Two for the Road in 80 Countries (and Counting)

Posted July 17, 2018 4:33 p.m. EDT

n 2013, Michael and Debbie Campbell were a married couple living in Seattle and approaching retirement with financial trepidation and the looming question, What’s next? Today, they are the Senior Nomads — travelers who live full time on the road, staying in Airbnbs around the world.

“We’ve been to old places like Ephesus, Pompeii and Petra,” Michael Campbell, 72, said. “We saw Handel’s Messiah performed in Granada, Spain. Very few will know this, but Kazakhstan held Expo 2017 in their capital of Astana. We went to that.”

Debbie Campbell, 62, added, “Since we’re not going home, we just set a path and say, ‘Where can we go from here?'”

Following are edited excerpts from a conversation with the Campbells.

STEVEN KURUTZ: Of all the places you’ve traveled to, can you talk about a few moments that stand out?

CAMPBELL: One of our goals is to be where history is in the making. We decided to go to London, to spend one week there before the Brexit vote and one week after. We ended up staying in this little lane of 40 houses in Peckham Rye. The neighbors came out in the morning bleary-eyed, like, “What just happened?”

MICHAEL CAMPBELL: So many Americans have been to Omaha Beach and the American cemetery in France. But someone tipped us off to the German cemetery. The gravestones aren’t white; they’re black stone crosses. How many Germans go to pay tribute to the Germans who died at Normandy? Our perception is very few visitors.

Are you different people than you were five years ago? If so, how?

: It’s a gradual change that comes over you. For myself, I’m much braver than I was, more willing to go through any door, happy with less. I have slowed things way down. We have the luxury of time. We’ve really become flexible. We’ve become tolerant and gracious with each other. There’s a lot of grace in our marriage.

MICHAEL: The marriage has never been stronger. Debbie is left-handed, I’m right-handed. She’s creative, I’m an Excel spreadsheet guy. Yet we’ve been able to bring those skills together to divide the chores, and we’re rowing the boat in the same direction. We have purpose. You wouldn’t want to do this with anyone but your best friend.

You’ve also become role models for people young and old, unexpectedly.

: Oh my God, I’ve looked at my phone more than once and said, “We have a job. How did that happen?” I’ve written 154 blog posts now. I’ve picked up my game on Instagram. We’ve launched a lot of nomads. People write us: “We’re leaving in three months.” Everyone, no matter what age, says, “You are living our dream.”

MICHAEL: We hope we will inspire people to follow their own North Star when it comes to retirement. They probably have a series of no’s that are comfortable for them: why they aren’t starting a business, why they aren’t riding a bike across the country, whatever.

How long can you keep this up?

: We’ve been able to sustain it for five years. We’re not in debt. I’ve crossed over into Social Security land. It turns out that it’s possible.

MICHAEL: We have five tick boxes: Are we having fun? Are we learning? Are we healthy? Are we sort of in budget? And are we in love? Fortunately, we’ve both been on the same page every time we’ve had to cross that bridge.