If you missed last week’s interview, be sure to check out the life of a nomadic family traveling the US in an RV , which was the second interview in my travel series this month. This week I’m excited to give you more insight into nomadic travel, this time on a global scale. Laura is someone I connected with through a mutual friend and I’m thankful for the chance to interview her and learn about all her tips for traveling and living overseas on a full-time basis.
Can you share a little about who you are – where you’re from, your professional background and where you are living now?
My name is Laura White, I’m 59 years old and I’m originally from North Carolina. My husband is 54 and we lived most of our adult lives in the Portland, Oregon area where we raised our two sons. I have a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from UNC-Chapel Hill and worked for the federal government for 20 years as an analyst and manager in physical asset management.
As full-time travelers now since October 2016, we don’t really “live” anywhere. You could say we are citizens of the world and live wherever we set down our luggage. I am currently writing this from a cute alpine village in Switzerland called Zermatt.
How much did you travel growing up?
My mom and dad couldn’t afford to take their three kids on extravagant vacations, but they loved to go camping. So we camped quite a bit while I was growing up and visited many states east of the Mississippi River. Traveling to new places always excited me. I loved having the opportunity to see small towns, large cities, different landscapes, and people of diverse backgrounds. And the unknowns that invariably come from travel have never frightened me.
When I married my husband, he was in the Navy and his position took us to the West Coast where I got to experience some of the other sides of the US. It just continued to fuel my desire to see new places.
Can you share a little about what made you want to start traveling full-time and when you started being a Global Nomad?
The idea of traveling full-time was not really well thought out at the onset. We originally had the idea of just living outside the US. It’s just kind of evolved into being on the move and traveling around to multiple countries like we are doing now. As my husband likes to say, “the plan is fluid”. 😀
I think the idea of living outside the US resulted from a few things.
- We visited Europe in 2009 and fell in love with Paris and the other places we visited. We then went back to Europe in 2012 and 2014. Each time we went, we felt more strongly about seeing new places.
- My mother died at the young age of 54. There were a lot of things she didn’t get to do and places she didn’t get to see and she regretted the lost opportunity. I vowed to never let that be me and to try to do as much as my budget could afford.
- I had originally planned to work with the government until I was 60 years old but I found out that I qualified for early retirement so I jumped at the chance. We had heard it was cheaper to live outside the US in many countries and since I was retiring early, we were looking to save some money.
- And lastly, both of our sons are adults but neither are married or have children. They live in different states and we would have to get on an airplane to visit them so we said: “why not fly to see them from Spain or Vietnam, or wherever?”
I retired from my job at the end of September 2016 and by the beginning of October, we were on our way!
What was the process of getting ready for living in another culture like? How long did you have to prepare?
The process for our new lifestyle started about a year in advance. When we decided to live outside the US, we committed to getting rid of everything that could be replaced later. So we sold our house, cars, and furniture. We even took pictures of those things that we’ve carried around for 50 years (but never looked at) and then just threw them away. We rent a very small storage unit for items like family memorabilia that can’t be replaced. As we set out in October 2016, we took a month to drive across the US to see some places and visit family and friends. When we arrived in North Carolina, we sold our last car and headed out on a plane to Mexico!
As far as preparing for new cultures, there’s no real way to prepare. Sure, you can teach yourself the language and exchange your currency but until you arrive, you just don’t know what to expect. Plus depending on where you are, touristy or non-touristy, the degree of culture shock can be drastically different.
What are the most challenging parts of constantly being on the go?
There are a lot of details that must be covered and organized so that things run as smoothly as possible like reservations for accommodations, transportation, visa applications and restrictions, and so much more.
There is also a lot of balancing that is done when constantly being on the go. You have to find time to absorb and enjoy your current surroundings while taking time to plan for future destinations. Plus we are not on constant vacation. We are living our lives on the go, so we still have to do laundry, buy groceries, shop for items that need replacing, and get medical appointments like teeth cleaning, etc. Getting the things you need can be very challenging and frustrating when you don’t speak the language and maybe can’t even read the alphabet. Ever try using a laundry machine that’s written in the Cyrillic alphabet?! Thank goodness for Google Translate!
What are your favorite aspects of the nomadic lifestyle?
Sometimes as I’m waking up, I have to ask myself “where am I now?” but I love opening my eyes and seeing a new view every few days. We love that every day we have a chance to do something different from the day before. There’s no rut for us. We are thrilled that we are able to experience places that we only read about or had seen on TV. I have also embraced the minimalist lifestyle since we only travel with about 20 kilograms each of clothes and travel gear. Since we are now moving so quickly, we haven’t had the chance to meet a lot of locals, but when we do, I love talking to them and learning about what we should do, see, and eat in their country.
What is your main source of income while on the go?
We are retired and so we have retirement savings plus the proceeds from the sale of our home that we use to live off. Most people believe we must be rich to live this lifestyle, but in our first year, we actually spent 25% less than we would have if we had stayed in the Portland area. But we decided to change our plan and have been moving around quite a bit more this year, so we’ve spent a bit more due to increased transportation costs but it’s about the same as our budget when we were living in the US.
How many countries have you visited thus far and do you have a favorite?
We have now been to 45 countries (a few were visited before we became nomads). By the time we get to the end of this year, we should be at about 57. Everyone asks what is our favorite place. This is such a hard question because they are all so very different. When asked, we like to respond “our favorite is the country we are currently in.”
How many languages do you speak? Do you generally learn some words and phrases before heading to a new country?
We only really speak English but having lived in/visited many Spanish speaking countries I can read the language pretty well. I took French in high school so I have some knowledge of French as well, but by no means can carry on a conversation. We’ve traveled to many places that cater to tourists so English is pretty much readily spoken. It has made us very lazy but we always learn the courtesy phrases in the local language like hello, thank you, and please before we arrive.
How have you been treated as an American? Do you mostly receive a warm welcome in new countries or have any been unfriendly?
We have been treated very well everywhere we go. While we do go to a lot of touristy areas, they are not always the areas that Americans travel to so locals we have spoken with seemed thrilled to meet us. They do like to bring up our politics but we try to steer clear of those discussions!
What are your favorite foods that you’ve discovered on your travels?
I love all Vietnamese food (not just the Pho!) And Spanish food is some of my favorite. And while I love most Asian food, one of my favorite dishes is char kway teow (stir-fried rice cake strips) from Malaysia.
What is the biggest thing you have learned from being a nomad?
To use a well-marketed phrase, everywhere we go it’s “Same, Same, but Different”. People are people regardless of where you go, they may just do things differently. All persons regardless of their culture, their lifestyle, their language want to be treated with respect and kindness.
On another note, we’ve learned just how little you need to get by in life. The American lifestyle pushes us to earn more, have more, acquire more. We’ve learned it’s really not necessary and many times is more stressful when you have so much stuff in your life.
How do you generally get from country to country? Do you prefer planes, trains, boats, etc
Usually, it is airplanes, but that’s not a preference per se, it’s just what makes sense timewise. Within countries, we usually use whatever is readily available in the country. In Bulgaria, we traveled by bus, in Switzerland by train, and in some countries, a personal driver is as cheap as driving yourself.
Do you plan to continue this lifestyle indefinitely or do you have plans to return to the US anytime soon?
That is a good question. Right now we have no plans to set up a household again in the US anytime soon. At some point when we get tired of international travel, we may come back to the US and travel around the continent by RV. We are on a scouting mission to find someplace we love where we’d like to settle down but that could very well be outside the US. As long as we’re continuing to have fun and our budget and health allow it, I don’t see us stopping anytime soon.
What tips or advice would you give to those planning to move to another country or traveling full-time?
- For me, I like to plan things out about 2-4 months in advance. Others like to be more spontaneous and book things on the fly. I have found that booking in advance saves you money and you get a better accommodation selection to choose from. A big part of enjoying your experience is being happy in your space. Finding the right space is very important to me. Plus we very rarely rent cars, so we have to be within walking distance of grocery stores and restaurants.
- Do your research on what is the norm for attire in different countries. Even though we choose to visit more warm weather countries (saves on luggage space, too!) in many countries, shorts worn by women is frowned upon, even in 40°C heat.
- If living in a different country, try to assimilate into the local environment. Please don’t get upset when things aren’t done the way you’re accustomed to. I absolutely hate going somewhere where I overhear tourists talk about how things are done differently back home.
- A tip: We have multiple bank accounts and credit cards that have a large international presence. Search around for debit cards that don’t charge a foreign transaction cost when withdrawing cash from ATM’s. Also, check to make sure your credit card does not charge a foreign transaction fee and is competitive with its exchange rate. Always accept charges in the local currency to get the best rate.
What is one must-have piece of travel gear or clothing you have appreciated having on your travels?
It’s hard to narrow it down to just one, but I love my packing cubes. They keep me very organized which is critical when you are moving around so much.
Anything else you’d like to share?
While we are enjoying ourselves, it is not all fun and games 100% of the time. You need to be very patient, flexible and be able to accept change or this will make you crazy and frustrated. Also, this lifestyle is not for everyone. It is hard to be away from family and friends and it can get tiring being with one person all the time. But we’ve been at this for 3 years and we haven’t killed each other yet!
Where can we find you on social media?
Emily again! I hope you have enjoyed learning more about full-time travel life from this interview with Laura. I loved getting her insight into what nomadic life overseas is like. Have you ever taken an extended journey overseas? Let me know in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
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