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WSJ: What Retirement in a Boat, RV Looks Like in America

Editor’s Note: The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) published an illustrated article about nomadic retirees who open up about their finances and how they spend time and money on-the-go.

Many Americans drop anchor in retirement, settling down near the beach or their adult children. Others leave their old latitudes behind and set sail on the highways or high seas.

Nomadic life appeals to those who have the time and cash to make RVs or boats into mobile retirement homes. After years juggling careers and raising families, these aging Kerouacs and Magellans yearn for the freedom to explore new places while still young and healthy enough to make the trip.

“I knew this opportunity would be something I’d look back on and regret not seizing,” said Harry Weidman, who lives on a 40-foot sailboat in the Caribbean with his partner, Ann Stockton.

Retiring on the road or ocean isn’t always smooth sailing.

Couples said close quarters can test relationships. Boats and RVs also need ample doses of love and attention, since flat tires and engine problems are part of the experience. Nurturing friendships can be hard, although satellite internet helps.

Retirees who give up their permanent homes might save money. But many keep their houses, which means the cost of maintaining a boat or RV can weigh on their budgets. Of the 11.2 million RV-owning households, roughly half are those over age 55, according to the RV Industry Association.

Seven retirees who live all or part of the year in their RVs and boats told us about traveling to destinations from Alaska to the Caribbean. With incomes from $30,000 to $125,000 and savings that range from $180,000 to $2 million, they show that a peripatetic life can be affordable, unpredictable and always memorable.

Ann Stockton and Harry Weidman gambled $220,000 on their retirement.

Stockton, 60, sold her Florida condo in 2020 and Weidman, 63, liquidated part of an IRA to buy Whisper, a 40-foot catamaran, in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Neither knew how to sail.

The boat was Weidman’s idea. While deep-sea fishing one day, the former Somers Point, N.J., resident noticed he felt “most calm and serene when the shoreline drifted into the distance.

Together, they earn about $6,800 a month, including $3,300 in monthly pension income and $2,000 from Social Security for Weidman. Stockton earns about $1,500 from personal training, website maintenance and bookkeeping.

They spend about $6,000 a month, paying around $540 for boat insurance and roughly $600 for groceries. Satellite internet and cellular-phone service cost $300; diesel, $100. Repairs average about $1,500 a month.

Too young to qualify for Medicare, they pay out-of-pocket for medical care, which they have found to be significantly less expensive in the Caribbean than in the U.S. Aside from the $100,000 Weidman withdrew from an IRA in 2020 to help buy Whisper, they have yet to touch their $730,000 in savings.

They would like to explore the coast of South America, or the Mediterranean.

“After this experience, buying a place in the U.S. doesn’t appeal to me,” said Weidman. Stockton’s vote? “Maybe an RV.”

See the full illustrated article from Wall Street Journal here.

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