'Nomadic Retirees' Sell Home to Travel the World

Image: Lynne and Tim Martin
Lynne and Tim MartinReto Klar / Reta Klar

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Carefree travel has long been the province of backpackers, 20-somethings and other free spirits without mortgages, jobs and other worldly concerns.

But if retired couple Lynne and Tim Martin have their way, there will be a new model for the wave of aging baby boomers nearing retirement: Hit the road, travel around the world, and live like locals in cities and villages for extended periods of time, with no permanent home.

Lynne, 73, and Tim, 68, began their adventure in 2010, when they realized they shared a deep desire to travel and yearned for something a bit different for retirement. So soon after they sold their California home and set out to live abroad, one country at a time.

Lynne calls it the “home free” movement, a term she lays claim to coining when she named the blog she created, “Home Free Adventures,” to keep family and friends in the loop.

Lynne’s new memoir "Home Sweet Anywhere: How We Sold Our House, Created a New Life, and Saw The World," released Tuesday, recounts the couple’s journey — from details of how they downsized most of their belongings and pared down expenses to vivid encounters of living in diverse regions of the world. The book, organized chronologically, is sprinkled with stories, tips and advice, aimed to inspire.

"Home Sweet Anywhere" bookSourcebooks

Over the past four years, the Martins have lived in nine countries. It’s a dream they feel that is within reach for others — with proper planning.

The Martins, who like to call themselves “nomadic retirees” or “senior gypsies,” currently are based in a colorful neighborhood on Staten Island, which is much cheaper than Manhattan, while they promote the book. “It’s like its own little country,” she said, with many people from Haiti and other Caribbean islands. “We discovered a beautiful promenade along the river. It’s gorgeous, with trees and flowers about to bloom. It looks like Paris.”

"Travel is good medicine. Because it challenges the brain with new and different experiences and environments, it is an important behavior that promotes brain health and builds brain resilience across the lifespan."

The couple said their experiences resonate, and not just with older adults. “A lot of mail comes from people in their 30s, even in their 40s, who traveled as students,” said Lynne, in response to her blog posts and a Wall Street Journal article she wrote in 2012. “They will tell us they thought their traveling years were all over, so they are thrilled.”

Desire for a more mobile retirement may be a good thing, according to AARP, a nonprofit membership organization for people age 50 and older that recently launched AARP Travel, a new website to help older people manage travel planning.

“Travelers tend to be in a better place physically, emotionally, and financially than non-travelers,” said Sami Hassanyeh, chief digital officer for AARP. “As one expert put it, ‘Travel is good medicine. Because it challenges the brain with new and different experiences and environments, it is an important behavior that promotes brain health and builds brain resilience across the lifespan.’”

The Martins’ tone may be lighthearted, but their message is serious. “Our big mantra is 'postpone nothing,'” said Tim. Anytime is a good time to travel, “as long as you are healthy,” which can be unpredictable as people age, he said, “so postponing is a mistake.”

The couple also stresses the importance of making practical decisions.

“We didn’t spend all of the money from the sale of a house traveling around the world. That’s not what we’re doing,” Tim said. “We still live on the same stipend as we did before we sold the house. Nothing has changed. We are being fiscally conservative,” he said, budgeting carefully and working closely with a financial adviser.

It hasn’t all been easy. In Buenos Aires, for example, detailed in chapter four of the book, Lynne recounts problems that made them leave early. “It made us question our tolerance and flexibility, and if we were able to live this life,” she said. There were mistakes along the way, too, but they were learning experiences. When they started out, there was no blueprint or road map, and they relied on trial and error. “Everything has been valuable,” she said.

After the book promotion, the couple will head to Paris for a few months, beginning in June, followed by a visit to family in California in September. October will find them back in San Miguel de Allende, where their travels began nearly four years ago, and then off to Ecuador. In 2015, they plan a big trip to South Asia. They plan to travel to less challenging locations, like within the U.S., as they age.

“It’s isn’t all pretty, but it’s all been rewarding,” Tim said, noting that their richest experiences have been personal encounters along the way. “It always comes down to people.”

“This has been quite a journey,” Lynne said. “It’s been fun. It’s been really fun.”