Mini-retirement update: And the winner is…

Mini-retirement update: And the winner is…

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!

~ Joe

On the road again…

On the road again…

“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go.  But no matter, the road is life.” 

~ Jack Kerouac, On the Road

July has been a quiet month here at Intentional Retirement because I’m spending much of it on the road.  We just returned from a family trip to Colorado (3 cheers for archery, rock climbing, hiking, horse back riding, zip lining and white water rafting) and in a few days we’re leaving for a swing through the Pacific Northwest (Oregon, Washington, Vancouver and Whistler) to visit friends and cross a few more things off my 50-by-50 List.  We’ll return to “regularly scheduled programming” in August.

In the meantime, I hope you’re filling your own days with fun and adventure.  Remember one of the key tenets here at IR: Don’t wait for “Someday” to start living the life you truly want to live.  Decide what you want out of life and then take those plans very seriously.  Here are a few posts from the archives to help drive that point home:

To paraphrase Twain, at the end of life you’ll be much more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the things you did.  Do everything you can to make sure that list of regrets is short.

Have a great week!

~Joe

Why you need a vacation

Why you need a vacation

It may seem counterintuitive, but spending your money can help you be a better saver.  Let me show you what I mean.

How successful would Olympians be if the Olympics were held every 40 years instead of every 4?  Not very, right?  Most athletes would burn out long before they made it to the actual competition.  That’s because it’s impossible to always be in “preparation” mode without experiencing some sort of “payoff.”  For athletes, the training and sacrifice needs to be counterbalanced by cheering crowds and medal stands.

Relating that to retirement planning, it’s tough to sacrifice, save and be disciplined with your planning decade after decade without having some sort of payoff along the way.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Americans work longer and take fewer vacation days than almost any other developed country and we’re also woefully underprepared for retirement.  We’re asking people to be all wind up and no pitch.

Taking a break can remind you why you’re saving in the first place.  After spending a little time at the beach or touring around Europe you might find yourself saying “I could get used to this.”  When you get a taste of the reward, you’ll probably be more likely to put in the effort.

So take that vacation.  Have a little fun and enjoy life now.  It will probably give you the incentive you need to save for the long haul.

Incidentally, I try to eat my own cooking here at IR.  The photo in today’s post is the sunrise in the Cayman Islands last week.  I finished up the test I mentioned in the last post (I passed!) and got on a plane the next day for a trip with some friends.  After a week of 80 degree weather, sand volleyball and scuba, one of the first things I did when I got back was to increase my 401(k) contributions.  🙂

Have a great week!

Joe

The glass is half full

The glass is half full

I received an email the other day from a friend who had just finished reading an article of mine in the newspaper.  His email said:

“I awoke this morning feeling at peace with my future; thinking I had everything under control and that my family’s needs were completely taken care of.  Then I read your article.  I broke out into a frantic sweat and [expletive deleted] my pants.  Thanks a lot for the reality check.  Much like the rest of America I prefer to operate in a delusional universe where I don’t need to think about those things.”

I’m not going to lie to you; I laughed pretty hard at that.  But his point was a good one.  Sometimes the coverage devoted to retirement planning can seem kind of negative (either by design to draw attention or simply because the reader feels convicted).

Because of that, it’s easy to lose site of all the things that are right with the world, great about retirement and amazing about the opportunities available to each of us.  So as penance to my friend and as a reminder to us all, I give you some reasons to look at the glass as half full.

Peace, love and understanding

According to Harvard Professor Steven Pinker, we’re living during the most peaceful time in our species’ existence.  Yes, we still have wars (I suspect those will always be with us), but the average number of violent deaths per 100,000 people has dropped from 15 percent during prehistoric times, to 3 percent during the 20th century, to a fraction of 1 percent now.  True, I have sometimes felt nervous on the subway when traveling in a strange city, but at least I don’t have to worry about being thrown to the lions in the Coliseum or being used in an elaborate human sacrifice to appease the volcano god.

Medicine and life expectancy

I take Lipitor to lower my cholesterol and reduce my risk of heart disease.  My sister had a cancerous tumor the size of a grapefruit in her neck, but after treatment she has been cancer free for years.  My grandfather was cutting firewood when a tree fell on him and shattered his hip.  His doctors replaced it with a new one made out of titanium and he’s been getting around great for the last decade.  Modern medicine has been enormously successful at increasing both the quantity and quality of our lives.  As life expectancy has increased, retirement has changed dramatically.  Rather than being a time to wind down, it is now viewed as a new chapter in life that is active and can last for decades.  Be thankful for your health and use all that extra time wisely.

Technology

If asked, I would have to put my iPad in the same category as such worthwhile inventions as the wheel, penicillin and the printing press.  That might be a bit of an overstatement, but you get my point: Technology is pretty remarkable.  More than just cool, however, it is useful and helps us live fuller, more productive lives.  It’s hard to imagine life without things like computers, the Internet, email, cell phones, digital cameras, ATM machines, MRIs, global positioning satellites, iPads, iPods, Kindles, and cloud computing.  The other night our daughter was using FaceTime to video chat with her grandparents in Alaska.  That’s the kind of invention that was imagined for the 23rd century in old Star Trek episodes!  After looking at how technology has advanced in the last 30 years, imagine what the next 30 years will look like (especially since the pace of advancement is accelerating).  It should be pretty amazing.

Learning

All that technology has greatly expanded our avenues for learning.  Gone are the days when you need to spend $100,000 and four years of your life just to learn about something you’re interested in. With iTunesU you can sit in on history classes at Oxford or take photography classes from National Geographic (all free).  Search engines like Google can answer any question you put to it.  You can bring subjects into focus with SquidooWikipedia can give you a basic understanding of almost anything.  You can take guitar lessons on You Tube, learn to simplify your life on Zen Habits, or learn how to mix a martini like James Bond (or any number of other things) on Expert Enough. With so many resources, it’s easy to channel your inner Jefferson and make learning a broad and lifelong endeavor.

Social interaction

Yes, there are negatives to sites like Facebook and Twitter, but used properly they do an amazing job at connecting you to the people you care about.  Social interaction is a critical element to human happiness and we have more ways than ever to experience community and connect with friends and family.

Doing good

Even with everything that is right with the world, there is still a lot that is wrong.  Thankfully, there are some amazing people trying to do something about that and they’re looking for people like you and me to jump in and help. Charity is no longer limited to just writing a check or dropping a few bucks in the offering plate.  Volunteering locally or getting involved with organizations like charity: water, International Justice Mission, and World Vision allow us to reach beyond ourselves and do work that not only helps others, but gives us a deep sense of satisfaction, fulfillment and purpose.

Traveling the world

There hasn’t been a more exciting time in travel since Kitty Hawk.  The triumvirate of jetliners, online travel resources, and countries clamoring for tourist dollars have combined to make global travel accessible to almost anyone.  A hundred years ago, most people lived their entire lives within walking distance of their house.  Now you can hop on a plane and be hiking in the Andes or walking down the Champs Elysees by breakfast.  For a little inspiration visit Everything Everywhere or Lonely Planet.  And don’t let money hold you back.  There are sites like travelhacking.org that can teach you how to search out deals and rack up frequent flyer miles.  Then you can spend those miles on a round-the-world plane ticket and take off in search of adventure.  As Saint Augustine said, “The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”

Well, there you have it.  While certainly not a complete list, I’ve given you a few reasons to look on the bright side.  Sure, there are still a lot of people unemployed, the housing market is still a mess and the stock market is just as bipolar as ever, but resist the temptation to focus on the negative.  It sounds trite, but you only live once.  None of us should let fear and uncertainty keep us from pursuing our dreams or living a rewarding and meaningful life.  To paraphrase Oliver Wendell Holmes, don’t die with your music still inside you.  Look at the glass as half full and live a life you can be proud of.

Thanks for reading.  Have a great week!

Joe

Monthly rewind: November edition

Monthly rewind: November edition

In case you missed anything, below is a list of articles published at Intentional Retirement during the month of November.  We’re heading into the home stretch of 2011.  Touch base if I there’s ever anything I can do to help you out.

Thanks for reading!

Joe

 

11 great travel apps for your retirement (and pre-retirement) adventures

11 great travel apps for your retirement (and pre-retirement) adventures

Travel is at the top of many retirement “to-do” lists, so it’s a topic I’ll cover from time to time here at IR.  One interesting development these last few years has been the explosion of new tools available for travel bugs on their cell phones and iPads.  Below are ten apps that I use all the time to help me plan, navigate, and enjoy my travels.

FlightBoard  I love this app!  The best way to explain it is to have you imagine the arrivals and departure boards at your local airport.  Now imagine that you could have them on your cell phone (or iPad) with the most up-to-date information for almost every airport in the world.  Picking someone up from the airport and need to know if their flight is still on time?  Check FlightBoard.  Need to know what gate your connecting flight leaves from?  Check FlightBoard.  Need to email your flight info to Grandma Jan so she knows when you’ll be arriving for Thanksgiving?  You can do it directly from FlightBoard.  As an added bonus the app has a beautiful design interface that was inspired by the arrival/departure boards at Charles de Gaulle Airport inParis.

TripAdvisor  If you’ve ever been planning a trip somewhere and wondered what other travelers thought of the hotels, restaurants, or attractions you’re considering, then TripAdvisor is for you.  This app (and www.TripAdvisor.com) gives you access to over 50 million reviews and opinions posted by your fellow travelers.  It also has cool tools like “Near Me Now” which pegs your current location and then gives you options for nearby restaurants or attractions.

Dropbox  The Dropbox motto is “Your files, anywhere.”  That pretty much sums it up.  Anything you save to Dropbox is automatically saved to your other computers, phones, mobile devices and at dropbox.com.  That means you can access those files (even without an internet connection) while you’re on the road.  It’s a great tool for those who need access to certain work or other documents while traveling.  I’ve also used it to store back-up copies of my passport, driver’s license and travel itineraries.  Go to dropbox.com to get a free 2 GB account and then download the Dropbox mobile app from the app store.

Big World  This app does a lot of things, but I use it primarily as a trip-planning guide.  Creating a new guide displays a map (similar to Google maps) of the area that you’re visiting and then you can drop pins at key locations (e.g. your hotel, restaurants you want to visit, sites you want to see, etc.).  It gives you a good visual representation of the places on your itinerary and helps you pack as much as possible into each day by scheduling things based on their proximity to each other.  It’s also a helpful navigator as its GPS locator constantly tracks your position and displays it on the map.

Subway Apps  If you’re visiting a big city and plan on taking public transportation, be sure to download that city’s subway app.  Having the route map in your pocket is useful, but where these apps really shine is with their route planning features.  Here’s an example.  On a recent trip to Washington, DC I could see on Big World that the closest metro stop to our hotel was the Foggy Bottom station.  As we’d head out each day I’d pull up my DCRider app and click on the Trip Planner feature.  In the “from” field I’d choose “Foggy Bottom” and in the “to” field I’d choose wherever we wanted to go.  If we were heading to Arlington Cemetery, I’d choose that and click “Get Route.”  The app would then give me the best route.  In this case it told me to board the blue line towards Franconia-Springfield and then get off at the second stop.  These apps are a great way to take the stress out of subterranean travel in strange cities.

Where To Go  This app is kind of like having a concierge in your pocket.  In a strange city and want to know all the French restaurants within a ten block radius?  Trying to find the closest grocery story?  Have a toothache and need to find a dentist?  These are just a few of the hundreds of preset searches you can do on Where To Go.  The interface is simple to use and gives you twelve key categories like restaurants, entertainment, retail stores and medical.  Click on restaurants, for example, and it gives you a comprehensive list from Afghan to Vietnamese.  Then click on the type of food you want and your options are highlighted on the map with your current location represented by a blinking blue dot.

The World Clock  Thanks to the magic of jetlag, it’s not unusual to wake up at odd hours at the beginning of a trip not remembering if you’re in Baltimore or Bangkok.  The World Clock won’t cure jetlag, but it will at least keep you oriented to the correct time zone.  It has a really cool day/night display that moves with the sun and below that you can put clocks for six different cities, which is helpful if you’re having lunch in London and wondering if it’s too early to call the kids at grandma’s house back in Omaha.  The simple alarm feature is also a welcome addition if you’ve ever struggled to figure out the nightstand alarm at your hotel.

Kindle  This is a great app for those who love to read when they travel, but hate to lug around their library.  It gives you access to the million plus books at Amazon as well as hundreds newspapers and magazines.

TripIt  TripIt is a great travel organizer that allows you to put all of your plans in one place.  Just forward your booking confirmation emails to plans@tripit.com and they will be added to your trip itinerary in the app.  Then when you need your rental car reservation number or flight information, you know exactly where to go to find it.

AirportAce  This app gives you access to terminal maps, wifi availability, transportation options, parking information, weather, and amenities at an ever increasing number of airports worldwide.  Trying to make a tight connection at LAX and need to find the closest Cinnabon?  This is the app for that.

Games  A game can be a great diversion if you’re suffering through a particularly long layover or flight delay.  Your options here are pretty much unlimited, but some that I enjoy are Chess with friends, Words with friends, Cut the Rope, Bike Baron, and RealRacing2HD.

Whether you’re heading to Kansas or Cameroon, these apps will be a welcome companion.  It’s a big world out there.  Get exploring!

Joe