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).
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….