Mini-retirement defined: With traditional retirement, you save the good stuff for that 20-year period at the end of life. The idea of mini-retirements takes some of that 20-year period (say 5 years), breaks it up into 1-3 month chunks and spreads it out over your working years. A mini-retirement is longer than a vacation, but shorter than retirement. It may involve part-time work, depending on the length of time away.
I recently received this email:
I’m not usually one to write a note like this out of the blue, but I somehow feel compelled the day after my wife and I booked one-way tickets halfway around the world. I just wanted to say a simple thank you for being inspiring to me for the past few years …And now we’re only a couple months away. I started reading your site after the newspaper had your column about mini-retirements. Since then we have talked about trying something like it. Now, both age 51, we are taking leaves of absence for 8 months and moving into rural New Zealand. I have secured a job there with less time commitment (and less income) than my current job, and my wife has a work visa so she will have the ability to find something once we arrive if she is inclined. This is a bigger chunk of time than the mini-retirement you wrote about. But we are both lucky enough to have employers who have agreed to allow for a longer leave and hold a spot for us — though we decided it would be worth it even if we came back and had to look for work. I don’t want to make this a long story, so…just to say–I know you put a lot of time and heart into your writing. Please know that you have fans out here who appreciate your insights. You are inspiring us to learn and grow, and to be intentional. Kia Ora!
As you might imagine, I responded right away. First, I just wanted to thank him for the kind email. Seriously, my heart grew three sizes that day. Second, I wanted to ask him if I could interview him for Intentional Retirement. My articles about mini-retirements are some of the most popular at the site, but even so, I think many people still dismiss the idea of mini-retirements as “fun to think about, but that would never work for me.” We can all learn something from someone who had all the same excuses we have, but made it work anyway. Pay particular attention to the answers to question 8 below. As someone who has helped people plan for and live in retirement for more than 20 years, I can tell you that the answers to that question are full of lessons, takeaways and insights (both financial and non-financial).
Just a quick note. In the Q&A that follows, I edited portions of the answers for length and also removed the names and other identifying information because the person wishes to remain anonymous.
1. Tell me a little about the mini-retirement you have planned.
My wife and I will be taking 8 months off our current full-time jobs to move to New Zealand where we will live and work in a small community. I will work there as a general practice physician, and my wife plans to work part-time remotely with her current employer. I will say I’m having a little trouble with using the term “mini-retirement” for this endeavor. Maybe there’s not an official definition of the term, but I think of mini-retirement as period of time without working at all. That said, when we read your pieces on mini-retirement that came out a few years ago, it helped nudge this dream into a plan for us. As far as terminology, maybe “trial semi-retirement” fits better since we will both be employed, and afterward, we plan to return to our current full-time jobs.
2. What prompted the trip? Why not just wait until retirement?
At 51 we are both still healthy and active. We want to do this while we can still enjoy many of the outdoor activities that New Zealand offers. We are empty-nesters and our kids are getting settled into their lives, but no grandkids yet. It may be harder to do this in a few years when we may have even more family ties to keep us closer. Our kids are young and active too, so it is also a great opportunity to bring them along for a visit in the middle of our stay to share the experience with us before they have families of their own.
3. Were you and your spouse on the same page from the beginning or did it take some convincing?
We were totally on the same page because we really enjoy travelling together and learning about the world away from home. When we go to a new place, we like to get outside the tourist areas. We try to immerse ourselves in the local culture as much as possible, though opportunity is limited during the traditional one-week vacation time. This is our chance to go for a longer period of time and immerse into the culture.
As a physician, I see a lot of advertisements about practices that need some extra temporary help. We have talked for a long time about the possibility of trying some of these locum tenens positions. These are short-term positions usually because a doctor is temporarily absent, or it may be after someone retires and the practice is searching for a replacement. The most challenging part for us was finding the time to go that would work for both of our careers while also making sure it worked with our family’s life.
4. How did your employer respond when you talked with them about it?
I can’t imagine any employer is very happy about an employee asking for 8 months off, but both our employers have been gracious about this. When we decided to set this plan in motion, we both felt it was the right time. If our employers were not able to hold our positions until we returned, we would deal with the job search when we returned to the U.S. Fortunately, both employers feel we are valuable enough to hold our positions for us. There will obviously be some changes since our duties have to be covered while we are away. We know we will come home to find the job we return to is different from the job we left. Looking through an objective lens, the duties we are both doing now are different from what we were doing 1-2 years ago as things naturally evolve. Ultimately, we knew this would be an adjustment with some potential regrets, but a greater regret might be not going. Neither one of us wanted to say later in life, “I wish we would have taken off on that adventure.”
5. What were the toughest hurdles to overcome or logistics to work out?
One of our biggest challenges will be missing friends, family, and our pets. We talked about taking our dog to New Zealand. Unfortunately, the hoops to jump through for a dog to go were more onerous than for us humans to get work visas. Also, she would have to spend a long time in the plane cargo hold and quarantined after arrival. We decided that it would be too hard on her even though we would like to have her there.
We bought our kids airline tickets as their present for the holidays, so we’ll get to see them for a while at Christmas, and we also have some friends planning to visit. Also, communication is much easier now with social media and video chatting, so we’re hoping that helps us stay close electronically.
As far as work challenges, I feel a lot of guilt leaving for that long with the expectation of returning to my current position. In doing so, I am asking my co-workers to cover for me for such an extended time that I’ll never really be able to pay it back. My wife has already hired her replacement for a job she loves and knows that her position will be different when she returns. Those are the most difficult personal and career challenges.
6. How did you pick your destination(s)?
Years ago, we started discussing trying a locum tenens job as a “someday” thing to do in later years prior to retirement. Mostly we considered staying in the US, but noticed a few positions were available internationally. New Zealand is among the few countries that will accept a US medical license as means to obtain a permit to practice there. Rural New Zealand, like much of rural America, has a shortage of primary care doctors. The practice I will be joining has used temporary doctors for years, but all the while they continue to search for someone to take a permanent position. So, there is the sense that I’ll be helping fill a need in the community there, while also integrating as a local New Zealander more than a short vacation would allow.
7. Anything special you need to do or plan to do with your house while you’re gone?
Fortunately, we will have family who will live in our house in the US and take care of our pets. Their availability to house-sit for the year really helped us choose when to take this time away. Before we secured a house sitter, we were asking ourselves other questions such as, “Is it time to downsize and sell our house?” but “What if it doesn’t sell or sells too quickly?” We also considered renting it for a year and the uncertainties of a being a landlord from overseas.
8. What are two or three things that you hope to see come out of the trip? This could be something you learn, a particular experience, a relational outcome, or whatever.
Mostly, I hope this is an amazing life experience for us. I look forward to the chance to learn about a new country and really get to experience the culture. I hope to learn about the healthcare system and bring back a new perspective for myself. I hope to return refreshed and recharged with a new appreciation for my job, and maybe there will be some things to share and integrate within our office.
We hope to continue to grow as a couple. The good news is we really like spending time together! During this experience, like we also expect in retirement, we will spend even more concentrated time together. As we watch retiring couples, that seems to have its pros and cons. We’ll find out what it’s like to start fresh in a new place far away from home. We’ll learn if combining travel and work like this is something we might want to do again down the road or if it will be something we do only this once.
We will live in a more minimalistic way than we do at home where we have accumulated 30 years of stuff. We will each be taking only one piece of luggage plus a carry-on for an 8-month trip, so soon we’ll see what it is like to live without most of our possessions. We will also both take a significant pay cut for the time we are gone, so we will find out how we manage living within a lighter budget.
Financially, this is a giant step backward in terms of saving for our eventual retirement. Overall, we have prepared fairly well for the future. We’re not in the category with some of the early retirement enthusiasts out there, but we currently have saved about 20x expected annual spending with a goal of between 25-30x by age 60. Depending on how our perspective on expected annual spending changes after this experience, we may adjust the numbers or time frame a bit. But it’s all a work in progress. Regardless, we should get there if we continue to work full time and save as we have been.
To use some of the terminology from your writings, this is our version 1.0 of retirement for this decade. We are certainly not done with our years of employment, but this is one iteration of what we are doing in our 50’s to prepare for that time. For now, all we know for sure is that we choose to control this particular slice of our time and money in this way while we are healthy enough to enjoy it.
9. Any advice for others who are considering a mini-retirement.
Ask me that after we get back…
Hopefully, I’ll have an opportunity to check in again with them over the next 8 months and let you know how things are going. Meanwhile, if you’d like to read more about mini-retirements, here are a few articles from the one I took a while back:
Retirees are Unretiring in record numbers. You read that right. After decades of work and anticipation, people are entering retirement only to reverse course and head back to work. The RAND corporation conducted a survey in 2017 and found that almost 40 percent of workers over age 65 had previously been retired. That’s a lot of people. What’s going on here? Why do so many retirees unretire and how can you avoid the same fate?
It’s not usually about money
First, let’s look at what is NOT driving the trend: It’s not usually about money. The research shows that most of the people returning to work did so not because they didn’t save enough or because they experienced some sort of financial shock, but for other reasons. What were those reasons?
It’s about choice…
The study found that for many people, returning to work was planned. For example, they quit their full-time job to go part-time or they quit a high-stress job to take something more low key. This likely explains why younger retirees return to work in much higher numbers. They retire early with every intention of re-engaging in the workforce under different circumstances.
It’s no secret that people are living longer, healthier lives. That, along with the fact that jobs are less manual than in years past, can open the door to longer careers. In other words, returning to work in your 60s and 70s is an opportunity that exists today that didn’t necessarily exist when most job opportunities consisted of things like mining coal and riveting together skyscrapers. The data reflect this. Those with less education and more manual jobs tend to unretire at lower rates than those with more education and less physical jobs. Still, choice and opportunity don’t entirely explain the trend.
…But also about disappointment and unmet expectations
If you retire and then return to work by choice or to take advantage of a great opportunity, that’s a win. You want to do it and you’re able to. Where unretiring is a problem is when you either have to because of the money or you decide to because you find retirement unfulfilling. Unfortunately, the latter group accounts for a large number of Unretirees. They have their finances in order, but retirement is less fulfilling than expected. This problem can often be traced back to poor planning. If you don’t do a good job figuring out what’s next, you’ll likely drift back to what’s familiar. How can you make your transition successful? Here are several thoughts and takeaways that I had, both from the Rand study and from my 20 plus years of working with retirees.
Takeaways and Applications
Answer the right question. The retirement question most people seem intent on answering is “How am I going to pay for it?” That’s an important question, but retirement is more than just a math problem. In my opinion, we spend too much time thinking about how to get there (math) and not enough time thinking about what we’re going to do once we arrive (meaning). If you focus solely on finances, you risk having a retirement that is cash rich and lifestyle poor. Not surprisingly, that can be unsatisfying and can cause you to miss work, if only because it added structure and purpose to your day. To avoid that fate, put some serious effort into defining what you want to do during retirement.
Don’t just subtract. If all you do is subtract things—work, obligations, commitments—you will create a void in your life. That void can open you to self-doubt, regret, lack of purpose and boredom. Nature abhors a vacuum. If you take something out, you need to replace it with something else. If you subtract your career, you need to add in other things that will provide purpose, challenge and social engagement.
Avoid the temptation to do nothing. The temptation to do nothing can feel pretty strong after years of drinking from the fire hose of daily life. Unfortunately, doing nothing is not a good strategy for long-term fulfillment. It can be rejuvenating for a while, but it will get boring.
Your goal should not be to do nothing. It should be to do what excites you. If you’re feeling spent and burnt out after 40 years of work, by all means take some time off and recharge your batteries. But after that, you need a plan that will keep you challenged and provide meaning and fulfillment.
Practice. Not surprisingly, the better you are at something, the more you tend to like it. How likely is it that you’ll be really good at retirement on Day 1? Not very likely, right? You’re going from something that you know how to do really well (i.e. your job) to something that feels awkward and unnatural (e.g. travel, hobbies, more time with family and friends). There is a learning curve that can be frustrating and intimidating. But the more you practice, the better you’ll get and the more you’ll enjoy it. Acknowledge ahead of time that it will likely feel a bit unnatural, but keep practicing until you improve. Ideally, you should start this practice before you even retire. Start early with whatever portion of your time you control and practice, practice, practice.
Become an intern. This summer I have a young man interning with me. He has an interest in the financial industry, but wants to get some exposure to it before jumping into a 30 year career. Working as an intern will give him a chance to learn about the financial field, gain some experience, develop skills, make connections and evaluate his interests and abilities in a hands-on way. Why not do something similar before you jump into a 30 year retirement? Chances are that you know some people who are already retired. Ask them if you can shadow them for a bit. Spend some time talking to them about the experience. What is going well? What took them by surprise. What advice can they give you?
Consider partial retirement. Remember that work is a totally acceptable option in retirement. Maybe you don’t want to work 60 hours per week, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t want to find some sort of meaningful work where you can use your skills, make a difference and have some social interaction. If that’s the case, consider partial retirement.
Consider mini-retirements. With traditional retirement, you defer the good stuff to that 20-30 year period at the end of life when you have more time and money. The idea of mini-retirements takes some of that 20-30 year period (say 5 years), breaks it up into 1-3 month chunks and spreads it out over your working years. A mini-retirement is longer than a vacation, but shorter than…well…retirement. As you might imagine, there are a number of benefits to taking these extended periods off. You have time to actually experience a place rather than just visiting the touristy spots. It allows you to enjoy some of the benefits of retirement while you’re still young and healthy. It rejuvenates you and can help you come back to work more engaged and more productive. For more on mini-retirements, read this, this and this.
Retire to something, not from something. All the previous points can be summarized by this: Retire to something, not from something. Retiring to escape a job is a recipe for misery and discontent. Retiring to pursue things that you are passionate about is a recipe for meaning and fulfillment.
Note: This post is part of a weekend series I’m doing throughout 2015 that is focused on fun things to do (or learn) during retirement (i.e. bucket list items). I hope you enjoy them and use them as inspiration for your own adventures. Congrats to Donna from our Facebook page who was the winner of this week’s giveaway. There’s a copy of my book The Bell Lap on the way to you Donna.
There’s just something about a good hike. Maybe it’s because modern life so often has us cooped up inside. Maybe it’s the fresh air and scenery. Maybe it’s just getting a chance to stretch our legs while we’re still healthy and active. Whatever the reason, I’ve noticed that retirees tend to front load their Bucket Lists with activities that include walking and hiking.
That’s why I jumped at the chance to share a story with you today from my friends over at One Road at a Time. Patti and Abi started their blog a few years ago and are writing about their adventures as they try to see the world (you guessed it) one road at a time.
When I saw that they were hiking the Camino de Santiago in Spain, I emailed Patti and asked her if I could interview her for an article on hiking the Camino. She graciously agreed and when they were taking a break to let their blisters heal (the hike takes more than a month), she took time to answer a few questions. Enjoy.
For those that aren’t familiar with it, tell us about the Camino de Santiago (e.g. What is it? How far? How long does it take? Etc.)
The Camino de Santiago – a UNESCO World Heritage site – is an ancient pilgrimage. It is believed the ashes of St. James are buried in the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela and pilgrims dating back centuries would travel the Camino to pay homage to St. James. It is a pilgrimage of faith, or dedication, or discovery, or a personal challenge. The distance from the French town of St. Jean Pied de Port, to Santiago, Spain is about 800 kms (500 miles) and most pilgrims walk it in about 35 days, although there are many pilgrims who walk just a section(s) and there are those who walk sections of the Camino on different visits. Every pilgrim walks his/her own pace on the Camino. We know and have talked to people who have done the entire walk multiple times. There are pilgrims who also bike the Camino.
Where are you right now? How many miles have you gone so far?
Right now, April 30, we are in Leon and we have walked about 150 miles. We walked from St. Jean Pied de Port, in France, to Burgos, Spain and from Burgos we took the train to Leon. We chose not to walk across the meseta (approx. 100 miles) because of my foot ailments.
Sometimes the “why” of these trips evolves over time or only comes months or years later once you’ve had time to process the experience, but what initially made you want to do it? Did it just sound like a fun challenge or was there some other reason?
We jokingly say we have no idea why we are walking. We love to walk and we wanted to see Spain. We have no deeply profound or spiritual reason. We are here, living it. But I can tell you it was important to us to do it now, while we are able.
What’s been the biggest challenge so far?
Blisters! I have been plagued with blisters on both feet. At home, we walk all the time, up to 20 – 25 miles per week and I have no memory of having a blister in the past decade or more. Here on the Camino, I refer to myself as a walking blister. Because of the blisters, we chose not to walk the Meseta, using the days instead to rest and heal in Leon before continuing on to Santiago.
Where do you stay on the route?
We stay in hotels, B&B’s, pensions, casa rurals, etc. because we want the privacy and because we want to ensure a reasonably good night’s sleep. And let’s face it, we want to be comfortable! Many pilgrims, of all ages, stay in albergues (hostels), which are either municipally or privately owned. Municipal albergues are usually free, asking for a donation and the private albergues charge anywhere from 5 to 10 euros for a bed in a dormitory or 30 to 40 euros for a private room. Albergue accommodations are most often co-ed dormitory style.
Have the people been nice so far?
Yes! Pilgrims have a comradery because they all understand what it means to be on the Camino. The locals are also incredibly nice. There is a phrase, “Buen Camino” and people passing by will just stop and say, “Buen Camino.” And the locals are so willing to help with directions or information if needed.
Are there any pros and cons to doing the trip with your spouse?
I can’t imagine doing this with anyone other than my husband, Abi. There is nothing easy about making this journey and having the emotional support of my hubby is essential. Plus, we know what the other one needs, wants and likes. There is no second guessing.
I’ve heard two types of fun described. Type 1 fun is fun while you’re doing it. Type 2 fun is painful and challenging while you’re doing it, but fun once it’s over and you have a chance to reflect back on it. Does the Camino fall more into the second category?
Absolutely! About day 5 we asked each other, “Are we having fun yet?” The answer was a resounding, “No!” Fun is going to Disneyland or playing cards and drinking tequila with good friends. The Camino is damn hard, physically demanding. But it is also incredibly rewarding and if you want to get to know a country and its people, walk across it.
What is the typical daily cost (food, hotel, etc.)?
The cost is really determined by your journey. I know a young woman who walked the Camino solo and I believe she averaged about $33 per day because she stayed in albergues and ate pilgrim meals. I would guesstimate we average $100 per day for the two of us. Our average accommodation stay is $60. Pilgrim meals (a preset 3-course meal) average $11 – $13 and they can be found most anywhere. Incidentals such as snacks, toothpaste, sunscreen and band-aids, we purchase along the way.
Did you train for it at all?
We did. We did a lot of extra walking for a couple of months before we left home, but we traveled for 5 weeks in Europe and the Middle East before starting to walk, so it didn’t really pay off.
Do you meet a lot of people and/or participate in different traditions/gatherings associated with the walk or is everyone pretty focused on the hiking?
We’ve met and talked with people from all over the world but there aren’t any traditions/gatherings that I know of, although there is a large social media network. I believe there is more social interaction with those who stay in the albergues because after all you’re eating and sleeping with so many others. During the day we’re pretty much just focused on putting one foot in front of the other. We have however, come across groups of up to 20 that appear to be walking together and there are organized tours available also.
Any tips for people considering doing the walk?
Don’t do this on a whim! I researched for over 2 years. I believe the most critical component in preparing for this walk is your gear. The right shoes, the right socks, a pack that fits well and choosing wisely what you will carry with you because every ounce counts when you have to carry it. Do your homework.
Any short/fun stories or travel serendipity you’d like to share?
The owner of our hotel kidnapped us. It’s a long story. Those interested can read about it over here.
Do you have any major takeaways, life lessons, etc. from your walk so far?
Yes! Don’t jinx yourself by saying you never get blisters! Other than that not really, but ask me again at the end of our journey.
Anything else you’d like to mention about the experience that I didn’t ask about?
The terrain of the Camino tests the walker from beginning to end. On day 1 we climbed over the Pyrenees Mtn. with a summit elevation of 4,600’ and we had to slog through snow and mud. I’ve had an ongoing debate about which is the lesser of 2 evils, uphill or downhill? Loose rocky downhill grades to flat broad farm roads to asphalt to washed away sections of the trail; the Camino throws everything at you. Walking in the spring has gifted us with the most beautiful vistas anyone can imagine.
Tell us a bit about your blog “One Road at a Time.”
I launched One Road at a Time in October of 2012. It started as a creative outlet for me; I love to write and tell stories. I try to capture the human interest side of the story with details and photos. I designed every aspect of the site, with the support of my husband, Abi, and my wizard webmaster. To get to know me and Abi a bit better scroll through the archives and read a few of our posts. You’ll find a variety of content including classic road trips, hospitality intrigue and adventures abroad. We retired early and downsized our lifestyle and while we don’t live large, we have a home base and the resources to travel. By sharing our journey we hope to inspire others to redefine retirement…One Road at a Time.
Thanks Abi and Patti! Good luck with the rest of your walk.
“One cannot really come to appreciate one’s life, save by playing with it and hazarding it a little.” ~ Jack London
Just over a month ago we packed our bags and hit the road for Mini-Retirement #1. The trip was part vacation and part experiment as I tested out some of the things that I’ve been writing about here at Intentional Retirement.
Before I fill you in on how it went (spoiler alert: it involves a visit to the emergency room), let’s do a quick review of the “What?” and “Why?”
What is a mini-retirement?
A mini-retirement is when you take small chunks of your retirement (say a month or two) and spread them out during your working years. That way you can do some of the things that you’ve been putting off until “Someday” while you’re still relatively young and healthy and you’ve got your kids and/or friends around to enjoy them with you. A mini-retirement can focus on travel, hobbies, or anything else you’ve wanted to do but have been putting off until retirement. For more on the concept read this: The Case for Mini-Retirements.
Because you only have one short, precious go-around at this life. You can either spend it dreaming about “Someday” or you can decide what you really want out of life and start taking those plans very seriously.
How did things go?
When I first proposed the trip to my wife I told her it would either be a great time as a family or the biggest mistake we ever made. Thankfully, it was 100 percent the former. The weather was perfect, the people were friendly, and the scenery was absolutely amazing. We hiked places like the Cliffs of Moher and the Wales Coast Path. We frequented local pubs where live music, a cold pint, and friendly conversation with the locals were always on tap. We took guided tours through a few thousand years of history in places like Stonehenge, the Roman Baths, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, the Guinness Brewery, and the Jameson Distillery. Most of all, we spent four weeks of relaxing, memorable, focused time as a family. I could go on and on about what we saw and did, but instead I thought I’d share a few takeaways from the trip that you can use for your own life and retirement.
Have a quest. All told, we were gone 31 days, but the trip was much more than that. It was 9 months of saving, planning, anticipation, dinnertime conversations, overcoming obstacles and figuring out logistics. And once the planning was over we actually got to summon a little courage and sail away from safe harbor. We got to have interesting experiences and make memories that will last a lifetime. We got to return home different than when we left. In short, it wasn’t a vacation. It was a quest. A quest can take an ordinary month or year and turn it into something interesting, exciting and memorable. There are about 25 weeks left in 2014. What kind of quest can you dream up?
The conditions are never perfect. Had we waited for the stars to align perfectly, we never would have gone. The time never seems to be right. You could always use a little more money or a few more days at the office. But we went anyway (non-refundable airfare and accommodations are always a good motivator) and you know what? Everything worked out great. So don’t wait for the perfect time. It will never come.
If it’s going to be, it’s up to me. Write that on your bathroom mirror. It might sound a little corny, but at the end of the day, it’s not your boss, your spouse, your trainer, or that retirement blogger who are going to make things happen in your life. It’s you. Period. No one can live your life for you. The hard work of making things happen is your responsibility and the satisfaction of a life well lived is your reward.
Your health is WAY more important than you’re making it. Almost everywhere we went there were tour buses loaded with traditional retirees. Some of those people were spry and fit and able to get around, but many of them had visible health issues and were limited to exploring within a very short distance of the bus. Contrast that with the couple we saw while hiking in Wales. They looked to be in their mid-70s, but you could tell that they had worked at staying fit and healthy throughout life, which is why they could head out for an all day hike on a rugged coastline. We can’t control everything about our health, but we can control much of it. I came home from this trip with a renewed desire to be healthy so I can enjoy whatever years I have left to the full.
Solitude begins where the pavement ends. The Cliffs of Moher are absolutely stunning. They are sheer, 600-foot cliffs that abruptly delineate where Ireland ends and the Atlantic Ocean begins. The parking lot was a zoo. The visitor center too. The concrete viewing platform was pushing allowable capacity. But if you walked 50 feet (Seriously. 50 feet.) away from the pavement, you pretty much had the path to yourself. What came next was one of the most beautiful 8-mile hikes you could ever hope to take. Rolling hills. Beautiful wildflowers. Grazing sheep and horses. And mile after mile of those cliffs all to yourself. Too often people pull into the parking lot, get out for a quick look, check off the item on their bucket list, update their status on Facebook, and then move on to the next place. The more I travel, the more I realize that some of the best things are found away from the crowds and off the beaten path.
Live an extravagantly modest lifestyle. We’ve learned a few tricks for traveling on a budget over the years, but there was no getting around the fact that this trip was expensive. That’s ok though, because we’re willing to spend miserly on things that aren’t important to us so we can spend a bit more extravagantly on things that are. I like this way of thinking because it provides you with a bigger “return on investment” for the dollars that you’re spending. You can read more about it here: The benefits of an extravagantly modest lifestyle.
Most of our excuses are bogus. People are nice pretty much everywhere. They don’t hate Americans. The food won’t make you sick. You can afford it. You have the time. The excuses we tell ourselves are usually red herrings for “I’m not making it a priority and I don’t want to put in the effort.” Sorry if that’s blunt, but it’s true. If it’s not happening, it’s almost certainly your fault. You can make that truth sting less by deflecting the blame onto something else, but that won’t get you any closer to your ideal life.
Things will go wrong, but you’ll figure it out. My previous point doesn’t mean that things won’t ever go wrong. They will. I can’t think of a trip where something hasn’t gone comically wrong. I sliced my thumb open cooking a late dinner in a small town in England and had to figure out where to go to get stitches. I lost my credit card in Paris. I had my car break down in the middle of nowhere in El Salvador. Yes, things will sometimes go wrong when you travel, but that’s not a reason to stay home. You’ll figure it out and move forward. It’s all part of the adventure.
Rent houses whenever possible (they’re usually cheaper and better than hotels). Hotels are small, cramped and impersonal. Houses give you a place to spread out. They give you a place to cook meals and do laundry. They make you feel more like you’re at home. Not only that, but they put you in a neighborhood so you can get away from the touristy places and experience the restaurants and shops popular with the locals. We usually rent from either Airbnb or VRBO.
The longer you can go, the better. All vacation days are not created equally. Modern travel can be challenging. Navigating airport security and then spending the day in Peasant Class on a cramped airplane can be exhausting. If you take a seven day vacation (the typical break in the U.S.), two of those days are spent in the aforementioned airplane and two of those days are spent either a) recovering from the airplane or b) packing up to get back on the airplane. That leaves 3 actual days of vacation. 3 days is a weekend. So basically, our modern vacations are super expensive, exhausting weekends. You can remedy this by taking a two week vacation (or three or four). When you do that, the travel days are a smaller part of the whole and you can actually enjoy your time away.
Go where the dollar is strong. One reason we chose Ireland and England was because my wife wanted to be somewhere English speaking for our first experience with such a long trip. I doubt we could have made a worse choice when it came to expenses. The Euro is strong against the dollar and the Pound is even stronger. Between the conversion rate, the VAT tax, and the fact that major tourist cities are expensive to begin with, we could pretty much count on everything being 2-3 times more expensive than at home. It doesn’t take long when you’re spending $25 on a cheeseburger or $8 on a pint of Guinness before you decide that your next trip will be to somewhere like Ecuador or Vietnam.
Last, but not least: Don’t wait. “I wish we had started doing these sooner” was a common refrain toward the end of the trip. I can’t turn back the clock, but I’ll definitely make use of mini-retirements in the future. The lesson here was not to wait. Delayed gratification is overrated. Regardless of whether your goal is travel or something entirely different, get started on that now. Doing something that you’ve always wanted to do is like planting a tree. Sure, the best time to start was 20 years ago. But the next best time to start is now.
Thanks for following along with this little adventure. I hope you found something useful or encouraging for your own life. Also, thanks for being patient while I took a break from writing during the trip. I’ll get back to my normal posting schedule now that I’m back. And remember…
Life is short. Be Intentional.
P.S. If you want to see some pics from the trip, just visit my Instagram page.
Greetings from seat 22C, somewhere over the Atlantic en route to Ireland and England.
Wow, that came up fast! When I decided last September to take our first mini retirement sometime in 2014, it seemed more like a thought experiment than an impending reality. Fast forward 9 months and I found myself knee deep in the inevitable mad scramble to finish things up and get out the door. That just goes to show you that no matter how much time you give yourself to do something, you’ll always want a few days more.
I’ll be posting pictures from the trip on my Instagram account and I’d love to have you follow along. You can either look me up (my user name is jrhearn) or just click on the little Instagram icon in the “Connect With Us” box at IntentionalRetirement.com and then click “follow.”
That’s it for today, but I’ve got several posts in the hopper, starting with one that attempts to answer some of the most common questions that I received from all of you as I prepared for this trip.
Have a great week and remember…Life is short. Be intentional.
It’s no accident that this site is called Intentional Retirement.
Being intentional with this brief, but beautiful life is one of the things I’ve tried to weave into the DNA of the site since day one. I preach that sermon every chance I get and I work hard to practice what I preach. I know many of you do the same.
One side effect of being intentional is that you start to tackle big things. You look past the low hanging fruit of your daily “To Do List” and instead set your sights on those big, intimidating goals that you’ve thought about for years, but have never brought to the front burner of life.
Here’s an example from my own life. As many of you know, I’m in the middle of planning my first Mini-Retirement. One thing I’ve learned so far is that ditching your job and traveling halfway around the world for four weeks takes a lot of planning. I know. Who knew? Right?
I’ve spent months working on logistics like accommodations, rental cars, airfare, event tickets, reservations, train tickets and daily itineraries. This is to say nothing of other important details like figuring out a way to pay for it all (Donations accepted. Just kidding. I’ve learned a lot about traveling less expensively and I’ll detail that in a future post.).
As I thought about all this, I had a flash of insight relating to doing big things. It’s the universal secret to accomplishing anything big in life, whether that’s a big trip, writing a book, having a great relationship, building a healthy marriage, having a successful career, getting in shape or putting a man on the moon.
Here it is.
The secret to doing big things is to do a bunch of little things. In other words, you don’t “write a book,” you write a little bit today, and then tomorrow and then the next day. You do that a few thousand times and then throw in a good dose of editing, pitching and publishing and Voila! You’ve written a book. This same process applies to anything big you want to do in life.
If I were to put that into an equation, it would look something like this:
Little things + Consistency + Time = Big Things
As you think about how you can apply the above equation in your own life, keep one thing in mind: The clock is ticking. In other words, the “Time” variable in the equation is getting smaller each day. Why is that important? Because if “Time” is getting smaller, then you need to increase the “Little Things” and the “Consistency” in order to still achieve the “Big Things” that you have in mind. If you can’t do that, then you need to rewrite your equation to get rid of the “Big Things” and replace them with medium or small things.
That’s why I’m so adamant about not waiting until your 60s to retire. It’s why I’m so against saving the best for last. Too many people follow the “traditional retirement” path and when they arrive, they realize that their equation doesn’t balance. They do the mental math and realize that many of their plans and dreams require a crazy amount of effort and consistency because they’ve waited so long start. This results in no small amount of discouragement as they let those dreams go and settle on smaller plans.
So remember that equation above. Dream big, but don’t wait to start. Retire today.
Have a great weekend!