How We Decided on Full-Time Travel

Orange Card

The Orange Card

For a while I called us nomads until my son said, “That sounds weird mom. Don’t say that.” And I must admit, even to me it sounded a bit too Karen Blixen meets Maasai warrior.

Now I say, “We’re full time travelers.”

There’s a predictable list of reactions.

  • “Me too! I LOVE to travel.”
  • “That sounds terrible.”
  • “That sounds wonderful.”
  • “Were you forced to do this?”  (My response: “Huh?”))
  • “What’s that?”

Invariably, when I explain further, that last group says, “Oh, I get it. You’re nomads!”

Yes, we’re nomads.

If there was an “ah ha” moment that brought us to this point, I no longer remember it. Rather, a series of big and small decisions led us here.

The first step was simple enough; I was asked to move to Bratislava for work, and I agreed. Since our youngest was about to enter her sophomore year in college, we decided to sell the house. On my neon orange index card where I had captured the milestones of my life’s plan six years prior, there was a line: Taylor’s sophomore year. Sell house.

I was merely executing the plan.

While that might sound silly, for me it’s key. If I write it down, I do it. I executed an entire 32-year career from a “to do” list and my printed calendar.

For years, every few months I pulled out the index card and reviewed it. Memorized it. Reaffirmed it.

Had we wanted to keep the house, it would have been difficult. My assignment from IBM provided no support to maintain it—no money, no insurance, no agency to oversee it and ensure the lawn was cut (which at 8000 feet elevation in Colorado is a semi-annual event) or the driveway plowed (a more frequent necessity).

Our next door neighbor was our insurance agent and pointed out that many insurance companies, ours included, won’t cover an “abandoned house”. An abandoned house is quite simply one which isn’t occupied. “Julie,” he said, “You’re trying to sell, so we can be flexible–but not forever.”

I had no interest in becoming a landlord. We had to sell.

Yet, 2011 was not a year to sell a house. Our last act before boarding a plane to Vienna (and from there, a taxi to Bratislava) was to sign a listing agreement.

And wait.

And wait.

Over the course of a year, I came to believe it would never sell. Then, an offer arrived.

The deal was complicated—a cascade of closings which ended with an eight-month pregnant woman buying our house. Pat and I signed over Power of Attorney at the US embassy in Bratislava to our son Ryan. “Do what you must. Board a flight to Denver if things start falling apart.”

We were in Salzburg for the music festival when I received word that our house was now their house.

Months earlier, as a previous contract fell through, Pat and the kids had cleaned out everything. Our kids took furniture. We placed furniture in storage. Now at the end of the closing, our agent simply handed over the keys.

I make it sound so easy, but this was an emotionally draining experience. I loved my house. I had added a gourmet kitchen. It had huge windows which framed amazing views in my dream state of Colorado. When I’d return from a business trip late at night greeted by the soft light of a single dim lamp, I would look around in the shadows, absorb the total silence, and say to myself, “My God, I love this place.”

Yet a big, fancy home is not the same as a life. The older I grew, the more I reminded myself of this. Bottom line, I could pick two of three options:

  • Retire young
  • Keep my home
  • Travel aggressively

It was never a choice.

Eighteen months after arriving in Bratislava, we moved to Budapest, Hungary for two years. We began to feel comfortable living in strange countries where we couldn’t speak the language. We grew accustomed to living in rented apartments. Pat had surgery and we realized we could handle medical issues abroad.

My last summer in Budapest, I signed a three-month lease on a flat in Paris for the next summer. That fall, I was accepted into the Paris Writers’ Workshop for the following July. I was forcing the issue with myself through each of these steps. Inertia is every bit as real to me as to anyone. I was giving myself a year to grow comfortable with the thought that I was really retiring, moving to Paris, and studying writing. And I was creating the pull I needed to let go.

By the next summer, it all felt perfectly normal.

The latest retirement date on my index card was Taylor’s 23rd birthday: February 22nd. I left Budapest a week after this date. As I returned to the United States, I was holding my return ticket to Paris two months hence. All I needed to do was close out with IBM and clean out a storage unit.

This is where my memory gets fuzzy.

I’m sure at some point I said to Pat, “What if we just move around for a while after Paris and rent apartments for a month or two?”

I’m sure he looked at me that way he does when I suggest these sorts of things.

At some point I’m sure he relented, “OK. But remember, I do want to settle down eventually.”

I’m fairly sure I would have replied, “Let’s worry about that eventually.”

The next part I’ll never forget. We boarded a flight and landed in Paris.



Categories: How To

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6 replies

  1. So glad to hear from you again…always inspiring.

  2. What a great piece!
    Love reading your blog again!

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