Embracing the Senior Nomadic Life: Elizabeth and David Coughlin
By Gail Clifford
Everywhere. Nowhere. It’s complicated. All over. It depends on the day. Who knew there were so many answers to the question, “Where are you from?”
But they’re all appropriate answers from Elizabeth Coughlin and her husband, David.
A self-proclaimed “geriatric gapper,” Elizabeth travels around the world every year, writing and photographing their adventures.
I met Elizabeth at a photography conference in St. Louis. When I heard of her globe-trotting lifestyle, I was intrigued. When I learned how she stayed connected with her family, I thought, “sign me up.” She’s living the dream most of us can’t really comprehend.
Leave our things with family or in storage? Travel with a suitcase and a backpack? When most people are setting up doctor’s appointments, Elizabeth is setting up her next flights. And loving it.
It would appear that Elizabeth and David were inadvertently preparing for the semi-retirement they now enjoy. They met as teachers at the International School of London. Elizabeth taught in International Schools around the world, including Argentina, El Salvador, England, Italy, Malaysia, South Africa, Spain, Thailand, Turkey, and Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia).
David, Rhodesian born, was a teacher of history and economics, before becoming a director of various schools. His final job was as an International Advisor to a group of eight Turkish schools in Istanbul. When he retired, they thought it would “be fun to take off and spend time with family before we decided where to spend the rest of our days. We traveled around visiting family, and somehow, we have never stopped.”
They have three daughters, two in Australia, and one now in Abu Dhabi. The latter is the keeper of their household belongings, moved with them when her husband was transferred to Abu Dhabi. When Elizabeth and David retired from their “day jobs,” they began traveling to see their children and other members of the family.
This included regular journeys between Abu Dhabi, Australia, England, New Zealand, South Africa and Zimbabwe. It is the impetus behind the nomadic lifestyle.
I asked how she came to be an international teacher. She replied, “We were living in Zimbabwe, but life was becoming difficult, so when a friend asked if we would like to teach in Spain, we decided to leave with our 3 children and begin a new life.
While they have pensions and own investment property in England, David continues to act as a semi-annual Cambridge Examinations Compliance Officer to ensure schools are running their Cambridge Exams to the standard required, and Elizabeth is a travel writer and photographer.
She’s had several articles published with International Living and an increasing platform writing about photography. And creates a tidy income from her travel photography, increasing now that she’s branched into uploading video. Most recently, she “happened to be in Abu Dhabi” when the Louvre Abu Dhabi opened.
She took lots of images and uploaded them immediately. Her fast action made her the first to have photos of the new Louvre on all her sites. They sold really quickly, which helped even later after other photographers uploaded theirs.
If anyone searches for ‘Most Popular’, Elizabeth’s photos always lead. “Virtually every day, even now, I am still selling images of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, and it opened a year last November.”
But what about health care? Their most frequented countries have relatively inexpensive healthcare, and they’re covered by the UK system. Both remain healthy, so they tend to pay out-of-pocket for anything they need while traveling.
What other places do they visit? The short answer is anywhere they want. The St. Louis trip was geared specifically towards Elizabeth’s career in travel photography. If they hear of an excursion they like, they go. David must turn up unannounced at a school to check they are following the security guidelines for the exams. He usually goes to the northern hemisphere in April/May and the southern hemisphere in October/November.
She shares with me they’ve been so thorough with their planning, there have been few unexpected expenses. They tend to stay with family or AirBnB to keep their housing costs low. I love how they try to pay for everything in advance. What a great way to maintain a low-stress lifestyle on the road.
The biggest challenge? Making sure they have the right clothes for the climate they’re going to. They sometimes have to buy new and cast off old, as there is a limit to how much you can put in a suitcase.
When I asked the most surprising part, she made me laugh. “After four years, we still appear to be welcomed by everyone, whenever we turn up.” When you have the chance to meet this spry, funny, quick-witted lady, you’ll realize why that welcome is likely to always remain the case.
There must be some “war stories” to share, though, no? Elizabeth tells me, “We are adept at managing – whether it is coping with an influx of monkeys stealing food from the kitchen in South Africa; swatting flies and avoiding snakes in outback Australia; or ensuring we keep cool in the searing heat, and exhausting humidity in Abu Dhabi.
We tend to take everything as it comes, and try not to get stressed about anything.” I laugh so hard, tears come to my eyes. And I recognize the importance of the message she sends. Adapt. Manage. No stress. What a great way to be open to the world.
How have their daughters adapted to this lifestyle? After they married, David and Elizabeth went to Rhodesia. Their girls were all born there. They’re each active in their chosen fields and great contributors to society.
I asked if she thinks their girls’ adventurous spirits are based more on traveling so much during their youth, the flexibility David and Elizabeth showed in adapting to your lives, or the men that they married?
She was quick to reply, “I think it was probably our constant traveling, and also because we tried to fit in with the local culture wherever we went. Our daughters managed to make friends everywhere, and now, thanks to Facebook, they still keep in touch with them.
They really are confident, adventurous women. At the moment, my eldest daughter is on a research vessel sailing from Cape Town to the Antarctic, where she will be for the next 5 weeks as she gathers data for her research.”
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Elizabeth’s motto has always been, “Home is wherever I happen to be.” That’s something we can all embrace and help us “Go Nomad.”
Gail Clifford, MD, a physician for more than 25 years, has traveled to five continents and all 50 United States. An avid traveler, she happily goes on new adventures, especially on birthdays. She divides her time between Ireland and the U.S.