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Embracing Van Life in Retirement | From Doctor to Nomad

Have you ever dreamed of packing up and hitting the open road, leaving behind a conventional lifestyle for one filled with adventure and discovery? Dr. Davida Grossman did just that. She transformed her life from a stable home and full-time career to a nomadic existence as a van-lifer and world traveler. Her journey exemplifies that no matter what stage of life you're in, any adventure is possible. We recently held an interactive Q&A with Dr. Grossman to showcase the range of opportunities you can explore in retirement.




Can you tell us a bit about how your journey started?


My story starts when I met my husband on a train leaving Penn Station. We started to have a conversation, and he spoke a little bit about his current life and his interest in eventually living in Panama. At the time, I was doing some medical missions in Guatemala and had always been attracted to Central America and Spanish-speaking regions. I have a history of a mother that was born and raised in Cuba, so I'd always been interested in that part of the world and always wanted to improve my Spanish language skills. Fast forward to many years later, we were living in New Jersey and started talking more about changing our life and following some of our dreams to live in other parts of the world.


How did you transition from a stable life in New Jersey to living primarily through international travel and van life?


It all started with a month-long trip to Spain. We planned a little bit of the trip the way you would plan a vacation, but a lot of it was unplanned. We took it as it came, went to places that we had never heard of, and just explored in an unplanned manner. This experience of moving slowly and living in a different area was a turning point for us. After that, we really started to put things into gear and change our lives to start what we thought would be international travel. We began this new lifestyle in early 2020.


You mentioned starting your travels in 2020, which was a challenging time due to the pandemic. How did you navigate those early days?


We initially went to Colombia and were having a great time, living the life we had planned. But as you know, 2020 was a difficult time for travel. In March, we felt the need to come back to the US due to the uncertainty. My husband had retired, and I had started to work just a couple of months during the year. When I went back to work in the summer of 2020, I asked my husband to figure out what we would do in the fall. He knew I had always been interested in van life, so he rented a van for six weeks, and it turned out to be the best thing we had done. We traveled across the country and up the coast, and we had the best time ever. This experience solidified our decision to include van life as part of our travel plans.


What were some of the must-have amenities and things you wish you had known beforehand when preparing your van for long-term travel?


There are a number of things that you do want to have with you as you travel. One thing I love about van life is having everything I need at all times, which alleviates the anxiety about traveling. Our van is equipped with a full kitchen, but we use non-breakable plates and travel mugs for convenience. We recently bought amazing pots and pans with detachable handles for easy storage. Temperature control is crucial, so we have built-in fans, clip-on rechargeable fans, and a propane heater for cold weather. Safety is also a priority, so we installed a smoke detector, CO2 detector, and propane detector.


Health insurance can be a major concern for travelers. How did you handle health insurance while living abroad and on the road?


For traveling in the US, we make sure to have health insurance that covers all states. Initially, I used COBRA from my previous employer, but now I'm on a national health insurance plan. For international travel, we get an international travel policy for each trip. Some people opt for global health insurance if they spend most of their time abroad, but we prefer to keep US-based insurance and supplement it with travel insurance.


How old were you when you both left your full-time jobs, and how did you feel about making that transition?


My husband retired at 62, and I went part-time at 52. It was a bit challenging for me initially because I felt like I needed permission to live this lifestyle, but I eventually realized that it's all about what you want to do with your life. Each year, I've been working fewer months, and it’s been a gradual transition.


Out of all your travels, which trip stands out as your favorite?


It's hard to choose just one! One of my favorite trips was driving our van through Baja California, Mexico. We explored many small towns, met wonderful people, and had an amazing time. Another memorable trip was traveling across the northern US to places like Montana, Banff, Jasper, and Wyoming. Internationally, I loved our trip to San Miguel de Allende in Mexico and our travels through Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos.


How do you handle basic necessities like showering and internet connectivity while living in a van?


Our van doesn't have a shower, but we have a large sink and 40 gallons of water for sponge baths. We also use gym memberships and campgrounds with shower facilities. For internet connectivity, we use a hotspot and our phones, and we're considering getting Starlink for more reliable service. When we're abroad, we stay in places with good internet or use local SIM cards.


Let's switch gears and talk about your overseas pet sitting with TrustedHousesitters. What do you receive for your service, and how long do you usually pet sit? Also, what expenses do you cover when pet sitting? Are there utilities or other costs involved?


So the pet sitting that we do, and I'm sure there are many different ways to do it, but the way that we do it, we basically pet sit in exchange for a place to live. So we come and live in the house. You can almost imagine that it's an Airbnb, but there's a pet that you have to take care of. So it's very similar circumstance to Airbnb, but there's a pet you have to take care of. You buy your own groceries, but at the same time, people will say, you know, eat whatever you'd like to eat. And, depending on how long you're staying, if you're staying a day or two, then you may not eat the food in the refrigerator.


For those who are interested in doing van life, trying pet sitting, what would be your advice to get them started and really make the most of the experience?


So I think everyone's different. I think you have to know yourself. Some people would jump right into it and just buy a van, sell their house and go do it. Other people would want to try it out a little bit first and see what they think. So, you know, it's very easy to rent a van and go for a trip close by to your home and see what you think and how you like it. Same with pet sitting. We actually did a couple of pet sits in the beginning. We did pet sits very close to friends and family that we were visiting, and we just wanted to get some under our belt and we did a few pet sits in areas that were very familiar with.


Thanks for sharing your incredible journey with us, Davida. Any final tips for those considering a similar lifestyle change?


My advice is to start small and see how it feels. Take short trips, try different setups, and don't be afraid to adjust your plans. Embrace the unknown and enjoy the journey. It's a rewarding experience that allows you to see the world and live life on your terms.



If you're feeling inspired by Davida's story and want to see more about her adventures, check out her Instagram and Facebook. Explore more events and offers here.

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