Apparently I can travel faster than I can write. I made it home Tuesday in the small hours of the morning, but I still have several articles I want to share with you including about my time in Italy and Germany as well as my reflections on and lessons from the trip. I’ll send those your way over the next week or so. Thanks so much for following along and keeping me company over 18 days and 25,000 plus miles. It was a fun experience!
After wrapping up my time in France, I took an early morning flight to Naples, Italy where I had a car service waiting to drive me about an hour and a half to a little seaside town on the Amalfi Coast called Positano. During the planning stages of the trip I read that parking a car in Positano is a difficulty on par with splitting the atom, so I decided to save myself the frustration and just use the aforementioned car service. The cost was surprisingly reasonable and talking to the different drivers (I used it for several trips) about the economy, politics, their families, the culture and more was a kick. Plus, the guy who picked me up from the airport was named Fredo so I instantly felt like I had been dropped onto the set of The Godfather (best movie ever).
When we arrived in Positano, I was reminded of a line from Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London where he described the houses on the narrow street where he lived as “lurching towards one another in queer attitudes, as though they had all been frozen in the act of collapse.” Imagine pushing an entire town over a steep cliff and then somehow freezing the picture as the houses, buildings and roads spilled toward the sea. That is Positano. It’s beautiful, but it seems to defy the laws of physics.
Fredo dropped me off at the Hotel Marincanto where I checked in with the usual questions (Just you? Is that backpack your only luggage?) and then found my way to the hotel restaurant for lunch. It’s hard to imagine a meal with a better view. My table was outside on a veranda that was covered with flowers and lemon trees (Limoncello originated on the Amalfi Coast) and looked down the hillside at the crashing waves below. My waitress was a friendly Italian woman who age-wise could have been my mother and who, like my mom, took joy in providing a good meal. I ordered the ravioli and a beer. She asked me what kind of beer and I told her to surprise me. “Ah, Peroni for you,” she said. When I later complimented her on her choice of beers, she brought me another, gratis. Smiling, she said: “Is good, no?”
Stomach full, I decided to do a little exploring. As you might imagine from my earlier description, walking the streets of Positano is like doing a Stairmaster workout with the machine on “Everest” mode, but the shops and scenery reward you for the effort.
The itinerary for Italy was designed to give me a little downtime after the breakneck pace of Hong Kong and France. I had four days instead of three and the only scheduled activity I had was a tour of Pompei and Mount Vesuvius. The rest of the time was earmarked with exploring Positano, hiking the paths above the town and working. A typical workday started with breakfast and cappuccinos in the hotel restaurant and then writing, answering emails, calling clients and running trades in my makeshift office on the balcony outside my room.
Makeshift office on the balcony outside my room.
Pompeii and Vesuvius
Visiting the ancient Roman city of Pompeii and the volcano that buried it meant taking a day trip back into Naples. After the solitude of Positano, Naples felt raw and frenetic. I met the tour group near the train station and we took a small bus to Pompeii. Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, burying the town in 20 feet of volcanic ash. Heat was the main cause of death, however, with temps reaching nearly 500 degrees Fahrenheit as far as 6 miles away from the crater.
The ash preserved the town, leaving people and animals frozen in time. The bodies eventually decomposed and left voids in the ash that excavators—hundreds of years later—filled with plaster. The result were eerie 3D casts that tell the story of those panicked final moments. After the tour we walked to a local restaurant for pizza (which originated in Naples) and then took the bus to Vesuvius. From the parking lot it was about a mile hike/climb to the top where steam vents remind you that the volcano is still active (it last erupted during WWII) and where you can see Pompeii off in the distance.
Path of the Gods
I got up early the morning after Naples and worked until about 3 pm. With a few hours of daylight remaining, I hopped the local bus and road it to the final stop in the Nocelle neighborhood at the very top of Positano. There is a trail there called the Path of the Gods (Il Sentiero degli Dei) that links Positano with the tiny hilltop town of Agerola. With my limited daylight, I couldn’t hike the entire thing, but I did enough to recognize that the path came by its name honestly. The views were really breathtaking. After returning to Nocelle, I thought about taking the stairs—about 1,500 of them—back to my hotel, but descending the dark, uneven stairs without a headlamp seemed like a surefire way to test out my health insurance, so I walked to the bus stop instead and caught the last bus of the evening.
Watching the sun set from the Path of the Gods.
On to Munich
The next morning I packed, had a few final cappuccinos, said goodbye to the staff and then walked up to the rooftop of the hotel (street level) to wait for my ride. Stepping out the door, I heard a hearty “Bonjourno Joe!” and looked up to see Fredo. About halfway through the ride to the airport he asked me if I had time to stop for an espresso. He took me to his local coffee shop and ordered two espressos made with Kimbo, the local brew. We stood at the bar (there were no seats in the small café) and were each handed a small cup of orange flavored sparkling water to cleanse our palates. The perfectly pulled espresso shots came 30 seconds later. We clinked glasses, downed the contents in one shot and it was on to Munich.
I mentioned that the book I brought on this trip was Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, ruler of the Roman Empire from 161 to 180 AD. To the extent that I read books on philosophy, I tend to enjoy those that give practical insights into how we should live. As a Christian, I read the Bible on a regular basis for that type of instruction, but I also enjoy reading the occasional Stoic, such as Seneca, Epictetus and the aforementioned Marcus. (Note: I’m not equating Christianity and Stoicism. There are certainly differences between the two (e.g. religion vs. philosophy), but some similarities as well. In particular, their emphasis on things like wisdom, kindness, humility, stewardship, contentment and self-control).
As I was reading at breakfast this morning, this passage from Meditations caught my eye:
“Suppose that a god announced that you were going to die tomorrow or the day after. Unless you were a complete coward you wouldn’t kick up a fuss about which day it was—what difference could it make? Now recognize that the difference between years from now and tomorrow is just as small.”
That is so true. How many times have you looked back on a year or two or ten and thought about how quickly they passed?
If I told you that you were going to die 30 days from now, you would likely use those days very intentionally, spending time with those you love, mending relationships, maybe even doing a few of the undone things on your bucket list. I think the point Marcus is trying to make is that if I told you that you were going to die 30 years from now, it should produce the same response. The difference between 30 days and 30 years is minimal. They will both go by in the blink of an eye. So be very intentional with each day. Don’t procrastinate or put things off until “Someday.” Don’t use “retirement” as an excuse for life avoidance or as a synonym for when you actually plan to start living. The clock is ticking and, even if you have decades left, you barely have any time at all. Be intentional and make the most of it.
Where is Joe?
Good question! I’m starting to get a little confused myself. Apologies for being behind on my writing. I mentioned in my last post that I was in Italy. I flew from Paris to Naples and then from there spent several days in a little seaside town called Positano. From there I went to Munich, Germany where I connected with a few friends, explored the huge open-air market, and took several tours, including a beer and food tour of the city’s many breweries. I’ll write more about all that soon, but for now, I’m in London and I’ve got a flight to catch as I keep pushing west. I hope you’re doing well, wherever you are today.
France is a few days in my rear-view mirror, but I still wanted to share a few quick stories about my time there. I flew from Hong Kong to London to Paris (HKG to LHR to CDG in airport parlance), picked up a rental car and drove a few hours to the charming town of Bayeux in the Normandy region of France. I rented a little flat on a quiet back street and used that as a jumping off point for several days of adventure.
Just walking around the town was an experience. I’m always awed by how old everything is in Europe. The origins of the town of Bayeux can be traced back to a Gallo-Roman settlement in the first century BC. It has survived a number of invaders over the years, from the Viking raids in the 9th century to Hitler in the 20th. I was fascinated by the cathedral, which is 1,000 years old, and the central role it played in William the Conqueror’s invasion of England (Visit our Facebook page for a bit more on that story and to see a short video I took of the bells ringing one night as I walked back to my flat).
I chose Bayeux, because I wanted to tour the World War II sites around Normandy. My wife and I were in Paris several years ago and my one regret from that trip was that we didn’t have time for a Normandy day trip, so I wanted to right that wrong.
To make the most of my time, I hired an experienced guide named Colin McGarry. He’s originally from England, but met and married a French girl years ago and has been guiding around Normandy since the 1980’s. He met me at me flat the morning after my arrival and we drove first to Omaha Beach. He spent time talking about the big themes of the invasion (e.g. strategy, logistics, etc.), but also took a deep dive into many personal stories and recollections of both Americans and their German counterparts on that day of days. I’ve read several books on World War II and watched a number of films like Band of Brothers and Saving Private Ryan, but nothing can quite bring that history alive like walking the beach where so many struggled ashore or running your hand over the broken concrete and twisted rebar of a German machine gun nest.
From the beach, we took the short drive up to the American Cemetery and spent time discussing how it came to be, the soldiers that are still missing and the upcoming 75th anniversary next year. We also walked to dozens of specific graves where Colin told me stories of heroism and heartbreak from D-Day as seen through that particular soldier’s eyes. Throughout the rest of the day, we visited a number of other sites around the area including Utah Beach, Pointe du Hoc, St. Mere Eglise, Brecourt Manor, St. Mere du Mont and Carentan. The entire day was both fascinating and, as you might imagine, very moving. If you enjoy history, I’d encourage you to add Normandy to your to-do list and if you want to do it with a guide, hire Colin. He was wonderful. Touch base with me and I’ll send you his contact info or you can Google his name and track him down on the internet.
The next day I drove a few hours south and west of Bayeux to Mont Saint-Michel. It is a small island, a few hundred meters off shore, that has a population of about 50 and is home to a famous monastery built in the 8th century. Because it is relatively close to shore, the island is completely surrounded by water during high tide, but is accessible to visitors when the tide is out. I paid a few Euro for an audio guide and spent time walking from building to building and room to room around the 17-acre site, learning about the hundreds of years of history that preceded my visit. I finished around noon and was starting to get hungry, so I stopped into a small restaurant for lunch and ordered a meal that the island has become famous for: a very fluffy omelet. When it first arrives, you think you will have a hard time eating it all, but when your fork slices through it, you realize it has an omelet texture on the outside and an airy fluff of egg bubbles on the inside. The best way I can describe it is to imagine the head of foam on a beer. That is the texture of the inside of the omelet.
An unexpected surprise
Hunger satisfied, I returned to my car and punched in the coordinates for a little town called Villedieu-les Poêlles. Before leaving home, I read an article about a famous cookware company in the town called Mauviel 1830. My wife loves to cook, so I thought I’d swing by the town, tour the copper workshops and see if I could find her a gift that she would enjoy and, perhaps more importantly, would fit in my backpack. When I got to the town, I stopped by the tourism office for directions and learned that Mauviel was not the only artisan factory in the town. In fact, the town was loaded with craftsmen (and women) who, along with their predecessors, had been practicing their trades there since the middle ages.
One in particular that sounded fascinating to me was a bell foundry that is the source of the bells for many of the famous cathedrals in France and around the world. A tour was 8 euros, which ended up being the bargain of the trip. Touring the foundry and learning about the process (little changed for hundreds of years) that goes into making a bell was fascinating. When hired to produce a bell, the craftsman chalks the weight of the bell and the name of the church onto the wooden beam above his station. Then, using a mixture of clay, horse manure and goat hair, he crafts an interior and exterior mold for the bell that, when fitted together, leave a cavity inside where the molten brass is poured. That all sounds difficult enough, until you learn of the complex math involved in calculating the appropriate shape and thickness of the bell so that it will ring the desired note (requested by the church) in perfect pitch over its 250-year life. Today, the calculations are performed by computer. For the hundreds of years prior, the craftsmen had only their brain power, pencil and paper to do the math. Again, it was all really fascinating. Visit our Facebook page for pictures.
After the tour, the day was growing short and I still had a 4-hour drive back to Paris, so I hit the road. I made it to the airport around 10 pm, dropped off the rental car and took a taxi to my hotel. After a few hours sleep, it was back to the airport for an early morning flight to Italy and the next leg of the trip. More on that soon. Thanks for following along.
Greetings from Hong Kong! The trip has been great so far. The flight from LA was a bit of a marathon (I slept for eight hours and still had time to watch four movies), but the payoff has been worth it. The city is a super interesting mix of people, cultures and activities. In many ways it is one of the most developed cities in the world. The public transportation system is the best I’ve ever used, the cityscape is jaw dropping and the restaurants and shopping are top notch. In other ways it feels a bit exotic. You can haggle for goods at local street markets, buy unusual food at street stalls or spend hours just exploring the endless streets and back lanes.
There is so much to do, that three months wouldn’t be enough to do it justice. That’s good news though, because no matter how long your itinerary, you’ll have plenty to fill your days with enough left over to warrant a return trip. I only had three days, so I hit the ground running. I landed about 8 in the morning, went through immigration, picked up my pre-purchased train pass from the MTR counter and headed into town. The airport is on an island outside the city, but the train whisks you from that island to Kowloon and then to Hong Kong.
I found my hotel with no trouble, but it was too early to check in, so I just dropped my bag (“Excuse me sir. Is this your only bag?”) and went out to grab some food. My brother-in-law is a pilot and told me about a local chain called Tim Ho Wan that has good food at a reasonable price. As luck would have it, there was one nearby, so I walked there and managed to order a tasty lunch by pointing at things on the menu and hoping for the best. The food was good, but I also ended up having company. The restaurant was crowded and I was sitting by myself at a small table when a woman and her daughter walked up and asked if they could sit with me because there were no other seats. That’s not something you’d expect in the US, but it was great. The woman was originally from Hong Kong, but they now lived in London and were just back visiting her mother. They were kind enough to help me plan out my day and gave me some recommendations for things to see and do.
I eventually got checked into the hotel and spent some time in the upstairs lounge catching up on work and communicating with clients, friends and family back home. That done, I went out for more exploring, the highlight of which was probably the Temple Street night market which is block after block of stalls selling everything from electronics and paintings to souvenirs and street food. I’m traveling light, so I didn’t buy any souvenirs, but the atmosphere was great.
My big activity on Day 2 was a hike called the Dragon’s Back that I booked on Airbnb. I met my guide (an ex-pat from Australia named Alex) and fellow hikers at the Shau Kei Wan MTR station and we took a bus outside the city. The hike follows a jagged ridge line that looks like a dragon’s back for about 5 miles and it ends at a little beach town called Tai Long Wan (Big Wave Bay) where we had a cold beer and a swim in the South China Sea to cool off. It was a fantastic experience. Thanks to Rory, the founder of Wild Hong Kong and our guide Alex for offering such a unique adventure.
Today I’ve got some work I need to do in the morning and then this afternoon, I plan on visiting Victoria Peak (great views of the city). Tonight I’m going to the horse races at Happy Valley where races have been held since 1846. I’m told that it’s THE place to be on Wednesday night. From there, I’ll hop the train to the airport where I’ll catch a midnight flight to London and then another flight to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. I’ll pick up a car there and head west to Normandy (I saw Paris on a previous trip) where I’ll be staying in the town of Bayeux. I hired a guide to take me on a tour around the beaches, cemeteries and other sites related to D-Day and World War II. It should be fun. Thanks for following along.
Quick Note: I’m having a limited time, 50% off sale on our flagship product, The Ideal Retirement Design Guide. Read more at the bottom of this post.
At Intentional Retirement, we look at retirement a bit differently. So do our readers (You’re awesome!). Those differences are woven through our DNA and they show up in the things I say and do at the site, but once in a while it’s a good idea to have a refresher. Below are a few of the fundamental ingredients of an Intentional Retirement. It’s not a comprehensive list, but it contains a few big ideas that can radically reshape your retirement.
You need to be intentional. One thing is more important than any other when it comes to having a meaningful retirement (and life). That one thing is more important than money, health, Social Security or any other retirement related building block. What is it? You need to be intentional. Wanting a great retirement isn’t good enough. Everybody wants that. You need to actually do something about it. You need to decide what you really want out life and then be very intentional about making it happen.
Retirement is more than a math problem. Yes, money is important, but it’s not enough. You also need meaning (e.g. relationships, activities, challenges, pursuits). Money will help you sleep at night. Meaning will give you a reason to get out of bed in the morning. You need both. That’s why everything at Intentional Retirement—from the weekly articles to the products in our store—focus on both money and meaning. We want to help you achieve financial security, but we also want to show, teach and model how to use that money to live a meaningful life.
Retirement is a pie chart, not a timeline. Too many people buy into the false assumption that retirement can only happen once you reach “retirement age.” Why should living the life you truly want to live depend on how many birthdays you’ve had or whether or not you punch a time clock? How in the world has it become acceptable to defer your dreams and push the best things in life to the very end? At Intentional Retirement, we don’t think of life as a timeline where youth equals zero to twenty, working years equal twenty to sixty-five and retirement equals sixty-five plus. Instead, we think of life as a pie chart that is divided into time you control and time controlled by others. The more time you control, the more retired you are.
Intentional Retirement is iterative. So if retirement starts as soon as you begin to control chunks of your time, what does that look like practically? Think of it like software. When Bill Gates founded Microsoft, did Windows come out fully formed, with all the functionality that it has today? Of course not. He started with Version 1.0 and then continued to build on in it and add more features. That led to versions 2.0, 3.0 and so on.
What does this idea of iteration look like when applied to retirement? What if, instead of waiting until 65 to have the retirement of your dreams, you started with a Version 1.0 at 45 (or your current age)? That version wouldn’t have all the “freedom and control” functionality of future versions, but it would allow some rich experiences nonetheless. Then you could take what you learned and apply it to creating Version 2.0 in our 50s. With a little more money saved by that point and the knowledge and experience gained from testing and implementing Version 1.0, you could likely design a fairly robust “product” that included things like mini-retirements, travels and learning new things. Even though work would likely still be a part of the equation, it would be done in service to an existing lifestyle rather than as a prepayment of dues for a club you hope to someday join. Then when you actually reach that stage in life where your savings and circumstances allow you significant control over your time you would be infinitely better prepared to implement a feature packed, real-world tested Version 3.0. Rather than struggling with inertia and trying to figure out what you really want out of life (and wasting some of your best remaining years in the process), you would be ready to hit the ground running.
Delayed gratification is overrated: No, I’m not telling you to stop saving. Delayed gratification is great if it’s allowing you to work toward something. Where delayed gratification becomes a problem is when it is used as an excuse for life avoidance. Rather than allowing you to work toward something, it is keeping you from something. For example, it’s hard to decide what you really want out of life. It’s risky to pursue big goals. Rather than rising to the challenge, we often tell ourselves we need a little more time or a little more money. Not yet, but soon. Someday. Here’s the thing. The longer you wait, the less you believe yourself when you say “Someday.” Your dreams begin to atrophy. Your opportunities begin to vanish. You aim lower. You talk yourself out of things. Before you know it, it’s too late. So don’t delay. Decide what you really want out of life and get after it. Start small if necessary, but start.
Retirement is changing. Gone are the days when retirement was an age based, non-working relatively brief and sedentary period of life that doesn’t look a whole lot different from your working years, save for having a little bit of extra time. Intentional Retirement should begin much earlier (i.e. during the working years), last longer, and be totally unique to your plans, dreams and priorities. It will be intricately woven into your life now, rather than being some far-off time you hope to eventually reach. It should be active, fulfilling, challenging and exciting. If that resonates with you, stick around. There’s plenty more to come.
Half off Sale on the Ideal Retirement Design Guide: For those of you looking to start planning your own Intentional Retirement, I created a guide called The Ideal Retirement Design Guide. I’m launching an updated version of the guide soon, which means I’d like to clear out the existing inventory. Translation: Time for a sale! The guide is normally $159, but if you order now I’ve dropped the price to $79. To sweeten the offer a bit, I’ll also include a free copy of my book The Bell Lap: The 8 Biggest Mistakes to Avoid as You Approach Retirement. As always, no pressure to buy, but there is a limited supply so grab a copy if you’d like one. Click here for more info and to order.
“We try more to profit from always remembering the obvious than from grasping the esoteric. It is remarkable how much long-term advantage people like us have gotten by trying to be consistently not stupid, instead of trying to be very intelligent.” -Charlie Munger, investing partner of Warren Buffett
Sometimes we make things too hard. Retirement (and life) works pretty well if you get the big things right. Things like a roof over your head. A good relationship with your spouse. Meaningful friendships. Your health. Satisfying pursuits. A healthy spiritual life. Freedom and independence. We should all spend our time, money, brain power and willpower getting those things right.
If your life were a house, the big things we’re talking about would be the foundation and load bearing walls. They are what gives the house structure, support and a secure footing. Once those are in place you can worry about paint colors, furniture and decorations. Those things are important too, but the color of your living room won’t matter much if the house is on the verge of collapse.
Get the big things right and then you can worry about improving things at the margins. Too often we do the opposite. We focus on the trivial many instead of the vital few. Most of those details don’t matter much. Yes, they can take something good and make it a little better, but they can’t take something bad and make it good. Get one of the big things wrong, however, and no matter how good everything else is, life will be tough.
So today, as you live your life and plan your future, look for big wins. There’s no prize for making life complicated. In fact, it can be pretty simple. As Charlie so eloquently stated above, often times you don’t need to be brilliant, you can have enormous success by just trying to be “consistently not stupid.”