By Lou Carlozo
NEW YORK, Oct 5 (Reuters) - At 68, Barbara Miller Elegbedeis living proof that flower children need not grow up.
A self-described hippie, she attended a San Franciscocollege at psychedelia's height and remembers friends constantlycrashing on the couch of her apartment, just a block away fromJanis Joplin's pad in the hip Castro neighborhood.
Now retired from teaching and secretarial work, Elegbede,68, has become a full-time "couchsurfer" herself, living inother people's guest quarters all over the world. (She has atemporary apartment in Tempe, Arizona.)
"I've lived in Africa. I know how to take a bath from abucket ... I've lived in caves in Greece and hitchhiked all overthe world. Next year, I'm off to India for two or three months."
Call Elegbede one of the "rambling retirees": folks who giveup the senior community or a comfy house for a life of constanttravel. And they're not all hippies.
"The RV (recreational vehicle) has replaced the rockingchair, and the whole notion of retirement has changed in thelast 10 years," says Ken Budd, executive editor of AARP magazineand author of "The Voluntourist: A Six-Country Tale of Love,Loss, Fatherhood, Fate and Singing Bon Jovi in Bethlehem."
There are no good statistics on just how many boomers aretaking retirement on the road. But some indicators - steadilyrising traffic at houseboat and recreational vehicle websites,and a growing number of retirement-age members oncouchsurfing.com - confirm the trend.
There are two drivers, according to journalist SamanthaDunn, who's written about RV retirees for the website NextAvenue. First, wireless technology means you can easily stay intouch with friends and family even while living on the road.
Then there's the financial angle. Today's retirees havelimited budgets and long life expectancies. Living on the roadfor a year or five can be a way to spend less than hanging on tothe big house or moving into a service-heavy retirementcommunity.
"Even if you buy the $100,000 RV rig, it's cheaper thandealing with an oversized house and taxes and all the thingshome ownership entails," Dunn says.
Folks who have done it agree. John Graves, editor of theRetirement Journal and author of "The 7% Solution," a book aboutfinancing retirement, spent 10 years without a fixed address andtraveled to 80 countries. By living simply, bartering and eatingfrom street vendors, Graves, 64, says he saved the equivalent of$36,000 annually.
If that's sounding good, read on. Here's what it takes toretire on the go, whether you choose to hang your hat in ahouseboat, a mobile home, or on the back of someone's sofa.
DIFFERENT STROKES: FREESTYLE
Couchsurfing is the practice of moving from home to home,sleeping in whatever space is offered gratis. Of the almost 5million members at couchsurfing.com, some 160,000 are over 50years old; their ranks have at least doubled since 2009.Accommodations can range from a weathered futon in someone'sliving room to a yacht bunk or a Maui tree house. Typical stayslast two to three days but can also last several months. Whileyou can reciprocate and offer your own couch when your hosttravels, there's no requirement that you do so.
Lodging comes free, though extended stays in a city may meanside trips to a hostel or hotel while hopping between hosthomes. Elgebede says she can stay in South America for as littleas $1,200 a month, or China for $1,500, including eating out.
Couchsurfing.com has a group for global couchsurfers over 50years old with 145 members, up 7 percent from a month ago. Itincludes members from all over the world, including Iran,Argentina, Uzbekistan and the Ukraine.
AFLOAT AND LAID-BACK
As many as 9,000-plus people have retired to houseboats inthe United States and Canada, an estimate based on statisticscollected by the Center for Competitive Analysis of theUniversity of Missouri.
Some houseboaters float from dock to dock, though many stayin one place on the water. People who call themselves"liveaboards" have a leisurely life marked by sunbathing andgrilling.
Houseboaters vary as much as the retirement populationitself: upscale and downscale, singles and married couples,serious sailors and novice boaters, says Ian Morton, editor ofthe All About Houseboats website. Many are concentrated onKentucky's Lake Cumberland, affectionately known as the "RedneckRiviera."
A used boat for a couple, plus room for guests, will cost$50,000 to $250,000, Morton says. The same boat new ranges from$200,000 to $1 million, and amenities can include dishwashers,garbage compactors, a full kitchen and even a hot tub.
Morton, 51, is semi-retired and lives on a houseboat sixmonths out of the year in Montreal, Canada. (He also travels inan RV and has an apartment.) His major annual costs areinsurance ($2,000 for a $200,000 boat) and docking ($3,000 andup).
A marine survey for your floating home to ensure it'sshipshape can run $1,500 to $2,000. First-year costs typicallyrun $25,000, including maintenance and fuel, says Morton, citingthe survey and improvements to a newly acquired boat. Annualcosts may drop 20 percent or more in subsequent years, assuminga lack of weather damage or major repairs.
Morton, who's saving thousands of dollars annually comparedto a land-based life with a mortgage, plans to live on ahouseboat as long as he's able.
"It's peaceful, everybody's in a good mood, you get to fallasleep with the rocking of the waves and the wind, and with theInternet, you can home-office from just about anywhere."
DESPITE FUEL COSTS, RVS REMAIN POPULAR
Estimates vary on how many retirees live in RVs year-round,but it's probably north of 25,000, based on data from theEscapees RV Club and the Recreational Vehicle IndustryAssociation.
Large variations exist in RV price, says Jaimie HallBruzenak, co-editor of the RV Lifestyle Experts website andco-author of "Retire to an RV: The Roadmap to AffordableRetirement."
A used Class A RV, manufactured on a large truck chassis,can run from $10,000 to $150,000. Some top out at more than $1million. The Lazy Daze, a Class C motor home (built on a cutawayvan chassis), is especially popular. It sells in the $100,000price range new, or as little as $5,000 used.
RV expenses top out at $14,000 per year, calculates RichArzaga, founder and CEO of Cornerstone Wealth in San Ramon,California, who just took an extended RV vacation with hisfamily to sample the lifestyle.
Costs include campsites, which average about $30 a night,and gasoline: Expect to spend around $300 to fill a 74-gal.tank. Insurance can run $2,000 and storage an additional $1,000annually.
With housing costs for renters and homeowners averaging$16,557 (according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics),living in an RV is actually cheaper by at least $2,500 annually,says Arzaga. "Full-time RV travelers can also choose their stateof residence, and eight states have no income tax."
Many retirees living in RVs, such as Fran Reisner, 52,suggest towing a car to explore back roads.
"I have a Honda CRV, which happens to be one of the easiestto tow," says Reisner, who paid $92,000 for a 35-ft. WinnebagoAdventurer in a high-stakes trade-in: life at home in Frisco,Texas, for life on the road, indefinitely.
Her rolling home has a king-size bed, double-widerefrigerator and a washer-dryer.
Reisner says RV life has worked out well financially, andshe has no plans to give it up. Having just hit the one-yearmark, she's logged 18,000 miles across 27 states. And countlessmiles of exploring remain as life takes her down a new road:photographing nature and wildlife.
(Editing by Linda Stern, Chelsea Emery and Prudence Crowther)
Keywords: RETIREMENT TRAVELING/