When Debbie and Michael Campbell retired from their Seattle jobs in 2013, Debbie was convinced they had “one more adventure” in them. Instead of working for the weekend, they have created a life of adventure — one that has lasted eight years and counting. Hopping from one Airbnb to another, the Campbells have visited 270 Airbnbs in 85 countries so far.
“We’re probably the most prolific users,” says Debbie. “We’re not on vacation. We live in Airbnbs. We live our daily lives in other people’s homes.”
Their Airbnb–hopping has caught the attention of Airbnb, which has hired the couple, who blog as The Senior Nomads, to mentor the participants of a program called Live Anywhere on Airbnb. The 12 winners will live rent-free in Airbnb units for 10 months starting in September with up to three friends each. Debbie also wrote a book called “Your Keys, Our Home” for rental home hosts, and together they did a three-month internship for Airbnb.
“What [Airbnb] learned during COVID is they had a very significant uptick in people booking long-term stays. So instead of working in your basement in Ballard you can work on the beach in the Bahamas, so people were doing that. So, they put together this program,” says Debbie Campbell.
“Michael and Debbie have been living in Airbnbs for the past eight years, so when we decided to launch the Live Anywhere on Airbnb program, they were an obvious choice to help us educate and onboard the participants that would be living in listings on Airbnb for the next year,” said an Airbnb spokesperson via email. “We will be hosting informational sessions in August to help participants prepare for their September departure, and Michael and Debbie will be hosting a session with tips and tricks from their experiences living in 270 Airbnbs in 85 countries.”
This month, the Campbells will host an informational session with the winners of the contest to share advice from their experiences living in Airbnbs.
“We have so much we want to share with them to help them reach their own travel goals including travel tips, best ways to find the right Airbnb, what to take and what to leave at home,” Michael said.
In return for sharing their expertise, the couple is being compensated with … what else? Airbnb credits.
Speaking on a Zoom call from their Airbnb in Samois-sur-Seine outside Paris, where they were visiting their daughter and grandchildren earlier this summer, the Campbells show no signs of slowing down. One of their daughters lives in the village with her husband, so their grandkids can walk over for a visit.
The couple has thoroughly enjoyed their nomadic post-retirement life. Debbie, 65, a former ad agency owner, enjoys exploring the artistic and historic aspects of new places while Michael, 75, who once ran the Seattle Sports Commission, gets to watch live sports like soccer and tennis around the world.
“It’s hard not to see how transformational travel is, it opens up your worldview,” says Michael Campbell.
The initial idea was sparked years ago when one of their daughters mentioned a friend working remotely in the long term.
“We just didn’t know what we wanted to do when we retired,” says Debbie. “The hypothesis was: Could we retire, live in other people’s houses, and spend the same amount of money we’d spend if we’d stayed in Seattle?”
Airbnbs were the piece that made the budget work, compared with staying in hotels, the Campbells say. They rented out their home, sold their car and boat, stashed their belongings in storage and hit the road. A six-month trial run became “a two-year, ‘I guess we’re doing this!,’ to selling our house and falling into a lifestyle that felt really comfortable to us,” says Michael.
They return to the U.S. occasionally to visit their three other children, family and friends, to get physicals, and in 2020, to volunteer with political campaigns in Colorado, Montana and Alaska during the last presidential election — and to get vaccinated.
Living out of a suitcase and adjusting to new digs with each new city and culture can be a strain, but they team up and play together well. Sitting closely already, Debbie bops Michael with her shoulder, or leans her head back toward him with a laugh. They enjoy each other.
Whomever you’re with, what makes travel so exciting is that you never know what you will find.
“[Staying at ] 270 houses means 270 different beds, showers and kitchens,” says Debbie. “I’ve seen every kind of kitchen there is. There are some Martha Stewart wouldn’t turn down, and others are — really? You want me to cook with this pot?”
In Rwanda, chickens wandered through their kitchen, since it was open to the exterior. In Kyoto, Japan, they couldn’t fit four people in the room together.
One thing almost all the residences they’ve stayed in have in common, she says, is elements from IKEA, the budget housewares store that transcends borders.
They have fortunately had no serious health issues, even during the pandemic when they locked down in Mexico’s San Miguel de Allende for months. The lowest points of their journeys — being pickpocketed twice — are far overshadowed by unforgettable experiences and helpful people, who have walked them across town to a pharmacy or helped them get cash from an ATM.
Although Michael is studying French on the Duolingo app, the Campbells are only fluent in English, so the couple relies heavily on courtesy and the kindness of strangers, trying to be the “anti-Loud American,” Debbie says. They learn key phrases like “excuse me,” “may I please,” “good morning,” and “thank you” at every stop. When they need help, they look for the youngest adult they can find, who may know some English.
To save time, Michael likes to have key phrases ready on screenshots from Google Translate on his phone.
The couple has formed a ritual to settle in and inaugurate each new “home.” They install their pillows, and then Michael verifies that the electric lights and Wi-Fi are working — preferably before the caretaker leaves — while Debbie scans the kitchen for staples and supplies like sauté pans. Along with avoiding rental cars, they cook regularly to help stretch the budget. For some reason, Debbie says, Airbnb hosts tend to forget to provide cutting boards, so she carries one with her, along with two knives.
Non-negotiables? Next stop is a shopping trip to pick up a bottle of wine, Diet Coke, cereal, bananas, orange juice, milk and peanuts so they are ready for the next 12 hours, whichever meal comes first.
Along with cooking utensils and the pillows, their phones, e-book readers and computers, they pack lightly with layers for variable weather. Debbie likes her packable Uniqlo puffer coat and washable wool Allbirds runners. Their travel technology has upgraded over the years. They went from having to buy SIM cards for their phones years ago to watching American TV on their Amazon Fire Stick.
“For right now, we have plans for maybe the next six months. We are feeling so blessed we are so healthy and none of our children are worried about us. In fact, they don’t even know where we are sometimes,” says Debbie.
“As long as we’re having fun, learning, staying close to our budget and still in love,” they’ll keep moving, Michael says. “We are curious, lifelong learners and we’re just anxious to see as much of the world as we can before we get to the finish line.”