June 27, 2015
The word homeless has many connotations, but the first thing that jumps to mind is not generally a retired couple using their homelessness to promote a business, a book, and travel the world.
However, that is exactly the scenario Bill and Susie Davidson have found themselves in. The couple moved to Fallbrook originally in 1989 and later launched themselves into early retirement and their self-titled “GR8 Adventure”.
Bill who was a Southern California Edison employed for 32 years, some of which were based out of San Onofre, entered early retirement. He was followed by Susie six months later in 2001 when she quit her job as the Secretary at Fallbrook Union High School.
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They Sleep Around
And they are very good at it
BY ALBA MONROY
You wouldn’t guess upon meeting these cheerful, down-to-earth Americans that they are unemployed and homeless, yet they are; and they have been for the last 12 years.
They are not spies or under any sort of witness protection program, the GG (Gringo Gazette) is assured. They are not professional vacationers. What Susie and Bill Davidson do, Susie jokingly claims, is sleep around. They are currently plugging her forthcoming book, tentatively titled; ‘We Sleep Around’. They have all their belongings in an SUV: clothes for hot and cold weather, computers, printer, GPS, and a fridge that plugs into the car lighter. They buy international health insurance through Blue Shield. They maintain one storage unit in the US and have a Florida post office box. They have slept in 765 beds since they began and describe themselves as retired adventurers; they are house and pet sitters.
They maintain that this is a form of employment, as it employs their time, but with the added bonus for homeowners because they do not need to be paid. Bill retired early from Southern California Edison where he worked for 32 years, a beneficiary of downsizing he explains. He was offered a lump sum payout package to retire early or take a different position at the same pay rate. He took the money and ran, which they could do because they had planned and saved all their lives for this, Davidson working in finance. From his first day of employment, he joined the company investment plan to which the company matched his contribution. He invested the maximum his entire career and took advantage of any additional stock purchases that the company offered. They did everything right and now it is paying off for them.
In 2002, they promised their kids they would all be together every Christmas, sold their home, and set off to fulfill their dream of living on the road, first stop Fairbanks Alaska. Their plan was to get to know the U.S., renting and living economically. However, they found a person going on sabbatical who needed a house-sitter for six months in Boston. As so it began. From then on, through word of mouth, the Davidsons filled their schedule. During the first five years, they had a place to “sit” 95% of the time. They registered with a house and pet sitting online listing service called HouseCarers.com. They have had two nine-month stays and always work it so they are not going from one coast or boarder to the other. They get so booked sometimes; one of them has to finish one job while the other goes on ahead to the next.
The animal care aspect is very important. Susie enjoys the pets, takes pictures, makes toys and gives the owners visual updates and pet oriented gifts. They have sat a 24 yr old tarantula and a longhorn steer, but of course the majority of animals are cats and dogs. The Davidson’s take the animals to the vet, administer walks and baths, and take loving the animals very seriously. Now that they have been in the business for 12 years, they have many clients who check the Davidsons availability prior to booking their own vacations, and they rarely have to rent a hotel and take a vacation from their great adventure.
The job of taking care of someone’s home and animals sets their daily schedule and they always make an effort to leave the home in better shape than when they found it. If something goes wrong in the house, they hire the contractors, after contacting the owners for permission and price guidelines, and then they supervise any necessary repairs, just as if they were in the own home. So for example, one family, upon leaving, exclaimed, they have been meaning to get that garage door painted and the Davidson’s did it for them. Once their household duties are taken care of, the Davidsons get to know the place they are visiting. They meet local people and enjoy the discovery of local markets, restaurants and hideaways off the beaten path.
The Davidson’s have set goals, which dictate the homes they care for. They want to see all the state capitals. They are only missing the Midwest: North and South Dakota, Kansas, Montana and Idaho. They want to visit all the national baseball league stadiums and they have made a point to visit the 9/11 monuments at Shanksville, New York, and Washington. Their sitting services have taken them to Italy, their favorite European destination and other places in Europe. They are seriously considering Australia. They get everyone they meet to sign their big inflatable Korbel champagne bottle as a record of their adventure.
When asked about the highs and lows of such a nomadic lifestyle, the Davidson’s were quick to point out the highs. After a lifetime of full time employment in separate jobs, the Davidson’s in their thirty-eighth year of marriage have found that their great adventure has given them the opportunity to fall in love all over again. They consider this retirement the best job of their lives. Though Bill does not need to work, he decided he needed some gray matter exercise, so he accepted a U.S. treasury job in Iraq between 2007 and 2009. Susie bounced from house to house while he lived under fire. His friends thought he was crazy and Susie was left hanging once, as Bill had to take shelter when the bunker whistle blew while they were Skyping. Bill ran to the bunker leaving the connection open and Susie wondering. Fortunately, it was a false alarm. Bill advised on Iraqi electric energy budgets.
The lows include not having their own pictures on the walls and being able to putter about in their own place. They miss family though they have kept their promise to meet every Christmas. The good-byes are hard too though Susie keeps in touch with at leat 60 per cent of the homeowners. They also miss living in a community where they know everyone and everyone knows them. This year they have taken a break and rented a homne for six months in Los Cabos because their daughter and boat builder hubby live here, and they just provided them with a grandchild. But old habits die hard, and they are still pet sitting. In may, they will be back on the road again.
Will they ever settle down permanently? Not for at least another two years, says Susie. She is not ready, but Bill says he has started looking for the right place. Cabo with its California proximity and now the residence of their offspring is one of the contenders. Their advice: Enjoy life to its fullest and make new friends every chance you get! Life will end – make it the most enjoyable life anyone can have so that others will try to outdo you!” You can contact them at [email protected]
The couple have been living this way for eight years and use the experience to visit different parts of the country and abroad.
After Susie, 59, quit her job as secretary at Fallbrook High School and Bill, 63, retired from Southern California Edison, they left for a planned five-year trip to see the United States starting in Fairbanks, Alaska. They sold their home in Fallbrook and drove off Feb. 15, 2002.
After reaching Fairbanks, their carefully made plans were scrapped. They heard about a rent-free, six-month house stay near Boston and have been house-sitting ever since.
During the past eight years, the Davidsons have crisscrossed the country, stopping to watch baseball games, visit presidential libraries and sample fare at breweries and wineries. They have stayed in more than 50 places, including a home in the Netherlands.
To stay in contact with friends and take care of personal business, the Davidsons use the Internet and a UPS store mailbox that forwards their mail.
They said they don’t need to work to cover their expenses.
The Davidsons do not ask to be paid for staying at houses and taking care of animals; however, they do accept money if grateful homeowners offer it. They had thought about becoming bonded, but decided that homeowners were satisfied with the referrals they have. Once they were asked to sign a contract and since then that homeowner in rural North County has had them back several times.
The couple find house-sitting duties through word-of-mouth referrals. They also advertise on the Internet and have acquired eight stays from advertisements posted at Curves gym franchises Susie frequents.
After meeting Susie at a Curves in Fallbrook, Erin Craven and her parents, Marsha and Gary Pay, had the Davidsons take care of their four dogs and two cats for two weeks in March and April at the Pays’ house in Valley Center, where they learned to give the Pays’ diabetic dog insulin shots.
They have also encountered different kinds of pets in their travels. Along with dogs, cats, and birds they have watched over a longhorn steer in Visalia.
Although the Davidsons have not had to work, Bill responded to an advertisement while house-sitting in Maryland. He said he was hired to work in Iraq from 2007 to 2009 for the Treasury Department. While he lived in a trailer in Iraq, Susie continued house-sitting around the United States.
They plan to keep up with their vagabond lifestyle.
“We kind of have a goal,” Susie said. “I would like to see 10 years of homelessness because it has become kind of a joke with us. We are looking for a place to live when we grow up. Someday we can have another house, but right now we are really enjoying meeting new friends — two-legged and four-legged.”
Ray Patterson is a freelance writer from Valley Center.