A Temporary Life

January 5, 2012

“Yes, Mom, I’ll bring the  candles tomorrow,” our daughter, Alexandra, called as she bounded down the stairs of our rented house, giggling children in tow.  “The house is darling,” she continued before granddaughter Elizabeth slammed the door.  Our daughter Robin finished her glass of wine before racing across the village to do last-minute Christmas wrapping. They would be at “our” house the next evening for a cozy Christmas Eve dinner full of Santa talk and laughter.

Lampton Park Beach, Cambria, California, our temporary home for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Once again Tim and I have recreated our life in someone else’s space.  We came home just before Thanksgiving after five months on the road and we were almost immediately in sync with California life again.  We can catch the rhythm of our surroundings and start dancing in time almost immediately.  It doesn’t really matter what country we are in, we make ourselves at home very quickly.

Everything people do involves a trade-off.  We pick a hairstyle, a car, what to have for lunch, where to live, whom to marry and on and on.  Grown-ups know that with each selection we leave other possibilities on the table.  We chose to be on the road for a few years knowing that we would have challenges and regrets and that we would make mistakes.  That’s the point.  Staying a step ahead of the game demands our being sharp and flexible, abilities we want to retain as long as we possibly can.  It’s certainly not a plan for everyone, but we are pleased to find that living home free is working for us so far.

People are interested in our  lifestyle and usually new friends are surprised that we sold our home and now live internationally in rented apartments and houses.  We have no permanent address.    People sometimes say, “You mean you don’t LIVE anywhere?”  I always want to say, “Of course we LIVE somewhere!  We just don’t live in the same place all the time.  We also have no mortgage, gardener, water heater, roof repairs or property taxes.”  But that would sound defensive,  so I usually reply, “No, we have no permanent address.  We rent properties for a month or more in places we want to explore.”

Old friends have asked me privately,  “Now, tell me, are you REALLY okay?  Don’t you miss having your own home, your things, your friends, your children and grandchildren?  How long are you going to do this?  How can you afford to live this way?  Who makes all those plans for you?”   Here are some of the answers:

YES, I AM REALLY OKAY.  As Tim says, “If you’re going to live in a 500-square-foot apartment in a country where you can’t speak the language and don’t know anyone, you’d better really like your companion.”  That’s our secret. We adore each other’s company and we are so much alike that we almost always agree on important decisions.  Yes, Virginia, two Libras really can live happily ever after together.  Of course we have our moments, but they are usually brief and easily resolved.

ABOUT OUR THINGS:  Last June Tim slammed the metal door for the last time on the storage unit where our art, kitchen equipment, off-season clothes, mementoes and small antiques live.  We drove away, giddy as ten-year-olds, and have never given another thought to any of it.  It’s just stuff to us now and we know that when we want or need something, we can reclaim it.  So much for our “things.”

ABOUT OUR FAMILY:  Of course we miss our children and grandchildren. and our plan includes visits home at regular intervals to see all of our peeps. We do get terribly lonely for them and I long to hug them and be with them when we are far away.  I miss sharing daily life in person; family dinners, shopping trips,  spending time with our darling grandchildren.  But here’s the bonus we didn’t predict:   Everyone is jubilant when we get home from our roaming.  Reunions are delicious and the time we do get to spend together is more meaningful.

ABOUT OUR HOUSE:  We have owned some nice houses in the past  and we will have  another someday, but right now not having that responsibility is our idea of a great time.  We have no bills, no tenants, and no projects except the eternal trip planning chore and our writing projects.  Our living patterns translate whether we’re in a  a 500-square foot loft in Buenos Aires, a friend’s elegant casa with staff in Mexico,  or a 2000-square foot house at the beach in California.

We appreciate and recognize luxury more now.  We  swoon over big refrigerators when they are provided,  gleefully celebrate water we can drink right out of the tap, and never take for granted  a good, strong WiFi signal!  Small conveniences take on a whole new meaning when you’re committed to living for a month or two in a previously unseen dwelling.  We never know exactly how a vacation unit will be supplied and the first order of business is to acquire items that will make us comfortable:  bottled water, extra tea towels, upgraded bath soap, sometimes a few pots and pans, and pantry basics.  Soy sauce and corn starch are really hard to find when you don’t speak the language!   Every situation is different and seeking the things we need is part of the fun.

We find our rentals far in advance through http://www.vrbo.com or http://www.homeaway.com. We look for a workable kitchen, a decent bed, a bearable noise level, and an outside space of some kind.

Of course,  our 25-square-foot refrigerator is history, along with our favorite TV shows, bathrooms with double sinks,  grocery store trips not involving a dictionary, and the ability to use a telephone effectively in another language.  That being said, we think that living with a mini-fridge and a two-foot closet  is a small price to pay for the privilege of having thirty days in Paris.

NO, WE ARE NOT RICH:  When we developed this idea we started with the numbers.  We discovered that slashing our overhead and living in rented digs was less expensive, even if transportation was factored into the equation.

We rent houses and apartments so we can live almost like the locals.  We cook at home much of the time and we don’t frequent restaurants any more often than we did when we lived a conventional life.  We buy almost no souvenirs and have sacrificed better wardrobes in favor of traveling light.  Our expenses, including transportation, entertainment and housing,  remain on a par with what we spent when we lived in California full time.

WHO MAKES ALL THOSE PLANS?  Tim has always been good at travel arrangements, but our new lifestyle has propelled him into semi-pro status.  He’s made it his business to learn how to make the most of our travel budget and secure the optimum transportation and housing situations for us.  Being really smart and part terrier helps a lot.  He is now an expert on choosing the best rental accommodations, airplane seats with extra leg room, and securing great cabins on repositioning cruises.

Tim and I are happy, engaged, and stimulated and each time we slip into life at home for a few weeks we are thrilled.  We enjoy a big dose of American comfort and family life, recharge our emotional batteries, revise the contents of our suitcases, and are ready to roll again.

You’ll have to excuse me now because Tim wants to consult about dinner seating assignments for our cruise from Miami to Rome next May, the first leg of our seven-month stay in Europe.  We’ve been mulling over a South Pacific trip for 2013.  Wonder what size refrigerators we’ll find in Bora Bora.

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