Do you dream of leaving it all behind to traveling full-time? You’re not alone.
You may be wondering how affordable it is, or maybe you’re concerned about practical issues like medical insurance, prescriptions, and cell phone usage.
Here I answer 12 questions about what to expect if you make this leap.
A Bit of Background
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 our story “How It All Began”.
Other full-time travelers have written about getting both positive and negative comments when they sprang their news, but surprisingly we only got positive responses. I’m sure some of the people we told thought we were crazy, but they were kind enough to not say so.
During our two years of planning, we got many questions. Here are the questions we were asked, along with some that weren’t asked:
Are you going to sell your house or rent it?
We opted to sell our house. We had lived in it 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 was a fabulous place for the girls to play and saved my sanity as a stay-at-home mom. But the amount of work was growing tiresome.
We had a pool that took many 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 someone to maintain the yard and pool and pay a management company. 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, almost 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. The abundance of public transportation in Europe and Latin America has spoiled us. When we return to the U.S., we rent a car. This can be quite pricey.
In 2018 we rented a car for 4 1/2 weeks for $885.
In 2019 a 5-week rental cost us over $2,000.
In many of the cities we’ve visited, we have 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 found a website that estimated Uber costs (sorry, I don’t remember which one). Because Jacksonville is spread out and has heavy traffic, the prices were shocking. Also, having used Uber in Jacksonville a few times, I knew it wasn’t cheap. We felt that in this case, renting a car was the better choice.
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 else’s property. Trust me, this doesn’t come cheap.
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. As of this writing, it looks like we will spend December 2020 in Budapest, Hungary, where we have been waiting out the pandemic since March.
How will you get your mail?
We are using a virtual mailbox service called Traveling Mailbox. The service notifies you via email when you receive mail. You then log in to see your mail and tell them how you 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 here.
What will you do about cell phones?
Our cell phones are still connected to our AT&T account in the U.S. 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. In our lodgings we have wifi.
SIM cards are generally inexpensive. In Peru, we paid $11 per person for a 30-day plan.
AT&T also 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.
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 recently found out that we owed our dentist’s office almost $1,000. The office had submitted the charges to our insurance company, and this is what wasn’t covered. We found out about this 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?
We chose not to get medical travel insurance. We believe the cost of medical care outside of the U.S. is generally affordable, so we pay for it out-of-pocket. 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.
I am happy to say that the other few times we have dealt with doctors, the experience was professional, efficient, and inexpensive.
Our current U.S. insurance is through the Affordable Care Act, and surprisingly it has covered many of the costs we incur while traveling.
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 some information about some of the top travel health companies.
A note about other travel insurance
We have trip cancelation and baggage delay coverage through our Chase credit card but wouldn’t buy it if Chase did not provide 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. This 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.
One thing to note: early in the pandemic, Medjet informed policyholders that they would not be able to transport them during the pandemic because of the highly contagious nature of Covid-19 that led to travel restrictions.
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. After we fill what we can through our insurance, we would use GoodRx coupons to fill the rest.
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. Even though we are paying out of pocket, 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 are not returning to the U.S. in December, we will not be replenishing our supplies. Therefore we must see a doctor in Budapest and fill our prescriptions here. Not ideal, but still affordable.
Which credit cards will you use?
Several people we know love the Southwest credit card. I think it is great for people who travel on Southwest frequently. Since we may end up anywhere in the world, traveling by any number of airlines or by train or bus, that card doesn’t make sense for us.
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 so far.
We collect points for every purchase, which we can use at a 25% premium for travel. I have recently discovered that we can also use them to pay ourselves back for grocery and restaurant purchases with the same 25% premium.
We carry one Mastercard and debit cards from two different accounts as back up. Our pickpocketing experience in Barcelona taught us never to carry them together.
How can you afford to do this?
This is the one question everyone we knew 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 we were in the Galapagos and Peru.
Keep in mind there are oodles of people who travel full-time on a lot less per month than we do. Many travelers work on the road.
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 two years here:
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, I would love to hear your answers to these questions.
Featured Photo by Julius Silver on Pixabay.com