In 2012, Debbie and Michael Campbell were living in Seattle, owned a house and a sailboat, and worked at jobs they enjoyed. Retirement was barely on their radar, and at age 58 and 68 respectively, neither foresaw that retirement would mean chasing their travel passion full-time.
Five years later, the couple has visited 68 countries and well over 200 cities, and have spent 1,000 nights at Airbnb homes along the way. And with approximately two-thirds of countries in the world left to explore, they say that their journey as ‘nomads’ has only just begun.
Senior travel is on the rise: Airbnb data shows that bookings by seniors increased 64 percent over the last year. For travelers over 60 from the United States, the most popular travel spots include Mexico, Italy, New Zealand and Canada, in addition to cities across the U.S.
But for the Campbells, what began as a six-month ‘trial run’ has turned into a lifestyle fueled by spontaneity, personal interests and the kindness of strangers.
Initially they traveled to France, which was already a favorite place to visit, and were eventually lured to the Balkans, Baltic States and Eastern Europe by a shared love of 20th century European history. Since leaving Seattle in 2013, they’ve hopscotched by train, plane, boat, bus or automobile through Europe, Asia, Latin America and Africa before returning to Strasbourg, France, where they are as of this writing.
“The bottom line is that our Airbnb hosts have made us feel welcome on all four continents we have visited,” Debbie days. “We need to feel at home – and that is at the heart of why we use Airbnb.”
After seeing the couple’s travel bucket list hanging on their refrigerator, their daughter suggested that they look into Airbnbs. After researching what a long-term trip would entail, everything from lodging to obtaining visas and mastering translation apps, they learned that the nomadic life was possible.
“We quickly saw the potential and started dreaming,” Debbie remembers.
To date, they’ve slept in 200 different beds and used 55 different phone numbers since leaving Seattle, walking an average of 8,000 steps by foot per day. They’ve bunked in a sailboat off the shores of Italy and an apartment carved into rock in Salzburg, Germany. They also travel very light: After four years, they still carry just two pillows, Michael adds.
See a full list of the Airbnbs the Senior Nomads have stayed in on the road.
Despite the breadth of cities they’ve visited, they’ve learned that “hospitality is a universal trait that is not defined by country,” Debbie says.
When you’re in a new country every few weeks, connections matter – not to mention a kitchen, room to relax, and a neighborhood to call your own. “This makes all the difference to us and of course, with every stay we are making new friends all around the world,” she says.
The Campbells normally book their Airbnbs about six weeks in advance, but say that traveling one-way still leaves plenty of room for spontaneity and diversion.
“That means we can plot a course that moves us forward from one city to the next without worrying about returning to where we started – and make side trips along the way,” Debbie notes.
At four years and counting on the road, the Senior Nomads emphasize that with a mix of imagination, planning and flexibility, travel dreams can be within reach for those at any age.
“We only go round once in life, so summon up all your courage and go for it,” says Michael. “Why wait?”
Photos courtesy of Debbie and Michael Campbell, George Chumakov (header photo), Andy Haslam (second photo), and Scott Smith (last photo)