prepping for vagabonding in middle age

My wife Beth posted an article about us being on the home stretch of our preparation for the six month (maybe less, maybe more) travel. She wrote, “Todd has to see the dermatologist again, and I am visiting a lymphedema therapist to get one last treatment before our trip. This is the kind of thing that middle-aged people do before they travel.”

And that reminded me of something that’s been on my mind the past month. We’ve read a lot over the past five years on the topic of “digital nomads” and how to prepare and execute a location-independent lifestyle. But one thing almost all our role models have had in common is that they’re in their 20s or 30s, and flawlessly healthy.

Medical Stuff

We’re a bit different. I’m now in my late 40s, and Beth is in her early 50s. Between the two of us, we’ve had a small handful of life-threatening diseases and even more long-term chronic health issues. In many regards, we see ourselves as pretty healthy. We can both do all the basic activities of life without help, and we walk and exercise more than most Americans (which I realize is a terrible yardstick in the global sense). But a much higher percentage of our trip planning revolves around insurance, access to medicines, and questions like “where do we go if condition X flares up while we’re in country Y?”

Read most travel planning books, and they’ll offer a template packing list. But none of them have any notion that you might have 1/4 of a suitcase of pill bottles to lug along wherever you go. And none of them talk about how you handle getting long term “maintenance” medicines for a six month trip when some countries have laws that you can only bring a one month supply of any medicine with  you.

A couple that go by the combined name of Married with Luggage has a great book called Dream, Save, Do that has served as our main template for preparing for this excursion. They religiously track their expenses and have found that they average around $50 per person per day. When you look at their breakdown of where they spend their money, they’re spending it mainly on food, lodging, and transportation, as you’d expect. Over the course of three years, they spent $1700 on medical care. In the US with our top of the line health care, we can easily spend that much in a single month!

The kind of issues I’ve been worrying about lately is how to handle the gap between travel insurance and a normal medical plan. We have travel insurance, which mainly exists to cover the possibility that a volcano in Indonesia will make it impossible to go there after we’ve bought tickets and reserved a hotel. Our travel insurance also covers medical issues that crop up, but has an upper limit of $50,000. That’s more than enough to cover most problems, like Delhi belly or a broken arm. But it’s not enough to cover catastrophic issues like shark attack or me rupturing my inner ear.

Do we just hope nothing catastrophic like that happens? Well, of course we hope nothing catastrophic happens. But do set out on our travels intentionally not having a medical insurance plan to cover ultra expensive problems? We’re used to having American style health insurance with no upper limit, as all “real” insurance plans now must do under the ACA. That’s how we’ve been able to have major cancer treatment and three brain surgeries in America. So the idea of not having a complete safety net scares me.

Travel Style

Another way that most of the books and websites we read for inspiration don’t quite hit the mark is what I guess you’d call travel style. Travel sites written by 20-somethings, like Nomadic Matt, assume you’re going to travel like 20-somethings usually travel — living out of a backpack, sleeping in hostels, going clubbing when the urge strikes, etc.

But we just don’t see ourselves, a middle-aged married couple, splitting up each night to sleep in single sex dormitories apart from one another. And Beth doesn’t want to (and physically cannot, given her shoulder issues) carry all her earthly possessions on her back. She needs a rolling suitcase. So our travel lifestyle is going to be a little closer to the expensive mental image most American’s think of, rather than the frugal living model we’re striving for.


Given all that, do you have suggestions for us? Maybe there are books and blogs out there that address the location independent lifestyle issues for middle aged people with medical issues. But I haven’t found one yet. If you know of one, drop me a comment.


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