Marty and John: Our Year(s) of Living Spontaneously


Street DanceHere we go, short story long.  We, me, Marty and my husband, John, were living in Portland, Oregon and it was time for John to retire.  He was 62 and I was a dozen years younger.  I did not want to retire and settle in Portland because the months of gray days had a bad effect on me.  Having previously lived in Sacramento, California, we owned a rental house there and we decided to move in, spruce it up, “flip” it for a tidy profit and be on our way traveling for a while before deciding where to settle permanently.  We had never lived in this little rental house and after fifteen years of renters, it was in very sorry shape.

Our remodeling budget was modest and we decided to do a lot of the work ourselves, so off we went to enroll in Home Depot University.  We took classes on how to lay tile and how to install laminate flooring.  We bought a chop saw and a brad nailer to make all those inside and outside cuts on the crown molding and base boards.  We hired out for the scary electrical work and “perfection important” window replacement stuff but we tackled most of the rest of the fix up.  Now for handymen and women this would be “no big deal” but the only Mr. Fix-It tool my husband was accustomed to was The Yellow Pages and I was only handy with a sewing machine or a small paintbrush.  So this was a slow process and it took us almost a year before we were finally ready to put our newly remodeled house on the market. However,  our timing was not great because that same “market” had taken the biggest nose dive in recent history and our upgraded abode was not worth half as much as when we moved in and it was still a wreck.

This was not the plan. We were supposed to make a tidy sum and go off traveling, which is our true passion.  So sign us: “Stuck in Sacramento.”  We stayed waiting for the housing market to turn around but years went by and it just wasn’t happening.  I was tired of waiting and came up with a new plan.  I said to my dear husband of almost 40 years, “Let’s go anyway.”  He is the practical, pragmatic side of our pairing and said, “Sorry, Sweetheart, not enough dough for us to go.”  I explained in enthusiastic detail that we could rent out our house, hire a property manager, put our belongings in storage and travel in a modest style just a small step-up from backpackers.

He finally agreed but the deal was that I would have to do all of the logistics. (Did I mention this guy is crazy about me?)  So I was off and running, packing, having a huge garage sale, found a big storage unit, hired a property manager and bought the strongest, biggest duffel bags I could find.  We would be traveling by bus throughout Mexico and Central America.  Staying in Airbnb’s and one star hotels and even sleeping on overnight buses.  Bus travel in Mexico and Central Calle RomeroAmerica is very comfortable, large roomy seats that recline all the way with footrests and even hostesses on board to give out drinks and food.  With my Kindle, a deck of cards, eye mask, earplugs/iPod, cozy blanket, I was ready for up to 8 hours on an overnight.  I made sure any day travel was no longer than 4 or 5 hours.

I wrote a travel newsletter every month describing the places we visited and our travel fun.  John is a big history buff and so we visited many amazing historical ruin sites and plenty of museums.  I love art and flowers, so art museums were a must along with Frida Kahlo’s and Diego Rivera’s house, lady with birdsTomayo’s museum and any and all gardens available for touring and some that even were not were visited.  We zip-lined in Costa Rica, kayaked in Belize, were amazed by the millions of Monarch butterflies at their migrating forest, motor-scooted in Huatulco, went spelunking in a creepy cave, saw thousands of flamingos and snorkeled with sea turtles.  We slept on buses and stayed in fabulous, quirky places and were hosted by wonderful people.Bird  The places we didn’t like so much we quickly moved on from and others we loved and extended our stay.  I had my paints with me and found inspiration at every turn.  My camera was constantly clicking so I could save the sites for future paintings when I got settled back home.

The settling back home did not happen for three years because we loved that first years’ experience so much we kept on going.  We followed up that year with a Discover America (and a little Canada) trip, visiting national parks, plantation manors, gardens galore and even roadside oddities – like the biggest ball of string!  From mountain tops to canyon gorges we economy moteled, stayed with friends, Airbnb’ed and even did some Couchsurfing*.  Our hosts were all, yes all, a delight telling us about the best and most unique things that their areas had to offer.

Flower LadyThe following year we returned to a colonial hill town in Mexico that we fell in love with and stayed for ten months, then finished up by spending another month in Antiqua, Guatemala.  This time we took our little economy car that we traveled the USA in the year before so we took our time to go from place to place.

I will end here and just conclude by saying if you remain flexible, make adjustments, and consider options and possibilities, you can still have your “dreamed of adventure”, it just may look a little different than you first envisioned.  Our travel style changed, we didn’t have room service at our hotels, but the taco stand the desk manager recommended was Food Channel worthy.  No mints on our pillows, but our Airbnb hostess told us stories of her hair-raising days as a photo-journalist.  We had experiences we wouldn’t have had on any guided, safe** tour.  Stay open and create your own adventure!

*Couchsurfing like Airbnb, has a website and is a wonderful travel experience. Highly recommended.

**Re: Safety – We took reasonable precautions and never once felt in harm’s way.  We didn’t associate with drug lords and didn’t give off the air of wealth.  Leave your Rolex at home.  I had my Walmart Timex, it worked just fine and even glowed in the dark so I could check the time on the bus at night.  Don’t believe everything you read about travel in Latin America.  The people are warm and wonderful. PS. Speaking Spanish(as I do), helps, especially in the very small towns