The Ultimate Downsize – Get Down to a Suitcase and Hit the Road

Category: Work and Volunteering

September 7, 2014 — We are happy to read that more and more baby boomers are taking a pro-active role in downsizing. They are doing it intentionally, tackling clutter room by room and not adding on new stuff either. But how about the ultimate – getting rid of just about everything – including your house – and hitting the road? More than a few boomers are choosing this path.

In 2013 there were over 360,000 Americans who receive their Social Security at non-U.S. addresses, which was a 48% increase over 10 years before. Of course that doesn’t include hundreds of thousands more who travel either for long periods – abroad or in the U.S. – but still retain some kind of base in this country.

A consistent comment we hear from folks who have done it is that downsizing is “liberating”. One of the obvious benefits is that once you don’t have a house and “stuff” to manage you have a lot more money to spend. Plus, you have the time to do what you want – like travel or volunteer (or both!). The NY Times recently profiled Lynne Martin, author of “Home Sweet Anywhere: How We Sold Our House, Created a New World, And Saw the World” in “Retirees Dump Their Possessions and Travel the World”. Ms.Martin and her husband unloaded their California home, found a new owner for their dog, ditched most of their possessions, and now travel the world using short term rentals (using HomeAway.com). Their experience has been that the money they saved from not owning a home has opened up a new world, without having to tap their savings.

The article profiles other retirees like Stacy Monday, who has different tactics for enjoying the unencumbered retirement lifestyle. Ms. Monday claims that she sometimes spends less than $150 a month by volunteering at non-profits in exchange for room and board, or taking on odds and ends jobs. She writes a blog, Barefoot Lovey, which will give you an idea of her experiences and approach. It also has a tip jar!

Non-profits galore
Many of the folks who choose to live the nomadic life take extensive stays that involve volunteer work with some type of non-profit. Some of those visits are in this country, while others are in foreign destinations. Nonprofits that facilitate these jobs include Nomads on a Mission in Divine Service, RV Care-A-Vanners, and Global International (see end of article). In some you might get room and board or other benefits for your service, while with others you might get a gig like teaching English in an interesting country abroad. Topretirements has profiled several retired boomers who now volunteer as a traveling way of life. Those include Mary Anne Johnston (below), who found her work on literacy in Guatemala particularly rewarding. That job was set up through through Rotary International.

Barbara Traynor is profiled”How to Live for Free as a Second Career Volunteer“. Barbara has enjoyed numerous jobs both in the U.S. and abroad including organizations like Heifer and Russell Cave National Monument. Some have gone on for months and have covered her living expenses. Her blog, Second Career Volunteer, has some great accounts of her various adventures.

Hands across the sea

Harriet and students on Union Island

We wrote about Tom and Harriet Linskey in “Seafaring Couple Starts International Literacy Program“. Although they started off by retiring on their boat and cruising the world, they morphed that into a more purposeful retirement that focuses on bringing books and reading to poor children in the Caribbean.

Class A Motor Home


We’ve also done multiple articles on people like Betty Fitterman, who spent the early years of her retirement on the road with the RV Lifestyle.

How long can you do it?
We think there has to be some kind of shelf life to living on the road. When we get really old we will probably need a home base. But in the meantime, it sure beats cleaning out the garage for the 5th time!

Comments
Do you think you could downsize the point where you have no home, not even a storage unit, and hit the road? Where would you go, and what would you do? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

For further reading:
Global Volunteers website
Global Volunteer Network
Adventurous Retirements Blog (Topretirements) – profiles many types of retirement gigs
Work and Volunteering Blog at Topretirements

Posted by Admin on September 7th, 2014

33 Comments »

  1. Very funny. As I was reading this blog, I noticed that the margin ads that came up were for furniture and other “stuff” that I had been shopping for over the weekend. Keeping downsizing in mind, I don’t think I’ll get more “stuff” right now after all.

    by Ted — September 8, 2014

  2. My husband and I plan to sell everything and buy a small RV. We want to see our beautiful country while we are still young enough to get around. We will probably settle in Florida when we are tired of traveling. Lots of homes are sold fully furnished in 55+ communities. We aren’t that attached to a piece of furniture. Our kids don’t want the antiques, so why keep them?
    We can’t wait to travel and if we don’t like our neighbors, we can take our home and leave!

    by Sunny — September 8, 2014

  3. For most folks this would be very hard to do: (1) give up all your possessions? What about hobbies you’ve developed over 30-40 years? I’d be hard pressed to get rid of all my “stuff.” (2) They “..found a new owner for their dog..” Our dog is part of our family. We would never just find it a new home. (3) Travel the world? Sounds fun for about 3 months then I would miss all the comforts of “home.”

    Takes a unique person/couple to do this. For most of us it is not practical.

    by glenns — September 8, 2014

  4. I guess my biggest concern has to do with health. I’m afraid if you have health issues this may be difficult, if not impossible. It isn’t the stuff in your house, but it is the stuff in your life, like friends, neighbors, doctors, etc. I moved to AZ in April, away from all my friends (NY) and family (Seattle/SF), then got sick. Had a heart attack in June, developed Atrial Fibrillation in August and had a stroke. Now I can’t drive. Had no one to care for my dog, bring clothes to hospital, etc. it has been really difficult. You don’t build that stuff overnight….friends, neighbors, support network. I would love to be in Europe with a backpack but don’t see how I can unless I have a health miracle. And I’m 65.

    by Ginger — September 8, 2014

  5. Very wise, Ginger. Brings to mind cruising in Florida in the winter, when retirees are a significant number of passengers. Medical emergencies (including death – yes, those ships have refrigerated arrangements) happen more frequently than you would expect. One officer told me that they have 1 or 2 deaths of elderly passengers almost every cruise on the larger ships in the winter. I still travel for business, and travel is getting physically harder for me almost every month at this point. You never know when (or where) you might have a medical emergency. I don’t think I would be prepared to leave a support system, my doctors, dentists, etc. to take my chances on the road for any length of time.

    by Ted — September 9, 2014

  6. Sounds like fun for a year or so! We have often thought about cruising in our own boat for a year or so. After reading several books written by couples who’s did this, we took a hard look at our own tolerance for weather emergencies on the ocean, unexpected and sometimes costly or. catastrophic mechanical breakdowns, and the loneliness of just your true love 24/7 for a year, we decided that we were not thinking logically about our romantic dream of full-time living aboard a boat! Thanks for the article about “hitting the road” – I suspect “hitting the water” would be similar!

    by SandyZ — September 9, 2014

  7. HI Ginger,
    Wow, I just read about the illnesses you have had in the last few months. I think you do deserve a Miracle. Here’s to a Miracle for Ginger’s Health. I know these things do happen so I am seriously asking for a miracle for YOU. Are you the one who was telling us about where to get good outdoor clothing at a place online. I love that sort of thing but now do not know where the site is. I am wising you all the greatest, best, loving HEALTH that is possible ever. I love you and know you deserve all of it.
    Thanks for always being here for all of us. We need you.
    Lovingly, Your friend in NY, Elizabeth~ 😉 {{{{{HUGS}}}}} <3

    by Elizabeth in NY — September 9, 2014

  8. We love this idea and plan to do it in a few years. Sell the house and almost everything in it. We will rent studio or one bedroom apartments for two weeks to a month in towns that interest us. If it doesn’t fit in the jeep its not coming. Unlike the other couple thought we will not get rid of our dog, and there is NO reason to. We have found dozens and dozens of places that allow him. We are in New England and we plan to start here, head west and then do it again on the way back. We will plan it so we never have to see winter again. We figure it will take us 18-24 months. When we are done then we will decide where we want to call home. No point in keeping the furniture or most of what is in the house now if we have no idea where we will land. Excited about the whole idea!

    by Mary — September 10, 2014

  9. I have to agree with glenns and Ginger. This is a nice dream for many, but a practical nightmare in the making for most. We recently took a two-month trip that we hugely enjoyed, but for us there is nothing like home and we will stick to one or two week trips from now on. Another good result of our trip is that we did confirm that where we live is where we want to be. No more dreaming of AZ or CO!

    As for Ginger, yes, I’m sorry to hear your story, but it’s one that many of us encounter as we reach those years of declining health and physical resources. For some it may start 10 or more years later, but for most, the 60s can well become a difficult time of recognizing your new place in life. For us, heart attack and surgery, significant life-changing-allergy, and general physical breakdown (despite an active life) have us feeling much different at 66 than we did at 60. Remove all your life structure, and where are you? It you can handle it and are young enough, go for it. But at retirement age, it pays to give some concern to the future.

    by Rich — September 10, 2014

  10. Rich,

    Would you be interested in expanding on your comment “No more dreaming of AZ or CO! ”

    My DW & I have been looking in the CO direction.

    by Bill — September 10, 2014

  11. Bill, My wife and I have traveled several times in and around AZ and CO. Out interest goes back at least 40 years. We are “from” NC and retired here, but both states continued to attract us — especially the areas near Sedona, AZ and central CO. Last year my wife was diagnosed with a tick-induced allergy called alpha-gal. She is allergic to meat (beef, pork, all mammals — not fowl (chicken, turkey) or fish. The allergy can and has caused her to go into anaphylactic shock and the ONLY possible remedy at this time is for her to never get bitten by another tick — hopefully that might reduce her sensitivity. So we had been considering other life options such as moving or taking long-term trips to other locations (the snow bird thing). This summer we spent three weeks each in AZ and CO. Both are attractive and I would be happy to visit at any time.

    For us, summing AZ came to this: windy, dusty, dry and red/brown. CO is more difficult. Very diverse, it is beautiful and, where we stayed in Silverton/Dillon a near paradise place. But winters are extreme (that was always a probable definitive “no”) and I personally discovered that wonderful as the place is, I was unable to adapt to the elevation. This is not a problem for most. In my case, we stayed at 9600 feet and on any repeat visit, I will not make that mistake again. We finally left a little early because I could not stand the constant gasping for breath. (I was never affected by other altitude sickness symptoms. So it was that simple. Clearly there are other options in CO, but the areas I like best have the elevation. (8000 ft. appears to be my limit. I also had an issue during a brief trip to Switzerland 15 years ago.) My problems may be related to heart disease and lung problems, but my advice to you and anyone is the same as Top Retirements repeats endlessly — if you are interested in retiring to any area, go spend some significant time there (more than just a week or two — we had done that previously) before making a final decision. You can never tell in advance just what factor may make a place unacceptable to you.

    And BTW, we also learned that extended time away from our home is not something either of us want (we are NOT snowbirds). In the last 11 years we have taken two 5-week trips and this two month trip. In each case, we ended up returning a little early because, to us , our home (while not perfect) is where we love to be. But we always felt the desire to explore to be sure we didn’t pass up “the right place”. Now we are absolutely sure NC is that right place.

    Rich

    by Rich — September 10, 2014

  12. I just so appreciate all the posts and varying perspectives regarding all the different choices and the reasons for choosing your directions in life. As our pending relocation to a warmer area is now only within months…….I am thinking I will miss the grand kids the most of all. We intend to purchase a new home soon, and while it is very exciting, it is also a little disquieting. Mostly, however we mearly have to recall last winters weather to get back on track!

    by Caps — September 10, 2014

  13. This article just added a few more samples to the buffet table of retirement possibilities in addition to many legitimate concerns. After going through the ordeal of surgery and chemo for breast cancer at age 48 my attitude shifted in many respects but one important area was downsizing so that I could take an early retirement. My 800 sqft condo and garage is all I need. I can now travel when I want but I can return to my home, family, friends and medical support. Sometimes just downsizing is all that’s needed. I’m 63 now and for today I enjoy good health but I do know what it’s like when you get “that” call.
    I don’t live in fear but my past health experience keeps me in reality and helps me plan accordingly. I love this site…I can just take what I need and leave the rest. I learn the most by the honest feedback from readers.
    Ann

    by Ann — September 10, 2014

  14. Enjoying everyone’s take on this exciting and ambitious option. I have been considering the vagabond life after retiring – have been a world traveler all my life and have lived in both India and England. I have decided on a sweet compromise – pick a home base I will enjoy, integrate myself into people, activities and family there while scheduling month-long trips abroad to places I want to experience living – Paris, Singapore. Barbados, Martha’s Vineyard, Florence, a long cruise. Yes, pricey and you must be healthy, but there are many ways to skin a cat. I hope to do this for as many years as suits. When the romance is spent, then I still have that wonderful home base for the chapter after that. Keep living and chasing dreams – keeps us young. I read recently, ‘Currency in the retirement realm is how interesting you are, how much fun you are to be around, how good a story you can tell, and how good you feel about the life you are living!’ Stay curious and grateful. Best to all. Enjoying everyone’s take on this exciting and ambitious option. I have been considering the vagabond life after retiring – have been a world traveler all my life and have lived in both India and England. I have decided on a sweet compromise – pick my home base, integrate myself into people, activities and family there while scheduling 2-3 month-long trips abroad to places I want to experience living – Paris, Singapore. Barbados, Martha’s Vineyard, Florence, a long cruise. Yes, pricey and you must be healthy, but there are many ways to skin a cat. I hope to do this for as many years as suits. When the romance is spent, then I still have that wonderful home base for the chapter after that. Keep living and chasing dreams – keeps us young. I read recently, ‘Currency in the retirement realm is how interesting you are, how much fun you are to be around, how good a story you can tell, and how good you feel about the life you are living!’ Stay curious and grateful. Best to all.

    by Linda — September 10, 2014

  15. This comment came in from Joan:

    Thank you for sending the latest information. It sounds like things I can sink my teeth into.

    Please send more as you find them.

    I really like the idea of selling everything and going on the road. Unfortunately, don’t want to do that alone, unless there is a group doing it. What a thought. A group going on the road together. If you know of anything like that, or come across that please inform me. I do seem to want to do things “out of the box” for retirement. Last real chance to fly in the wind, if you know what I mean.;

    Thanks again.

    by Admin — September 10, 2014

  16. Dick and I just rented out our home for two years and signed a one year’s lease for a furnished home outside Tucson. We are trying that on to see how we like it. Most of our stuff is going to consignment or auction. We are driving out with what fits in two vehiclrs, including our cat. Clothes and Dick’s golf clubs are in the mix. We’ve been waiting for our house to sell when really good tenants fell from heaven. We hadn’t really thought about renting, but are excited about moving forward. We expect to travel a lot, Hawaii and France are both scheduled. We’re using Airbnb and not spending a lot to go. Barbara

    by Barbara — September 10, 2014

  17. I worked with a woman in the 1980’s who lived in one suitcase. She would rent a fully furnished apartment. She would review her belongings (mostly clothes) every January, by putting them into the suitcase and closing it. She made a very healthy salary, and her method of living allowed her to buy a large property, build a green, off the grid, home.

    She was only 38 when she retired, never having to work another day in her life. I really admired her, as at the time, my “possessions” were beginning to own me.

    We are now in our 60’s and have begun an extensive effort of reviewing everything in our home with the thought “Would you pay to have it moved?” If the answer is no, then it is donated to organizations who hold tag sales to benefit their activities. There is a great deal of satisfaction in re-purposing “things” that attach to you. Our rule now is if you add something, you have to give something away.

    by Lynne — September 10, 2014

  18. Elizabeth in NY… http://Www.travelsmith.com is the best. Sometimes http://www.llbean.com, especially in spring. And thanks for your concern! (This comment was in reference to where to look for outdoor clothing online)

    by Ginger — September 10, 2014

  19. I love to read the variety of comments. We are in the process of reviewing our possessions because we will be moving to our retirement home in Arizona. It is amazing to see how much stuff we accumulate that we never use. So it’s actually not that hard to get rid of a lot it.
    We love to travel but we also love our home life. We are in our 50ies and hope to stay healthy enough to have an active lifestyle, meet new people and enjoy our hobbies. We also know that you can’t take anything for granted but you can’t live your life worrying about what may happen.
    Moving from a really green state like Virginia to the desert will be a big change, but like Caps said remembering the last winter only confirms our decision.
    Leading a vagabond life would appeal to me but I love having my dogs and cats around me more.

    by Petra — September 10, 2014

  20. Being in the Foreign Service for over 25 years, living in 10 countries and visiting a total of 80 countries to date, I plan on retiring in the States after I buy that house where my “stuff” will find a permanent home. Having to move every two or three years, has forced me to weed through things regularly. Last thing I want to do in retirement is go around the world with one suitcase. I can volunteer in my own backyard instead of traipsing all over the world.

    by Deborah — September 10, 2014

  21. Rich,
    My husband and I have lived in Cary, NC for 32 years. We’ve had a great life here, but want to retire closer to the coast. May I ask where you live in NC? I am truly happy that you know you retired in the right place.

    Thanks,
    Jillc

    by Jill C. — September 10, 2014

  22. Rich,
    Thanks for the response and the suggestions. We are reading and learning here daily. We want to find the right place. Definitely like your suggestion about long stay first.

    by Bill — September 11, 2014

  23. Jill, Sorry, can’t help you much as I live about 20 miles west of Cary. :<) If I move from here, it will be to western NC.

    For me, I think the problem of deciding where to retire, even after I was retired had a lot to do with having been a military brat. When your life is spent moving every few years, it can be hard not to look forward to the next place. But we've been right here more than 20 years now, and having "been around" I'm finally sure this is it. But still I look forward to the next horizon — even if only for a week or two.

    Bill, happy to try to help. I agree that this is likely the best places for a retiree (or pending) to find ideas and get info.

    Deborah, you're experience is closer to mine — I moved frequently even as an adult. All I can say is "beware the wanderlust" — and love it!

    Rich

    by Rich — September 11, 2014

  24. Gosh! This is a subject so relevant and fraught with emotion. I can’t imagine not having a home base near to family and friends. I experienced being far from “home” and loved ones early in my life having moved to Boston from the Midwest with a not-so-great husband and two very young children and spent almost two years in virtual isolation. Lonely doesn’t begin to describe my sorry emotional state. I dropped in to see the owner of a dry cleaning shop every day just so I’d have someone to talk to other than an infant and an eighteen-month-old toddler. I treasure my family, friends, even the casual acquaintances that I say Hello to on daily walks. Our lives go by so quickly — it feels like there are so few days left to enjoy those I love — so why would I want to pack up to travel around surrounded by strangers again. Been there. Done that. Not going to do it again.

    by Pat Kennedy — September 11, 2014

  25. Ginger, I already know about LL Bean and love it but what about the savings. I do like their things but some can be quite pricey~ Thank, I know we get what we pay for. (My Dad’s Mantra!)

    by Elizabeth in NY — September 11, 2014

  26. One thing for sure is “Different Strokes For Different Folks.”

    by Bubbajog — September 11, 2014

  27. Editor’s note:
    We moved a sub-thread on pets that was developing here to a new topic post – “Pet friendly communities (or not)” See http://www.topretirements.com/blog/general-retirement/pet-friendly-communities.html/

    by Admin — September 12, 2014

  28. I usually read comments to Top Retirements articles only once or maybe look for a response if I comment, so this is the first time I’ve read them for a period of days. What a diverse set of comments on so many issues that concern us! And it’s just a sample of what we face when we consider how to retire…

    Pat talked about not ever wanting to leave her home base (family, friends, etc.). As a former career counselor and personnel manager, it reminded me of the advice I would give people who were looking for new employment or considering a job change — the most important aspect of any job is the people you will be surrounded with. It’s very difficult to replace a good job (or living) situation. You start again from scratch just getting to know people, proving yourself for who you are and what you do, and establishing secure relationships. That doesn’t come easy or without trials. Be sure you want what you ask for.
    (Rich had some wonderful comments about the pets issue, which we have moved to the new topic – see above link).

    by Rich — September 12, 2014

  29. Oops! While I was commenting! :<) I guess you'll have to move one more…

    by Rich — September 12, 2014

  30. Elizabeth in NY…the best travel clothes come from the Travelsmith website. Yes, these clothes are pricey but last for years.

    by Ginger — September 12, 2014

  31. I would like to hear more about downsizing and the best way to do it. A good discussion on “tag and estate” sales especially from those who have had such. The good and the bad, what to look out for? How to evaluate a good company that handles tag & estate sales? Amount charged? Best time of year for a sale? And other things one needs to know.

    by Dean — September 12, 2014

  32. I agree with Ginger about Travel Smith–I love the clothes I purchased from them. I do, however, carefully read the reviews first. I use a core color which is usually black and use jackets scarves and jewelry for color and to change the look. Works for me and costs a lot less money. Stick with mostly classics and you can’t go wrong.

    by Jennifer — September 13, 2014

  33. THANK YOU so much for mentioning my name and book in your BLOG. I have been a long-term, long-distance volunteer for going on 10 years. I have met so many wonderful colleagues in my travels. I am home in NY from June-Dec 30th, usually spending the New Year with friends in Charleston, SC. From there I travel to my chosen volunteer destination. It is a great lifestyle, frugal and free from responsibility other than my given duties. If anyone wishes to know “how-to”, please access my website secondcareervolunteer.com – it’s all there, the what, why, when and HOW! Hope I meet some of you on my travels.

    by Barbara M Traynor — October 3, 2014

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