Last Updated on: 16th September 2021, 11:18 am
Do you dream of traveling full-time? You’re not alone.
Between thoughts of Parisian cafes, Maldivian beaches, and African safaris, you may be wondering how feasible it is. You are probably concerned about costs and practical issues like medical insurance, prescriptions, and cell phone usage.
In 2016 Steve and I announced that we were planning to retire and travel full-time beginning in 2018. You can read about how we came to this decision in “How It All Began .”
Other full-time travelers have written about getting positive and negative comments when they sprang their news, but we only got positive reactions. I’m sure some of the people we told thought we were crazy, but they were kind enough not to say so.
During our two years of planning, we got many questions. Here are the questions we were asked, along with one that everyone was too polite to ask.
All money is in U.S. Dollars.
Are you going to sell your house or rent it?
We opted to sell the house we had lived in for 30 years. It was a great house for raising children, but it had served its purpose. We had a decent-size yard with extensive gardens that our daughters no longer played in and a pool that took more hours of maintenance than we spent swimming in it.
Renting may be a good option if you are likely to return to the home or neighborhood. We didn’t want the hassles of renting. We would have to pay a management company and find someone to maintain the yard and pool. The last thing we wanted in our new life was calls about repair costs or delinquent tenants.
Will you return to Jacksonville, Florida, when you are done traveling?
When we left Jacksonville in 2018, our plans were open-ended. We had no idea when or where we would settle. Even now, more than three years later, we still don’t.
One thing we know is that it won’t be in Jacksonville. We have no desire to return to the heat and humidity. One of our daughters lives there; the other is in Orlando. Other than that, we don’t have strong ties to Jacksonville. Steve and I have often discussed that we might not even settle in the U.S.
What will you do with your cars?
Since we planned to spend only one month in the U.S. each year, we sold our cars. When we return to the U.S., we rent a car.
Keep in mind that if you don’t own a car, you won’t have auto insurance. Our main credit card covers theft and damage to a rental auto. We always make sure we get liability coverage in case we cause an accident that results in someone’s injury or death or damages someone’s property. This doesn’t come cheap.
The abundance of public transportation in Europe and Latin America has spoiled us. In many cities, we’ve used Uber. We find it efficient and affordable. Before our first trip back to the U.S., we considered using it instead of renting a car. I used the Uber Price Estimator to determine what we would spend. Because Jacksonville is spread out and has heavy traffic, the prices were high. Also, having used Uber in Jacksonville a few times, I knew it was pricey. We felt that in this case, renting a car was the better choice.
How do your grown children feel about this?
Our two daughters, Stephanie and Laura, have been very supportive. If the idea of us being out of the country for most of the year bothers them, they are selfless enough to keep it to themselves.
Our original plan was to return to the U.S. every December. During these visits, we can spend time with Stephanie and Laura, visit friends, and see our doctors.
This plan worked fine for the first two years. Then 2020 arrived. We spent December 2020 in Budapest, Hungary, where we have been waiting out the pandemic. We hope to return to the U.S. for a visit in December 2021.
How will you get your mail?
We are using a virtual mailbox service called Traveling Mailbox. The service notifies us via email when we receive mail. We log in to see our mail and tell them how we want it handled.
Traveling Mailbox will forward mail anywhere in the world and deposit checks for you. Both of these have small fees attached. We recommend Traveling Mailbox, but there are several companies that provide similar services.
You can learn more about our favorite services and apps in “12 Trustworthy Travel Services and Apps.”
What will you do about cell phones?
When we arrive in a new country, we get a local SIM card that gives us calls and internet data. We use internet data when we are out and about. SIM cards are inexpensive. Our average cost for one SIM card for one month is $20. In our lodgings we have wifi.
Our cell phones are still connected to our AT&T account in the U.S. AT&T offers a plan that allows us to use our AT&T SIM for $10 for 24 hours. We do this when we have to make calls to the U.S. for financial or medical reasons. For talking with friends and relatives, we rely on WhatsApp, Messenger, or Zoom.
How will you handle finances?
The good news is when you sell almost everything, you have very few bills. And everything can be paid online.
Even so, things can slip through the cracks. We found out that we owed our dentist’s office almost $1,000. The office had submitted the charges to our insurance company, and this wasn’t covered. We found out about it because our Chase bank account informed us that our credit had been impacted.
It turned out that the dentist’s office did not have our complete address on file (for the virtual mailbox). They also didn’t have our email addresses, and they only had our U.S. phone numbers, which we aren’t currently using. If it wasn’t for the Chase notification, this could have sat for another year.
What about medical insurance?
When we began traveling, we chose to self-insure because we believe medical costs outside the U.S. are affordable. A case in point: Steve’s ski accident in Bulgaria cost $2,000. This included nine days in the hospital with all tests and medicines and two ambulance rides. You can read about this less-than-ideal experience in “Hospitalized in Bulgaria.”
We had kept our U.S.-based medical insurance with Florida Blue, first through COBRA and then through the Affordable Care Act. We found that they paid almost every foreign claim we submitted.
ACA worked well for us until Steve turned 65 and went on Medicare. Since it won’t cover medical care overseas, and he needed proof of insurance for his Hungarian residence permit, he picked up a policy through SafetyWing.
This is a perfect solution for us, but for someone who doesn’t have ample savings to fall back on, I would definitely recommend travel medical insurance.
Here is an article from The Hartford that summarizes the different types of travel insurance.
And here is information about some of the top travel health companies.
Check out our take on “Medical Care on the Road.”
A note about other travel insurance
We have trip cancelation and baggage delay coverage through our Chase credit card but wouldn’t buy it.
We always decline trip insurance when booking flights. Of all the flights we have taken, we only missed one when Steve was laid up from his ski accident. The way I look at it, the money we saved by not taking the insurance over the years more than covered the money we lost by not taking that one flight.
One coverage we won’t leave home without is our emergency evacuation policy through Medjet. It covers the cost of transporting us home in case of a medical emergency or transporting our mortal remains. You can add coverage for assistance during a crisis like a natural disaster or an act of terrorism. Medjet offers short-term and annual policies.
What about prescriptions?
Steve and I both take several prescriptions daily. Fortunately, most of them are inexpensive. On our annual returns to the U.S., our doctors write us prescriptions for one year’s worth of each of these. We fill what we can through our insurance and use GoodRx coupons to fill the rest of the inexpensive ones by paying out of pocket.
Unfortunately, we have a few medications that are too expensive to buy out of pocket. When we set out in 2018, we only had enough of these for three months. We found that it is easy to get medications in other countries, and they are nowhere near as expensive as in the U.S. Depending on the medication and which country you are in, you may not even need a prescription.
Initially, we were concerned about carrying so much medicine, but we haven’t had any problems. We make sure that they are all kept in their original bottles. We also asked our doctors to write a letter that lists our medications, what each one is for, and how long we plan to travel.
Once we got into a travel routine, we started ordering our medications quarterly using our U.S.-based insurance. Our daughter holds them for us.
Of course, 2020 had to mess this up too. Since we did not return to the U.S. in December, we did not replenish our supplies. Therefore we had to see a doctor in Budapest and fill our prescriptions here.
Which credit cards will you use?
Our primary card is the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. It is a VISA card that we’ve been able to use everywhere we have been.
We collect points for every purchase, which we can use at a 25% premium for travel or to pay ourselves back for grocery and restaurant purchases.
We carry one Mastercard and debit cards from two different accounts as backups. Our pickpocketing experience in Barcelona taught us never to carry them together.
How much does it cost to travel full-time?
This can vary greatly. Some travelers spend very little by staying with friends, couch-surfing, volunteering in exchange for accommodations, or staying at hostels. Food costs can be kept low by self-catering or eating street food.
We have chosen to travel at a three-star level. Each year I document our costs. You can read about the past three years here:
How can you afford to do this?
This is the one question everyone was too polite to ask.
The simple answer is that we saved throughout our entire working lives. We didn’t save so we could retire early or travel full-time. We saved because we knew one day we would retire and need more than our Social Security to live on.
Are we rich? Rich is a relative term. I don’t consider us to be rich, but we have enough money that we don’t have to worry about unexpected bills like Steve’s Bulgarian hospital stay, and we can afford to splurge now and then as we did for our two-week-long Transatlantic cruise.
But we are also sensible and frugal. We love staying in four-star hotels at a two-star price, as we did in Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, but we aren’t willing to pay a five-star price for a five-star hotel room.
We have a budget that we use as a guide. Sometimes we are under, like during the pandemic, and sometimes over, like in the Galapagos Islands and Peru.
Keep in mind there are oodles of people who travel full-time on a lot less than we do. Many travelers work on the road.
More Full-Time Travel Info
Get even more information about what it is like to travel full-time in these posts:
That’s All, Folks!
I hope this answered some of the questions you have about full-time travel. If there is anything else you are curious about, please leave your question in the comments section.
Also, Steve and I would love to hear your answers to these questions.
Featured Photo by Julius Silver on Pixabay.com