Home-free: How one couple sold everything and toured the world

The mobile retirement movement is gaining traction

May 20, 2014 @ 10:43 am EST


When they retired, Tim and Lynne Martin had close friends, family nearby, a community they liked and financial security. Then they yanked the safety net.

Lynne, 73, and Tim, 68, sold their home and most of its contents in 2011 with no plans to buy a new one. Instead, they decided to travel the world, living at least a month at a time in short-term rental apartments from Mexico to Turkey, England to Argentina. The experience is the subject of a new book by Lynne, “Home Sweet Anywhere: How We Sold Our House, Created a New Life, and Saw the World.”

Are the Martins a model or a cautionary tale? Bloomberg.com's Ben Steverman spoke with the couple to find out how practical a home-free existence really is.

Q. How can a person afford to live this lifestyle? Isn't it expensive?

Lynne: We're living on the same amount of money we lived on before we left. Our monthly stipend is $6,000 per month, plus our Social Security. For us, the ticket was to get rid of the house. I don't want someone calling me when I'm in Turkey to tell me the water heater blew up. Also, you can translate that overhead into travel expenses. There are more and more ways people are doing this -- trading houses, house sitting, couch surfing. They rent their houses out and go. It's all part of a home-free movement among older people.

Q. Americans accumulate a lot of stuff. How were you able to get rid of a lifetime of possessions?

Lynne: The day we made this decision to do this, we looked at each other and said: "I'm really tired of that sofa.” Furniture's just furniture, and the pieces that were dear to us we gave to our children. We also saved our children from having to go through all the accumulated mess of our lives.

Tim: We went from a 2,500-square-foot home to a 10-by-15-foot storage space.

Q. What was it like adjusting to a new a way of life every month or two?

Tim: In every place we've been, it's like starting from scratch. Every grocery store in each country is a little bit different. And it gives you the opportunity to look like a real bozo.

Lynne: Particularly when you're in places where you don't know the language. In Germany, Tim came home one day and had this thing in his hand. “Honey,” he said, “this is either sour cream or coffee cream. I have no idea.” It was hilarious. It's fun.

Q. How do you handle taxes from so far away?

Tim: We've maintained residency in California through our daughter's address. We've been given all kinds of suggestions -- to take up residence in a state that doesn't have state income taxes, and so forth. But the reason we're doing this is to simplify our lives, not complicate them.

Q. Do you worry about breaking your leg, or worse, in a foreign country?

Tim: We bought international health insurance, and the policy covers us from the day we leave until the day we get back. It's not cheap, but it's reasonable. We're also blessed with the fact that both of us are very healthy now.

Q. Are visas a hassle?

Lynne: An American citizen can't be in the European Union for more than 90 days out of 180 unless they secure a long-term visa, student visa or work visa. And you can't just go away for two days and come back. The clock doesn't start over. It's very tricky.

Tim: One of the ways we stayed in Europe longer was by going to England and Ireland, which are in the EU but not part of the Schengen Treaty [that created the rule in 1986], and to Turkey and Morocco.

Q. Do you sometimes get sick of each other?

Lynne: I'll give you Tim's line: “If you're going to live in 500 square feet with someone in a place you don't speak the language, you better really like her.” [After dating for a couple of years in the 1970s], we were apart for 35 years. Our lives took different roads. We have only been together the last 10 years. We are so happy to be together again. It may not be for everybody. It takes some self-control and tact and nice manners.

This story ran first on Bloomberg.com.

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