My family and I just finished a 4,200-mile, 7 state road trip. A few nights we stayed in hotels. More often we camped. Sometimes camping was a luxury tent with a fireplace and running water (Thanks Under Canvas!). Sometimes camping was our trusty tent deep in the backcountry of a National Park or on the banks of the river we were rafting. This isn’t our usual trip, but after cancelling a trip to Italy in March and after being in lockdown mode for several months, we wanted to get out of the house. And while 2020 is a terrible year in most regards, it seemed well suited for a good, old fashioned road trip. So we plotted our itinerary on Google Maps, made a few bare bones plans, loaded the car and hit the road. Here’s a bit about the trip and what things are like out there right now. Hopefully, you can use it as inspiration for a Kerouac-style adventure of your own.
We’re trying to get our daughter to all 50 states before she graduates from high school, so any trip in the US usually involves trying to check off a new state or two. This time we got 3: North Dakota, Montana and Idaho. On our way north, we visited Badlands National Park in South Dakota as well as Mt. Rushmore where we stayed for a night. We left early the next morning and drove to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. This is the rugged land where Teddy went to disappear after losing his mom and his wife on Valentine’s Day 1884. The campgrounds are closed due to COVID, so we got a backcountry permit, which is basically just telling them the dates you’ll be there and what trailhead you’re departing from, so they know where to look if you don’t come back. We shouldered our packs, hiked in several miles and then found a good spot a few hundred yards up a hillside and away from the trail. Sunset, moonrise (the picture at the top of this post) and sunrise the following morning were all pretty amazing. We didn’t see any other people, but we had three buffalo visitors while we were watching the sunrise.
After exploring the park a bit the following day, we drove to Whitefish, Montana where we enjoyed the town for a few days and did some hiking in Glacier National Park. From there we drove to Oregon where we met up with friends from Washington, rented two whitewater rafts and started a four-day river rafting trip down the Wallowa and Grande Ronde rivers. The first few hours were a little hairy as we learned to read the river, row the boats and avoid large boulders, but it quickly became second nature. Each day consisted of rafting for about 15 miles and then finding a place on the shore to camp. Like us, our friends enjoy a good meal, so we left the dehydrated meals at home and instead had things like Dutch Oven lasagna, breakfast burritos with all the fixings and fish tacos made with freshly caught trout. We’d talk and play games around the campfire and then get up the next day, load the boats, shove off and do it again. It was a really fun experience. After reaching the pullout, we loaded the cars and drove to a BNB in Joseph, Oregon for some much-needed showers and a few days of hiking and exploring. That’s where we parted ways with our friends and started heading towards home via Hells Canyon and Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho and then Yellowstone National Park and Grand Tetons National Park in Wyoming before eventually making it back to Nebraska.
In case you’re wondering…
Was everything busy? Not terribly so. International travel is shut down, so more people are choosing road trips for sure. But many others are choosing to stay home altogether, so it didn’t seem overly busy, with the exception of a few National Parks that are always busy regardless.
Are the national parks open? Yes and no. Most parks are at least partially open, but many have closed their campgrounds and lodges. Visit www.nps.gov to check on a park your considering. And if you don’t have a National Park Pass, you need one. It’s an incredible deal. $80 per year if you’re under 62 and $80 for life if you’re over 62.
What about gas stations, hotels, restaurants, etc.? All open for the most part, but they may have reduced capacity or certain requirements like wearing a mask.
Did you wear a mask? Yep. Anytime we were using the gas station, checking into a hotel or generally around the public, we wore a mask to try to limit the risk that we’d catch anything or spread it if we’re asymptomatic. Most places have signs requiring it or at least strongly requesting it.
How much can/should you plan? We made reservations for things like our raft rental and some of our lodging. It was pretty bare bones, however. We often made hotel reservations in the car by looking at Google Maps and figuring out how far we’d get that day. We never had a problem finding anything.
Tips for staying safe
Don’t go if you’re sick. Sometimes the symptoms of COVID are mild, sometimes not. We traveled to some pretty secluded places and didn’t want to be stranded far from medical care. If you’re not feeling well, stay home.
Watch for travel restrictions. We traveled through a number of states, so we checked ahead of time to make sure that they didn’t have any travel restrictions. Just google “current state travel restrictions.”
Design the trip with social distancing in mind. We chose to drive our own car rather than fly. We chose camping where we could instead of hotels. We wore masks when we were around people. We met up with friends who we knew have been social distancing for several months. We chose places that were secluded and activities that were solitary. There are plenty of ways to have a great trip and still be a little cautious.
Bring along some PPE. We brought masks, disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer. Again, a bit of caution is a good thing.
Pack snacks and food. We brought snacks for the car and food for when we were camping. We ordered takeout a few times, but only ate in a restaurant once toward the end of the trip. It had a large outdoor seating area and there was only one other patron there. With a little planning, it was easy to avoid large crowds.
If you want to hit the road from the comfort of your own home, here are a few great road trip books that I’ve enjoyed and you might as well. Safe travels!
Quick thought for today.
If you want to live an intentional life, you should focus primarily on
the present. Let me explain. We all spend part of our days—either mentally
or physically—in the past, present or future.
You’re sitting there right now in the present, but maybe you’re thinking
about something you did this past weekend or dreaming about something you hope
to be doing 5 years from now. Past, present
and future. We all spend our time
inhabiting each of those spaces.
Unfortunately, most of us mess up the proportions. We spend too
much time and energy on the past and the future and not enough on the
present. We look back and worry about the
things we did or didn’t do. We look
forward and dream about the things we hope to eventually do. That only leaves a small amount of our time
where we’re honest to goodness living in and making the most out of the
I’m not saying that you should ignore the past and the
future, but the present should be your priority. Anything else means you’re focusing on things
you can’t change (the past) or things that might not happen (the future). Here are a few suggestions on how to get the
How to use your past:
Don’t obsess over it. Don’t
waste your time thinking about regrets or wishing you had done or said things
differently. Don’t cling to
bitterness. Don’t hold grudges. Instead,
think fondly of the good times and be grateful for the wisdom earned and lessons
learned from the challenging times. Use
it as a foundation to build on. Remember
the people, places and things that made you who you are.
How to prepare for your future: Don’t push everything to the future. Don’t treat it as some magical time where you’ll finally start living. Delayed gratification is great if it’s allowing you to work toward something, but it becomes a problem if it becomes an excuse for life avoidance. Use the runway between the present and the future for planning and preparation. Use it to set the proper direction for your life and to get any necessary prerequisites out of the way. Use it to set goals, dream, plan, save and even to experiment. All of those things will help you hit the ground running and make the most out of your future years.
How to live in the present: Don’t get bogged down in the routine of
life. Don’t focus all your time on the
maintenance of living. Don’t live a life
that is frantic and unintentional. Be
present in your days, with your friends and during experiences like vacations
rather than worrying about how to make it look a certain way on social
media. Decide what you really want out
of life and start doing that. Today. Even if you have to start small, start. Have intentional action in your relationships,
activities, health, hobbies, pursuits and every other area of your life. Be proactive.
Learn. Do. Go. Experiment. Take risks.
In other words, live.
A good balance of past/present/future is something like
10/60/30. If yours looks more like
30/20/50, you’re not really living life.
You’re worrying about the life you’ve already lived and dreaming about a
life you hope to someday live.
At Intentional Retirement, we believe that retirement is an
intentional way of living that prioritizes freedom, fulfillment, purpose and
relationships. It starts today and is an
incremental process of aligning your lifestyle and actions with your highest
priorities. To do that, you need to
focus on the present. Stop fretting over
what is past or dreaming about what is to come.
Today is a new day. Start doing.
Happy New Year! Just a quick thought today on doing (i.e. taking more at bats). One of the biggest retirement mistakes I see people make has nothing to do with money. It’s that they constantly defer their dreams. They just don’t do stuff. Everything is “someday” this and “someday” that. And I totally get it. It’s hard to decide what you really want out of life. It feels risky to put yourself out there to try stuff. But you absolutely have to do it.
The best advice I can give you for 2020 and beyond is to start
taking some at bats. Right now. Even if you’re not retired. Especially if you’re not retired. The worst that can happen is that things
don’t work out, you get rolled a little bit, so you dust yourself off and try
something different. Ironically, that’s
also one of the best things that can happen.
Because that failure is feedback.
It turns out we’re pretty terrible at knowing what’s going to make us
happy. The more stuff you try, even if
you don’t end up liking it, the better idea you’ll have of what’s important to
you, who’s important to you, what you like, what you dislike, what makes you
happy and what you’re passionate about.
All of those things help you understand yourself and they make
you more self-aware so you can design a life that takes you where you want to
go. Finding out that you actually hate
to travel or you stink at gardening or golf is awesome. That means you won’t waste any time or money
on those things during the prime of your retirement. Instead you can triple down on the things
that you do care about.
So start taking some at bats today. Get out there and try stuff. Take a trip.
Pick up a new hobby. Learn
something new. Meet new people. Challenge yourself. Get outside your comfort zone. Sure, you might strike out a few times. But you’ll get better. You’ll figure out what you really want out of
life and you’ll be doing something about it.
And that’s what living an intentional retirement and an intentional life
is all about.
We just wrapped up Labor Day Weekend here in the U.S. That is the unofficial end of summer and it
means we only have four months to go before we finish up this year and start a
new decade. That’s plenty of time to get
a few things done and finish the year strong.
Think about any financial, investing, lifestyle, relationship, health or retirement goals you had for 2019. How have you done so far? How can you make the most out of the next four months? Focus in on one or two areas where you’d like to make progress before year-end and get to work. Maybe that’s making a written retirement plan, increasing your savings rate or making a plan to finally get debt free. Maybe that’s repairing a relationship, starting a new workout program or learning a new skill. Maybe you’ve reached your health deductible for the year and it’s a good time to schedule that procedure. Or maybe it’s time to plan that trip (always a good idea). Think about how good it would feel to finish the year with a few major items checked off your To-Do list. Think about how much progress you could make in 2020 if you ended 2019 with solid momentum.
Part of my job here is to help people avoid
complacency. To push you to have a tough
conversation with yourself about what you really want out of life and to
encourage you to take those plans really seriously. Consider yourself pushed. Touch base if there’s anything I can do to
help. And props for everything you’re
doing so far. The fact that you’re
following along at this site tells me that you’re no slouch. Saving for retirement and being intentional
with life are not easy tasks. Most
people don’t do it. You’re in that small
minority of people who are laying the foundation for their future through
discipline, hard work and good stewardship.
Well done! Keep up the good
work. Finish the year strong.
“The big question about how people behave is whether they’ve got an inner scorecard or an outer scorecard. It helps if you can be satisfied with an inner scorecard.”
The scorecard he’s talking about is how you measure success in any given endeavor. Are you playing your game or someone else’s? Do you compare yourself to others and try to win based on what they or the rest of the world think of you? Or do you focus on the things that matter to you and judge your success based on the goals and metrics that you’ve set for yourself (i.e. your internal scorecard)?
You can “succeed” with either scorecard. It’s just a question of whether or not that
success is likely to bring you happiness and fulfillment. Most people use a combination of both
scorecards, but during the first two-thirds of life the external scorecard
often wins. As a student, you had a
literal scorecard and it measured how well you did compared to the other
students and whether you reached the milestones of success set by the school. You likely focused on that scorecard to
please your parents or gain acceptance into college or a career.
During your working years there’s pressure to focus on the external
scorecard as well. Are you the top
salesman? How much money do you
make? What is your job title? How much is in your 401k? What professional designations do you
have? What industry awards have you
And since we use the external scorecard at work, we often
use it in our personal life as well. How
big is your house? What kind of car do
you drive? What brand of clothes do you
wear? Where do you vacation? Are your kids in private school?
There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of those things,
but if the only reason you want them is to please others or win some foolish
game of status or achievement, then you’re winning at the wrong game. It’s possible to look totally successful on
the outside and be a mess on the inside.
The internal scorecard and retirement
When you retire, you buy yourself the freedom to design your
own game and set your own rules. You get
to decide what constitutes a success.
This is a much more rewarding game to play and it is more likely to
result in happiness and fulfillment, because the metrics you’re focusing on are
the things that are important to you. It
takes work, however, because you need to create the game and set the
rules. That means deciding what you
really want out of life and then holding yourself accountable to achieve it
using your internal scorecard. Your scorecard
will look different than mine, so I can’t tell you what to do, but I can give
you some general ideas on how to do it. Below
are a few resources that can help.
Because retirement is a time filled with fun, travel and leisure it is easy to make the pursuit of pleasure your orienting principle. That would be a terrible mistake. There’s nothing wrong with pleasure, but it must exist in the context of something deeper. Let me explain.
Meaning vs. Pleasure
I’ve written before about Viktor Frankl. He was a psychiatrist and holocaust survivor who wrote the book Man’s Search for Meaning about his time as a concentration camp prisoner. Frankl founded a school of psychology called Logotherapy (literally “meaning” therapy). He believed that striving to find meaning is the primary motivational force in humans. This was in contrast to Freud, who believed that the pursuit of pleasure was the driving motivation.
I’m in Frankl’s camp. In my experience with retirees, those who focus on meaning often have a deep sense of satisfaction, purpose and happiness. Pleasure is a welcome byproduct of their pursuit of purpose. Alternatively, those who can’t find this deeper sense of meaning often self-medicate with pleasure. Pleasure with no greater purpose eventually feels hollow for most people. So how can you orient your retirement around meaning?
How to find meaning
According to Frankl, there are three different ways to find meaning in life. I’ll list those below and then relate them to retirement.
Through projects or work. All of us are designed to do something meaningful and productive. Retirement doesn’t somehow remove that need, it just means that you no longer have to base your choice on how much something pays. Maybe that means working part-time in a field that’s always interested you or volunteering for an organization you’re passionate about. Or maybe it’s running for your local school board or working on a big community project. Whatever it is, find something that will engage you and leverage your time, treasure and talents. What people really need, according to Frankl, is “the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.”
Through experiences and relationships. Retirement (and life) is at its best when we have loving, healthy relationships with friends and family and we are engaged in meaningful pursuits.
Through challenges or suffering. This one might seem a bit counterintuitive at first, but if you think about the times in your life that made you who you are, that taught you the most, that filled you with pride and a sense of accomplishment, my guess would be that a lot of those times grew out of a significant challenge, heartbreak or tragedy. Frankl believed that we should welcome challenges and suffering, not because they’re fun, but because they can often bring meaning and growth. He knew that we can’t always control our circumstances, but we can always control our response to our circumstances. That from a guy who was in a concentration camp and found a way to redeem his suffering and use it as the soil from which he grew his philosophy, vocation and life’s meaning.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” – Viktor Frankl
So as you move toward retirement, absolutely plan on doing fun and interesting things. Splurge on yourself. Be a little selfish. Just don’t treat the pursuit of pleasure as your ultimate goal. If you do, you’ll likely be disappointed. Instead, seek meaning and you’ll likely find pleasure and happiness as well.