| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Oct 5 At 68, Barbara Miller Elegbede
is living proof that flower children need not grow up.
A self-described hippie, she attended a San Francisco
college at psychedelia's height and remembers friends constantly
crashing on the couch of her apartment, just a block away from
Janis Joplin's pad in the hip Castro neighborhood.
Now retired from teaching and secretarial work, Elegbede,
68, has become a full-time "couchsurfer" herself, living in
other people's guest quarters all over the world. (She has a
temporary apartment in Tempe, Arizona.)
"I've lived in Africa. I know how to take a bath from a
bucket ... I've lived in caves in Greece and hitchhiked all over
the world. Next year, I'm off to India for two or three months."
Call Elegbede one of the "rambling retirees": folks who give
up the senior community or a comfy house for a life of constant
travel. And they're not all hippies.
"The RV (recreational vehicle) has replaced the rocking
chair, and the whole notion of retirement has changed in the
last 10 years," says Ken Budd, executive editor of AARP magazine
and author of "The Voluntourist: A Six-Country Tale of Love,
Loss, Fatherhood, Fate and Singing Bon Jovi in Bethlehem."
There are no good statistics on just how many boomers are
taking retirement on the road. But some indicators - steadily
rising traffic at houseboat and recreational vehicle websites,
and a growing number of retirement-age members on
couchsurfing.com - confirm the trend.
There are two drivers, according to journalist Samantha
Dunn, who's written about RV retirees for the website Next
Avenue. First, wireless technology means you can easily stay in
touch with friends and family even while living on the road.
Then there's the financial angle. Today's retirees have
limited budgets and long life expectancies. Living on the road
for a year or five can be a way to spend less than hanging on to
the big house or moving into a service-heavy retirement
"Even if you buy the $100,000 RV rig, it's cheaper than
dealing with an oversized house and taxes and all the things
home ownership entails," Dunn says.
Folks who have done it agree. John Graves, editor of the
Retirement Journal and author of "The 7% Solution," a book about
financing retirement, spent 10 years without a fixed address and
traveled to 80 countries. By living simply, bartering and eating
from street vendors, Graves, 64, says he saved the equivalent of
If that's sounding good, read on. Here's what it takes to
retire on the go, whether you choose to hang your hat in a
houseboat, a mobile home, or on the back of someone's sofa.
DIFFERENT STROKES: FREESTYLE
Couchsurfing is the practice of moving from home to home,
sleeping in whatever space is offered gratis. Of the almost 5
million members at couchsurfing.com, some 160,000 are over 50
years old; their ranks have at least doubled since 2009.
Accommodations can range from a weathered futon in someone's
living room to a yacht bunk or a Maui tree house. Typical stays
last two to three days but can also last several months. While
you can reciprocate and offer your own couch when your host
travels, there's no requirement that you do so.
Lodging comes free, though extended stays in a city may mean
side trips to a hostel or hotel while hopping between host
homes. Elgebede says she can stay in South America for as little
as $1,200 a month, or China for $1,500, including eating out.
Couchsurfing.com has a group for global couchsurfers over 50
years old with 145 members, up 7 percent from a month ago. It
includes members from all over the world, including Iran,
Argentina, Uzbekistan and the Ukraine.
AFLOAT AND LAID-BACK
As many as 9,000-plus people have retired to houseboats in
the United States and Canada, an estimate based on statistics
collected by the Center for Competitive Analysis of the
University of Missouri.
Some houseboaters float from dock to dock, though many stay
in one place on the water. People who call themselves
"liveaboards" have a leisurely life marked by sunbathing and
Houseboaters vary as much as the retirement population
itself: upscale and downscale, singles and married couples,
serious sailors and novice boaters, says Ian Morton, editor of
the All About Houseboats website. Many are concentrated on
Kentucky's Lake Cumberland, affectionately known as the "Redneck
A used boat for a couple, plus room for guests, will cost
$50,000 to $250,000, Morton says. The same boat new ranges from
$200,000 to $1 million, and amenities can include dishwashers,
garbage compactors, a full kitchen and even a hot tub.
Morton, 51, is semi-retired and lives on a houseboat six
months out of the year in Montreal, Canada. (He also travels in
an RV and has an apartment.) His major annual costs are
insurance ($2,000 for a $200,000 boat) and docking ($3,000 and
A marine survey for your floating home to ensure it's
shipshape can run $1,500 to $2,000. First-year costs typically
run $25,000, including maintenance and fuel, says Morton, citing
the survey and improvements to a newly acquired boat. Annual
costs may drop 20 percent or more in subsequent years, assuming
a lack of weather damage or major repairs.
Morton, who's saving thousands of dollars annually compared
to a land-based life with a mortgage, plans to live on a
houseboat as long as he's able.
"It's peaceful, everybody's in a good mood, you get to fall
asleep with the rocking of the waves and the wind, and with the
Internet, you can home-office from just about anywhere."
Informative websites include Houseboat magazine
(houseboatmagazine.com), Boat Owners Association of The United
States (boatus.com) and All About Houseboats
DESPITE FUEL COSTS, RVS REMAIN POPULAR
Estimates vary on how many retirees live in RVs year-round,
but it's probably north of 25,000, based on data from the
Escapees RV Club and the Recreational Vehicle Industry
Large variations exist in RV price, says Jaimie Hall
Bruzenak, co-editor of the RV Lifestyle Experts website and
co-author of "Retire to an RV: The Roadmap to Affordable
A used Class A RV, manufactured on a large truck chassis,
can run from $10,000 to $150,000. Some top out at more than $1
million. The Lazy Daze, a Class C motor home (built on a cutaway
van chassis), is especially popular. It sells in the $100,000
price range new, or as little as $5,000 used.
RV expenses top out at $14,000 per year, calculates Rich
Arzaga, founder and CEO of Cornerstone Wealth in San Ramon,
California, who just took an extended RV vacation with his
family to sample the lifestyle.
Costs include campsites, which average about $30 a night,
and gasoline: Expect to spend around $300 to fill a 74-gal.
tank. Insurance can run $2,000 and storage an additional $1,000
With housing costs for renters and homeowners averaging
$16,557 (according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics),
living in an RV is actually cheaper by at least $2,500 annually,
says Arzaga. "Full-time RV travelers can also choose their state
of residence, and eight states have no income tax."
Informative websites include RV Lifestyle Experts
(rvlifestyleexperts.com) and the Escapees RV Club
Many retirees living in RVs, such as Fran Reisner, 52,
suggest towing a car to explore back roads.
"I have a Honda CRV, which happens to be one of the easiest
to tow," says Reisner, who paid $92,000 for a 35-ft. Winnebago
Adventurer in a high-stakes trade-in: life at home in Frisco,
Texas, for life on the road, indefinitely.
Her rolling home has a king-size bed, double-wide
refrigerator and a washer-dryer.
Reisner says RV life has worked out well financially, and
she has no plans to give it up. Having just hit the one-year
mark, she's logged 18,000 miles across 27 states. And countless
miles of exploring remain as life takes her down a new road:
photographing nature and wildlife.