Americans love to travel. Collectively, we log 11 billion miles every day, 87 percent of them in our personal vehicles, according to the National Household Travel Survey. A lot of those miles are racked up in everyday treks, like commuting to work, school, or the grocery store. But anyone who’s ever read Jack Kerouac’s On the Road or John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley understands the dream of packing it all up and taking the Great American Road Trip. If you’re one of America’s 77 million Baby Boomers, facing or in retirement, with the magic combination of the time to travel and the money to fund it, it’s time to hit the road.
If you are seeking a permanent alternative lifestyle, you will likely choose to liquidate your large assets and put your sentimental belongings in storage. If your goal is a temporary escape, even long-term, you may need only to remove your valuables from your home while you rent it or leave it unoccupied. There’s a multitude of diverse and flexible options for temporary housing or permanent alternative residences along the way and your standard for creature comforts will dictate the right choice for you. Here are a few for consideration:
A recreational vehicle (RV) is an obvious choice. These self-contained homes on wheels come in sizes ranging from converted vans to rolling McMansions. With an RV, home truly is where the heart is. That is, you don’t need a hotel if you can find a slot in an RV park—or even on the side of the road. If you’ve never driven one, your best bet is to rent before you invest the nest egg. Because of their size, even the smaller RVs can be intimidating to drive. Making tight turns, backing up, and parking are all more challenging when you’re steering a land yacht. You also have to be extremely aware of heights when approaching bridges or entering a garage or fast food drive-through.
If you decide to buy, give serious thought to the extended warranty. Also be aware that RVs depreciate in value. But they also may qualify for a second-home mortgage deduction if they’re equipped with the amenities essential to satisfying IRS requirements. If RVing sounds like the life for you, you might want to pick up the Complete Guide to Full-Time RVing: Life on the Open Road by Bill and Jan Moeller.
Yurts have been the primary shelters for Central Asia’s Mongolian herdsmen for centuries. For the past several decades, they’ve been growing in popularity with people who want durable, comfortable, eco-friendly housing. These are not tents that you can pop up and down. They’re semi-permanent, requiring a platform foundation. Costs can range from the low $5,000s to about $20,000, depending on the size you choose and the upgrades. Then you’ll have to factor in shipping, land, the platform, electric, solar and plumbing installations. You may also need a permit. Research building codes in the area you’re considering before you commit. The Colorado Yurt Company is a great resource that will tell you everything you need to know about yurt living.
Bungalow-style tents are an affordable option, offering prefabricated, semi-permanent shelter and many of the creature comforts of a conventional home. With these, you can picture yourself living in an adventure movie with romantic, ambient light filtering through the sturdy canvas walls, conjuring up prowling lions on the savannah and wide-eyed travelers on safari. These tents can be configured from one-room units to multi-room structures, complete with framed windows, doors and decks. Check out Sweetwater Bungalows to learn more.
On the Water
Instead of living by the water for a premium, why not live on it? You can make your home on a houseboat with limited boating knowledge and no sailing skills. You do need to know that this is a pretty trendy move, which has driven up prices. A big, new houseboat with every bell and whistle can set you back seven figures. But if you’re patient and do your research, you may be able to pick up a used bargain.
Regulations will vary depending on where you want to float your boat. You may be able to find free anchorage in some waterways, but you’ll need to have a runabout to get you to land and back. More likely, you’ll need to find a slip at a marina, which typically charge by the foot. True, you won’t be paying property taxes or doing yard work, but boat living is not maintenance-free. In addition to slip fees and/or marina dues, you’ll need to set aside money for insurance, sewage pump-out, fuel, bottom-scraping and routine upkeep. Water, especially salt water, eats away at your boat. Any part or material with the word “marine” in front of it is expensive.
Living aboard a sailboat (monohull, catamaran or trimaran) requires the same docking expenses as a motorboat . Standard living size sailboats may be cramped as they lack headroom and storage space below deck. Luxury catamarans and trimarans can be quite spacious. The obvious advantage to a sailboat is the convenience of being able to hoist anchor and set sail for new lands. Don’t forget that you’ll need to secure everything that can tip, spill or break before you take off. If you go this route, prepare by taking Coast Guard-approved boating and navigation courses.
The Tug boat
Tug boats and trawlers offer the portability of a sailboat with the roominess of a houseboat. The downside is the engine noise and fuel costs.
All boats that have a galley and head (that’s kitchen and toilet, for you landlubbers) can qualify for a home mortgage deduction. For more details about the pluses and minuses of boat living, check out The Essentials of Living Aboard a Boat.
In the Air
The Tree House
Living in a tree house is the quintessential childhood dream, and one that thousands of adults just like you are now enjoying. Tree houses have come a long way. Today, they rival many grounded abodes. They come in every shape and size imaginable, from tiny wood-framed rooms to geodesic paneled domes to multi-roomed homes. If you’re serious about life in the leaves, you’ll want professional help selecting your tree and designing your structure. There are websites and workshops on the Internet to help you, as well as plans and kits if you’re set on doing it yourself. A great resource is EscapeArtist.com.
Zoning laws will place definite restrictions on where you can build and what you can have up there. Getting you and your stuff in and out of tree house is another major consideration, especially as you get on in years and climbing a ladder becomes less of a thrill. Functions you take for granted on the ground (like plumbing, heating and cooking) require more thought when you’re up in the air. Before you go out on a limb and invest in a tree house, try renting for at least a week. Planet Green has a guide to the World’s Top Tree House Resorts and the Fox News lists seven of the best in America.
On an Unlimited Budget
Let’s face it, living in a wilderness yurt or an urban tree house is not for everyone. If you have a generous budget, like to have flexibility in your travels, and prefer central heat, modern plumbing, and room service, the Hotel is probably your best choice. There are an unlimited number of hotels for every comfort level. In the United States the average hotel rating is 3 stars with superior service hotels earning 5 stars. Six and seven star hotels (which fall outside the star award system) are more often found in international locations, such as the Burj Al Arab in Dubai which offers private butler service and helicopter/Rolls Royce taxi service. Star ratings at lower levels internationally do not always match the U.S. rankings so be sure to investigate. International hotels sometimes lack in-room bathrooms so that may be your best first question. If you want to stretch your budget and still keep flexibility, look for last minute hotel deals on discount sites like Travelzoo, Hotwire, and Hotels.com.
Albeit expensive, hotel living is a convenient and comfortable temporary or permanent alternative to home ownership. The rooms or suites are fully furnished, the rooms are cleaned every day, you have full use of all amenities, and you can move to different cities and countries at will.
A more homey choice is the option to rent a furnished house or villa in the desired location. Long-term vacation rentals offer an attractive alternative to hotels for people who prefer the self-sufficient comforts of home and want to immerse themselves in the area culture. You also get to avoid taxes and repairs, and leave whenever they wish without worrying about a long term mortgage. Renters can get discount rates in off season as well. If you are a homeowner you can choose to exchange homes with people in other locales or countries. Apartment Therapy recently rated three home exchange networks, HomeExchange.com, HomeLink.org, and Home Base Holidays. They recommend “if you are wanting to do a swap, start planning as early as possible. Most homes are settled on swaps a good year in advance.”
The Bed & Breakfast
One can also choose to travel along the Bed and Breakfast route. B&BS, as they are fondly called, are usually small boutique hotels or homes converted into comfortable “boarding houses” that have shared kitchen facilities or breakfast provided with overnight rates. B&BS are generally less expensive than area hotels—amenities are generally limited. You can find a nice selection of B&BS at www.bedandbreakfast.com.
The Road Is Calling
If you are already firmly embedded in your home, you may hesitate before doing something wonderfully romantic like packing it all into storage and going on a jaunt. You can’t help but look around and face cold reality: you’ve got stuff. Lots of it. Rooms full. That’s when you start to fear that you won’t be going anywhere.
Are you really going to give up that easily? Are you going to let a five-piece bedroom set and a leather sectional stand between you and longed-for freedom? No, you are not. You’ve worked hard all your life. You’ve earned this. Besides, there’s a simple solution to your dilemma–it’s called self storage.
Your Storage Game Plan: Purge
Nobody is going to pretend this will be easy. You’ve spent a lifetime accumulating your stuff. You’ve probably formed emotional attachments with much of it. You could just rent your place furnished and hope for the best but that’s not always the best idea—especially if you have a lot of sentimental value items. It may be time to make some decisions about what stays, what goes, and what goes into storage.
The first thing to do is take an inventory of your stuff. How much of it do you really love and how much is just taking up space? Consider this: most storage places charge by the square foot. Do you really want to pay good money to store those old college textbooks – the ones with a quarter inch of dust on them? The truth is you will likely never open them again so it may be best to donate them. That goes for the board games, half-finished furniture, one-size-too-small clothing, and the extra set of dishes too.
If you’re ever going to follow your yellow brick road, you have to look at everything in terms of ‘love it or cash it in.’ By all means keep your mother’s cedar chest, your valuable collectibles, the pictures of your family vacations, and maybe even your Skype™ winter sports equipment. Try to get rid of everything else. If you can sell something at a garage sale or online, that’s more money to fund your dream. On the other hand, if you itemize your taxes, some of your cast-offs might be worth more to you as charitable deductions. Either way, your goal is to pare your possessions down to the things you truly treasure and want to come back to at journey’s end.
Keep in mind there are some things you can’t store and some things you shouldn’t. Most self storage facilities are going to say no to items like these:
- Firearms and explosives
- Hazardous materials and toxic chemicals. If you’re storing anything with a gas-powered motor like a lawn mower, you’ll need to drain the tank. Paints, cleaning solvents, motor oil, kerosene, propane tanks, paint thinner, alcohol and anything else that could spontaneously combust are all no-nos.
- Perishable food. Anything in a pack or box that could attract vermin is out. Canned goods are okay, but why not give them to your local food bank?
Congratulations! You’re ready to hit the road and live the adventure. Before you lock the door behind you, take a few minutes more to learn about last minutes details you won’t want to overlook before you go.
Think about all the things you worry about when you take off for a weekend and multiply them by a zillion. You can’t foresee every eventuality, but you can put your mind at ease by taking care of some basic chores. Here’s a short list:
- If you’re a homeowner, contact your insurance agent to let him or her know your property will be unoccupied for an extended period of time. It may require that you purchase additional coverage. If you plan to rent your property while you’re away, you’ll need landlord insurance.
- If you’re renting your property out, get a property manager to collect rent and deal with tenant issues.
- If you’re storing a vehicle long-term, notify your DMV and your insurance agent. You can reduce DMV registration fees to a few dollars by filing a non-use certificate. You may also be able to get a reduced auto insurance premium, depending on your circumstances.
- Most health insurance plans will cover you in an emergency when you’re away from home for a period of time, but they won’t cover non-emergency procedures. If that’s a concern, look into temporary medical coverage for travelers. Medicare does not cover emergencies outside the U.S. (some exceptions may be made for Mexico and Canada). Some Medicare supplemental plans may provide emergency coverage abroad. Check your plan to be sure.
- Check with your doctor about renewing prescriptions on the road. Get the biggest supply you can to take with you.
- Make a dentist appointment, have your teeth cleaned and get any dental work done.
- Make sure your passport is current just in case you decide to cross a border or go abroad.
- Let your bank and your credit card companies know that you’ll be traveling.
- Set up a Skype account so you can make phone calls from anywhere.
- Set up a web-based email account.
- Open a spare credit card account that you will use only for emergencies.
- Write down the phone numbers of your credit cards’ lost card help lines, your insurance agent, and other important contact information. Send them to your web-based email account so you have a ready copy.
- Make photocopies of important documents (your driver’s license, insurance policies, etc.) Or get an online digital safe deposit box such as MyVault where you can store all your important documents and give full or limited access to a trusted person just in case something happens to you.