Date: Tue, 6 Jun 95 05:06:00 UTC
Here we are, after so long in preparation, ready to head out on our new adventure. As promised I plan to try to write reasonably regular newsletters to let you all know what we're up to. But, you may be wondering why I would be sending out a news letter before we even get started. Well, we've learned a lot during this preparation and if any of you should decide to do something similar, our lessons learned could be quite useful. So Chapter 1 of The Bergerons' Amazing Adventure is:
Chapter 1 - Ready ....... (the preparation)
I never thought about it until I found myself staring at an in creasingly closer departure date. But, just how does one prepare for such a dramatic change in life. After all we're giving up the lifestyle in which we've become very, very comfortable. It takes a lot of planning. I suppose once upon a time people could simply pack up and leave on a moments notice. But in today's society there's just so much to complexity in our economic system that it's just not that simple anymore. Or perhaps it's because we're both engineers and we just can't resist our inborn urge to meticulously plan everything in detail.
In any event, we've spent a lot of time over the past few years dreaming up different ways to arrange for the support we'll need during our journey. Everything from finances to mail forwarding to equipment have been reviewed, planned, and arranged. A lot of assistance and ideas have come from our various friends, both biking and non-biking, and relatives. But in the end our system of support will be unique to us. So to pass on some of the good lessons we've learned or to simply keep you all entertained I will try to describe what we have planned and prepared.
Divestment (get rid of it all)
It seems to be part of human nature to be a pack rat. The larger the space we call our own the more stuff we seem to find to put in it. We all do it. In fact, George Carlin even has a fairly well known comedy sketch addressing just this very issue. From the time we first start to recognize ownership we begin to gather things around us. These "things" become as much a part of us that we find it is almost impossible to imagine doing without them.
Now just imagine having to completely rid yourself of a lifetime collection of stuff in a relatively short time. Typically a person only goes through this form of total divestment after they have retired or when some unforeseen disaster occurs. Actually, when you retire often there are kids or grandkids to pass much of the stuff on. And in a disaster, well everything goes in a matter of minutes and there's nothing you can do about it. But voluntarily giving up everything we own including things we've saved for years and years simply is not part of our nature. Well, this is exactly what we've been doing for the past year and a half.
I'll be the first to admit it, we were caught up in the buy more, buy bigger trap. For years we've been in the ever expanding mode of buy a house, fill it up, buy a bigger house, then fill that one. Our final assault to this climb up the materialistic ladder consisted of a 5 bedroom, 3 1/2 bath, 3500 square foot monstrosity. All that space for just the two of us. Of course we had every space, nook, and cranny filled with all that stuff we collected during 13 years of living together. "Egad", you say, how could we have ever let that happen. Well, I don't know. It's sort of like, you just gradually keep adding and adding. It was a different life.
Of course, to take off on bicycles, we had to get rid of all this stuff we'd collected over the years. Otherwise we'd be spending a fortune just trying to store. So in February of 1994 we began the long and arduous process of divestment. It was a simple start, just some free ads in a local news paper to sell some extra camping. But when the house sold, things started getting hot. We sold room after room of furniture, held multiple garage sales, sold all sorts of stuff through local papers, donated boxes and boxes full of clothing, housewares, and on and on. Even after moving into our townhouse we continued selling, donating, and giving away. And here we are, 1 1/2 years later down to just the bare essentials and a few treasured items that are just too hard to give up. It all fits into one small cargo van.
This divestment process has been a lot of work and has taught us some very valuable lessons about the value of used stuff. When it comes right down to it you are lucky if you manage to get about 1/3 the new price of something you sell. And, of course the older and worse condition something is in the price you can get drops dramatically. Much of our furniture was sitting in rooms that had little or no use what-so-ever. Yet even this practically new furniture was difficult to sell at even 1/3 new price. Also, anything with color is extremely difficult to sell. I couldn't believe the number of callers who would hang up right after finding our a particular sofa had a floral pattern.
Lessons we learned from this process were, never and I mean NEVER buy anything new unless you intend to make full use of it until it literally falls apart. It may be a lot more work to find and buy something you like that's used, but for a savings of about 2/3 of the new price it's worth doing. Also, if you absolutely have to buy new, don't buy anything with patterns. We would have had a much easier time selling our sofas if they had been a plain color. Finally, if you want to get some reasonable amount of money from selling your things you need a lot of time. Weeks would go by and we'd hardly sell a thing. But then every now and then we'd have a week where just about an entire room got emptied. We often wonder how these folks who have just one single "moving sale" ever manage to actually get rid of enough stuff to make a dent in what they've accumulated. Perhaps they almost give it away in which case it may actually be better to donate.
Getting rid of our stuff has actually given us an incredible feeling of freedom. I admit, it was tough at first. After all I had spent hard earned money to buy these possessions initially and to sell them for such a low cost or to simply give them away is rather heart wrenching at first. Also, these were things that we had planned to keep forever, so now making the decision to get rid of it was quite a change from our original plans. But, as time wore on and we got more in to the divestment mode it became much, much easier. With each item going out the door the millstone around our neck became lighter and lighter. We really began to realize that we had gotten to the point where all our energies were going into servicing our mortgage debt and these things we had acquired. I actually got to the point where I measured everything in volume. That's another 2 cubic inches, feet, yards out the door that now becomes someone else's problem. The feelings that come from letting go are just incredible.
Leftover stuff (We just can't quite get rid of it all)
Despite all this downsizing, selling, donating, and simply giving things away, we still have stuff left over. Things like tax records, birth and marriage certificates, a few souvenirs from our travels, photo albums, books from work and school, etc. we just can't get rid of at this point. We also have our Schwinn touring bikes (we're taking the TREKs with us) that took us on our first coast to coast tour that we simply can't let go, our skis, and my sewing machines. So we still have a few remaining things that we need to put someplace.
Now what do we do with this stuff. Well, first we need to get it to Denver, where Brian's relatives all live. Last fall we bought a cargo van (actually our second after getting stuck with a real lemon that we later unloaded). Now this is not a large moving van. Just one of those small Dodge cargo vans. We'll then squish, squash, cajole, and do whatever we can to squeeze our leftover stuff into it. Actually we're thinking it won't be that hard to put everything in after all. There just won't be any room to sleep in the van.
Then we'll drive to Denver. Once there we have two options. One is to hope one of Brian's relatives has enough room and is willing to store this stuff. Hopefully since it really is only about a closet full and since we'd be willing to let them use the camping equipment, small TV, and cassette player in exchange, we'll find a willing person. If not we'll have to rent a small storage locker. The primary problem with a locker is it creates one more billing problem that has to be managed and it adds some expense. But, if we have to rent, we'll rent. One other advantage to storing in someone's home rather than a storage locker, the items, although not expensive do have some value to us, would automatically be covered under that person's home owner's insurance. Otherwise we'll have to look into getting a policy. This issue is still unresolved and we'll let you all know what happens.
Banking (it's not just down the street anymore)
Money makes the world go round and we'll need it wherever we go. But how does one manage one's banking needs when the bank simply is not just - right over there, down the street and around the corner. It's completely impractical to carry 10+ years of cash unless you have a real strong desire to become a walking crime target.
We've had lots of discussions with folks who've been traveling about how they handle this issue. Most maintain their bank at home and have managed to enlist the aid of very helpful friends or relatives in the maintenance and management of their funds. We, on the other hand, have decided to attempt to independently maintain our banking needs at least as much as is feasible. After all it's really not fair for us to put this burden on anyone but ourselves. But the big question is, how?
The world is slowly moving towards a global economy where you will be able to perform any banking function from anywhere in the world. Consequently pieces of this global economy are in place allowing us to do banking in most of the places we'll be visiting. We'll actually be using our account at Charles Schwab sort of like a bank. There are several advantages to this approach. Schwab offices are located throughout the U.S. and there are offices in Europe and Asia. We can manage all our investments ranging from stock funds through cd's. Also, we've gotten a Visa debit card that'll allow us to withdrawal money directly from our account simply by going to a local bank. We have Schwab checks as well. And, of course, there's their telebrokering capability.
This isn't to say we won't need any outside help. We are anticipating that we may need to have someone in the U.S. do things in our accounts, particularly should an emergency occur. We must be prepared for good ole Murphy's law (anything that can go wrong will and at the worst possible time). So we'll be giving one person, my father, access to our accounts in Schwab.
Finally, as a backup we've also obtained American Express cards. American Express probably has the most number of worldwide offices of any of the credit card companies. We've recently learned that we can link the card to our Schwab account as well. Then any time we use the card the funds will be withdrawn from our account as well. We should be able to simply walk into any office world wide to get money from our account. There are also several other useful features available through AE including mail forwarding and language interpretation.
So with our Schwab account and American Express cards we should be able to be virtually financially independent.
Taxes (nothing in life is sure except death and taxes)
Run as we might, we still can't get away from taxes. For the first two years, while we're still in the U.S., we'll be returning to Denver each year to complete our taxes. After that we'll need to set up some way to handle tax returns from abroad. This is an issue we haven't fully resolved as yet and suggestions from the reader community would be gratefully accepted.
Health Insurance (What? You can still get sick with all that exercise?"
This took a while of investigation to figure out what to do. The difficult part about dealing with health insurance nowadays is that most providers have only the HMO type policies. At least these are the least expensive policies you can get and the ones the agents really try to push. Well, for our situation, this won't work.
To find our insurance we actually pulled out an old copy of Consumer Reports. Believe it of not they actually do rate insurance companies once in a while. We found one we really liked, rated at the top, American Republic. They do issue policies in Wyoming but not in California. In fact, we can't even fill out the forms until we've relocated our mailing address. So that's one of the reasons we're planning to head directly to Wyoming as quickly as possible.
In the meantime, we've gotten insurance through Blue Cross and Blue Shield in California. Our concern was that should we be rejected in Wyoming we would then be in a real fix if we didn't have coverage elsewhere. So if American Republic doesn't work out we can stay right with what we have.
It actually turned out to be reasonably easy to get insurance with BC & BS. The trick is we were looking for a high deductible, about $2000. We figure for minor stuff and physical, dental, and eye exams we'd just pay. But we wanted to make sure we were covered for major problems, like getting hit by that big truck coming around the corner.
Living expenses (Are we rich?)
Actually people have commented that we must have an incredible amount of money to be able to afford to do this for an indefinite period of time. Actually, we're not rich by any means. But we'll be extremely frugal. We currently estimate that we'll be able to live on about $15 to $18K per year. Assuming about $250 per week for food, shelter, and other expenses and the rest for health care. Now we'll actually be able to afford more if needed, but if we start the first few years living on less we can go on for a much longer period of time.
We didn't come up with this number just out of the air. We've been asking other traveling people what their expenses have been and typically the numbers range from $1000 to $1500 per month. Also, during our month long tours we've typically spent about $50 per day and that's with eating out in restaurants for just about every meal. So by planning to cook most meals and doing a fair amount of free camping we should be able to cut this down to about $30 to $35 per day fairly easily. We are adopting one rule, however. We won't let expenses rule everything we do. If there's a particular site we want to visit that costs a little extra we'll figure out some means to put it into the budget.
We plan to keep a record of our expenses as we go along. So if anyone is interested in getting a more detailed breakdown in about 6 months or so we'd be glad to share that information. I'll admit, hearing the costs accrued by other's during their travels and seeing that they fit well with our plans made us feel much, much more comfortable about our future.
Mail (We still want to have friends)
I've often wondered how nomads send and receive mail. Well, one idea came from Steve Roberts. Steve traveled around the U.S. on a bike that was an electronic marvel. He was communicating through the Internet. At first we thought that the expense of outfitting ourselves with a small computer, modem, etc. would not be justifiable. But then we learned that there are newsgroups to which we can subscribe that can provide us with lots of on-the-road information as well as a link to the rest of the world. Things like directions through cities that are good bike routes, good places to see and ride, places to stay, even invititations to visit with net friends we meet. It just seemed that there was so much available to make this journey flow smoother we decided to go the extra mile and get that computer. Basically we would up with an HP100 palmtop, a 2400 baud modem (someday when they get cheaper we'll upgrade to 9600 baud), an acoustic coupler, and the interconnecting wires. I've been frantically learning how to use all this and have now established a great network of some really interesting folks to talk to as we go along. I've gotten a lot of good information both on biking and the Net as well. By the way, our Internet address is: email@example.com
How about those folks not on the Net. Well, there are many people I know who are not into computers. Yet I really want to stay in touch with them as well. It's not going to be nearly as easy and I am hoping that gradually even these folks will emigrate to the Net. But in the meantime we'll have to use "snail mail" (that's what folks on the Net call the regular ole Post Office). While in the U.S. we'll have our snail mail go to my parents. Then about once a month, or whenever the mail has collected to be a reasonable pile, we'll have them send it to whatever city or town we're in via overnight mail, Federal Express, or UPS. One Swiss couple we met last November has this arrangement set up with one of their relatives and it seemed to be working quite well. To send us mail the address is:
Caryl & Brian Bergeron c/o Charles Johnson 1920 Shiver Dr. Alexandria, VA 22307
And, please, please send us a regular notes to let us know how you're doing. We really value the communication we receive. Equipment (It all weighs a ton)
We spent a lot of time, effort, and even a fair amount of money picking out the best equipment we could find knowing that it needed to be able to hold up to years and years on the road. I won't go into much discussion of equipment in this newsletter. That's going to be the topic of my next newsletter. I plan to discuss what we're taking (at least to start, I'm sure it will change over the years) and perhaps a little about why we chose a particular make, model, or brand. This next letter will mostly be useful for bike tourists.
Emotions (Are we really ready for this)
This is perhaps the toughest question to answer. Here I sit at my familiar desk at work. Yet in about 3 hours I will be officially unemployed and out on the street. This is the day I have dreamt about for about four years now. How do I feel? Kind of numb. It just doesn't feel quite real yet. I must admit, I had thought I would be walking on air right now. But it really doesn't quite feel like even a vacation yet. I guess the reality will sink in during the next few weeks.
How about being emotionally prepared for the "retired" life? We think we're ready. Certainly every time we've gone on our month long journeys we've always felt an incredible amount of depression whenever we've had to return. We always felt that one month wasn't enough. But are we ready for years and years of the nomadic lifestyle? I guess only time will tell. When people ask how long we plan to ride, I always say "Until it's not fun anymore." That will be our sign to say we've had enough. It may be only one year it may be twenty. We'll just have to wait and see.
People also wonder about how we'll adjust to spending 24 hours a day together. Now don't forget, we've been doing bike tours for years now with our maximum being 2 months. In addition, we went through the wonderfully stressful experience of building a house. Yet we've still managed to keep a good strong marriage. I think the key for us has been that we're both very flexible, me like the same things, we don't have hot tempers, and we always get along extremely well when we're doing what we enjoy most which is bike riding and traveling. So at this point we don't see any real problems. That's not to say there won't be tough times, but we should be able to survive even some of the worst times together.
Well, that's all I have to say for now. On Wednesday we head to Denver in our fully loaded van with everything we own to start the next phase of our lives. We are excited and ready.
Caryl & Brian
P.S. I wrote this newsletter at work on the Mac with a normal keyboard. This gave me the opportunity to at least do a spell check. I'm afraid the keyboard on the HP is so small there's a good chance there'll be a lot of spelling errors. So please forgive my bad spelling in advance.
Copyright © 1995-2011 by Caryl L. Bergeron - Distribution for personal use permitted. Distribution for other uses with written permission.