Seniors find life on the road satisfying

Four years ago, Karen DeGraffenreid discovered a book called Home Sweet Anywhere: How We Sold Our Home, Created New Life, and Seen the World. Captivated, she tore it up overnight. The next morning, she asked her husband, Paul Therriault, if he would be ready to attempt the nomadic life described in the book.

To his surprise, he said, “Yes.

Within months, the retired couple had sold their home in Dallas, put their things in a storage unit and hit the road. While staying in Airbnb rentals, they traveled to Mexico City, San Miguel de Allende, Barcelona, ​​Madrid, southern Spain, Ecuador, the Galapagos and Chile. And that was only the first year. They never looked back.

DeGraffenreid and Therriault are among the growing number of older adults joining the homeless movement, moving from one hotel or apartment to another or living in RVs. Lifestyle passes for a while, thanks to the movie Nomadland, which won the Oscar for Best Picture this year. The film tells the story of a woman who lives in a van and moves from one temporary job to another.

Don Wilks spent most of the last year in Florida, Wyoming and Montana, where he took a selfie in Glacier National Park.(Don Wilks)


Living the nomadic life offers adventure, a way to meet new people and to keep life unpredictable and interesting.

“Comfort is the enemy of progress,” said Don Wilks, 60, from Dallas who has lived on the road for 20 years. “When you travel you are always faced with a challenge. You are always learning something and trying something new every day. “

Wilks’ travels have taken him across the world, staying in hotels, Airbnb rentals, hostels and the occasional couch surfing and camping. He spent most of the year in his Jeep, exploring Wyoming, Montana and Florida.

Who thrives as a nomad? “People who are curious, who are lifelong learners, who want to make new friends,” says Michael Campbell, who lives the nomadic lifestyle with his wife, Debbie. “Normally, as you retire and get older, your circle of friends shrinks. Living on the road, you keep meeting new people and making new friends. “

Lisa Lowe, 59, and her husband Keith, 65, lived in Palmer, TX until they retired and sold their home in 2019. Now they are traveling full time in their Airstream from 25 feet, recounting their travels on their Footloose and Fabulous Facebook page.

“We love the freedom of just being able to go and do whatever we want,” says Lisa Lowe. Before hitting the road, her husband spent the weekends mowing and tending their 3-acre lawn – something he didn’t miss at all.

Lisa Lowe, 59, and her husband, Keith, 65, lived in Palmer, Texas until they retired and sold their home in 2019. They travel full time in their 25-foot Airstream. .
Lisa Lowe, 59, and her husband, Keith, 65, lived in Palmer, Texas until they retired and sold their home in 2019. They travel full time in their 25-foot Airstream. .(Lisa Lowe)

Not all senior nomads are retired; many work occasionally or part-time, and some volunteer. The Campbells volunteered for political campaigns in Alaska, Montana and Colorado in 2020. On previous trips to Nepal, Wilks started Global Community for Education, a nonprofit organization that built schools and provides university scholarships for students from South Asian country. Wilks also occasionally takes on employment contracts, helping businesses after major disasters recover and prepare insurance claims. His last gig was with a refinery in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

Not having a permanent residence requires some logistical planning. Where are you going to file your taxes? How will you vote? Many senior nomads establish a home port – a place they visit at least once a year for annual physical visits and to renew driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations. Mail forwarding services, offered by support networks like Escapees RV Club (, helps manage taxes, absentee voting and stay in touch.

Plan your finances

John Mayleben, 57, and his wife, Jade Ethridge, have lived on the road in a 42-foot camper van since 2017. They have visited 17 state capitals and 10 state parks, crisscrossed the country in southern California to the Florida Keys, and to Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa, Colorado and Utah, with occasional stops in the Dallas area to visit their adult children. They opt for secondary roads rather than main highways and often make spontaneous detours to little-known towns and quirky museums. “We joke that we are planning our trip to Jell-O,” says Ethridge.

Mayleben estimates her budget is around $ 3,500 per month, including fuel, insurance, RV site rental fees, meals, entertainment, and museum entrance fees. But he says nomads can live as cheap or as expensive as they want.

The Campbells try to keep their housing at around $ 100 a night. The Lowes say renting the site costs an average of around $ 600 per month. Because their RV is fitted with solar panels, they can shy away from it – staying in places that don’t have water or electricity hookups, often for free.

Boondocking opens up a wide range of inexpensive options, such as free parking on federal lands or services like Harvest Hosts, which gives members free access to approximately 2,000 campsites at wineries, distilleries, farms and other destinations for an annual fee of $ 99.

“There is no extra charge for camping, but our members tend to support the businesses they visit, by buying wine from a cellar or producing on a farm, so it’s a good deal for them too. the hosts, ”says Joel Holland, Harvest Hosts CEO.

Jim Nelson and René Agredano tell about their adventures on  Seasoned nomads hit the road in 2007.
Jim Nelson and René Agredano tell about their adventures on Seasoned nomads hit the road in 2007.(René Agredano)

Not for everybody

A big challenge: most nomads have to downsize and abandon most of their possessions before hitting the road. Almost everything the Lowes own is in their Airstream.

“You have to make sacrifices,” says Lisa Lowe. “We have a small refrigerator and a shower. It has become our habit, but for some people it would be uncomfortable.

Adaptability is another requirement. Airbnb travelers will find that the quality of accommodation varies. The Campbells say they’ve been mostly lucky, but have driven a few less than desirable rentals.

You won’t find much ethnic and racial diversity among the senior nomadic population. René Agredano remembers driving in various neighborhoods in Los Angeles, parking in a camper van that was only occupied by white travelers.

Agredano, 51, is a Latina who travels full-time with her husband, Jim Nelson, and blogs at Other than herself, she said: “I can’t think of any person of color that we have met in our age range. If you didn’t grow up in an RV or camping, this just isn’t something you would consider. But I see more diversity among young RVs. “

Les Hall, 66, discovered that life on the road was not for him. After he and his wife divorced, he left Dallas and spent some time in a van with his dog, Izzy, traveling to Montana, Idaho, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado. He missed having a laundry room. Parking in remote places, he was often alone. Now he is happy to settle in Terlingua, Texas.

“My advice to anyone considering a Peripatetic lifestyle is not to do it alone unless you can live in your head for days without really connecting with others,” he says. “If I had met a like-minded soul on the road, it might have been different.”

But those who embrace this lifestyle say they’ll stay there for as long as their health and finances can. Says Debbie Campbell: “As long as we have fun, learn, stay on budget, and as long as we’re in love, we’ll keep doing it.”

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