If you could choose to make your home anywhere in the world, where would it be? For Tony and Leanne Argyle – the answer to that question is easy; “Wherever we are, that’s home,” they say. And they mean it. I caught up with them, house-sitting in Ashburton recently, to find out if a life on the move really is as interesting and adventurous as it sounds.
A year ago, the couple embarked on a brave experiment – to see if they could travel the world without it costing any more than if they lived at home. They didn’t just come up with a wild idea, though – it was well thought through and well-planned.
“The back story to our story is that a guy I knew was travelling full time. I was following him on Facebook, and we became fascinated,” Leanne says. “At the time, Dave was living in Thailand for around $1,000 a month and he was just one of many – there’s a whole world of people doing it.”
Intrigued, they decided to find out more by creating a podcast, The Expat Chat. “We interviewed 120 people all doing it differently,” Tony adds. “There were Americans who’d gone to Costa Rica, enjoying twice the lifestyle for half the cost; families with kids; all sorts of ages, single women, single guys, once we started, we were hooked, and we weren’t alone. We were getting around 25,000 downloads a month. It was a huge learning curve for us, and we had so much great feedback we decided we would at the very least, try it ourselves once the kids left home.”
The couple were living on the Gold Coast at the time, with kids still at school, so they gave themselves a three-year lead in period. “We told the kids our plans, and then we worked towards achieving them,” Leanne says. “Most people wait until they retire to really travel, and we’re just in our early 50’s, but we didn’t see the sense in waiting. We wanted to have the experiences while we were fit and healthy and able to enjoy them.”
Once the kids had left home the first step was to sell all their stuff, store a few personal possessions and rent out their home. “People think it’s expensive to travel, that we must be minted,” Leanne says, “but we’re just normal people doing an extraordinary thing and it’s not expensive. We have a budget of $110 dollars per day and our house brings in good rent. In fact, sitting watching telly on the Gold Coast would cost us more than it does to travel. It’s been the most liberating thing we’ve ever done.”
“We travel most of the time,” Tony says. “We don’t play ‘tourist’ though; wherever we are, we make that home and live in the country as a local would. If you travel slowly it costs less than it would to travel fast. In Bulgaria, for example, you can find good accommodation in the city for $35 per day. Asia is like that, Spain too. A cup of coffee in Spain costs just one euro. Some countries are more expensive, but it all balances out in the end.”
They’ve also built up a solid reputation house-sitting in Australia and the UK, staying for anything from 10 days to a month in each home. “Over the European summer, we spend about three months house-sitting while everyone is on holiday. It’s not paid, but it’s a win, win, win. We get free accommodation and become part of the community, the homeowners have someone looking after their house and pets, and the pets stay in the home they know, fed and walked as usual, with no disruption.” When they’re not housesitting, they stay in Airbnb’s or apartments with kitchens. This is especially good when staying in an expensive country.
For entertainment, they almost always hire a car. “A lot of the nicest things to do are inexpensive; we explore villages, look at shops, look at caves, go for walks and get to know the locals – that’s always worthwhile. Locals always know the back ways into the tourist spots – sometimes it’s just a matter of parking a block away and taking another pathway in.”
Greece is a particularly special place for them. “People think Greece only about, Santorini and the Parthenon – all that ‘box-ticky’ stuff, and of course they’re breath-taking, but we prefer the mainland – that’s the real Greece, for us.”
“If you had told me 10 years ago, that I’d be travelling with just a light bag, I’d have laughed at you,” Leanne smiles. “I used to love shopping and going out. Now, it’s all about experiences, not stuff. We don’t need stuff. People tell us they don’t know how we do it, but we’re not staying in hotels, we’re staying in houses with kitchens and washing machines. If you look at your wardrobe 80/20, you probably wear the same six outfits 80% of the time. I usually have a choice of two, so I never have a ‘what to wear’ drama. It can be tricky if you have a 7kg hand luggage restriction – 10kg is a lot easier – but we manage. We never have lost luggage and we never have to hang around airports because we don’t lug crap anywhere.”
“The internet has changed travel,” Tony says. “Ten years ago, you booked a hotel – now there are accommodation options like never before; housesitting, budget apartments and Airbnb. Uber makes it easy to get around and there are so many budget airlines.”
So, where to next? “London to Malta. Malta is costing us $56 AUD for the both of us on EasyJet,” they laugh. “It costs more than that on the train to get to the airport!”
They’ll also go back to Greece in September – their fourth Greek tour – hosting three Ashburton couples. “We keep each tour very open to including individual interests; cooking classes, ruins, dancing under the stars, visiting an ouzo distillery, yoga on the beach, monasteries on pinnacle rocks – all very authentic experiences, but with lots of time to relax and enjoy. It’s all good fun and the people we’ve taken previously have just loved every minute.”
Don’t they get tired of moving around? They vigorously shake their heads. “Not at all. The key is to travel slow, and the next leg just opens out in front of you. Wherever you are is home. It’s really cool.”