By Diane Ako
Well into their second fifty years, Louise Lague and Tom Lichty decided to chuck all their material possessions and with the exception of one travel bag each, hit the road in April, 2013. They had no plans other than to see the world and enjoy the adventures of life in faraway places.
During the twelve months that followed, they lived in five countries, experienced two life-threatening health events, and traveled by bus, train, boat, airplane, and an occasional ATV.
They ended their year long trip saving more than $5,000 than they would have spent had they maintained what they were doing as city-dwellers in Portland, Oregon.
How did they do it? Where did they live? What did it cost? How did they survive?
The Expat Almanac: Sell It All, Pack a Bag, Hit the Road captures their amazing story--their trepidations, joyous adventures, tearful holidays, travel bloopers, and the terrifying medical event that threatened Tom's life – twice—during a year of living in four other countries.
“Our kids have fled the nest and the retirement accounts are in place. We can still walk to the corner, we don’t drool, and although we never seem to remember all of our passwords, we do remember birthdays and Christmas, which seems to be enough. But retire? You mean golf and bingo and a condo in Florida? That kind of retire? That’s not us. Instead we abandoned comfort and security, sold almost everything we owned, packed one bag each, and embarked on an adventure that lasted a year.”
“We added up our expenses for the past ten months and indeed, it has cost us less — far less — to live than it did while we lived in Portland. In other words, for us full-time travel has been a money-saving venture. And an adventure to boot. How can that be? Well, to begin with we don’t have a car, and that’s financially significant. No automobile insurance. No homeowner’s insurance. No utilities. No Internet. No…”
The adventure began in April 2013. They lived in Girona, Spain—April through June, 2013; Chania, Greece—July, 2013; Bellagio, Italy—August, 2013; USA (visiting children)—September, 2013; Puerto Vallarta, Mexico—October, 2013 through March, 2014. At the end of that year, they moved back to Portland, Oregon.
They became very skilled at identifying how to find a great vacation rental from far away. Here are their five key secrets on finding a safe place that's just right for you.
1. Make a list of must-haves and deal breakers
Real estate is an emotional decision and it's easy to get carried away. In our excitement about the wood-burning fireplace, we may fail to notice that there's no internet connection.
2. Line it all up on a spreadsheet.
When you're doing a major search, it's hard to remember which one had air conditioning and which one had a balcony.
3. Check out the neighborhood online.
Pretty apartments can lurk in scary places. Use Google's street view, plus tourist reviews of nearby hotels to find out if you're in a neighborhood where gangs roam, where discos boom late into the night, or any place that seems dangerous. Also, how far is it from public transportation and taxi stands?
4. Ask for a better deal.
Once you've warmed up your potential landlord with a great show of responsibility and trustworthiness, ask if that is the best price. Longer stays almost always bring down the daily rate.
5. Make it personal.
You may not be renting someone's actual home or second home, but owners still want to know that you will respect the space. Build a relationship in advance by complimenting the décor, and asking about house rules. Reconfirm a few weeks ahead of time to be sure it hasn't been rented out – or sold—to someone else. Later, thank your landlord and write a nice review on his rental page.
On the eve of their return, Louise wrote the top ten things she learned from being away from home for a year:
1) Life can change drastically in a heartbeat. I guess I knew that, but I’d never watched someone so close to me so suddenly close to death. Tom’s episode was a life-changer.
2) It is possible to live without a home address and phone service, but it’s really hard.
3) Wherever we went, we saw multi-generational families together every Sunday, brunching and strolling in tribes everywhere. With my kids so far away, I was in tears on Thanksgiving, and a recovering motherholic all through December. I’m okay now. Especially with this new plan to pester them incessantly from now on. Maybe invite them over every weekend. Be the mother-in-law from hell.
4) Mexicans are really, truly, lovely people.
5) Wearing sandals for a whole year is even better than you think.
6) Our theory that Europeans seem, culturally, more generous and familiar with strangers truly held up. And we needed that a lot when Tom was ill. Our friends in Spain did all they could to translate medical Catalan, keep Tom entertained, keep me sane, and celebrate his birthday right after the hospital. I come home with more emotional and hospitable generosity.
7) I really missed the old friends who know our stories. The people you don’t have to keep introducing yourself to. The people you can trust. The people who invite themselves to our Oscar party. I missed our Oscar party.
8) I don’t need a lot of stuff. I don’t even need a lot of clothes. I hope that statement does not come back to haunt me.
9) One of our many miracles was that that Tom and I spent a year pretty much alone together without brickbats or even boredom. But it made me treasure my girlfriends now more than ever. I miss the girlfriends who tell you to go ahead and spend the money. And you look like you’ve lost weight. And let’s go to a movie in which there is Pierce Brosnan and also nothing explodes.
10) It is possible to live by the sea for six months in a row, hearing it roll and roar 24/7, and never once take it for granted. Who cares if there was no phone service or movies on demand? I am one of the luckiest people on earth. And I will always treasure the memories this year.
I am sad. I am happy. But above all I am so glad we did this.”
How did you live?
Ahh, that’s the key: we lived in Spain, Greece, Italy, and Mexico. We didn’t just visit them.
By renting apartments for a month or longer (with the daily rhythms of kitchens, laundry, and housekeeping), we made friends, got to know our neighborhoods, and dispersed the desperation to frantically see it all before time ran out. We had time to take a table in a piazza, order a glass of wine, and casually observe daily life for hours rather than minutes.
How could you afford to do this?
Specifics: The key is we had no home and no car in the US while we traveled.
What we did NOT pay for (actual monthly averages):
• Portland rent $1700
• Automotive expenses 400
• Insurance 170
• Utilities (including phone, Internet) 290
What we DID pay for (actual monthly averages):
• Worldwide rent (included utilities, Internet, even housekeeping) $1600
• Storage 130
• Travel (air, train, ferry) 313
• Local transportation 75
What we did NOT pay/month $2560
What we DID pay/month 2118
Difference/month 442 (or ~ $5300/year)
• Let’s not forget no health club, no subscriptions, no memberships, no traffic tickets, and so much of the daily bits that drain one’s pocket! Also, just NOT buying things. We could never own more that could fit in our one bag each. Learning to cook each country’s cuisine; not a lot of restaurants.
Most importantly, before we left, we had a - “piggy” - bank and put our change into it for five years. It provided us with $200 … enough for four dinners out!
What did you do?
• We sold everything
• We did not renew our apartment lease
• We embarked on a journey without end
• We lived in (rather than visited) five countries
• We returned to Portland after twelve months
Why did you come back?
• Cost and lack of availability of health insurance (an issue for people of our age)
• Technical and practical inconvenience (poor Internet, iffy phones, no permanent address or phone number, no common language)
• Missed friends, family, neighborhood, and community
How did you live?
A lot of reading, walking to explore, buying food and cooking it (we both love food stores) sitting around in plazas, talking to people. Local markets, eavesdropping, and asking questions taught us a lot about the culture.
Learning the history which was LONG and fascinating everywhere. At night, we Googled everything that puzzled us during the day.
How much planning could you actually do?
Most advance research went into finding the towns, neighborhoods, and apartments we would live in. That, along with purging and packing, took up the year before departure.
How did you eat?
Since we avoided American food where it existed, (only one McDonald's in Milan airport, and wow was it DREADFUL….) we ate the food of the country both in restaurants and at home. Cookbooks and prowling through grocery stores provided most of the instructions.
I (Louise talking) was baffled by Mexican cuisine, so took a few classes. In Greece, our kitchen was too inadequate to do much….but Tom learned to love Greek food…in restaurants!