I used to ponder whether I could write a blog about our daily lives as Senior Nomads that people would care about. Who would care when or whether I posted? Let alone how much personal navel-gazing they would find interesting.
Well, it turns out, more than a few readers get a little “stroppy” when I don’t post and wonder if we’ve been kidnapped by an Airbnb host, or did something on the list I refer to as reasons to stop traveling befall us? Those would include “We stopped learning everyday, we were spending too much money, we weren’t having fun, we fell over, or we fell out of love.” The good news is that none of those things happened! If anything, being home in Seattle has lulled me into a daily routine that doesn’t seem all that newsworthy! Here is Part 2 of our 2016 recap (read Part 1 here):
All is well in Senior Nomad Land: In fact, not only did the universe deliver a fantastic two week “Boat-Sit” on a 46’ Grand Banks in a marina on Lake Union - it was just exactly what we’d hoped for. And the timing was perfect - just before Christmas! Our nautical home was festooned with colored lights and twinkling stars and even had a little Christmas tree! And most nights Seattle’s famous Christmas Ships (link) crossed our bow. In fact, our hosts took us and several of their friends out on the lake to join over a hundred other boats - both large and small, also decked-out in lights, lasers, inflatable Santas, and sound systems blaring carols. Not to mention crews of dancing elves and jolly skippers infused with “Holiday Spirit(s)”.
On December 22nd we began house-sitting in a stunning penthouse on Queen Anne hill just around the corner from the house we sold. We were able to host a family gathering complete with a real Christmas tree (the first in four years!) and enjoy our old neighborhood.
On New Years Eve, with the Space Needle looming just outside our floor-to-ceiling windows, these “Senior” nomads, went to bed at 10:00 and set the alarm for 11:55. We rang in the New Year in our pajamas watching spectacular fireworks that seemed so close that wayward sparks could have hit our deck. I know it was a wasted opportunity to not have a party - especially since there is a hot tub…but we’d have to wake up so many people!
Both of these lovely respites came through friends, both new and old who have been following our travels. That alone is motivating to blog-on!
We Wrote a Book: That isn’t something we took on lightly. Two years ago we were asked by a credible literary agent to consider writing a book about reinventing retirement, or maybe transformational travel. But as the writer in this dynamic duo, I just wasn’t sure I had the expertise - let alone the words. Instead, last Spring, after three years of living our lives in Airbnbs around the world, I decided I could write a book that was aimed at the Airbnb host community - to both thank and encourage them. After all, without hosts we would not be able to see the world one neighborhood at a time. In the end, the book does pay tribute to our hosts, but it also shares our experiences living full time in other peoples homes - and makes for an inspiring story for other would be nomads.
When the idea of writing the book struck, we contacted our supporters at Airbnb to see if they might be interested in buying it to give away to 6,000+ attendees at their annual Airbnb Open in November. They said yes! That was the good news - the challenge was to write, edit, design, print and deliver the book in under 6 months! I wrote like crazy and Michael managed the project. We made the deadline and the positive feedback has been very rewarding. The book is titled Your Keys, Our Homeand the paperback, Kindle, and iBooks versions are available on our website www.beseniornomads.com. With all that we learned we actually might be ready to tackle a second book in 2017 that we hope will encourage others to follow their own retirement dreams and asking the question, “Why Wait?”
We Got Some Media Coverage: Our story still resonates with people. We got a lot of press coverage this past year with over 30 stories in 13 countries in 8 languages! We also had fun here at home with interviews on New Day Northwest, KOMO, NPR, King 5 News, the Fox affiliates in Seattle and Portland and a great chat with Rick Steves on his syndicated radio show.
We Made our Budget: Before we left Seattle in July 2013 Michael crunched the numbers to see if we could possibly afford living full-time in Airbnbs around the world. Don’t get me wrong - he loves a good spread sheet and enjoyed working to find the “sweet spot”. But still, it was more like throwing a dart at the budget board. That first year we were over by about 20% and wondered if we were being prudent. We learned a few tricks the next year that helped reduce our spending - things like avoiding price creep on our Airbnbs (on average we spend $90 per night). Using public transportation or walking whenever possible, and eating in, unless you are in a country where it’s cheaper to eat out like in Ukraine, or in Cuba where you’d be challenged to find food on your own to prepare.
This past year we came in on budget - of course it helped that we were traveling in inexpensive countries like Mexico, Belarus and Armenia and the US dollar continued to strengthen.
A few wrong turns: Often times during interviews we are asked the following; “What was your worst Airbnb experience?” along with “What were your biggest travel challenges?” We struggle with both of those questions because we really haven’t had anything bad happen that we couldn’t just it shake off. Fingers crossed that good luck will continue.
When we answer the Airbnb question, we tell the story of the listing that was located in an Exotic Shopping Mall in Bucharest which made for furtive comings and goings. Or dropping the keys to our flat in Malta in a dumpster along with the recycling. That resulted in a less than pleasant exchange with our host over whether we were obligated to spend over $100 to have the doors re-keyed. We lost the argument and a week later we found them tangled in our dirty laundry. Bother. And lastly, upon arriving in Amsterdam, one of our favorite cities, we were astonished to find our front door was not the entrance to the idyllic brick house featured in the listing, but in fact was the door of a drab industrial looking building across the street. The listing photo features the view of the house we thought we’d rented! That was the first time we ever encountered what we felt was a dishonest host. Not bad out of 125.
Our biggest travel challenge happened last January before we’d even left Seattle. Just like all experienced world travelers we arrived at Sea-Tac two hours early. Besides, who doesn’t love hanging out at our beautiful airport - I was ready to do some last minute gift shopping and stocking up on travel snacks.
All seemed well until my name on our reservations to Mexico didn’t match my passport. Michael had typed my name a little too quickly when he made Expedia reservation and dropped the letter “p” in my last name. Apparently, according to international travel protocol, the name of the passenger must match your passport to the the letter. This “typo” wasn’t going to fly.
After one missed flight and four hours of relentless effort by Michael on the phone with Expedia and Alaska Airlines, we were finally allowed to leave - but not before missing our first flight and scrambling to catch the last flight of the day that culminated with a short overnight layover in Los Angeles. We landed in Mexico City tired, but wiser.
And if I had one other airport fiasco to report it would be Michael and I losing track of each other at the airport in Athens. I though he was in the bathroom. He wasn't. He thought I'd gone to the gate without him. What? Anyway - it took an hour, a few pages over the intercom system and a security guard, but we reconnected.
Then we tell the story of arriving at our third Airbnb in Cuba, a few miles outside of Trinidad. We were hot, tired and more than a little culture-shocked when, after a long bus ride from Mantanzas when we arrived at a dusty, crowded bus terminal that may have never seen better days. Luckily our host had arranged for a driver to collect us. We headed to our next home - a little cabana near the beach about five miles out of town. Shortly after we gave a thankful wave to our driver and had begun to unpack we discovered we’d left Michael’s Kindle on the bus.
Now that might not sound like the end of the world - but we felt like we were at the end of the world. To be kind, I will describe our Airbnb as being rustic in a good way. There were chickens wandering in and out of our room - a room was painted a vivid shade of pink you’d find on the sale-racks at Victoria’s Secret. If Michael couldn’t read for the remainder of our time in Cuba he might go a little crazy. After a lot of drama we did get the Kindle back, and that’s the good news. You can read the whole story in an earlier blog if you click on this link
Keeping to that same theme, we left a bag on a train in Eindhoven in the Netherlands. I volunteered to chase it down the next morning by getting on a train at 6:00 am and traveling two hours to the lost and found department in Amsterdam where we were assured our bag was waiting. Why? Because this time, both of our Kindles were in the bag. Then I had to spin around to be back in Eindhoven in time to catch an early afternoon flight. I won’t even go into the details around a dead body that lay on the tracks somewhere ahead of us that caused myself and hundreds of other passengers to have to be rerouted by bus for part of the way. I barely made it back in time!
And lastly, there was the time we boarded our train to the airport in Barcelona with absolute certainty it was the right one, and like in Seattle, with plenty of time. Only this train turned out to be an express train traveling like a speeding bullet in the absolute wrong direction with the first stop 45 minutes down the track. It’s a good thing we are committed to be gentle with each other on travel days because somehow (at great expense in a taxi as I recall) we just made our flight to Croatia.
And other than waiting out a little tummy trouble in Mexico and a doctor visit or two when Michael’s hip or shoulder were giving him trouble we’ve been healthy. And we haven’t been robbed. Or kidnapped. Or divorced. So all in all, we had a good run in 2016.
Less is More: We continue to appreciate REI for making rolling suitcases that seem custom made just for us. They are sturdy, silent sentinels that never complain when they are stuffed to capacity, dragged over cobbles, hauled up innumerable flights of stairs, jammed into trunks and abused by baggage handlers, and best of all they stand out in a crowd!
We are going to try our best to pare down our essentials this next round. Seriously, we don’t use at least a third of what we haul around with us and we’ve come to realize the lighter we travel the less wear and tear there is on us, let alone our trusty bags. So if 23kg is the maximum on major airlines, and 20kg is the limit for “cheap and cheerful” carriers like Easy Jet and Ryan Air then we need to lose 6 pounds per bag. And 6 pounds per person wouldn’t hurt either. Easier said than done when you are traveling for 10 months or more at a time - but we can do it. I will give you an update as we pack for Africa - our next destination.
New Horizons: Africa? We thought we’d go to New Zealand and Australia followed by Southeast Asia. But then we heard “The Call of the Wild” and decided to kick off 2017 with something completely different! With stops in Los Angeles, Paris and Qatar, we arrive in Cape Town on my birthday, March 6th - I’ve dreamed of going on Safari forever, so this will be a once-in-a-lifetime birthday treat. We will explore as much of that huge country as possible while working our way north to the Middle East and on to Central Asia.
There, we will catch the five “Stans” including Kazakhstan, Kirgizstan, Uzbekistan and with some luck and visas; Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. If we make it to all five it will make Michael very happy because we will have visited all 15 former Soviet Republics - a goal he set in 2016. We haven’t chosen the easiest travel for this next leg, but we are in good health and better to do this more adventuresome travel while we can. We are busy looking for Airbnbs in some pretty remote locations - but so far, so good!
Happy New Year! Thanks again for following along.
Debbie and Michael Campbell
The Senior Nomads