5 Fun Alternatives to Retiring at Home

by Sally Stich, Considerable.com
Alternatives to Retiring at Home photo

If you don’t want to just hang around the house once you retire, consider trying these affordable options that will not only get you out of the house but keep you out of the house for extended periods.

If you’re soon to retire and wonder what you will do with your time, the short answer is “Plenty.” The better answer is “Let us count the options.” There are so many alternatives to the same old, same old that don’t cost more than you’re spending right now, expose you to new cultures and new people, offer great enrichment opportunities, and give you a chance to see the world. You’ll have trouble choosing where to go and what to do. Don’t believe it? Check out these 5 fun alternatives to retiring at home.

1. Traveling Long-Term

Four years ago, Lynne Martin, now 70, and her hubby Tim, now 65, decided to make a major change in their lives. “We were both ready to retire and came up with a plan that met our most important requirement: travel,” she says. But this would be different from before. They wanted to go back to favorite places and live like locals.

They sold their California home, put important stuff in storage, and started renting places through an international online rental agency. From three nights in a New York apartment to three months in a Paris apartment, they’ve lived for various amounts of time all over the world, including a condo outside Lisbon, an apartment in Istanbul overlooking the Blue Mosque, a beautiful house in San Miguel Allende, and an apartment in Marrakesh. They often rent off-season and are able to negotiate a better rent. (The condo in Portugal with three bedrooms and three baths near the beach was $1,500/month because it was in the winter months.) And their lifestyle costs no more than when they lived in a home. “We shop the local markets,” says Lynne, “and eat in our rental and spend our time really getting to know the places we love. For us, it’s a more productive way to spend money than putting it into a leaky roof or yard work.”

The Pros: There is no overhead, no mortgage, and none of the expenses and worry that come with owning a home. (The Martins even rent a house in California when they go to visit family at holidays.) It’s also a simplified lifestyle. The Martins travel everywhere with two 32-inch suitcases and two carry-ons. And it’s a chance to stay physically active.

The Cons: They do experience periodic homesickness. “Thank God for Zoom,” says Lynne. There is also the issue of medical care from different doctors in different locales if an emergency arises.

The Considerations: It’s smart to buy international health insurance with evacuation insurance when the rental is outside the U.S. The Martins also have Medicare for when they need medical attention inside the U.S. and have set up bill payment on the internet.

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2. Cruising

One fun alternative is living aboard a cruise ship. It’s hardly a new concept, but it’s getting more media attention as Boomers search alternatives to retiring at home. “It’s an exotic, out-of-this-world way to live,” says Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor of CruiseCritic.com. “You have literally no responsibility. All your needs are taken care of while you also get to travel and meet new people.” The food is usually great (and you don’t have to cook it), entertainment is plentiful, and enrichment lectures abound. And your room is cleaned every day.

“This isn’t just a rich person’s option,” says Brown. Some cruise lines offer rooms for $40,000 to $50,000 a year, which covers all your expenses except spa services, alcohol, and shore excursions.

The Pros: You get incredible travel opportunities and get to meet new people regularly while enjoying a stable crew. There is good internet connection, so communication with family and friends is easy. There is also a full-time medical staff for minor health issues.

The Cons: This is not a great option for people with major medical issues. Also, there are long periods of time away from family and friends. “Many people have family meet them in port cities a few times a year,” says Brown.

The Considerations: Again, it’s important to buy good international health insurance and to set up all banking and bill paying online. Compare various cruise lines for their options versus your needs.

3. Being a Caretaker

Imagine living in a chateau, on a ranch, or in a light house. That’s the life of retirees who are willing to live in and take care of property for absentee owners. Lynne Macco, 57, and her hubby, Timothy Mount, 65, happen to love living near water. When they discovered a lighthouse off the coast of Maine through the Caretaker’s Gazette, they jumped at the chance to be the caretaker for three months. Since that first opportunity, they’ve tended to lighthouses in Alaska and Massachusetts and are currently in a lighthouse in Tasmania.

There’s no rent when you caretake, but you do have to manage minor maintenance issues, or in the case of Macco and Mount, you have to be ambassadors for guests who come to visit the property. “We give tours of the island and tell the history of the light house,” says Lynne. Otherwise, their time is theirs to take walks, garden, read, and enjoy the peace and quiet. This couple does own a house in the Adirondacks that a caretaker watches for them.

The Pros: There is a great variety of caretaking opportunities from city life to country life and from extravagant to more simple. You’ll enjoy low expenses. (You have to get yourself to the property and pay for your own food and other daily expenses, but you don’t pay rent.) Plus, there is a chance to tap into inner fantasies of being a ranch owner or a vintner or living by the ocean.

The Cons: You need the ability to cope with the unexpected. Macco recalls pitching sludge out of a lighthouse basement that had flooded. Plus, there is long-term separation from family and friends. Also, there may be the need to take whatever provisions if it’s a remote location. “I can’t just go buy bread when we run out, so I need to bring the ingredients to bake it myself,” says Macco.

The Consideration: It helps if you can handle minor repairs. Many property owners provide lists of fix-it people in the event of a major calamity, but it’s more difficult in remote areas. You must remember that you are not a guest on this property but its caretaker. If something happens, you’re on duty.

4. RVing

Veronica and David James (52 and 55, respectively), authors of Going Gypsy: One Couple’s Adventure from Empty Nest to No Nest at All, became empty nesters in 2008, and on a whim, they bought a motor home on eBay for $3,000. “We figured we’d just hit the road for a while. We didn’t really have a plan.” says Veronica. Six years and two motorhomes later, they are full-time RVers, traversing the country in search of good weather, relatives, and the chance to see national parks and wacky museums. If they want to be by the ocean or in the mountains for a while, they park and enjoy the views for a week or more.

Though their van is small, it has all the amenities of home. David cooks most meals and Veronica discovered, after keeping a financial log, they were spending less than they had in their home in Nashville.

The Pros: They see different views every day, and it’s a simplified lifestyle. “We have exactly what we need and use and nothing more,” says David. There is freedom to go wherever the mood takes you. It is a chance to reconnect with your spouse; after years of raising kids and work, you’re now together 24/7.

The Cons: Can’t host family dinners anymore. (Their daughter hosts holidays in her home in NY.) There is spotty internet service in remote locations.

The Considerations: Originally the Jameses had a P.O. box near their son who would forward anything important. They have since bought a small studio apartment outside New York City (two adult daughters live in NYC), so they have a permanent address. “You need an address to get a driver’s license and license plates,” says David. Since they get to New York a few times a year, they can check their mail. There are also mail forwarding services like EscapeesRVClub that can arrange for anything personal or important to reach you periodically.

5. Sunbird/Snowbird

For Dianne Clark and her husband Mark Wayne Clark, both 71, staying at their home in Phoenix all summer had become unbearably hot. Both retired, they decided it was time to become a sunbird, and as luck would have it, Dianne’s cousin had an investment home in Spokane for his future retirement. His experience with renters was spotty, but when Dianne asked if she could rent it, he jumped at the offer and gave them a great price. After all, she was family.

From June to October each year, Dianne and Mark live in Spokane where the weather is so mild, they have practically no utility bills. They’ve made good friends through church activities and volunteering. They take advantage of the nearby orchards where they pick their own fruits and vegetables for a quarter a pound. If they eat out, it’s for lunch, not dinner. They go to free concerts in the park, and they buy half-price tickets to other outings. Life is much slower than in Phoenix and the climate is ideal all summer.

The Pros: They’ve developed new circle of friends, and it is a different pace of life with low-cost living.

The Cons: “There aren’t any,” says Dianne. Her cousin watches her house in Phoenix (he lives next door) while she occupies his house in Spokane. They take care of each other’s lawns and shrubs. For unrelated renters, the snow or sunbird would have to arrange to have someone check on their place while they’re gone.

The Considerations: Going to a different climate for six months of the year can be a great way to avoid harsh climates and finding rentals in snowbird/sunbird cities is an internet click away. But, if you have family or friends who own a second place in a city you’d like to be, ask them if you can rent their place, assuming they don’t use it. It’s a win-win for both of you.

Reviewed March 2022

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