Life After the Military: How We Decided to Travel for a Year Post-Retirement

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Picture of Stephanie standing in front of Laguna Cuicocha
Laguna Cuicocha, a crater lake at the foot of Cotacachi Volcano in Ecuador

My husband and I used to stay up late to binge watch episodes of House Hunters International. We both had an appreciation for traveling and living abroad, and we loved to see the amazing properties that often cost less than a monthly parking space in our hometown of Arlington, VA.

One particular episode stuck with us. It featured an Australian couple who was moving to Northern Italy on a whim. They both had location-independent jobs, so they decided to spend 6 months living in a new place and enjoying the beauty of Italy.

Their rent was a third of what we were paying, and they had a gorgeous terrace overlooking Lake Garda.

After watching that episode, we wondered why we couldn’t do something similar.

If you ask my husband how we decided to take a year off and travel after retirement, you may get a different explanation. The way I remember it, the idea evolved over the course of several years, but it was watching many episodes of House Hunters International that planted the seed in my brain.

A Good Life in DC . . . But is There More?

When we first started talking about taking a year off to travel, my husband was a few years away from military retirement, and we were renting a large townhouse in Arlington, Virginia, just outside of Washington, DC.

It was in a popular area with a small cluster of trendy restaurants and boutiques that were an easy walk from our house. One of Arlington’s many recreation trails was literally outside our front door. Our house was spacious, with what is probably the best kitchen I’ll ever have in my life.

But it was on a busy road full of auto body shops, warehouses, and other industrial buildings. We shared a wall with our quirky neighbor whose souped-up car shook the pictures off our walls each time he started it. There was no water view, no mountains, and virtually no outdoor space.

It was hardly worth $3,600 per month.

By all accounts we had a very nice life. We had good jobs, many friends, and we loved living in DC, despite the high cost. But we couldn’t shake the feeling that there had to be more to life than our usual routine.

Even though we both worked reasonable hours by DC standards, it felt as though we didn’t have enough time to spend together. The few hours after work and the weekends peppered with mundane errands didn’t feel like living.

Often, as I was brushing my teeth before bed, I would look in the mirror and have the distinct sensation that I was in the movie Groundhog Day – each day was the same routine.


I should add here that, initially, I was more enthused about traveling for a year than my husband was.

Growing up as a military brat and then serving 30 years in the Army, he had done his share of traveling. He probably would have been happy retiring, finding a relatively low-stress job (anything would seem easier than the Pentagon), and having lots of time to golf and tinker with his motorcycle.

But he agreed to the adventure because it was one of my dreams.

As you will read in other posts, we are both very happy we charted a new course for our lives.

The Question Isn’t “Why?”

When we considered our situation and the possibility of taking a year off, we always came to the same conclusion: why not?

We had no debt: no car loans, no student loans, and no mortgage. We had no pets or young children, and both of my stepsons had money for college if they chose to use it (one son could use my husband’s GI Bill and the other was in the Air Force).

My husband was retiring from the Army, so we would have his pension and TRICARE health insurance. Also, military retirees are entitled to one final sponsored move, so the Army would pack our household goods and store them for a year free of charge.

I had been at my job for 5 years and was ready for a change.

With all those factors working in our favor, the main sticking point was how we would transition back to “real life” when we returned from a year of travel and neither of us had jobs.

Ultimately, we decided we would figure that out over time. Even if the landing wasn’t smooth and it took a while to find jobs again, it would be worth the experience.

Saving and Dreaming

During those years of mulling over this idea, we knew we were going to travel in retirement somehow. We didn’t know exactly where, when, or how, but we were saving money for it.

Besides moving to another townhouse that was $800/month cheaper, we found small ways to eliminate costs, like canceling our cable service and using WiFi to watch TV.

My husband and I had a mutual understanding that we were building our savings to give ourselves options down the road. We wanted to prepare ourselves for whatever we decided to do.

As we discussed the possibility of traveling after retirement, we talked about our individual expectations and goals for the experience. We agreed that we wanted to travel slowly, rather than hopping from place to place. In fact, we wanted to rent apartments and spend a few weeks or even months in the places we visited so that we could become part of the community and get a sense of how it is to live there.

That approach meant we couldn’t incorporate every travel experience either of us hoped to have in our lives; we were limiting the number of places we would go. In a way, our post-retirement travels would be a means of evaluating other locations and lifestyles to help us decide where we wanted to land at the end of the year, if not back in DC.

Making it Happen

We finally confirmed our decision to travel only a few months before we actually set off. Over the previous year, we had spent many hours talking about how we would pack up our belongings, where we would store our cars, and all the other logistics associated with disengaging from our DC life.

Once we were ready, we simply put those plans in motion.

We terminated our apartment lease. My husband scheduled our movers. I gave notice at work. We packed our SUV, which we would park in a local garage, with extra clothes and anything else we might need before receiving our household goods at some unknown time and place in the future.

Before I knew it, I was sitting on our front steps watching the movers load our belongings into the truck. I had my cell phone, and I was canceling our utilities. One by one, I severed each small connection to our conventional life.

A few days later, it was time to pop smoke. It was May 2015, and after years of dreaming and talking about this adventure, we were finally making it a reality.

The first part of our journey together was a road trip within the United States, after which we would head to Europe. That’s about as detailed an agenda as we created.

We had no firm plans, only a general idea of where we would go in each season. This was to be a year of living in the moment and choosing how we spent our days based on how we felt at the time—no routines or itineraries. It was an incredible feeling of freedom, and we couldn’t wait to get started!

Update: More than 8 years later, we are still traveling and living overseas! Here’s what happened!


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22 thoughts on “Life After the Military: How We Decided to Travel for a Year Post-Retirement”

  1. I’m SO glad you decided to write about this. Fills in the gaps of what you’ve told me. I look forward to hearing more.

  2. I love that Stephanie! Look forward to hearing more. Definitely got me thinking of what is possible in my life.

  3. Don’t Know if you considered House Sitting as part of your journey, but spending months in places becoming part of communities on 2 to 3 months sits are a blast with
    no rent. I just turned 60 so I can take advantage as a fully retired reservist so that will greatly improve travel cost with Space A. Been house sitting 3 years nearly full time since retiring civilian job. Look forward to hearing more of your journey.

    • House sitting sounds like a great way to become part of the community (and save money)! We haven’t tried it yet, but I’ve read through a few of the house sitting websites to see what the options are. Thanks for sharing your experience!

      • So, what are some of the reputable house sitting websites would you recommend? This aspect sounds interesting and not something I knew was available.

        • is a site we use regularly. The site is free to review, it has worldwide reach with lots of sits available in USA, UK, AUS and many others places around the world. The site is a membership site with membership running around $100 annually. You get many services with that membership including multiple daily emails of available sits. One good long term sit will easily pay for your annual membership. It has brought Me & wife much enjoyment.

 is another site we have used but with less success.

  4. That sounds wonderful. It’s something that I know I could never have gotten my wife to agree to though. I’m reading this late, but I hope the next story I saw there was the continuation so I can read what’s next.

    • Funny that you say your wife wouldn’t have agreed. My husband often tells me that if I hope to inspire other military families to take a year off to travel, I should talk to the wives!

  5. So glad I stumbled across this site. I’ll be a retired AIr Force Reservist in October and I’m navigating Space A to figure things out. I’m in Seattle, so darned close to McChord and SeaTac. Plan to use Space A to run up to Fairbanks every now and then as my youngest will be attending college there this fall. Thank you for your stories – huge incentive to get going although my husband is a few years younger, so can’t retire yet…

    • Thanks for your message, and congrats on your upcoming retirement! We’ve flown Space-A out of McChord several times but haven’t been to Alaska yet. It’s on our list!

  6. 1. How did you budget for the travel (meals & lodging)?
    2. Did you use (can you recommend) any travel apps, such as something to translate Japanese to English, etc.? English to German, etc.
    3. Did you use (can you recommend) any travel apps, such as something to look up train schedules or bus schedules on line?
    4. I can’t get to Safeway without my cell phone – any caveats for wireless connectivity outside of the continental U.S.?

    • Hi Steven,
      Great questions. We did not have a formal detailed budget for our travels. We knew how much money we had per month (a portion of my husband’s military retirement), so we established a target max for how much we could spend per night on an apartment. We bought groceries and prepared many of our own meals to keep costs down, but we also ate in restaurants a fair amount. While traveling (and in the US) we often share meals to save money and avoid eating too much! So I would say we kept our eye on spending but didn’t have a set daily budget or record each expenditure.
      For language translation, we used Google Translate fairly often. It’s not perfect but there is a function where you can take a picture of text written in another language and it translates it for you (very helpful when trying to figure out how to work appliances in Japan). You have to be connected to WiFi for the picture function to work, but if you just want to search for common words, you can download a “local” version of the dictionary for a particular language.
      To help with travel planning, Google was once again our go-to app. If you open Google Maps and choose your destination, you have the option to select your date of travel and your target arrival or departure time. The app gives you several options, depending on your mode of transportation, and it tells you the cost. I use this app many time per day, whether for walking, driving, or taking public transportation.
      Another great app that we use extensively is You download the map and routing for the country or region you are visiting, and from that point on, you don’t need to be connected to WiFI or a network to use it, because it’s all GPS-based. You can search for a destination while offline (the name of a restaurant or a general term like “supermarket”), and it will provide turn-by-turn directions. If you miss an exit, it automatically re-routes you. The app is free but it’s indispensable when driving around a foreign country!
      For most countries we visited we simply used WiFI for the apps mentioned above and to send messages/make phone calls (e.g. with Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp or Line). In Japan, we purchased a SIM card from a local electronics store. It gives us network connectivity but only for data/Internet. In other words, we can’t make phone calls but we can use the Internet and apps without being connected to WiFi.
      I hope I answered your questions, but please let me know if I need to clarify!

    • Have you tried Road2rio. This app is priceless. You put in your destination. It tells you 3 choices or more. Maybe take the train for$86 will take you 3 hrs and leaves at these hours. Fly, bus, car. They all have an estimated price. Get it just for the fun. It’s free.

  7. Hi Stephanie! I absolutely love that you guys chose travel for the next step in your lives. I work with a lot of military that are about to retire and it can sometimes be disheartening to just hear the same story of looking for the GS job (whether it be one they are actually interested in or not) to transition to. Of course, everyone has their reasons and may not be as financially set…but my favorite stories are ones where the next step is something they really want to do. My favorite story so far has been a member’s next step is to open a dog rescue cause that’s what she’s always wanted! I’ll be sure to direct folks to your site if they aren’t sure what their next should be 😉

    • Hi Sylvia! I agree, it seems that too many retirees take off their uniform and return to the same job in civilian clothes. I’m glad that my husband didn’t want to go that route (even if it did take a bit of convincing to get him to travel). That’s a great story about the veteran who opened a dog rescue! I’d love to learn more about her!

  8. Hello Stephanie. I met your husband yesterday while staying at the Navy Lodge near San Francisco. After a nice conversation about life after retirement as well as the travel adventures, he told me about your website. He had to explain the term “pop and smoke” to this Navy retiree. I took his advice and headed to your site and I was very impressed! It was more than expected. I’m looking forward to use this resource to plan with my wife our next adventures . Thanks a lot!

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