A Grand Tour With 46 Oases
What does it take to be a Senior Nomad?
Should you want to become one, a few requirements: Be willing to cast off your stuff and accumulate no more; have a flexible definition of what it means to be at home; master the Excel spreadsheet; accept, and even grudgingly appreciate, the ubiquity of Ikea.
Debbie Campbell and her husband, Michael, who have embraced, if not promoted, what they refer to as the Senior Nomad way of life on their blog, might add another criterion: the willingness to uproot oneself at a stage in life when others are settling down in a recliner with the remote.
“We were nearing the time to consider retiring,” said Ms. Campbell, 58, who until recently owned a graphic design business. “We both decided we had one more adventure in us.”
That decision was made just over two years ago at the couple’s townhouse in Seattle. Their daughter Mary Campbell, visiting from her home in Paris, thought they should travel. A friend of her husband’s, she told them, had lived all over, including South America, where he rented apartments and worked remotely.
“My thought was, ‘Had she looked in our bank account and seen more money than I thought we had?’ ” said Mr. Campbell, 69, a former sports marketing executive.
But rather than staying in hotels, Mary suggested that her parents use Airbnb, the home rental site that has inspired devotion from many tourists and criticism from affordable housing advocates, the hotel industry and some city officials. The Campbells had never used Airbnb, but weren’t dissuaded by their lack of experience or the criticism. Sharing sites like Airbnb, Mr. Campbell said, “meet a real need in the marketplace.”
His daughter’s suggestion planted the idea that he and his wife could wrap up their careers, downsize and reduce their living expenses, Mr. Campbell added. If they could afford to live in Seattle without working, could they also afford to live abroad, renting other people’s homes? After three months of Excel number crunching, they concluded that they could.
So the sailboat on which the couple had spent so many weekends — sold. Ms. Campbell’s little Volkswagen convertible — someone else’s dream ride now. Their townhouse — occupied by renters. Everything else was stashed in a 12-by-15-foot storage unit.
The Campbells have spent the past year and a half crisscrossing Europe, living for a week or more in one rental home before moving on to another. They’ve stayed in a grand formal apartment in Florence, a graphic designer’s funky place in Paris and a farmhouse in Wexford, Ireland. Their home in Luxembourg had beautiful exposed beams and a loft; their apartment in Tallinn, Estonia, had a sauna. And when they arrived in Rome, they found themselves in the unusual position of not knowing which street door their home was behind.
“We’re not on vacation,” Mr. Campbell said. “We’re not retiring in the traditional sense. We’re out seeing the world in Airbnb apartments because that’s how we can afford to do it.”
The Campbells were discussing their adventures last month while settling into their latest home on the road, a spacious riad in Marrakesh. They had flown south from Paris, their unofficial hub, in search of warmer weather, and were curious to see the apartment they had selected from hundreds of listings online, as they always are.
“Most of the fun comes from opening the door and not knowing what’s on the other side,” Ms. Campbell said, adding that as the family cook, “I go straight to the kitchen.”
In Morocco, the Campbells were struck by the local architectural style, the way their riad was furnished with long couches and low tables for people to sit and drink tea, and designed around a courtyard with an opening to the sky instead of windows to let in light.
“Debbie and I just had dinner, and we were sitting at what looks like a dining room table, but if it rains, it’ll come right down on the table,” Mr. Campbell said. “Riad is not a word I was familiar with until six weeks ago.”
The couple’s friends have expressed skepticism about staying in strangers’ homes glimpsed only online. What if they arrive in Berlin to a pigsty?
Of the 46 apartments they’ve rented so far, there have been duds, Ms. Campbell said. And in those cases, “I take pretty scarves and tie them around lamps I don’t like.”
But those have been rare, and the couple has developed a careful selection process. They use filters on the Airbnb site to find a handful of well-reviewed rentals in their destination city, looking for places around $90 a night, with Wi-Fi, an adequately stocked kitchen, a location in the town center and, ideally, outdoor space. They email the hosts and begin culling the list based on availability, past experience and gut reactions.
“After 550 days, we’re getting pretty smart about what we like,” Mr. Campbell said.
They are also noticing cultural differences about how people live. For instance, the austerity of Scandinavian apartments. Or the way homes in southern Spain tend to be dark, with windows shut to the blistering sun. In Helsinki, Ms. Campbell said, “every house had a big boot scraper on the doorstep, so you knew bad things happen there in the winter.”
The universal design language, at least with Airbnb rentals, is Ikea.
“I have washed more Ikea plates than any human on earth,” Mr. Campbell said with a laugh. “People must get a checklist from somebody and go to Ikea.”
The Senior Nomads have their own checklist, little rituals to lessen the feeling that they are camping in a stranger’s home. After arriving, Ms. Campbell heads straight for a market; cooking at home saves money and gives the couple a chance to try local foods. And after chatting via FaceTime with Mary Campbell or another of their four children, they watch a podcast of “NBC Nightly News,” delayed by one day.
这两位资深流浪汉也有自己的清单。他们会进行一些小仪式，来减轻旅居异乡的漂泊感。到达目的地后，黛比会直奔市场；在家里做饭不仅省钱，还能借机尝试一下当地的美食。夫妇俩通过FaceTime与玛丽·坎贝尔或其他孩子（他们有四个孩子）聊完天后，就会收看播客《NBC晚间新闻》(NBC Nightly News)。他们的收看时间会比节目首播晚一天。
“We’ll wake up tomorrow, have our cereal and orange juice — that makes us feel at home,” Mr. Campbell said. “And because of the Internet and Wi-Fi, you instantly feel reconnected.”
At night, the couple break out one of the few comforts from their Seattle home that wasn’t sold or put in storage.
“Whenever I see people travel with pillows I think, really?” Ms. Campbell said. “But no matter what bed we land on, we have our down pillows.”
Beyond that, she added, they don’t find themselves longing for anything from their old life. (Well, some things they do long for. Ms. Campbell recently confessed on the couple’s blog to having a cry over the lack of a vegetable peeler in their rental in Naples, Italy, an outburst, she said, caused by always taking inventory of new kitchens and finding them lacking.)
Mary Campbell, 32, a food stylist in Paris, has acted as a Sherpa of sorts to her parents, guiding them through European public transport and the visa process, and occasionally joining them on the road. Her parents’ views about home and lifestyle have changed, she has noticed.
“Now, over a year into it, they’re much more comfortable in a smaller space,” she said. “They don’t have a car over here. The walking lifestyle has been a discovery for them. They’ve redefined what they thought they needed.”
She added: “It’s so adventuresome and so different from anything else I hear that my friends’ parents are doing.”
Patrice Fiset, the friend of Mary Campbell’s husband whose rootless existence inspired her parents, said he follows the Campbells’ blog and is similarly impressed. He joked that his own parents’ retirement as Florida snowbirds pales in comparison.
“In a way, I wish they were like Debbie and Michael,” Mr. Fiset said. “Because then I’d be visiting them in Morocco.”
Last July, the Campbells returned to Seattle to visit friends and attend a son’s wedding. But it wasn’t a homecoming, exactly. They stayed in an Airbnb apartment in a different neighborhood and renewed the agreement with their tenants for another year.
“We drove by our house, and I didn’t say, ‘I really wish we lived there,’ ” Ms. Campbell said.
And when they flew back to Europe this time, she added, the Senior Nomads did something different.
“We bought one-way tickets,” Ms. Campbell said, laughing.
Mr. Campbell chimed in after his wife, and there was almost a sense of giddiness in his voice: “We don’t know when we’re going back.”