Five years ago today, we were in our townhouse on lower Queen Anne Hill in Seattle. The Space Needle was framed in the window and the Seahawks were on TV - and of course, it was cold and rainy outside. It was time to brighten things up by decorating for Christmas. We headed to the garage at half-time to get the boxes of lights and ornaments (hoping Michael wouldn’t notice I’d stuffed his beloved inflatable snowman behind a box marked Tax Files).
Our garage looked like most car caves. Our cars were parked next to each other without an inch to spare and they were surrounded on three sides by boxes, bikes, paint cans, and paraphernalia. Even after we’d downsized from a much larger home to these new city digs, the shelves were groaning with bankers boxes full of financial files and cartons packed with kids artwork, spare dishes, photo albums, books, sports gear, and of course the infamous “Misc.” There could be anything in those! Despite our efforts, we still had too much stuff.
But I knew right where to look for three giant green tubs of happiness marked Christmas. So we hauled everything upstairs and Michael began the tedious task of checking the twinkle lights (as we untangled them, of course). And then moved onto getting the outdoor lights in order.
This was going to be a particularly special holiday because our daughter Mary, her husband Gregoire, two-year-old Colette and baby Marcel, just six months old, would be visiting for two weeks from their home in Paris.
As it turned out, that Christmas would be the last one we’d spend in a home of our own.
Because it was during that visit that Mary asked the fateful question “Have you ever heard of Airbnb?” We hadn’t. So she opened my laptop, and our eyes, to a whole new world of possibilities. We soon discovered that we could retire early and travel the world living in other peoples homes for the same amount of money we'd spend retiring in Seattle. And, we'd use their stuff, not ours.
Six months after Mary asked the question, we'd made our decision and sold most everything in the garage including one car, most of our furniture, and our sailboat. We gave the rest away. Now we have a small storage unit filled with essentials (including the Christmas decorations), our two trusty suitcases and a day pack each.
Since then, we’ve been traveling full-time for nearly 4 and a half years! In that time we’ve called 161 different Airbnbs home in over 68 countries. Halfway through, we decided to sell our own home - the last physical attachment we had to Seattle. It was a bold decision but we were enjoying our vagabond lifestyle, and after two years, our near-perfect renters were ready to move on.
Finding new renters and being landlords from afar didn’t seem appealing so we contacted our trusted real estate agent and it all went rather smoothly considered we were in Romania! A highlight was making our way to the U.S Embassy to get all of the paperwork notarized. It was a sleek, stone fortress on the outskirts of Bucharest. The building sat low to the ground and was surrounded by high walls and barbed wire fences with cameras pointed in all directions. The STRICTLY NO PHOTOS signs began to appear at least 300 yards away.
We would get in - but would we get out? After several layers of security including leaving everything but our passports and the necessary papers behind in a locker, we were escorted to the waiting area for US Citizens needing services like ours. It was similar to a doctors waiting room with the typical fake plants and out of date American magazines. Eventually, a cheerful, young “all American girl” helped us with our notarization and we left the way we came. I am sure the entire experience is on film somewhere in the bowels of the U.S State Department.
A few days later, the sale was complete and we realized we wouldn't be turning the key in our own front door for a very long time. Our book, Your Keys, Our Home tells the story of our life living in other peoples homes around the world. And while we aren’t ready to change that lifestyle quite yet - there is the occasional longing for a place to call our own. But since we don’t know where that is, we will continue to enjoy exploring the possibilities, and let other homeowners call the plumber.
This December day, we are once again decorating for Christmas in Seattle. And once again, we are settled on lower Queen Anne Hill (just around the corner from our old house!) Only this time, we have the good fortune to be house-sitting for dear friends while they travel. Their home is beautiful and today it is filled with winter sunlight. They even have a wood-burning fireplace, so it is a great place to call “home” for a six weeks and share some cheer with family and friends before we leave on our next adventure in early January.
I still have my three green tubs of happiness marked Christmas and inside are things that bring me joy, and fond memories of family holidays spent in many homes along the way - our own and others. A good reminder that memories are the “stuff” that counts.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Debbie and Michael Campbell,
The Senior Nomads
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