Last month we celebrated 5 years of full-time travel. 5 years! It’s scary how time flies. I still remember the day when we went to the airport in July of 2014 for that one-way flight to Prague : the excitement, the relief of finally leaving, and the slight nervousness of not knowing how our lives would unfold travelling full-time.
Our life on the road hasn’t turned out as expected in many respects. When we left we thought we would be spending the majority of our time in South East Asia. But we discovered pretty quickly that we preferred Europe…and especially Eastern Europe and the Balkans.
When we left in 2014 Lissette continued working for the Montreal company that had been her employer for the last 20-odd years. Working remotely meant at first following strict hours. We had a pretty regimented lifestyle. But that was ok – we were away from the usual day-to-day, we were seeing tons of new places, and for the first time in our lives neither of us was stuck working 9-5 in an office. It was a new beginning and we were excited at our new-found freedom.
5 years ago this was a new blog and my hobby while Lissette worked. It allowed me to meet people, both online and in real life (we’ve met up with a lot people on our travels that were introduced through the blog).
A lot of things have changed since 2014. We became a lot more flexible with our schedule over the years, Lissette’s work taking a bit less of our time. There are reasons for that which I won’t get into – but we knew the days were numbered and we weren’t that shocked when she was “made redundant” (along with much of the company) earlier this year. For the first time in our lives neither of us are working.
This blog was always a passion for me. In many ways it’s been a replacement for work and I have no idea how I would have spent the last 5 years if I didn’t have the blog. When Lissette lost her job it meant taking the next step – turning it from a hobby to a bit more than that (I will never say “business”. This blog contains our memories, thoughts, and experiences over the last 5 years). But we monetized aspects of it and I’ve been surprised by how well it’s done. We have some very loyal readers on this blog for which we are very thankful.
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The way we’ve travelled over the last 5 years has also changed. When we started we didn’t know where it would lead us and that first year was about Lissette working remotely, staying in inexpensive locations, and saving money.
In years 2 and 3 we felt more secure with our money and did trips that have always been on our wish list. Places like Japan (where we spent 7 weeks), South Africa (3 months), Italy (1 month) and Germany.
Year 4 we took a break from travel and lived a total of 16 months in Croatia. During that time we had to make a few decisions about our future. I had a condominium in Montreal that I had rented the first 3 years of our travels. The tenants decided not to renew. What to do? The bottom line is that neither Lissette or I ever want to live in Montreal again so it was a pretty easy decision. I decided to sell the condo and have our belongings (which we had in storage) shipped to our apartment in Split (if you click on that you’ll see we had a pretty nice apartment). Our stay in Croatia didn’t last long but in the end I feel that it forced us to look ahead and to organize a few things. We love to travel, we love Europe…and we just don’t see ourselves going back to Canada any time soon.
Year 5. Over the last year we’ve been back to full-time travel. We’ve actually been happy to be back travelling and seeing new places. And with Lissette losing her job a few months back it’s meant that we’ve been more flexible than ever: we “celebrated” her firing with an overland trip earlier this year from Croatia to Italy and back across the Adriatic to Greece, Bulgaria and through to Turkey. We followed that up with Georgia and Armenia and are now in Ukraine for the summer.
The above are the broad strokes. There are a few points I wanted to touch on, things that travellers worry about before setting off on the road.
Health. I’m knocking on wood as I write this paragraph. Really, we’ve been incredibly lucky the last 5 years. We’ve never been sick, we’ve never been injured, we’ve never had to be treated for anything. Lissette had a couple of falls where she could have hurt herself but ended up with nothing more than a few bruises. I miscalculated the stairs in an Airbnb apartment in Mostar and almost fell into a glass table. But again nothing more than bruises. In 5 years, travelling through over 35 countries, I’ve never thrown up. And I used to have a pretty sensitive stomach. I’ve had 1 cold (in Serbia). That’s it. As full-time travellers we have expat insurance but through 5 years we’ve never had to claim anything.
We’re also in the best shape that we’ve been in since we started our travels. Last year when we left Croatia we did Muay Thai training in Thailand and have followed that up with eating better and working out more. In the last 6 weeks in Ukraine we’ve been doing classes. We’re feeling and looking better than ever.
Safety. Again, knock on wood: we’ve never had anything happen to us. Nothing stolen, we’ve never been threatened*. As I say, we’ve spent our time mostly in Eastern Europe and these countries are incredibly safe (we feel that we have to be much more on alert in Western Europe). But we also don’t go out much at night, deal in drugs or go to sleazy bars (ie. we don’t go looking for trouble).
Related: Is it safe to Travel? The weird and scary from 6 years of full-time travel
Relationship. I’m not going to sugar-coat it: travelling together 24/7 pushes a relationship. We’re together ALL the time. We’ve had less-than-ideal sleeping arrangements, stressful situations, and we’ve had days when nothing goes right. But considering all this we get along great. We don’t fight very often and when we do we always make up. I think it has strengthened our relationship. We complete each other, I don’t know what I would do without Lissette. Still, we do get sick of each other’s face every sometimes and I think travelling couples need to separate and travel solo every once in a while. We started planning “solo breaks” a few years ago and it really helps.
Really, we’ve been incredibly fortunate and all aspects of our lives have exceeded expectations since we decided to leave Canada to travel full-time.
So what now?
We have less restrictions than ever. Neither of us work, we’ve done well with our investments, and we have less obligations than ever: no home, no tenants, and no more school fees (until last summer I was paying for my son’s university tuition and rent. He graduated and just a few months ago got himself a finance job in Toronto). We have more options now than ever before.
We’re both 52 and have been thinking increasingly about our future. Where will we be in the next 10-15 years? The last five years made us realize that we’d really like to live in Europe. The question is where and how to work towards that goal.
We’ve decided that Spain would be the most logical place for us (we both speak Spanish). They have a non-lucrative residence visa that allows you to stay in Spain for a year. After the year is done, it can be renewed for 2 years, and then again for 2 years after that. After 5 years we can become permanent residents of Spain. So, theoretically, we can both have our Spanish residency before we’re 60. We plan on documenting the whole process just as we did in Croatia.
In February we’re planning our first step in going down that route. We’ll be in Spain for 3 months, exploring some cities and towns where we might potentially want to live* and getting some documents in order. We then have to go back to Canada to apply. The waiting time can be anywhere from 2 weeks to 3 months – during that time we’re thinking of doing a cross country tour. We’ve done a lot of travelling but haven’t really seen that much of Canada.
* If you know Spain we always appreciate recommendations. We stayed a month in Seville back in 2016 and loved it. But it’s really hot and I’m not sure we would want to live there. Ideally we’re thinking of a small to medium sized town or city close to sea and mountains…
Travelling & the Blog
Having a base in Spain won’t stop us from travelling. We definitely want to see a lot of Spain as well as destinations in Western Europe – we’ve yet to explore France (I was last there 30 years ago). Living in Spain will open up a lot of different destinations. We’ll probably not be staying places months at a time as we’ve been doing over the last 5 years, it’ll most likely be the more traditional 1-2 week vacation (what’s the point of having a base if you’re never there? ). I’m actually looking forward to practicing my Spanish again and integrating wherever we chose to live.
As far as the blog is concerned we’ll continue writing about the places we visit, with maybe more of a focus on Western Europe and on Spain from an Expat perspective. One of the Guides that does really well on this blog is our contributed Guide on the Costa del Sol. People are always writing, asking where they should settle. When we do our 3 months exploration in the Spring we intend on covering a lot of places and will give our thoughts on the places we visit.
I also intend to continue freelancing (as I’ve done with some major Canadian newspapers this year) and to work with tourist boards on trips to places we haven’t been. I have a lot of exotic destinations in mind for the next few years.
Anyway, these are some of our plans for the next 5 years. Whether they become reality is another matter entirely….
Related: Back in Montreal…and reflecting on life changes
Related: “How Two Canadians are travelling the world cheaply”
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Tanja /the Red Phone Box Travels
Hope your move to Spain goes smoothly
Congratulations on 5 years of living a nomadic life! I think I have been following along from the start and although it feels like a long time, it is scary how time flies. You have lived more exciting things in these last 5 years than most people do their whole life time. I have enjoyed travelling vicariously to so many places that I have not even heard of. Thank you for that. Exciting plans ahead, I hope you will find the ideal place to call home and base yourselves. Spain would be top of my list of countries I would like to live, so I am not surprised it is top of yours also. Speaking the local language is definitely very important when choosing a place to call home, it does make it so much easier to integrate. I am sure wherever you choose, you and Lissette will make a success of it.
Thank you very much for the nice comment Gilda 🙂
Hey Frank. Congrats on FIVE years! You’re really doing well! I’m going to be in Spain and Portugal later this year, alas for a fleeting visit and I’ll only be going to Barcelona, and as it turns out, Seveille. What are your plans for late nov/early dec???
We’ll be in the Balkans until February. And then Spain…
Sorry we’ll be missing you Andy!
Hello! Reading about Spain, I have a suggestion for you; Javea (Xabia, in valencian… the local language). It’s my hometown and the place where I currently live. It’s a town with around 30.000 people living there in winter (in summer it’s a different story). Javea has more than 20 kms of coast, and also mountains. It’s very internacional, 50 per cent of the population are foreigners; not only retired people… but also many people working online… from many origins: northern europeans, latinos, russians, etc.
It’s about one hour by car from two airports with very good connections to everywhere in Europe; the airports of Valencia and Alicante. With 50 euros you can get to Kiev, London, Paris, Rome… Also a lot of flights to Russia (a bit more expensive, because Ryan Air doesn’t fly there yet).
About the weather, it’s great. Summer around 30 degrees during the day, and winter around 15-20.
Nice to hear from you again Spanish Guy!
Like I mentioned to Glenn, my only issue with the Valencia area is that they have their own dialect. The whole advantage to Spain for us is that we speak Spanish. We’ve lived too many places where we don’t understand the local language or where what we speak is the minority language. I think, long term, we’d really like to be in a part of Spain where we understand. It’s one of the reasons we really enjoyed Seville.
Apart from that, Xabia looks like everything we could hope for 🙂
Sounds like a good plan, Frank… and next year, after you guys settle in Spain, you’ll have time to expand 5 years of posts into a full-grown book. Something to inspire more folks to expand their too comfortable worlds, venture where English is rare and the plumbing is squirrelly. See the planet before it bakes!
Be glad you’ll apply for your Spanish Visa in Canada… I’m into my 6th week stuck inside of Mexico with the Valencia Blues again. Spain has one of the most complicated Visa processes in Europe as you know, but having to apply in Mexico has turned a serpentine process into a snake-pit of misdirections and “mananas”. I may not get my Visa until October. Yikes.
I’ll write you guys later to nominate Valencia, especially Ciutat Vella, for your off-the-road consideration.
How are you enjoying your beautiful Valencia apartment Glenn? And the city? It sounds like you are enjoying…
My ONLY issue with Valencia is that they have their own dialect. We speak Spanish…might as well have learned Croatian if we wanted to be somewhere else 🙂
Yes, I can image doing it in Mexico is time consuming, especially in the summer…
I’d love to hear more about your Spanish experience and thoughts Glenn. Ciutat Vella…that’s Barcelona isn’t it?
Thanks for sharing! We too loved Seville but would never choose to live there (during the summer). Granada was very enjoyable during a shortish visit, but would still be too hot for me in the summer. We enjoyed Salamanca. Temperatures are perhaps more moderate.
Last year we had two weeks along the northern coast and can’t wait to go back. It is too cloudy and cool for many, but I really loved how the mountains meet the sea. We loved San Sebastian (although in the summer I expect there are too many tourists).
If you visit the Asturias and are anywhere near the very cute town of Cudillero, then you should check out a neighborhood restaurant called Meson El Carbayo. The Cachopo a la plancha (with veal) is one of the best things my wife and I have eaten in our 50+ years.
We have yet to visit Leon, Astorga, and Valladolid but they have been highly recommended to us for a future visit.
Thanks TJ. Yes. the heat in Seville and Granada are an issue. We’ll still look into Granada because people have said good things about it: prices are good, the town is beautiful, not too many expats (which we like), and it is close to both mountains and sea. I’ve had it on my list for a while.
I’ve also noted Salamanca…just googled it. Wow. Patti also mentions nearby Leon.
I’ve heard great things about San Sebastian but everyone says it’s expensive. It seems to be the only negative…
Thanks for the tips, very much appreciate.
“They have a non-lucrative residence visa that allows you to stay in Spain for a year. After the year is done, it can be renewed for 2 years, and then again for 2 years after that. After 5 years we can become permanent residents of Spain”
* This is similar to Portugal. We got our 4-month visa while in Washington, DC. We had to enter Portugal within those 4 months and apply for our 1-year visa. Last year we renewed and we now have two years. In 2020 we’ll return and (hopefully) glean our 2nd two years and then in 2022 apply for the five year. When we apply for the five year we’ll have to show some competence in Portuguese. That’s our current goal, to get to those five years. But, I’ve learned that life will take us where it takes us. We just take it one road at a time. Ha! 😉
“Still, we do get sick of each other’s face every sometimes
* Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! I get it. But I’ve told you before I can’t travel solo because I need someone to kill the spiders.
I think I’ve said before that you should spend some time in Leon. We had 4 days there and loved it. A really nice blend of old and new, comfortable, safe and a bit cosmopolitan.
Yes, it’s very similar to Portugal Patti. I remember when you were going through your first application. So now you’re set for 3 of the 5 years which sounds like you have Portugese residency pretty much in the bag (how’s the Portuguese coming along?)
Thanks for the Leon tip. Someone else mentioned it, as well as nearby Salamanca. We have 3 months so we’ll be exploring with a purpose 🙂