2021 was our second full year as retired nomads, and much like the previous one, COVID made things challenging. Our travels took us to just two countries. We lived for months next to a Vietnamese beach that we weren’t allowed to visit. In the US, we crashed in spare bedrooms and slept outside in a tent for 30 days. Many of our plans revolved around avoiding people, receiving three doses of the new vaccine, and staying healthy. All were successful in that regard. We also managed to spend very little money again, albeit not without the generosity of our family and friends.
Still In Vietnam
We began the year in Danang, Vietnam where we had been since March 2020. Vietnam had mostly closed its international borders due to the pandemic. There was a distinct lack of COVID cases, especially compared to the rest of the world. This made it a fine place to hole up, even if we were itching for something different. Our plans to flee to Taiwan at the end of 2020 had been dashed by their draconian quarantine requirements. So we just had to settle in and have patience.
One of our biggest fears in 2020 was being forced to return to the US against our will. If our visas couldn’t be renewed and no one else would take us, we’d have no choice. We were not carrying US health insurance when the pandemic began and the US approach to the COVID outbreak left a lot to be desired. The last thing we needed was to catch a bad case of COVID in the US and be forced to seek treatment in the US healthcare system without insurance.
For 2021 though, we were prepared. We purchased a health insurance plan on the ACA exchange. This helped to greatly ease our worries. Now we could return to the US with much less risk of financial ruin. We just had to focus on timing our travels with both flight and vaccine availability.
So we sat and waited. And waited some more. Everything remotely resembling entertainment in Danang was closed, including the beach and riverwalk most of the time. We could walk around town, but that was about it. That made for some pretty boring months, but we didn’t want to jump the gun and leave before we knew that we could get the COVID vaccine. Eventually, we settled on the end of June and booked a flight from Saigon to the Midwest.
Travel Made Difficult
Naturally, since it involved us making travel plans, leaving wasn’t easy. Almost as soon as we booked our flight, Danang announced that they were indefinitely shutting down all taxi service due to an incident of a single taxi driver being a COVID spreader. Okay, now how are we going to get to the airport? Luckily, about 10 days prior to our flight, they resumed service. Which was some very good luck, because we still had to find, and then get to, a COVID testing site twice. First to get the test and then back the next day to receive the results.
We were also quite worried that the airline would cancel our flight. Since borders were still closed to almost all international travelers, very few flights were running. As you can probably imagine, it’s not financially viable for airlines to fly empty planes for half of a roundtrip. But it all worked out in the end and we got back to the US at the end of June as scheduled. Yeah!
Back In The US
Prior to arriving, Katie and I decided that we’d stay in the US for a while. International travel was a hot mess with lots of mishmashed restrictions and hoops to jump through. We hadn’t seen anyone for a long time, so it’d be good for us to stick around. Plus we had that coveted health insurance valid through the end of the calendar year.
Staying a long time in the US means buying a car, as the US without a car is nearly impossible. Since we’re South Dakota residents, the car would’ve needed to be registered there. We didn’t have any real plans to go “home”, but they require in-person registration. In planning this, my parents decided to make us “a deal”, which basically amounted to them buying us a car to drive around for 6 months, which they’d keep afterwards. Plus they registered in their name, which meant that we didn’t have to go to SD. It was pretty hard to refuse that deal.
Upon landing, we headed to an airport hotel to sleep after a 24 hour travel day. They showed up and dropped off our new ride, maintaining their distance of course. We drove that car to the local CVS the next day and got our first Pfizer vaccine dose. That was our only exposure to the outside world for a bit, as we decided to self-quarantine for two weeks to ensure we weren’t passing along anything we caught in transit.
We left the hotel and went and stayed at the corporate house of our friend’s business. Since no one was traveling for business due to COVID, the house was just sitting there empty. He wouldn’t accept any payment, so we got “a deal” there too. I’m not sure what we did to deserve such generosity, but we couldn’t turn it down either.
The quarantine period went well, with neither of us having any issues. Shortly after that, we got our second vaccine dose. It did take some time to re-adjust to life in the US, but it wasn’t too bad. And now that we had a set of wheels and two COVID shots, we went and spent a lot of time with each of our parents.
Camping And Fall Colors
One way we decided to take advantage of being back in the US was by spending more time outdoors. We dusted off the old camping equipment and combined that with a brand new tent. From mid-August through October, we spent 30 nights sleeping outside. That includes 5 nights in Southern Illinois, 10 nights in Wisconsin, 3 nights in Michigan, 5 nights in North Carolina, and 7 nights in Northern Georgia. I previously wrote about the Wisconsin and Michigan trip here. All of the camping pictures in this post are from the North Carolina and Georgia trips.
It had been many years since Katie and I had been able to enjoy a “proper” Autumn season. Living in California gave us some leaf change, but it’s more of a rarity than the norm. SE Asia doesn’t even have a Fall season. So when we headed into the higher elevations of the Appalachian Mountains to accelerate the coming of Fall and the changing of leaves, it was glorious. And then we later got to enjoy the same phenomenon at lower elevations. I think we had about 6 straight weeks of some really nice colors.
When we weren’t camping and hiking, we were crashing in the spare bedrooms of our families, which certainly helped keep housing costs low. They were happy to have us, as we hadn’t seen them for a while and we are usually willing to cook. We even made dishes that didn’t involve rice! It was very nice of them to allow us to stay for a lot longer than your average houseguest.
Nevertheless, we cannot wait to travel internationally again. Having our own (indoor) space is something we sorely miss. I haven’t been able to walk around in my underwear in forever! We even started making plans. We had our hearts set on leaving for Europe at the end of December, but narrowing it down is always hard because there are so many desirable spots. After checking air quality, pricing, availability, and travel restrictions, we settled on Hungary and Austria. The plan was to spend a month in Budapest and then head to Austria for the remainder of the 90 days we’re allowed to spend in the Schengen Zone. And then COVID reared its ugly head, yet again.
Due to rising COVID cases in late November, Austria implemented a lockdown which included banning tourists for 3 weeks. This was even before the newest Omicron variant started blowing up everywhere. Those restrictions have since been lifted, but it just goes to show the futile nature of planning ahead during this never ending pandemic. So now we’re not sure what we’re going to do. We did make it to Budapest (yeah!), but still don’t know where we’re going when we leave at the end of January. If we leave at all. Maybe we’ll just stay here for three months.
What We Spent
Below is exactly what we spent, although as I mentioned above, this is artificially low due to all of the “deals” we received. I estimate that we saved somewhere in the neighborhood of $5k to $6k in car and quarantine costs due to the generosity of our family and friends.
I’ll also note that we arrived in Budapest on December 30. As such, I’m just making it easy on myself by calculating 2021 as 363 days. The last two days of the year that we spent working through our jet lag will be tacked onto our 2022 spending. As a former accountant, I feel like this proves that I’m actually retired, because the old me could never do that.
While in Vietnam for 174 days of 2021, we spent $8443.70. I detailed our full Danang spending previously. We were in the US a little longer, 189 days, and ended up spending $15,448.03. Aside from the normal food, drink, and campsite fees, we spent a lot of extra money on clothes in preparation for living in a winter climate again. Our shorts and flip flops aren’t going to cut it any longer.
I also got a new phone, as my previous Pixel 2 had a cracked screen for our entire time in Vietnam. Apparently no one in Asia knows what a Pixel phone is and therefore can’t fix it. This time I planned ahead and got a Samsung that should be able to be fixed globally.
Here’s how our spending broke down in the US for the last 6 months. We spent a lot on food and drink, less on housing, followed by transportation and clothing.
That makes our grand total for the year $23,891.73. That’s our highest yet, although obviously still quite low and it could’ve been much closer to $30,000 without the help we received. For the first time, our yearly food and drink spending ($8002) eclipsed our housing spending ($5111). And by a lot! A reintroduction to good craft beer, expensive groceries, and lots of free rent will do that I guess. I don’t expect that trend to continue going forward.
COVID made 2021 another challenging year for our nomadic travel. We certainly didn’t move around much, although we did manage to spend time in a few different parts of the US. The year also felt quite disjointed. Despite being only six months past, our time in Vietnam feels like ages ago. That’s probably a good thing, because we were certainly ready to put that behind us. Financially it was another banner year. The stock market had one of the best years ever while we spent very little money, again. And we managed to stay healthy during a raging pandemic, so that was the best part.