Florence Lince looks positively ebullient on Skype, talking from the (temporary) home in Cuernavaca, Mexico, where she and her husband Mike have (temporarily) retired. “We’ve always been travelers, both of us,” says Florence, focusing her bright smile at the camera on her computer screen.
She’s irresistibly engaging. “This isn’t a vacation; it’s a choice.” The choice she’s referring to is the decision that she and her husband Mike made upon Mike’s retirement in 2011 to spend their lives on the run. They sold everything (house, cars, furniture — “Anything worth anything,” reports Mike on his blog) and live in a country of their choice for six months at a time. “Six months,” Florence repeats, “and no more.”
The idea is to immerse themselves in the culture of the people, living like natives, eating local food and stumbling through the language. So far, they’ve gotten by with English and Mike’s Spanish. They have to travel light—two suitcases apiece—and watch their pennies or pesos or baht, because they’re living on Mike’s social security income of $1,500 a month. Florence cannot collect for another 10 years.
“It’s not as hard as you think,” Florence assures skeptics. In countries like Panama or Nicaragua, for instance, where the average native is fortunate to earn $600 month, rents are cheap; and fresh fruit, vegetables, and fish are available at open markets for a song. One can live on $1,500 a month.
“The thing you must remember, though,” says Florence, “is that no matter how beautiful the weather and the beach, these are still developing nations where the electricity goes out without warning, there’s often no hot water, and you have to be careful about even the ice cubes in your drink.”
Florence and Mike met in 2005 on an Alaskan cruise. Two years later, they were married, and before they could celebrate their 5-year anniversary (wood, in case you were wondering) they’d packed off to Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. They were gone for four months. Since then, they’ve visited four continents in two years, staying in touch with friends and family via today’s technology. Mike, for example, has instituted a bedtime storybook time with his grandson over Skype. “I think we may spend more quality time with our loved ones over the internet than some people do in person,” says Florence.
However, she is quick to advise those who are looking for a paradise where they can retire. “If you’re looking for paradise, it doesn’t take much living among the locals of many foreign countries to realize that America is paradise. You can turn on a tap and get drinkable water, take a hot shower whenever you want, toss a load of laundry in a dryer. Things are clean.” But living the good life here is expensive, and frankly, the Linces decided that there was too big a price to pay. Here is how Mike explains it in his blog:
We are not wealthy by any means. In fact, when we first decided to move outside the United States, it was because we could not afford to live most places in the States on my retirement income. Florence will not be eligible to retire for another ten years, and she would have to work full-time for us to afford living in the States, especially given the cost of health care. That still leaves many countries where we can live comfortably on my $1,500/month Social Security check. Any country where rent and utilities cost under $800/month is within our means, including Mexico where we live now, and Florence works only if she so chooses.
Neither Mike nor Florence offer much in the way of advice. Most of their friends say enthusiastically that they admire them, but admit they probably couldn’t do it themselves. Mike’s blog, globalexplorerclub.wordpress.com, adds a paragraph that might eliminate some contenders.
Perhaps most important of all, be on excellent terms with your significant other. Traveling abroad is not couples’ therapy. If you think this goes without saying, let me ask this. When was the last time you and your significant other shared a confined space while it rained for several days in a row? Do you still make each other laugh?
Florence, with her beautiful smile, says she knows they are lucky. Just before she clicks off Skype, Mike walks out of camera range behind her, carrying a towel and a bottle of suntan lotion, with a laptop under his elbow.