I turned the corner and heard music playing up ahead. A crowd had gathered down the narrow, shadowed street and I knew it was my invitation to join in.
In a large church courtyard that was bright, but chilly on that Sunday afternoon, I saw a scene from “Under the Tuscan Sun” unfolding. With horns playing melody and the drummers keeping beat, the performers (sbandieratori) were displaying the beautiful artistic syncopation of flag throwing.
Bright, colorful, yellow flags being tossed into the sky, back and forth, spiraling through the air… to be caught easily and effortlessly.
Parma is everything you read about it. Narrow romantic streets, ancient architecture, and charming outdoor cafés greet you with every turn. Pedestrian streets flow with people out to shop and enjoy the sun. Bicyclists of all ages pass by, their baskets filled with fresh bread or bouquets of flowers.
One of the thrills of my travels is stumbling upon these gifts of culture in action.
Parma was my first “home” this year in what some would call a roving retirement (I prefer to think of it as a new life adventure). I stayed there during the off-season with fewer tourists, and, of course, colder weather. This is part of my strategy in exploring new parts of the world and reducing my expenses. It also gives me a more balanced feel of the city.
From Parma, I spent spring in Zagreb, Croatia and am now finishing out the year—as I have for the past three years—in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
But how did I begin this roving life adventure?
Retirement came early for me in the fall of 2014. Intent on viewing this major life-changing event as a time to live a more intentional life, I took time to critically examine what would be the last third of my life and how that might look.
I had been reading about the low cost of living abroad for many years. Could it really be true? Was this the right time for me to do that? Where would I live? I had so many questions, but I knew that the house-too-large-for-one-person needed to be sold and now was the time to do it.
So, in March 2016, I sold my house, car, and most of my possessions and began my new life abroad with a three-month stay in Seville, Spain.
Since then, I have lived in Porto, Portugal; San Miguel de Allende, Mexico; Puerto Vallarta, Mexico; Athens, Greece; Kilrush, Ireland; Parma, Italy; and Zagreb, Croatia—experiencing a beautiful mix of cultures, people, and experiences.
When people hear my story, their first comment is usually, “Oh my, you are so brave!” Then the questions begin… and there are lots.
Here are some of the top things to consider in planning a retirement on the road…
What does a roving life adventure look like for you?
Many people living a roving retirement are much more mobile than I am. I stay a minimum of two months in each location. But others treat their moves as extended vacations—often staying no longer than three weeks in one spot.
Therein lies the beauty of this lifestyle. You get to define what a roving adventure means to you. You can decide to live three weeks or three months in the cities you choose—it’s your plan.
I choose to stay longer for several reasons. First, to limit my travel expenses. A non-negotiable for me is that I see family every three months—so that, along with visa requirements, sometimes determines the length of my stay.
In each city, I like to stay long enough to feel a part of a neighborhood and the city—learning a new culture, the new nuances of daily living, and to be introduced to new ways of thinking about the world, its people, and their values.
Are you ready to step outside your comfort zone?
As we age, it’s easier for us as to cling to routine. We feel secure and settled—it can be harder to break from our comforts.
The fact that I am changing cookware, television remote controls, and even thermostats every two to three months (not to mention beds and pillows) is something that keeps me on my toes and requires me to be flexible. It challenges my innate desire for routine and continuity.
For me, that’s healthy.
How will you make new friends?
My new friends in Norway, Germany, and Spain all resulted from a lengthy volunteer commitment I made that allowed me to work alongside other international volunteers—an opportunity that came up while I was on the road.
Airbnb hosts have also been a source of new friendships. I was invited to spend a holiday with my Greek host family at their country home on a Greek island… something I never dreamed would happen to me.
What’s your budget?
I am now living on a little over half of what it cost me to live in the United States. I know this because I track and record every expense… down to the last cent.
I can tell you how much I spent for milk, eggs, even a bottle of wine in euros/pesos and the resulting U.S. dollar conversion at the time. This is how I hold myself accountable to a budget, but I also use it as I think about where I would make a longer-term commitment to live. My budget is also paramount in the selection of cities that make it to my possibilities list each year. As much as I would love to see Switzerland, I’m certain it’s out of my budget.
My largest expense is rent—something that can be reduced with a longer-term stay. I use Airbnb to find properties that fit my list of requirements and am getting more skilled at spotting deal-breakers.
My accommodation requirements include a pedestrian-friendly location (I don’t rent a car); proximity to restaurants, markets, and grocery stores; dependable Wi-Fi; washing machine; safe neighborhood; elevator; and some outdoor space. I also look closely at the pictures and read the reviews. What pictures have the owners chosen to “sell” their home… and, more importantly, what have they omitted? Does the living room furniture look comfortable? Remember, you will not be out sightseeing every day. This is a temporary home.
Can you do this alone?
As a woman traveling the world alone, this is one of the first questions I get asked. With today’s technology, I stay in very close contact with friends and family and usually have visitors during my travels.
But there are times, of course, when you want to share and talk about that beautiful sunset you just watched or the most awe-inspiring flag-throwing celebration you’ve ever seen. Then you turn to that stranger standing next to you and smile. You have now shared the moment.
A smile is a universal language. Sometimes you don’t need words to communicate. But learning at least a few cordial pleasantries in the local language is helpful and appreciated.
And now it’s coming up to one of my favorite times of year…
Every September, I start planning the following year… and where I want to live.
By the end of October, I have my itinerary planned and my new homes reserved for the coming year. By planning ahead, I have a broader selection of apartments from which to choose. And, with my longer stays, I’m in a better position to negotiate rental price.
Knowing where I’ll be sleeping for the next year brings me comfort.
It’s my new routine.
Diana L. Davis