As many of you know, I took a bit of a risk recently and committed to taking a mini-retirement sometime before the end of next year. I say “risk” because I hadn’t talked to either my wife or my boss before I wrote this post, but sometimes ready, fire, aim is the best approach.
Since then, we’ve spent many nights at the dinner table discussing the how, where and when (and if!) of mini-retirement numero uno. Early on, those discussions revolved around convincing my wife why a month in a foreign land was a higher priority than that kitchen remodel that she’s been wanting. She loves to travel as much as I do, however, so the discussion quickly shifted to “where are we going?”
For this first adventure, she thought it would be a good idea to go somewhere English speaking. Language hasn’t been a huge barrier on previous trips (although China was a bit of a challenge), but since we’re going for a month and we’re taking our daughter with us, minimizing potential stressors seemed like a good idea.
After throwing out a variety of options, we quickly settled on Ireland and England. I’ve always wanted to visit the land of Guinness and my wife has always wanted to visit an area of England called the Cotswolds.
The Planning Process
Step 1 was doing some research. We stopped by the bookstore and picked up travel guides for both countries as well as Lonely Planet City Guides for Dublin and London. We started going through the guides and listing out things we wanted to see and do in each place. That gave us a good idea of what our trip itinerary would look like, so we started looking for places to stay in each destination.
I’m not a huge fan of staying in hotels on longer trips. Not only are they expensive, but they don’t give you much of a local flavor for where you’re visiting. If we’re staying for more than a few days, I prefer to rent a small house or apartment. There are only three of us in my family, so it doesn’t need to be anything large or extravagant.
I typically use a site called Vacation Rental by Owner, but for this trip I also used a site called Airbnb as well as a company that specializes in renting cottages in the Cotswolds. So far we’ve booked a small cottage in the Cotswolds for two weeks, a cool old barn that’s been converted into a house in Ireland, and a hotel in Western Ireland because we’ll only be there a few days. No turning back now! We still need to get places in London and Dublin, but because those are large cities, there are plenty of options.
I haven’t booked the airfare yet, but I’ve been using the Kayak App to track two different options. Option 1 is buying an open-jaw ticket that goes from Omaha, to Dublin, to London, to Omaha. An open-jaw ticket is where you leave from a different city than you originally arrived. Option 2 is to just buy a round trip ticket to Ireland and then either use our British Airways points or low cost carrier Ryanair to book a round trip between Dublin and London. I’m leaning toward Option 2 because it’s about $500 cheaper per ticket, which translates to $1,500 for the three of us. I’ll probably pull the trigger on that soon.
We’ll need a car for part of the time in each country, so I reserved (and prepaid because it’s cheaper) for those as well. I typically use Avis. They have a program called Avis Preferred that costs nothing, but saves a huge amount of time and hassle. If you sign up, it allows you to bypass the rental counter (i.e. Dante’s 5th circle of hell) and go directly to your car.
What I’ve Learned
So that’s where we’re at so far. Here are a few takeaways from the process:
1) I was reminded again about the importance of deciding. Big goals can be challenging, scary, complicated and overwhelming. Because of that, it’s often tough to get started. Once you commit to do something however, the tough part is over. The rest is just logistics.
2) Planning early has allowed us to digest the expenses over time. I’ve mentioned before that we are by no means a wealthy family. We live on a single income and have what I have referred to before as an extravagantly modest lifestyle. We spend on key things that are important to us (e.g. travel), but keep a tight rein on the rest of the budget. Starting this process early has allowed us to pay for things like housing, transportation and plane tickets as we go rather than buying all those things at once and then facing a huge credit card bill.
3) There are some amazing tools available to travelers. I mentioned some of the sites I use for booking as well as travel apps that I’m fond of, but that’s just scratching the surface. Researching and planning a trip has never been easier.
4) I have some great readers! I’ve heard from quite a few of you who are putting the mini-retirement concept into practice in your own lives. Keep at it and let me know if there’s ever anything I can do to help.
How about you? Is there something you’ve always wanted to do? Don’t save the best for last. Get started now. Feel free to share your plans in the comments section and we can be cheering you on.
I hope you’re warm wherever you are. It’s a beautiful negative 3 degrees in Omaha this morning. If I hadn’t already committed all of my vacation time in 2014 to this other trip, I’d be researching an island getaway right now. Have a great weekend!
Based on the huge response to my initial “Mini-Retirement” post, I think I can safely draw two conclusions:
#1: There are A LOT of you who don’t buy into the “save the best for last” philosophy of retirement. No surprise here. IR readers are all about living intentional rather than conventional lives.
#2: While you love the concept, some of you are a little uncertain how to make it work for you. In other words, the “want to” is there, but the “how to” is a little fuzzy.
The comment I heard most went something like this: “I love the idea, but I don’t think I could make it work because of my job.” Fair enough. I’m fairly attached to my paycheck too. The good news is that living an interesting life and doing meaningful work aren’t mutually exclusive. If you want to make it happen, you can. Below are some ideas to get you thinking how.
Making mini-retirements work with work.
Note: Not every idea will work for every person, but I’ll bet there is more than one thing on the list that will work for you.
Take the easy wins. Many of us have a certain amount of paid vacation and sick time each year. Some companies even allow you to bank unused time year after year. Rather than spreading those days out in one or two day increments throughout the year, take it all at once. For many, this idea alone will be enough to move mini-retirements from pipe dream to possibility.
Rearrange your hours. Some jobs have a great deal of flexibility. Others are a bit more rigid and follow a basic formula of trading time for money. For those with the latter, your employer’s primary concern is that you’re putting in the hours and doing the work.
A full time job is usually 2,000 hours per year: 40 hours per week for 50 weeks with a 2 week vacation. What if you flipped that equation and worked 50 hours per week for 40 weeks and then took 12 weeks off? Not sure your employer would go for it? Propose 43.5 hours per week for 46 weeks and then take 6 weeks off. Or even 41.7 hours per week for 48 weeks and then take four weeks off. With any of those options your employer is paying you exactly the same amount of money, you’re working exactly the same amount of hours and you’ve got time each year for a mini-retirement.
Ask for your raise to be paid in time off. Companies have been watching their pennies pretty closely since the meltdown in 2008. Consequently, your boss might not be very receptive if you ask for a raise, even if you deserve one. You could probably improve your odds if you ask for that raise to be paid in time off instead of dollars. It’s a win-win. The company keeps a lid on expenses and you get more time off.
Optimize your schedule. Many of us have jobs where we’re not doing the exact same thing day in and day out. There is an ebb and flow to our tasks and responsibilities. We have busy times and slow times throughout the year. Times that require a lot of face to face interaction and times where any old computer and phone will suffice. My job is a lot like this. It gets busy and interactive during client reviews or when I’m doing seminars, but summers and holidays are usually dead. It wouldn’t take much for me to rearrange my schedule so that the things I need to be present for are all concentrated in certain months and the things I can do remotely are shifted to a mini-retirement month. This is a good option for those who want to take extended time off while still maintaing momentum at work.
Batch tasks. Improved productivity means that you can do the same amount of work in less time. If you have one of those jobs that is more focused on completing certain tasks rather than putting in certain hours, batching can be a big help. Most of you probably already use batching when you do things like pay bills. Rather than grabbing your checkbook every time you go to the mailbox, you save up that month’s bills and then pay them all at once. Are there parts of your job that you can batch in order to be more efficient? Once the work is done, what’s keeping you behind your desk (besides inertia)?
Use technology for location independence. For many of us, our jobs are perfectly designed for the people who did those jobs 10 years ago. We commute to a special building and then sit in a fabric covered box (cubicle) so we can use a computer and a phone (sounds glamorous!). Technology has made the building and the box, if not obsolete, at least less important.
We still need the computer and the phone, but technology like Skype, Go To Meeting, wireless internet, cloud computing, instant messaging, Google Voice and collaboration software (e.g. Asana, BaseCamp) have made it possible for many of us to do some or all of our job from just about anywhere (a.k.a. location independence).
Being gone for a year might not be realistic, but would it be possible to take a month or two off and use technology to keep up with important projects and deal with urgent issues even while you’re gone?
Negotiate a remote work agreement. According to Forrester Research, more than 34 million people work remotely. That number is expected to hit 63 million by 2016. I’m skeptical that most bosses would be ok with you working in your pajamas from home 365 days per year, but if you combine this idea with one or more of the previous ones, I’m guessing that a reasonable boss would be willing to allow you to work remotely for a fixed period (say 6 weeks) and only count part of that time as vacation.
Sacrifice. All of the options up to this point involve still getting your paycheck. If you didn’t find something on the list that works for you, maybe it’s time to take more drastic action. This could include taking unpaid time off or quitting/changing jobs altogether. Obviously, that’s a little more painful because it involves change and sacrifice, but I think it’s important to ask yourself this: “If my current job keeps me from living the kind of life I want to live, should I really stay there for the next 10, 20 or 30 years?” If the answer is no, a change may be in order.
Putting it into practice
Anytime you’re trying to wrap your mind around something that is unconventional and complicated, it’s helpful to know that it’s possible. That’s why it’s been so encouraging to me this week to hear how some of you are working to make mini-retirements a reality. There’s the couple planning to move to Spain for a year with their kids. There’s the family who, after reading my initial post on mini-retirements, read it aloud at the dinner table and had a mini-retirement to New York booked by the end of the week. There’s the friend who is consistently updating me while living in the Congo for three months as a volunteer for Mercy Ships. These stories and more are good reminders that, with a little planning and effort, we don’t need to defer our dreams until “someday.” I hope you’ll join in with the rest of us. Feel free to leave a comment or question on the site and touch base with me if there’s ever anything I can do to help.
Have a great week!