November 28, 2017

Retirement Done Differently: Slow Travel


Doug Nordman is a reader and often leaves comments on Satisfying Retirement. Also, he has his own blog, The-Military-Guide.com, providing information and insight to military members, both past and present. 

Last month's post, Retirement Done Differently, promoted a comment from Doug that led to my request for him to tell me more about a retirement lifestyle that may attract you: slow travel. Even though his usual focus is on military matters, this guest post contains plenty of information and suggestions for us civilians (does my 6 years in the Army Reserves count?). The idea of staying in a location long enough to adapt to the pace of life and deeply explore the area certainly appeals to me.

Maybe you, too!



My spouse and I are a dual-military couple:  I retired from the submarine force in 2002 and she retired from the Navy Reserve in 2008.  (We reached our financial independence by 1999 on a high savings rate.)  We've lived on Oahu since 1989.  Our daughter (born & raised here) started her own Navy career in 2014.

We love the islands and our Pacific Rim culture, yet we still enjoy seeing the world.  Every flight from Hawaii is at least 2500 miles, so we try to spend extra time at our destination(s) and fewer hours in the air. 

We lived my first 12 years of retirement with our daughter's school schedules, and our breaks only allowed for a few weeks of the typical holiday vacations and college visits.  During our empty-nester years, however, we've discovered slow travel.  At every destination we live like locals for months. 

When you're working a career (or raising a family), you only have a couple weeks for your annual trip.  Everyone else in America is also vacationing at the same time, and the travel industry fully exploits the crowd.  You're usually visiting a resort, and your lodging might not even include a kitchen.  (Your corporate host wants you to buy their resort food.)  You barely have the time to learn your transportation options and you pay full retail prices to get around.  When you add it all up you're living like a two-week millionaire.

It's still pretty good!  You can control these outrageous expenses by travel hacking with rewards programs, credit-card points, and discounts.  However your time is your most valuable resource, and just as you really get started on your vacation you have to return home.

Slow travel replaces the entire traditional vacation with your new lifestyle.

Instead of traveling during summers or holiday peaks, you visit during the rest of the year.  Airfares are cheaper and the crowds are gone.  You'll use AirBnB or Booking.com to find long-term rentals with a kitchen.  You can try your own cooking from the farmer's markets and still eat out.  You can rent a car, but you can also figure out the public transportation systems.

You live like a local, and you're enjoying day trips to local attractions.  Now your travel depends more on your passport & visa than on your budget.  It's a staycation in a different country.

In early 2015 my spouse and I cashed in our frequent-flyer miles to visit Spain.  (As military retirees we've also traveled on Space A flights, but that's a whole different blog post.)  Our daughter was stationed in Rota (free lodging!) but monthly apartments are plentiful-- and at a huge discount to hotels.   

Cadiz Plaza
Our daughter was on sea duty, so my spouse and I were on our own.  During the next three months we took day trips to everything within 25 miles.  We'd sleep in, take our time with breakfast, and start out after the morning rush hour.  We'd take a walking tour of a town and visit its local attractions.  During the later afternoons we'd enjoy a leisurely Spanish lunch and return home around sunset.  We'd cook our dinner or walk to a local restaurant.  Some days we'd stay "home" doing chores or grocery shopping or planning a longer side trip.  Each month we'd go to Sevilla or Madrid for a week.  The big-city prices were very negotiable during off-season when we shopped around and rented for longer periods. 

The only travel limit that made us head home was our 90-day visa.

Gilbraltor viewed from Spain

We enjoyed ourselves so much on that first visit that we returned in the fall for another 60 days.  We spent nearly half the year in Spain, yet our budget barely noticed the difference.

The following year we visited Europe with friends for a couple of months.  They wanted to start the trip with a cruise, and it was a huge contrast with our slow travel.  We all had fun but my spouse and I felt as though we were rushing from one place to the next on a multi-country scavenger hunt. 

After the cruise we rented a villa in an Italian hill town.  While our friends buzzed around the countryside in their rental vehicle, we walked all over the town and surrounding hills (with occasional buses and taxis).  We could have easily spent months exploring Cortona, Orvieto, or Padua.  We didn't miss the crowds (and tourist prices) of Venice or Rome one bit.

The cruise cost enough to be a rare fantasy trip.  However our slow travel through those hill towns was very inexpensive.

We've also lived like this in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Dallas, Seattle, Norfolk, and Charleston.  In the next few years we're tackling Japan and Australia. 

After that?  Well, we're not as hardcore as Billy & Akaisha Kaderli at RetireEarlyLifestyle.com.  But we're tempted to try a few months with TrustedHousesitters like Heather & Volkan.

Travel while you still can.  Slow travel helps us appreciate it even more.



Doug Nordman is the author of "The Military Guide To Financial Independence and Retirement" and blogs at The-Military-Guide.com.


18 comments:

  1. Really enjoyed that! I've lived a year each in France and Denmark and many years in Switzerland, so I can highly vouch for how special it is to stay a while and really get to know the culture, the language, the people...great idea!

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    1. It is a travel style that is attractive to me, too. The "10 countries in 12 days" type trip leaves me cold.

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    2. Thanks, Lynn!

      I owe you a response to your e-mail.

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  2. I so enjoyed as well. We did a one month rental in the San Francisco area, and it was lovely. We saw so many interesting sights we would have skipped during a shorter visit.

    I have a list of cities around the world and in the US that I would love to string together in three month segments. Thank you for the impetus I think I needed to move this from 'Maybe' to 'Definitely!'

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    1. Now that we are without an RV, these longer rentals are appealing, as long as we can find ones that accept pets. Bailey (and we) would never survive being apart for 30 days!

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    2. We're always debating whether to return to the places we enjoy, or to try somewhere new. We also feel the urge to get it done while we're healthy & mobile: "Travel while you can!"

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  3. While we did love being able to do some major travel while in Germany, we very definitly all think that the best part of our experience was all the things we did and explored within reach of our home or with occasional overnight. And in fact that was the main reason we moved to a foreing contry. All those small excursions that were prt of day to day life. The couple biggies each year were delightful, but iit was the immersion that really counted.

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    1. Local immersion is a good way of expressing the appeal of this travel approach.

      Doug's post mention one thing about foreign travel that always irritates me: spending so much on a resort type environment that isn't representative at all of the actual area. I might as well spend two weeks at a resort in Scottsdale if I never leave the property in France or Mexico or even Hawaii. The experience will be about the same without the hassle of flying.

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    2. Like Barbara, the opportunity to live overseas for an extended period (and not once, but twice) was a life-changing experience for us. Not only did we learn from the experience - about ourselves as well as another culture - but found that a simple walk into town could be an adventure. I cannot say enough good things about the immersion experience whether it's a month or a year (or longer).

      We're looking forward to our own travel adventure next year. Some parts of it will be less slow than others, but we've managed to schedule a minimum of six days in each destination and will usually be staying in Airbnbs and relying on public transportation. Most of our destinations will involve longer stays though, up to a month in some places.

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  4. It sounds like the perfect way to travel to me and what I'd do BUT with young grandchildren I know my wife would never agree to spending more time away from home than we already do (and I'd miss our grandchildren too). That said we do spend 3 months each year in a small mountain village in Mexico (not a resort to be seen) and a month in a different European country each year. The rest of the year we stick close to home. It's a compromise that works for us.

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    1. I can completely relate to being gone too long from the grandkids and rest of the family. We have found 2 months is everyone's limit!

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  5. I have got to get myself to Spain to see Gibraltor. It looks awesome. Great post.

    Mark, Founder of Accent Loans

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    1. Spain is on our list too though we haven't made it there yet, I understand it is lovely. Of course officially Gilbraltar is a British Territory and not part of Spain but a day trip from Spain is easily done (At least until Brexit. Spain is making noises about closing the border in that case but it's anyone's guess if they'll follow through on that.)

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    2. We've visited twice, and we thoroughly enjoyed the historic tunnels as well as the nature.

      It's much better as a side trip from Spain (and a lot cheaper). I wouldn't fear the politics-- business will continue to get done on both sides of that border.

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  6. One of my "retirement fantasies" is travel-- moving around the country/world every 90 days or so for a few years. Extended stays in a single location are very appealing to me. So far, tending my aging father has served to put that ambition on hold, but it remains an ambition.

    Thanks for the post, Bob. And thanks to "Nords" for the inspiration. Reading this helps keep my dream alive.

    Rick in Oregon

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    1. We had this idea of slow travel in the RV, where we would stumble upon a quaint town or beautiful setting and stay for a week or more. But, every trip we took involved a certain "must-be-here" component, like meeting up with family or pre-booking stays at popular locations. So, the slow wandering never happened. That was one major regret I had during the years we owned the RV.

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    2. I reluctantly agreed to a bus tour of Ireland with my sister. It was a great sample of the country, but I remember on many occasions being sad that I was leaving a particular location. It "called" to me to stay and explore further. Since then I never schedule my travels. If I am meeting friends, I tell them I will get there when I get there.

      We need to heed the call that certain places give to us.

      Rick in Oregon

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