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For Senior Nomads, the World Is Their Home

Thu, 11/09/2023 - 11:32
Stuart Lowrie with a view of the St. Lawrence River, just outside Quebec City.
Ken Dorph

You’ve likely heard of the digital nomad — in case not, it is defined as a person who works remotely while traveling freely, with laptops, smartphones, and Wi-Fi allowing a lifestyle free of a central workplace and even a home base. Untethered by material possessions, the digital nomad is free to pursue the best life, enjoying Instagram-worthy experiences in exotic locales virtually anywhere in the world.

But working-age digitized hipsters aren’t the only ones getting in on the fun. Facebook’s Senior Nomads group is more than 8,000 strong, and the online platform Digital Nomad World, which has more than 26,000 members, includes a post about nomads of a certain age, i.e., those 65 and up.

“A nomad doesn’t stop traveling just because the calendar turns over a certain amount of times,” it reads. “Of course, there can be some limitations compared to when we are younger, but senior nomads can have as much fun if not more than younger nomads!” It recommends the books “Your Keys, Our Home: The Senior Nomads’ Incredible Airbnb Journey” and “Winter in the City of Lights,” the latter a memoir of adventures in Paris.

While some senior nomads give up their house and property, others find their way to the best of both worlds, maintaining a connection to “home” while enjoying the freedom of nomadism. For Ken Dorph, 70, and his husband, Stuart Lowrie, 69, escaping Sag Harbor for half of the year hit the sweet spot, enabling enjoyment of the best it has to offer and avoidance of its . . . less-good aspects.

“We no longer like being in Sag Harbor in the summer, and especially in August,” Mr. Dorph said, shortly after Labor Day. “It has gotten out of control.”

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, they considered selling their house. “We thought, where would we go?” Mr. Dorph remembered. “We have such history here, there are so many things I love about Sag Harbor, and it’s home, I know people there. I’m going to be Santa Claus this winter. There are so many things you do in a small town that are wonderful.” With children still in school, selling the house seemed ill advised — “they had soccer, all the things they did as teens,” he said.

But with their graduation came greater freedom for all. “Finally,” Mr. Dorph said, “we put in a swimming pool so we could rent our house — sine qua non, a great expense, but we’d decided we wanted to get out.”

Offering the house for an August rental, they instead received a proposal for a one-year lease, “and thought, that’s interesting,” Mr. Dorph recalled. “The kids are 22, they don’t need to live with us any longer. You tend to have that ‘a home you can always come back to,’ but we wanted to move beyond that. Neither of us is tied professionally to Sag Harbor. So we had no reason to be there except it’s ‘home.’ “

Key to the transition to a nomadic life — even for only half of the year — was what Mr. Dorph called the Great Purge, a dramatic downsizing of material possessions. It was difficult but “incredibly satisfying,” he said. “We got rid of the vast majority of possessions we’d accumulated, gathered over time as if magnets had been stuck to our sides during 30-plus years. Once done, it felt so good! Now that is my definition of freedom.”

“It has shaken out in a nice way,” he said. Mr. Dorph and Mr. Lowrie took a rental in Sag Harbor’s Azurest neighborhood for six months: “three in the fall, three in the spring, which is perfect.”

A longtime financial consultant whose work has taken him around the world — he has been to more than 100 countries — Mr. Dorph was keen to revisit a few far-flung places and connect on a deeper level with longtime friends scattered across eastern North America. Mr. Lowrie works part time for the Nature Conservancy, mostly at its Washington headquarters.

In July, they headed north, to Quebec, “which I love,” Mr. Dorph said. “Montreal, which I like so much I am going back next July. We went to friends in the Adirondacks, to Saratoga Springs,” to which an old friend had returned. “Another friend from Azurest moved to the Catskills, and one brother lives upstate, in Warwick.”

“We tried to be good guests, bringing food and doing dishes,” Mr. Dorph said. “We have a dog, which was a complicating factor — if not for the dog, I wouldn’t have a car.” They occasionally used Airbnb, VRBO, and hotels for lodging. “It was an absolutely wonderful trip. The province of Quebec was so interesting for me, and I had never spent time in the Adirondacks. It’s truly phenomenal how much open land, how much wilderness there is.”

In September, with Mr. Lowrie in Florida, Mr. Dorph traveled by train to Princeton and Philadelphia to visit friends, and then to Florida, from which they returned to Sag Harbor last month.

The adventure will continue in the winter, though the destinations are to be determined.

“I’d like to do a ‘civil rights’ journey, Atlanta to New Orleans,” Mr. Dorph mused. “Probably some time in Florida, Savannah [Ga.], and Charleston [S.C.].” They will return to Sag Harbor in the spring, and in the summer of 2024 will be off once again, probably the aforementioned return to Montreal, and to Washington in June, where more friends await. “You can rent a place for a month!” Mr. Dorph said. “This is great!”

Of senior nomadism, Mr. Dorph said that “it’s a great time of life to be able to explore, to deepen. You see a depth of discovery — you really see the world.” After their dog shuffles off this mortal coil, “we will start to travel overseas again, to places I’d like to go back to like Indonesia, North Africa, places that are very special to me. I haven’t been to Spain since Franco,” he said of the general and dictator who died in 1975. “So it’s not about new places as much as learning more about the places I know, deepening my relationship. People or places, both are about deepening for me.”

For now, it’s all about beautiful places where friends or family are found. “When you reach this age, I don’t know how much time I have left. You really like to see the people you love and get to know them in a deeper way.” Last summer, “we were with friends. When you live with them for a week, you learn about them differently. In all cases, we have a great time staying with friends. Plus, there are plenty of things to do. Washington is one of my favorite cities in America.”

Having spent much of his career on the road, “I have really learned how to travel lightly,” Mr. Dorph said. “That’s a huge thing. One suitcase and knapsack, and that will do me for months.” He advised nomads to “try to keep packing simple. If you have a lot of stuff, especially if you’re not doing a car, you have to keep it really simple.”

They plan to continue this way of life “as long as we’re healthy, which, knock on wood, we both are.”


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