EPISODE 010 – Slow Travel: one suitcase and one backpack
Episode 010 – Slow Travel: one suitcase and one backpack, I discuss how I went from a 2400 square-foot house down to one suitcase and one backpack for slow travel.
“As a woman I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman, my country is the whole world.”
When I read that Virginia Woolf quote back in high school, I had no idea that it would impact my life so much in 2016.
Granted, she wrote that quote in 1938 as part of a protest against women being soldiers and going to war to defend their country. But in this day and age of globalization, information technology, and the digital revolution that quote changed my retirement landscape drastically. Vividly.
For 16 years, I told everyone that I knew that I would retire to Barcelona Spain. Some people didn’t believe me, others were happy for me and couldn’t wait for me to get there, while others hoped it never came to fruition. But from July 2001, after my European Whirlwind Tour, up until the day after I sold my house in February 2016, moving to Barcelona after retirement was the only absolute goal that I had.
Let me pull back a little bit and give you some background… I was consulting in Scottsdale Arizona in 2015 and rather than fly back to Virginia every weekend, I normally resided in Scottsdale for 3 or 4 weeks at a time, at an extended stay hotel. On Friday of that Memorial Day weekend in 2015, I arrived at my house near midnight. As usual, I parked in my garage, grabbed my luggage out of the trunk, and unlocked my basement door. My alarm began its 30-second countdown but when I flipped the light switch to punch in the code, no lights came on. I tried the light switch several times in rapid-fire then remembered that the garage light was still on and the illumination would allow me to punch in the code before the sirens went off and the police were notified. That done, my eyes had finally adjusted to the semi-darkness, and what I saw made me heartsick. In that moment, I realized that I was standing on a really soggy carpet, half the ceiling of the family room was on the floor, and in the distance, I could hear water running.
I jumped into action, literally, and climbed over fallen plaster and lamps, ran up the stairs until I came to the second bathroom in the middle of the house on the top floor where water was gushing from a busted pipe on the toilet. Big sigh. I called my insurance company and they called ServPro – a water and fire damage cleanup company. Unfortunately, it was a holiday weekend and after midnight so I would have to wait until mid-day before a local inspector could come to the house to assess the damage.
Needless to say, the damage was extensive. I don’t know how long the pipe was gushing because I was gone for 3 weeks. I had come back to the house to work a little from home and pack for a 12-day Alaskan Cruise and land tour that I was taking the following Friday. Ugh! But as I talked to the cleanup supervisor while the crew tore up my house even further (all flooring on all 3 levels, floorboards, some walls, doors, all basement ceilings, etc.), I made up my mind to make lemonade out of lemons. Using whatever insurance money I would receive plus some of my 401K savings, I would renovate my house and put it on the market two years earlier than planned.
Five days later, the cleanup crew packed up their huge dryers, the insurance inspector came back, and I left for my cruise. When I returned, it was a quick 1-day turnaround: I washed my vacation clothes, packed work clothes, and left to stay in Scottsdale for 4 weeks.
When I returned again in early July, I hired a friend as my real estate agent and met with a couple of contractors about renovations. I hired the contractor that I liked and he told me that he could either work on it immediately – he and his crew had just finished a project – or he could start around Thanksgiving. I chose immediately – thinking that he could work in the rooms that were bare already. Nope. He said I needed to pack up the house immediately. Meaning, I had 1 week to sell, donate and/or store everything from a 2400 square-foot house that I had lived in for more than 22 years.
While I worked during the day, I strategized, called friends with trucks, and moved what was left into my neighbor’s basement.
You see, I had my house built to my specifications back in 1993, so a 2100 square-foot/4 bedroom/2.5 bathrooms/2-level structure turned into my 3 bedroom (1 huge master suite)/3 full bathrooms/2400 square-foot split level house. And after 22 years, my stuff occupied all the drawers and closet spaces. I even had to buy a few clothes racks. And whenever I had guests stay over in the spare bedrooms, I had to move my stuff – somewhere.
Anyway, I went from 312 pairs of shoes, designer suits, etc. to some standard clothes and shoes for work and play, my computers, camera gear, one tv, Xbox, pictures of and mementos from family and friends, important documents, CDs, books, etc. And I slept in the spare bedroom of my neighbor’s house whenever I came back from Scottsdale.
To get back to the point… My house was finished by the end of November 2015 and it was beautiful – a paint job and wood flooring throughout the house, stainless steel appliances, matching granite countertops in the kitchen and bathrooms, new vanities and cabinets, doors, etc. I would never live in that newly-renovated house. It was put on the market and snatched up within a month. I signed on the dotted line on February 2, 2016.
That night as I lay in my neighbor’s basement bedroom, I had an epiphany.
“As a woman I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman, my country is the whole world.”
That Virginia Woolf quote popped into my head again, from way back in high school, and a weight was suddenly lifted off my shoulders.
I could travel the world as planned but I didn’t need a base. I didn’t actually need to rent an apartment in Barcelona. With the rise of Airbnb, I could live almost anywhere in the world for a reasonable cost. I could come and go as I pleased. YES!
Then I started to evaluate what else I could live without once I retired. I wasn’t going to ship much of anything to Barcelona anyway, even most of my beloved camera gear was going to be sold.
So… what did I really need? Turns out: 4 or 5 pairs of pants, 3 pairs of shorts, 10 tank tops, 3 t-shirts, 1 sundress, 2 pairs of shoes, and a pair of flip-flops. Underwear, of course, a swimsuit, and some other essentials all fit into a 21-inch expandable suitcase. My remaining camera gear, laptop, and iPad went into a large backpack.
And from December 2017 to early March 2020, I traveled the world with that one suitcase and one backpack. I visited Australia and New Zealand for 3 months and then several Southeast Asian countries for 6 months. In between, I visited my favorites Greece and Spain for a few months, came back to the USA for a week or two, stayed in Mexico, Puerto Rico, Colombia and Panama for a few months to decide if I might want residency there, and visited several African countries for 4 months until Covid hit.
Covid-19 isn’t what slowed me down. Of course, it stopped all travel. But, in truth, I was becoming weary of jumping from one city or town to the next, every week or 10 days. In Africa is where I truly slow traveled: I had stayed in Accra Ghana, Nairobi Kenya, and Zanzibar Tanzania for a month in each place. And I loved it. Then I came home in March 2020 and got stuck in Charlotte North Carolina during the worst of Covid-19. I’m grateful to my good friend and travel buddy, Yolanda, who allowed me to stay in her spare bedroom for 9 months. But you don’t miss the water until the well runs dry. And boy did I miss traveling!
The visas to African countries took up entire pages in my passport so with everything shut down I had to wait until things got back on track for my new passport. But as soon as I knew it was on its way, I booked an Airbnb and a plane ticket to Merida Mexico. I left the week before Christmas 2020 and stayed in a cute little house there. There’s a huge Black Expat community in Merida but I didn’t do any socializing during that period because, of course, we were still in the midst of the pandemic. I only met one new friend, Toni, while there; she is a friend of a friend that I met at a travel blogging conference a few years ago. Unfortunately for me, I realized that while I loved the tropical weather I missed being near the water more; and Merida was just too far from the beach to be catching an Uber every day.
So, this current move to Playa del Carmen Mexico was inevitable. I spent almost 4 weeks here in July 2019 and loved it! Just walking on the beach every day is my joy. Anyway, as I was planning a move after visiting the USA for a bit, Toni, my only friend in Merida, also moved here. I think that was some serious serendipity at work for us because there is also a thriving Black Expat community here too. Nonetheless, with my one suitcase and one backpack, it’s been 2 weeks since I landed in Playa del Carmen. I’ve hung out with Toni and made some new acquaintances.
In the meantime, I’ve just signed a 1-year lease on an apartment that’s a 15-minute stroll to the beach. And while settling down in a foreign country or a new place is always a bit scary – yes even to those of us who’ve done it a thousand times – I’m one very happy camper!
You can’t call yourself a Queen if you’ve never ruled – and that means… being able to roll with the punches that life sends your way. Man plans and God laughs. You need to know what you truly want but then be able to duck and move, thrust and parry with the unexpected. Never give up on your dreams and plans, just be flexible, and remain focused on the end result. Rulers are strategists above all else. I’ve gone over scenarios and what-ifs in my mind and on paper to the nth degree and I rarely make major moves without Plans B, C, D… all the way to Z. Of course, you can’t plan for every eventuality – Covid-19, for example, knocked everybody off their kilter – but you do need to be prepared. And you can only be prepared if you experience the world outside of your comfort zone. There’s nothing wrong with falling down. But will you stay down and let the situation defeat you? I hope not. I hope you’ll get up, dust yourself off, learn that lesson, pack your one suitcase and one backpack, and move on to the next adventure or country or city or whatever….
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