When I resigned from teaching in January I got a lot of mixed reactions. There were those who were happy for me, knowing I was following a passion while many couldn’t believe I could give up the security of a salaried profession that comes with health insurance. I know the leap is right, as I haven’t looked back, but knowing there are others who have done the same and are happy, fulfilled and successful helps too. That’s how I met Ellen Barone. On her webiste she says that”…at the age of 35, with no qualifications other than a traveler’s eye and a knack for telling a tale, [she would] trade teaching and mathematics for writing and photography. In 1998, I took the plunge, and did what many of us dream of doing: I traded a successful academic career for the wild blue yonder and set out to explore the world and myself.” Hearing about her book and story made me want to reach out and connect. Here she tells a bit of her story and what she believes to be the gifts of travel.
American travel journalist Ellen Barone and her husband, Hank, an action/adventure novelist, have been temporarily inhabiting Latin America since 2011. Learning to live a different kind of life, they’ve traded routine and security for the daily challenges and joys of life in another culture. At work on her first book, I Could Live Here, a memoir of home and belonging, Ellen unravels the question they’ve grappled with throughout their nomadic adventures: How can we feel rooted, deeply and firmly, no matter where we live?
1. When did you get started traveling? Childhood road trips in the family station wagon, and later an RV, were my first introduction to life beyond the bubble of my suburban upbringing. As an adult I slowly stepped out into the world, first as a teacher with summers off and later as a freelance travel writer and photographer. But the seeds were planted early.
2. What made you decide make the jump to a location independent/travel-based existence? Initially, Hank and I viewed the trip as a search for a new home. So, it made sense to stay a while and get beneath the surface of a place. Extended stays also made sense financially, giving us time between trips to recoup the costly expenses of moving about. But at some point we realized that the lifestyle suits us. That we weren’t ready to settle down.
3. What benefits do you feel you get from this lifestyle? How do you handle the nay-sayers in your life? For us, an itinerant and loose lifestyle has made leading a fulfilling and worldly life attainable. As for nay-sayers: Every response is personal and unique. What is meaningful to us may be unappealing or frightening to others.
4. How did you save money to be able to afford living ‘on the road’/traveling often? How long did it take you to make the jump to a location independent/travel-based life? Our decision to wander wasn’t premeditated. No years of planning and saving. Only a vague vision of a life we couldn’t yet articulate. But once we wrapped our heads around the idea, excitement surged within us and we were gone in less than 30-days.
5. How do you choose your destinations and for how long you’ll stay? What type of accommodations do you typically choose? Are there any specific resources you recommend? We follow interest. We might read about a place that sounds intriguing or get caught up in another traveler’s excitement. Once a spark of interest is ignited, we poke around online for information or opportunities and then see what comes together.
6. How much money do you traditionally need annually to support this lifestyle? That’s completely variable depending on where we live and how much we travel. There is no single magic number. We’ve met expats who live extravagantly and spend as much as they did back home and others who survive on less than $1,000 a month.
7. How do you make money on the road and save for retirement? I freelance and Hank writes novels. We’re able to save simply by inhabiting places where it’s possible to live comfortably within our means.
8. How do you handle visas, vaccinations, legal documents/passports, taxes and healthcare while living without a home base or an ever-changing one? It’s not difficult. For entry requirements and visa regulations, we use Smart Traveler, a free app from the U.S. State Department. We carry a combination of global catastrophic and medicare-gap insurance policies and use the services of a tax specialist.
9. If you decide to settle somewhere – where and when do you think it will be? If there’s one thing I know for sure it’s that nothing in this short life is permanent. So, we settle in and make our “home” no matter where we are or for how long.
10. What advice do you have for others trying to make the jump to a location independent/travel-heavy lifestyle? Just do it. If you have the itch to wander, try it. Travel at a pace that suits you. Create income by using your skills to service a need. If you like it, keep going. When you’re ready to stop, stop.
11. In your experience, what have been the two most significant gifts of travel? Travel shatters the illusion of us and them and teaches you to look beyond the one-dimensional stories of people and place that the media presents. We see commonalities rather than differences.
I will always be grateful to the people who opened their lives and hearts to us. Had we not traveled I might never have known the unfettered kindness of strangers; the smiles, the laughter, the acts of selflessness. My greatest gift is to pay it forward, making their free and friendly generosity my own.