“When we retired, we sold our house and started living full time on cruise ships”

“When we retired, we sold our house and started living full time on cruise ships”

Tori Carter and Kirk Rickman live at sea, travelling the world for roughly the cost of retiring on land

Kirk and Tori in a selfie, with the interior deck of a cruise ship in the backgroundTori Carter and Kirk Rickman, 50 and 54, a former high school teacher and manufacturing plant operator, respectively, are not your conventional retirees. In 2022, the Brighton, Ontario, couple eschewed golf courses and lazy days at home for life at sea, opting to sell their house and live full-time on cruise ships. Here, the nomads tell us about why they ditched life on land, the challenges of nautical living, and how they managed to see 75 countries for roughly the cost of owning and maintaining a home.

Tori: In 2005, I was living in Pickering. Kirk moved into the townhouse next door with his niece and her children. One day, I was cutting my grass with just a pair of scissors, and Kirk called to me from his window to ask if he could help. We started taking walks together and became fast friends.  Shortly afterward, I won a cruise from Florida to the Bahamas. I asked Kirk if he wanted to go, and we packed up my car with a bunch of food and camping gear for the drive down. Then we spent three days together on a very tiny cruise ship—it was basically our first date.

Kirk: In 2006, we got married, and Tori moved into my unit.

Tori: Eventually, we bought a nice house in Brighton.

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Kirk: After that first trip, we made cruises a regular part of our lives. Both of us had nine-to-fives at the time and worked as real estate agents on the side. That accounted for basically all our waking hours—it was common for us to work seven days a week for 20 hours a day. We loved the hustle but often found ourselves in need of an escape. Cruising forced us to unplug and leave everything behind.

Tori: As years went by, the trips became longer; we often vacationed for three weeks at a time. It was our burnout cure. We were always so disappointed to come home. It became our running joke: what if we could just cruise all the time?

Kirk: Then, six years ago, one of Tori’s best friends passed away from a stroke, and Tori suffered a back injury that affected her mobility for months. We started asking ourselves, Why wait until we’re old and sick to go on big trips if we can do it while we’re healthy? We were still pretty young—both in our 40s—but since we’d each worked two jobs, we’d already managed to save a good amount of money for retirement.

Tori: We decided to become cruisers—people who live full time on cruise ships after they retire. Right away, though, we worried about affordability. We realized that, to really make it work, we would have to sell our ranch-style bungalow on a one-acre lot just outside of Brighton.

Kirk: In 2022, we pulled the trigger and retired. We listed our place in the fall, and in December, while we were on a 10-day cruise on the Panama Canal, we received an offer. We took it. Neither of us hesitated, even though it felt like the point of no return. We had already lined up a string of cruises for 2023. So we put all of our belongings, including our furniture, in storage and filled three large suitcases with items we thought we would need at sea: boots, sandals, winter coats, bathing suits, shorts, pants, umbrellas, rain gear and snorkeling equipment.

Tori: Since then, we’ve been cruising full-time. My favourite destination so far was South Korea. We went to an improv show, and I was invited on stage. I used to teach high school theatre, so it was right up my alley. We also went to Greenland, which is so vast and sparsely populated. There were more people on our ship than in their third largest city.

Kirk: We’ve also cruised up and down the Atlantic, around Japan and all the way down to Antarctica. That was the highlight for me so far. We walked with penguins and saw the world’s largest iceberg, which is three times the size of New York City. Very few people have seen it. It’s extremely remote and constantly moving.

Tori: The ships themselves are destinations too. We’re never bored. We’ve taken up ballroom dancing, language courses, and fitness classes like spinning, barre and yoga. We’ve also launched our own blog and YouTube channel where we document our journey.

Kirk and Tori in front of a large, stately building in RomeKirk: A question we receive a lot is, How can we afford this? How does the price of cruising full time compare with the cost of living on land? Well, it depends on the level of luxury you want, but in general cruising is only a little more expensive. We didn’t choose this lifestyle to save money, but we do try to cruise as economically as we can.

Tori: Cruises come with a lot of hidden fees. For example, we once saw an ad for a cruise that said it cost $45 per night. We realized that this was the cost per person and that the deal applied only to couples. Then, cruisers had to pay $200 in port fees and $192 in taxes, plus premiums for better rooms or balcony access, gratuities for the employees, and extra fees for Wi-Fi, drinks and activities. Then, if your cruise doesn’t start and stop near your residence, there are flights. Altogether, this $45-per-night cruise came to $2,310 in total for ten days—and that was considered a deal. So we’ve learned to investigate prices and stick to a monthly budget.

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Kirk: We use an online spreadsheet that helps us save. It’s how we keep track of travel dates and plan successive cruises so that we don’t have to rely on long flights or hotel stays between trips. We’ve become quite good at ship-hopping. Since the fall, we’ve barely been stationary save for two nights in a hotel in LA and two days in Barcelona.

Tori: I’ve also been a member of Home Exchange, an online home-swapping platform, for many years. I’ve accumulated a lot of points and can stay at people’s houses for free across the world. It comes in handy. For example, in February, we’re cruising to Australia. We’ll stay at someone’s house near Brisbane for five days for free.

Kirk: We also save money on excursions. We do a lot of exploring on our own instead of shelling out a few hundred dollars for a group trip. Though we do splurge sometimes. That boat ride to the world’s largest iceberg cost $400 apiece. We took it because there was no other way to get there.

Tori: It’s crucial for us to avoid really expensive ships. You could easily spend a million per year on luxury cruises, but you can ride consistently on smaller boats for not much more than $30,000 each per year. We also save money because we no longer have to pay for things like a mortgage, lawn maintenance, car payments, groceries, and everyday house or yard items.

Kirk: Obviously, the lifestyle comes with its challenges. For one, internet is spotty at sea, so we are often completely off the grid. That makes it hard to keep in touch with family, send emails and pay bills. We mostly just crank out short content on our socials because a 10-minute video can take a week to upload.

Tori: Then there are the dreaded packing days. Between trips, we shift inventory around in our suitcases based on what we plan to use. We have three large cases loaded with our summer and winter wear, including hats, scarves, gloves and thermal layers. Sometimes, when we’re back at our storage lockers in Ontario, we reload our suitcases based on what we think we may need. Packing lightly is impossible. Even with all our planning, we’re still short on clothes at times because some cruise ships have no laundry service. We have to wait until we reach land, wearing the same clothes over and over. When we were in Barcelona last fall, I accidentally put a lip gloss into the laundry and stained everything. We lost dozens of items. It was terrible.

Kirk: And we’re constantly adjusting to different climates. Once, in the span of a month, we went from Antarctica to Rio de Janeiro.

Tori: It can be tough to spend time with family, so we have to make the most of the time we have. We went to London, Ontario, in September to celebrate my mom’s 80th birthday and Christmas at the same time. I call my mom every day, and Kirk talks to his sister a lot, plus we both keep in touch with friends over text. WhatsApp has been a lifesaver for when we don’t have service. The nice thing is that we make friends on the boats. Each cruise ship has its own culture, but it’s easy to connect with other passengers and staff because we all have a similar lifestyle.

Kirk: It’s certainly not everybody’s idea of retirement, but we’ve loved our first year at sea. We never imagined we could travel this much.

Tori: And we’ve learned so much about other cultures. We couldn’t have done that if we’d simply retired in Brighton.

Kirk: The most exciting part is that there’s still lots to explore. Health willing, we don’t anticipate an end date for our adventures—we want to do this for the rest of our lives.

Tori: Or until we run out of money! But we think that, if we can continue being smart about how we book trips, we have at least several years of cruising ahead.