria above, we chose to make Playa del Carmen our home base. We look forward to spending time there between adventures going forward.

Packing and Resupplying

Meanwhile, we have refined our packing list. For OBT, we were more focused on going lighter, with one school-sized backpack and a roll aboard each. Fairly soon thereafter, we added a 24″ checked bag to bring items not allowed in a carry-on, more clothing, and some quality-of-life items like a Bluetooth speaker. We learned our ponchos were unbreathable heat traps and we never needed those LifeStraw water filters, so out they went.

We also learned of the items difficult to find abroad, like certain healthcare products. Clothing is easier for us to buy in the US because we just know where to go to shop. Even if we didn’t tell them, our friends and family would know we were returning soon from the sudden uptick in packages arriving for us.

What Do We Miss?

Natural peanut butter (difficult to find abroad). Peet’s Coffee for Diana. Starbucks Iced Coffee for me. Liquid non-dairy creamer. A hamburger that doesn’t taste like meatloaf or is loaded full of spices. Can I just have some ground beef, please? Dill pickles. Cottage cheese.

We don’t miss much about our house in California, except our outdoor kitchen area and pool. Weekend afternoons there with friends and family were awesome. I certainly don’t miss maintaining the 150+ sprinklers around the property or the aging appliances in frequent need of repair.

We spent many happy afternoons here

What Wouldn’t We Give Up?

The stimulation. We are constantly learning about history and culture wherever we go. I believe this gives us a greater understanding of our planet and all it has to offer. We encounter new cuisines and sometimes take classes to learn more about them.

Through our travels, we’ve met people of all stripes and walks of life. It’s so cool to connect with them and get a greater appreciation for them. Everyone has something different to offer and we enjoy being able to offer some of our love and insight, as well.

Cooking class in Bali

Four More Years!?

Now that we have a home base to work from, we believe this will allow us to mostly continue this lifestyle. Diana would be content to spend a longer amount of time in Playa, but I get a travel itch after about two months, so there will likely always be some degree of negotiation about how much time to spend in a given place.

Future thoughts about places to spend more time in France outside of Paris, Greece, Bologna, Poland, Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, Peru, South Africa, Ethiopia, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Montenegro, Western and Southern Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, Iceland, Austria, Hungary, Belgium… With a list like this, there will always be another place to learn about and grow from.

Let the adventures continue!!

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1 comment

  1. Mike, you should include Canada in your travels. West Coast: Victoria, Vancouver, and Whistler for skiing in winter. East Coast: Quebec City and the coastal towns of the Maritime provinces.

    As an elderly parent, I think your travel respite should be a small apartment in the Bay area so long as your parents are still around.


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