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We have such a large community and I love sharing everyone’s story. I think highlighting a variety of perspectives and experiences helps inspire so many of us! This month we’re featuring Donella and her husband. After her husband had a health scare a few years ago, they decided to stop waiting, finally sell their stuff, and head on the road. As more and more adults consider a “nomadic” retirement (especially here in the U.S. where it wasn’t always so common), I wanted to interview them and have them share their advice.
Nomadic Matt: Hi Donella! Thanks for doing this. Tell everyone about yourself!
Donella: We have been raising children and grandkids for the past 30 years in South Florida. Now at 58 years of age, and with my husband retiring at 65, we decided to sell our home and take off to see the world.
I was a divorced single mother of two when I first met my husband, who was working in the construction of the hospital where I was employed. He stalked me for five weeks before getting the courage to ask me out. When he did, he said, “If I like you, I am going to marry you!” That was his proposal, and a few months later we were married. He has been a marvelous provider, father, and grandfather these past 30 years.
Fifteen years into our marriage he suffered renal failure, and the doctors did not expect he had enough life left in him to get a transplant. They asked me to prepare for his funeral, which I did. It was a nine-year journey, until we got a call late one night in 2008 that they had a kidney available for him. Since that time you would never know by looking at him that he had ever been sick a day in his life. It was truly a miracle!
How did you get into travel?
For several years now, I have had the urge to travel, which has been a dream of mine before marriage and children. My husband was never keen on the idea until one afternoon last year he said, “Let’s do this!” The next day I began to sell, donate, and give away (almost) EVERYTHING so that the day we moved we wouldn’t need any trucks. I called a realtor, and our home sold within 24 hours for more than we were asking. We were able to drive away with everything we owned in our two vehicles. My husband was a bit shocked how quickly it all happened once he agreed to go!
Did you and your husband take a lot of trips before this big one?
Over the past 30 years we only went to visit family in Tennessee, North Carolina, and Delaware, though we also explored areas on the way, such as Savannah and Charleston. I visited Texas often to see my brother, Puerto Rico to see our son, and California to see our daughter. We are going to continue to visit family as we explore the country and travel abroad but take more time to see things that we have only read about. We have learned so much about the world in travel blogs, and we want to experience that.
Tell me about your current trip. After you sold your house, what happened? Where did you go?
As soon as our house was sold we found a beautiful beach bungalow in Juno, Florida, directly across from the beach. Never in our wildest dreams did we ever imagine ourselves being able to live so close to the ocean. We saved just enough things to use to live here. We’ve basically done what we learned online from the nomadic community: living with less and enjoying our surroundings more. Our lease here is only until the end of the year; in the meantime we are getting our van prepared for full-time camping around the country next year.
This past March we took a long trip to Andalucia in Spain, which was the first time my husband had ever traveled to Europe. We went to enjoy but also to look into living there the next time we visit. We will do basically the same thing: find a small space so that we are able to take time to travel to other countries as well.
What inspired this current life change?
My daughter told me that my granddaughter was talking about traveling when she grew up. In an instant it brought back all the memories of my own plans at that same age. That rekindled the spark in me from my own childhood. Traveling was the way I grew up with my own parents, who were nomads in the ’50s and ’60s. I grew up in North Africa, Europe, Britain, and the United States all before the age of 10. My father continued traveling the United States until he passed away. My mother continues to travel the US and Europe while residing in Spain. It’s in my roots, and I long to visit new places and revisit other places that I have seen as a child. Sharing this with my husband seems like a dream come true.
Did people say you were crazy when you said you were setting off to travel the world?
We were surprised at how many people have been so excited to watch us start this journey. There are also people who look at us with that deer-in-the-headlights look, because they can’t imagine living life without their homes and their stuff. I get that, and don’t really believe this is for everyone, but it is definitely for us.
Has your husband’s health been an issue at all? What precautions do you have to take?
My husband is in good health now but he still needs blood work routinely and anti-rejection medicine. We decided to find a different doctor, who would be more accessible in case of emergency. She will be able to order blood work wherever we are and get the results. We will continue to return here to South Florida once a year for his follow-up. When traveling to Europe, we got travel insurance, and the cost was reasonable.
Is it easy to see a doctor overseas? How do you handle medication? Have you ever had to get a prescription filled on the road?
Our doctor here in the States made sure my husband had all the medications needed for our trip. We contacted a doctor in Spain who said they would be able to write prescriptions if needed. Between the two doctors we felt my husband was in good hands, along with the travel insurance we purchased for our trip there. We haven’t had to fill any prescriptions while traveling, but our doctor says it would not be a problem.
What are your future travel plans?
Once my husband’s work commitments are complete, we plan to leave here and live on the road. In the meantime, this fall we are planning a road trip through Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. Next spring we are planning a trip up the East Coast from Florida to Nova Scotia. Then we will travel across the northern states until we reach Chicago and take Route 66 west.
We plan to return to Spain, once we finish up the trips through the United States. We hope to have our kids and grandkids join us for a visit, too. Europe is cheap enough to find a small flat to reside in and use their public transportation to see other countries.
How do you keep to a budget?
We have a budget in which we divide all our costs into home, auto, entertainment, food, gifts, medical, miscellaneous, personal, and travel. I keep envelopes with receipts for each item and calculate what we are spending in each area by month. We decide where we need to make adjustments and keep within our budget. It helps to determine if we have a realistic budget or not. Everyone’s priorities are different, but it is good to be able to see where your money is going routinely. It is the best way to determine how much we are able to spend in for our next travel adventure.
Young people are traveling like this and have wonderful advice on how to make it work, as we have read on your blog. Being retired, we have a pension for financial support, but we’ve found ideas for all types of work from young bloggers if more funding is needed.
We spend a lot of time reading and researching on the internet for great advice from people who are already living this lifestyle. We now plan smarter and more cost efficiently because of the knowledge that we have received and feel confident that we are going to be able to do more than we ever dreamed possible!
What advice do you have for travelers your age?
Some of the best advice we have received have been from all the young bloggers online such as yourself, Matt. We learned to plan our trips for dates that are less money. Our first trip to Europe cost us less than one of our family trips here in the States!
Another important travel lesson has been not to get our information from news media but instead to rely on the US Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs. They don’t sensationalize what is going on in each country but give you the information you need in order to make good decisions.
Become the Next Success Story
One of my favorite parts about this job is hearing people’s travel stories. They inspire me, but more importantly, they also inspire you. I travel a certain way but there are many ways to fund your trips and travel the world. I hope these stories show you that there is more than one way to travel and that it is within your grasp to reach your travel goals. Here are more examples of people who made their travel dreams a reality:
P.S. Looking to step up your travel photography? We are hosting a Q&A with professional photographer Laurence Norah on October 29th, so mark your calendars!