Retirement Done Differently

Or, How We Got To Where We Are Now.

I never had any sort of idea for the longest time what retirement should or would be like, and certainly never thought ours would turn out the way it has. Brett’s and my path to retirement never followed any sort of regular route, but sort of got made up along the way. Brett retired from the navy following 22 years of service, when he was 42, and continued working after that for another 21 years. I finished my degree (after having to borrow a ton of money) in my 40s, and then also went to work as an ESL instructor. Just to keep things interesting though, during our mid- to late-40s we adopted three beautiful daughters, and I left regular employment in 2006 to stay home and care for them (for months afterwards I never could figure out where I had found the time for my job). Retirement seemed to always be the last thing on our minds, pushed to a back burner and mostly forgotten, and by the time we were in our 60s, and following a major economic setback, we gave up thinking we would ever be able to fully retire. Brett was convinced he would continue to work into his 80s.

Brett and I have never followed what many would call a “normal” pathway through life anyway, and our journey to where we are now was certainly no different. We had one child in our twenties and then adopted three more when our peers were thinking more about their IRAs and an empty nest. We spent the first 15 years of our marriage with Brett in the navy and all that entailed, including moving every two and a half years. The cost for many of those moves came out of our own pockets making saving for the future difficult. Military salaries were low, and it seemed we were always paying off the cost of the last move and trying to save for the next one. Brett’s service was done one enlistment at a time until we finally decided at around the 15-year mark that maybe we should stay to collect the retirement (the best financial decision we ever made). Owning a home was a pipe dream back then, an impossibility, not just because of the frequent moves but because of the extremely high interest rates in the 1980s. A house was just flat-out unaffordable for us, especially when it would have to be sold in a couple of years. Brett retired from the navy during the recession of the early 90s but went back to school, earned a degree, found work, and in 1995 we purchased our first home. With the addition of the girls to our family our focus (and our budgets) turned to raising them. Retirement was still out there but not something we gave a whole lot of thought as there always seemed to be more pressing and immediate concerns.

I’ve often called us “accidental retirees.” While Brett receives a monthly retirement check (and good healthcare benefits) from his military service, the amount has never been enough to live on, especially not with a family. Brett was hired by a company in 1997 that offered a defined pension and he became vested. Sadly, that plan was closed soon after and before he had time to accrue much into the account, but it provides us a small amount of income every month (“milk money”). We also knew that our Social Security benefits would provide another source of income, but even with all three streams it would not be enough that we could ever quit working entirely, especially not with three children at home. The accidental part of our retirement came when the SSA informed us that because the girls would be minor dependents (under 18), in addition to his regular Social Security payments Brett would qualify to receive additional family benefits. This was a huge surprise to us, but we we added up the numbers and along with eliminating our debt figured that Brett could afford to retire in 2013, at age 63. We decided that I would “officially” retire when I reached 64 and start drawing my Social Security once our youngest had aged out of the family benefit.

I’ve often said that many if not most would be surprised at the amount of our retirement income, that even with three streams it’s less than most might imagine. However, Brett and I have always had the ability to make things happen with a smaller income. Have we made mistakes and done stupid things along the way? OMG, yes!!! But we learned from those mistakes: to take our time, save what we can whenever we can, plan and set goals, focus on what’s truly important (needs vs. wants), and leverage debt when necessary. We’ve never been afraid of change or a challenge, of doing things differently, or waiting rather than having to have or do something right away. We’ve learned to be creative savers even when it seemed like there was nothing to save, and practiced frugality before we even knew what that meant. We’ve carried debt over the years but much prefer not having any, and we refuse to judge those who do have it, even in retirement.

Looking back, it sometimes amazes me to think of all we’ve accomplished over the years and that we arrived at where we are now. With the girls grown and on their own, we’re enjoying a comfortable retirement, one we never could have imagined a decade ago. My mother used to tell me “you have to have money to dream.” I disagreed with her: dreams are free, but you often need money to make them come true. However, once you commit to a dream and make a plan, you can and usually will figure out the money part.

The road to retirement is different for everyone, and how we got to where we are now is certainly not any sort of blueprint for others to follow. Our story is ours alone. I offer no advice about how to have a great retirement except to pass along what I’ve learned: 1) Know what you need and what you want and then set your priorities and go for it. 2) Do what works for you and do it in a way that makes sense to you; forget about what others think or what they have. 3) Don’t expect perfection or a straight line. 4) Sometimes what seems like a not so great choice or decision at the time can affect your future in surprisingly positive ways. 5) There’s a big difference between fantasies and dreams. 6) Adjust your dreams as necessary, but never stop having them. 7) It’s your story to write.

Until One Is Committed

“UNTIL ONE IS COMMITTED, THERE IS HESITANCY, THE CHANCE TO DRAW BACK, ALWAYS INEFFECTIVENESS. CONCERNING ALL ACTS OF INITIATIVE (AND CREATION), THERE IS ONE ELEMENTARY TRUTH, THE IGNORANCE OF WHICH KILLS COUNTLESS IDEAS AND SPLENDID PLANS: THAT THE MOMENT ONE DEFINITELY COMMITS ONESELF, THEN PROVIDENCE MOVES TOO. ALL SORTS OF THINGS OCCUR TO HELP ONE THAT WOULD NEVER OTHERWISE HAVE OCCURRED. A WHOLE STREAM OF EVENTS ISSUES FROM THE DECISION, RAISING IN ONE’S FAVOUR ALL MANNER OF UNFORESEEN INCIDENTS AND MEETINGS AND MATERIAL ASSISTANCE, WHICH NO MAN COULD HAVE DREAMT WOULD HAVE COME HIS WAY. I HAVE LEARNED A DEEP RESPECT FOR ONE OF GOETHE’S COUPLETS:
WHATEVER YOU CAN DO, OR DREAM YOU CAN, BEGIN IT.
BOLDNESS HAS GENIUS, POWER, AND MAGIC IN IT!”

William Hutchinson Murray

(This is a repeat of a previously published post)

The best description I ever heard of the China adoption process was that putting the dossier together was like doing your taxes over and over and over and over and over and over . . . again and again and again and again . . . . At the beginning of each adoption journey, a slew of documents needed to be assembled upfront: a home study, birth certificates, marriage certificate, medical reports, police reports, financial statement, adoption statements, immigration forms, etc. – there were nearly 20 documents required in all. Each one of those documents had to be notarized in the state where they originated, then each notarized document went to the Secretary of State of that state for the notary to be certified. After that, the entire stack, by now a couple of inches high, was sent by courier to the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C. for each document to be certified again, and finally the whole thing was again sent by courier to the Chinese Embassy for each document’s final certification and approval. Four copies had to be made of every page and certification for the entire dossier and only then could it finally be sent to China and put in line for us to be matched with a child.

The process took several months to complete, and along the way, there was always the possibility for China to tweak or change their requirements. For example, we were almost done with the dossier for Meiling’s adoption when China suddenly announced that physicals could no longer be more than six months old, and ours were seven months old at that point. Panic! But, our doctor squeezed us in, and every other part of the certification process worked flawlessly (for a change) and in just a few short weeks our dossier was finally complete and off to China in late May of 1996. Matches and referrals were taking only three or so months then, so our hopes were high that by the time we returned home in August from taking our son to college we would have news of a daughter.

However, when we returned home and called our agency the news was not good; in fact, it was very bad. China had shut down adoptions for families that already had children, which of course included us. Our agency was moving families into other adoption programs, but China had been the only program that would accept us because of our ages (we were each over 40 years old). What had happened, we later learned, was a power struggle over the international adoption program had broken out between two different political bureaus in China, and adoptions had ground to a halt while they fought it out and reorganized. (We also learned our agency was convinced at the time that the entire program was going to collapse.)

All of our hopes and love, and quite a bit of money, had gone into the adoption process for more than a year, including all of the work of assembling our dossier. I was in graduate school at the time, and my work began to suffer because I could barely concentrate. Brett unhappily slogged off to work each day as well. Our son was at college in another state, so it was just the two of us at home each evening, and we were glum, depressed, and unsure of what to do or how to proceed.

On one particularly bad day, one of my professors emailed me the quote above, and told me to “hang in there.” I shared it with Brett that evening, and we talked about how deeply committed we still were to adopting from China and had been from the start. All sorts of unexpected and serendipitous events had happened and helped us along the way to make our adoption dream come together so far, and we decided that rather than pull out we would stay with it to the end and see what happened, no matter the outcome. We both felt in our hearts that our daughter was waiting for us there.

The William Murray quote was a turning point for us. And, it has proven prescient ever since. When we have committed to something, whether it was adding an additional child to our family again through adoption, getting ourselves out of debt, moving to Hawai’i, or planning a trip – when we have committed ourselves, as the quote says, Providence has always moved too. Things we couldn’t have imagined have happened to help make our plans a reality, and we were given the drive, vision, and persistence to see our dreams come true and our goals reached.

Commitment has been the step where we’ve gone from “do you think?” or “should we?” to “let’s do this” and then started figuring out how to accomplish it. The path to success has not always been straight or smooth or easy, but time and experience have shown that the unexpected does and will occur along the way to help, especially when we need it most. As each journey continues we begin to see things in different ways and act on them accordingly, with our commitment to finishing growing stronger the further along we get.

As the new year began in 1997 we were still waiting, but Brett and I had reached the depths of despair. There had been no positive word from our agency for weeks, and we felt like we were hanging on to hope by our fingernails. We had enjoyed having our son home for Christmas, but he returned to school on January 9. So, when the phone rang on the morning of January 10 I assumed it was him asking about something he had forgotten and wanted us to send. I had been lying on our sofa, crying and asking God for some kind of a sign, that if there was to be no adoption to let us know somehow and we would let it go, but if there was hope then we would continue to hang on. When I answered the phone that morning it was not our son but our social worker: “Laura, there’s a baby girl waiting for you in China,” and on March 12, 1997, in the hallway of a hotel in China, we met our little Meiling for the first time and she was ours.

This was the only picture we received of Meiling before we met her.

Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it!

Game Changer

Brett and I are still coming to terms with how much of a game changer our move to Nashville is going to be for us going forward.

We have absolutely NO REGRETS about accepting our son and daughter-in-law’s request to move to Nashville for the next two years. The request was unexpected, but there was never any doubt about accepting. Brett and I have loads of experience making changes on the fly, can quickly adapt and adjust, and we always make the best of any situation.

However, this move not only changes our plans for the next couple of years, but, as we’ve been figuring out the last few weeks, also for years ahead.

There will be loads of things happening in the next few months we were not expecting to have to do again for a few more years, including purchasing a car and once again buying furniture and other things we’ll need, from a coffee maker to mixing bowls to bed linens and towels. We thankfully didn’t get rid of everything, but most of what we owned here in Hawaii is now gone.

With international travel off the agenda for the next couple of years, Brett and I knew the odds of returning to full-time travel once our DIL and granddaughter returned to Japan were greatly diminished. We talked about whether it made more sense to rent furniture for the next couple of years and buy a used car, but decided we would be happier in the long run if we purchased furniture pieces we could live with for the rest of our lives, and a car that would last the rest of our lives as well.

Once we accepted the above, we realized we wanted own a dog again as well and would adjust future travel plans around that reality. We’ve come up with two paths once our time in Nashville is over: putting our furniture and other possessions into storage and setting off on an extended road trip around Canada and the U.S. along with our puppy for a couple of years, or buying a house and settling down somewhere in the northeast, most likely Maine, and traveling during the winter months (our middle daughter, WenYu, has already offered to store our car and all of the girls have volunteered to watch Kaipo). Both plans have lots of positives and potential for us.

Brett and I were very excited about our upcoming full time travels once again, and have honestly felt sad at times about abandoning those plans. But we are both forward thinkers and optimists, and we also like the options and opportunities we’ve been given. We plan to make the most of our future, and will remain nomads, even if that only turns out to be occasionally.

Here’s the Thing . . .

Here’s the thing about not being able to go much of anywhere and having lots of time on your hands: you can really think things through. Not just what you’re going to do that day, or that month, or that year, but way into the future. You have time to run all the scenarios, do the research, and think deeply about what you really want to do going forward.

More than knowing what we want to do with our future, Brett and I have been clear and united about what we don’t want to do. We do not want to own a home again. We do not want to own a car again. We do not want to own a lot of things any more.

It took us a while, but we eventually realized that rather than settling down someplace and feeling restless, we’d rather travel full-time again for as long as we can. Several months ago we came up with plan that put us on the road again in 2023. We created an itinerary and figured out how much we would need to save to make those plans a reality. We jumped right into savings mode and have been going strong ever since.

However, somewhere along the way, while thinking about travel and the pandemic, the idea of settling permanently in another country came up for consideration. Portugal has been at the top of our list for an overseas location, and so we spent well over a month learning everything we could about the process of obtaining a long-term visa, thinking about where to live so we wouldn’t need a car, and trying to decide what we would bring along with us and how to accomplish that. It turned out to be very doable, and Portugal beckoned with good weather, great public transportation, a low cost of living, good elder care, and access to the rest of Europe and other destinations to scratch our travel itches. The language would be a major issue but we knew we could start learning Portuguese online now and then take formal classes once we arrived.

We got very serious about moving to Portugal and swore each other to secrecy. We weren’t going to tell anyone until we were locked in.

Then a few weeks ago we got to talking about Strasbourg and realized if we were going to live overseas we would rather live in our favorite European city even if the weather wasn’t as nice as it is in Portugal. So, again we started looking into getting a long-term visa (a bit easier in France than Portugal, it seemed), talked again about what to bring, how we would learn the language, figured out a budget, etc. This became even more exciting to us than moving to Portugal! We were especially happy about this decision because learning French would be easier than Portuguese (maybe).

We got ourselves into a serious-about-moving-to-Strasbourg mode and swore each other to secrecy again.

Then last week, as we started watching old Father Brown episodes, we discovered ourselves becoming a bit emotional when scenes around Blockley appeared, especially when the little cottage we had stayed in occasionally flashed into view. We had absolutely loved every moment of our time in the UK and in Blockley, and have continually talked about going back again someday. We had already researched the possibility of settling in England, even with its crummy winter weather, but like Japan there’s no long-term visa we qualify for.

Oh yeah, Japan. In our excitement over Portugal and France we had pushed our absolute favorite country to visit to the back of the pack. When and how were we ever going to be able to do any sort of long stay there while paying rent in France? Or Portugal? What were we thinking?

Something had to change.

And here’s the thing: something did change. None of our previous plans, we realized, were exactly what we really wanted to do right now, just parts of what we thought we wanted. We don’t really want to take up our previous busy travel style again. We’re not ready or wanting to settle down anywhere or own things again. What we needed to do was put together pieces from all our previous ideas and create a lifestyle that would fit us perfectly.

We’re going to be traveling again, but at a very slow pace. We looked at visa rules, got out a calendar, and figured out we could stay 90 days in Blockley, then move to Strasbourg for 90 days, and then head over to Japan for 90 days, with a visit to the U.S. squeezed in as well to see the girls, all without violating any country’s rules for long stays. We can rinse and repeat this schedule as long as we feel up to it, living for long stretches in our favorite places and experiencing them in every season, and fitting in short getaways to other places we want to visit while we’re there. We’ll be nomads again, living with what fits into one large suitcase and a carry-on bag, a lifestyle we loved. We’ll get to see our son and his family once a year, and the girls once a year as well. We won’t have to figure out how to obtain special visas or take expensive language classes, and we’ll be flying less too. We’ll be in places long enough to quarantine, if necessary.

There are 19 months to get through before liftoff, and lots of work to do before our plans can happen. As we well know, much can change (quickly at times) and probably will more than once before our scheduled departure. In the meantime we will do what we can, and continue to save as much as possible, continue to get ourselves in shape and stay healthy, and continue to downsize, downsize, downsize. We’ll also continue to enjoy and appreciate every moment of our time left on Kaua’i. We’re lucky to be here, but looking forward to the future.

First Draft: An Itinerary For the Next Big Adventure

It’s taken a few weeks, but we’ve put together what we think is a good plan for two years of travel! We started off thinking we would figure out a year’s worth but somehow we just got going and couldn’t stop at a year.

I’m sort of happy we did this because it gives me lots of think about when it comes to planning and how much we should save in advance. There’s a big splurge in the second year which will require extra advance saving, but now that we know we’re better prepared to work on a monthly budget for that.

Before we started putting together an itinerary, we set three simple ground rules:

  • A minimum of 30 days in each location
  • Include at least one “long weekend” or getaway to a nearby location (around four or five days)
  • Ninety days in Japan each year
  • Special attention given to the weather and time of year; i.e., other than going to New England in December to spend Christmas with our daughters, no northern visits in the winter, no southern visits in the summer, and so forth.

Locations we have not visited yet were the priority, but there are some return visits. We also wanted the order we traveled to make some kind of geographical sense with not too many long flights in between.

After much deliberation and back and forth, here’s the first draft of an itinerary for the next Big Adventure. We’re pretty sure some things will change as we move closer to 2023, both because of costs and because lots can happen during two years that we have no way of knowing now.

photo credit: Danae Dal Bianco/Unsplash

We’ll start with an month-long stay on the island of Crete in Greece, with a long weekend in Athens and possibly a trip to Santorini.

photo credit: Fatih Yurur/Unsplash

From Greece we’ll head to Istanbul, a place both of us have longed to visit.

photo credit: Julia Solonina/Unsplash

Instead of returning to Rome, we’ve decided we would rather go north and spend a month in Verona, with easy access to Venice, Vincenza, Padua, and Milan.

photo credit: ERROR 420/Unsplash

Next is Western Germany. We wanted to stay in Amsterdam for a month, but lodging is very expensive there so instead we’ll make Amsterdam a long weekend visit. We’re thinking of staying in either Cologne or the area around Frankfurt so we can also go back to Strasbourg for a few days.

photo credit: Candy Good/Unsplash

We’re heading back to the UK after Germany, for just 30 days this time. We can’t decide whether to return to the Cotswolds or instead stay in Derbyshire, but it’s looking like the Cotswolds may be too expensive for a month’s stay (last time Airbnb covered the cost). We plan to rent a car this time, so a trip back to Blockley for a long weekend would be doable from Derbyshire and probably more affordable. We also want to add on a week in London at the end of our stay to see the things we missed before. After nearly missing our flight out of London in 2019, we want to make sure as well this next time we’re already in London before our flight!

England will be followed by a 90-day stay in Tokyo. We hope to find lodging this time nearer to our son’s new home but there currently don’t appear to be any affordable rentals in the area. Sangenjaya, the neighborhood where we stayed before and love, would not be as convenient as before but still doable. There are nonstop flights from London to Tokyo, and this will be where our air miles will come in handy, to upgrade to comfortable seats for the long flight(s).

photo credit: Clifford/Unsplash

If all goes as plans we will leave Japan in mid-December, and head back to New England for a month to spend the Christmas and the New Year’s holiday with our daughters, and re-provision before setting out again. Japan to the east coast of the U.S. will be another long journey, but we are already thinking that unless we find a fantastic fare to Boston we will break up the trip with a short stay in Portland so we can get together again with friends.

At the beginning of 2024 we want to return to Buenos Aires, not only because of a strong desire to experience more of the city, but because it will be summer there! We would like to visit Iguazu Falls this time, if possible, so that’s one idea for a long weekend getaway. We missed seeing Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay on our last visit, another great getaway (it’s just across the river, and a World Heritage site), or maybe spending a few days in Tigre, a natural area on the northside of Buenos Aires. Tierra del Fuego would make a wonderful long weekend visit as well.

photo credit: Miranda Garside/Unsplash

Following Argentine our destination will be Mexico for 60 days, spending the first month exploring Mexico City, and the second in San Miguel de Allende, which would have been our destination following Japan in 2020.

photo credit: Scott Walsh/Unsplash

Leaving Mexico, we will head north again, this time to Canada! Our idea is to spend 30 days somewhere in the Maritimes, 30 days in Montreal, and finish with 30 days in Vancouver. We would rent a car during our stay in the Maritimes but otherwise rely on public transportation in the other two cities.

photo credit: Ondrej Machart/Unsplash

Another l-o-n-g journey awaits us when we leave Canada because we want to head back to Australia for 60 days! We will break our 30-day rule here as there’s several things we’d like to do, and this is probably the last time we’ll go to Australia. We’ll start with a week in Sydney, then travel to Adelaide in South Australia for a 30 day stay. The train made a stop in Adelaide on the way to Sydney during our last visit and we were enchanted by what we saw. At the end of our stay we’ll board The Ghan for hopefully 10 days of travel through the center of the country, with stops in Alice Springs and overnight visits to Uluru and other sites in the outback, and finishing the journey with a short stay in Darwin. Afterwards we’d like to visit my brother and other family in Queensland. A train journey tour package would be our only big “splurge” this time around.

Then it’s back to Tokyo for another 90 day fall stay. While we love seeing the cherry blossoms, the changing leaves, autumn foods, and the chance to celebrate our son’s and granddaughter’s birthday make the fall a great time for us to be there.

We’ll end 2024 with another stay in New England for the holidays.

After coming up with that itinerary, we decided it was time to stop although we have some ideas of where to go after that. There are so many places we want to visit but those can wait until later!

Someplace Old, Someplace New

 

With a firm decision to become full-time nomads once again, we are now beginning to think about where we might want to go on this next round. There are so many places we did not get to visit before, but also several places we did visit that we’d love to experience again, mostly because there was so much there we did not have time for (or we were sick). 

The process of creating an itinerary will be ongoing for a while, and even once we get an initial itinerary drawn up we expect things will change. Our goal is to have a firm schedule set up a full year before we depart in April of 2023, which we’ve chosen as our departure date.

Once again, several things will be under consideration: cost, time of year and weather, lodging availability, and transportation costs and time to and from each location. We know there may be a few other variables we haven’t thought of yet.

Some of the places we visited before and would like to see again (including Tokyo, of course) are (in no particular order):

  • Rome: While we enjoyed our 10 days in Rome in 2018, we both had bad colds there and were also fairly anxious the entire time about crime, touts, etc – it was the first place we ever felt a real potential for theft. Also, it felt “too big” after a wonderful month in Florence. We didn’t give the city a very high rating when we left, but it has grown on us since then and we have often talked about giving it another chance.
  • Lisbon: Portugal was our destination following Rome, and if anything we were even sicker during our time here, and ended up experiencing very little of the city or the surrounding area. We’d like to give it another try as well.
  • The UK: We absolutely loved our time in the UK, and in Blockley, and could happily do another long stay there. We’re sure we’ll return to England, but I’ve learned where some of my ancestors came from (Derbyshire, the Peak District), and am now wondering if that area might be a place to visit instead of or alongside the Cotswolds.
  • Buenos Aires: We spent 10 days in this wonderful city at the beginning of our travels, and have wanted to go back ever since as there was much we didn’t get to see and experience. It’s a long and expensive trip to get down there though.
  • Australia: There’s another long train journey though Australia we want to take, from south to north this time (The Ghan) through the heart of the continent, and we’d also very much like to visit my brother and family in Queensland as well as spend a few more days again in and around Sydney.

Then there are places we initially wanted to put on our last itinerary but couldn’t make fit:

  • Athens: Brett spent time here early in his navy career and would love to visit this city again (me too, for the first time).
  • Germany & Austria: This is a big area, with lots of choices. Vienna has always been a dream destination for me.
  • Amsterdam: Another dream destination for both of us.
  • Morocco: Marrakesh was on our original itinerary back in 2017 but eventually was cut due to time and the cost of getting there and back. We very much also would like to visit Casablanca and Chefchouen (“the blue city”).
  • The South Island of New Zealand: We only had time and money to visit the North Island on our last journey, but promised ourselves we would go back some day to visit the South Island. I was also sick and missed out on seeing Wellington when we were there so I’d like to slip in another stop there as well.
  • Ireland: We have often talked about doing a road trip around Ireland, like we did in New Zealand.
  • Scandanavia: It’s an expensive area to visit, but we still want to go. Copenhagen and the Norwegian fjords are at the top of the list for me.
  • Southeast Asia: Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Cambodia, and Malaysia in SE Asia all call to us. 

A photo safari to Botswana remains high on my bucket list but still seems almost impossibly expensive right now. Who knows though? Maybe I will put a little away each month into an “Africa fund” after we get started and see where that takes us. We also very much want to go back to Strasbourg, but there’s a tiny bit of fear that it might not be as magical the second time around as it was the first. We feel the same about Florence, and think maybe only doing short stays in what were dream locations for us the first time around might be the way to go this time. There are loads of new-to-us places to explore and stay, but the goal this time around is to not wear ourselves out by being on the move so frequently.

Any itinerary we come up with now is going to be a process in flux for a long while, especially as we research costs, available lodgings, things to do in the area, and so forth. We want to do this smarter than we did before and that gives us even more to think about as we plan. 

Let the Adventure Begin . . . Again

. . . again.

For the past few weeks, as Brett and I have researched and discussed options for our future, a few things became clear:

  • We do not want to own a house again. We came to realize what we liked was the idea of owning a house, but actually have no enthusiasm or real desire for taking on the reality of home ownership again.
  • We are also unenthusiastic about car ownership. Again, we like the idea of buying a new car but are less than excited by the reality of car ownership.
  • We do not want to accumulate a bunch of stuff again, which is exactly what we could see happening if we bought a house.
  • We could easily imagine ourselves feeling restless, unhappy and possibly even miserable if we permanently located in one place.

Over the past few weeks we researched living in New England, and other places on the east coast, to be nearer our daughters. We then went across the U.S., state by state, and asked ourselves if any place there appealed to us. Although some areas ticked off many of the criteria on the list we had made, no place sparked any joy whatsoever. We examined and evaluated all of our options and outcomes for staying on Kaua’i, from best- to worst-case scenarios and got nowhere with that. For a few days we got excited about possibly relocating overseas. We looked into moving to Strasbourg or Bordeaux in France, or to Florence in Italy, but after an initial burst of enthusiasm and looking at the realities of having to obtain visas, learn a new language, set up housekeeping in a foreign location and all that goes along with that, it became a non-starter as well.

Feeling very discouraged at one point last week, I sighed and said, “I miss our nomadic life. Maybe we could just go back to that.”

And that was the spark for both of us.

Although travel days were hard, during the time we were traveling full time we were involved in new places, learning new things, meeting new people, and seeing and experiencing locations we had only dreamed about before. We were happy, never bored, we lived the way we wanted, and we were still able to see and connect with family, much more in actuality than we can now on Kaua’i. Brett and I enjoyed each other’s company to the fullest and we enjoyed working as a team.

We know we have a few more good years in us. We continue to be in good health and good physical shape, and agree we want to use this time to our advantage. Settling down is something that can wait for a few more years.

We have decided to once again become full-time nomads beginning in the spring of 2023. We don’t feel that international travel is a good idea for the rest of this year, vaccines or no, and we already have commitments for 2022, and would also like to see how things shake out COVID-wise in that year, to decide if traveling will be safe or whether it makes more sense move to some kind of Plan B. We need time to rebuild our savings, and much planning needs to take place before we could travel full-time again. We learned a great deal during our previous time as nomads, but would like to do an even better job of it the next time around. There are logistics to be figured out, an itinerary to plan, a budget to be set up, and decisions to be made about our remaining stuff, and lots more on top of that. One more seeming small but important part of waiting until 2023 is that both of our driver’s licenses expire in early 2023, and we want and need to renew them so that we can continue to rent cars overseas as necessary or desired.

We have already made a few decisions that will drive our planning going forward. We want to do at least one long stay (90 days) in Japan every year, and otherwise spend at least 30 days in a location as we do not want to move around as frequently as we did before. We both want to travel once again with just one checked suitcase each along with our rolling carry-ons. While we have a few ideas of places we’d like to go this time, an itinerary is still very nebulous and won’t be firmed up until later. There are places we want to revisit, but loads of places we didn’t get to last time and we want to balance those two things.

We’ve presented our decision to our kids and every one of them was and is excited for us. There will be much to do before we leave, but based on past experience we know the time will pass somewhat quickly. In the meantime, we will enjoy our time on Kaua’i to the fullest and continue to work at staying healthy and getting ourselves in even better shape than we are now.

I hope you’ll stay along for the ride as we plan and get ready for our Big Adventure, Part Deux!

Does It Spark Joy?

Before I began going through my cold weather travel clothes week before last, I told myself to go with Marie Kondo’s advice and ask myself with each piece of clothing or pair of shoes I tried on whether it sparked joy; that it, did it make me feel good and/or happy when I looked at it and thought of wearing it again. I admit to being surprised by a few items that I thought I liked but when I held and looked at them did not bring forth happy feelings or any desire to wear them again. I was equally surprised by a few items I thought would go into the discard pile that I actually loved because they now fit and look better in comparison to how they did in the past. The end result is a wardrobe that I can imagine wearing and enjoying in the future, and with enough variety that I can’t imagine needing more.

This whole “spark joy” exercise got me thinking that maybe Brett and I should apply the same tactic when we evaluate future plans and possible locations. While it’s easy to create list of things we would like to have in a possible location, if there is no feeling of joy or excitement when we think about living there, even a little, what’s the point? There’d be more than a good chance we would end up feeling miserable after not too long a time and wanting to move again. 

Hawaii, although it initially felt like an impossible dream, was a location that sparked joy in both of us back when we were discussing and evaluating retirement locations, as did locations along the Southern California coast that ultimately did not work out. The idea of doing a big travel adventure immediately brought joy to both of us, and when when we were drawing up the itinerary for our Big Adventure we dismissed locations that did not have some sort of an emotional element of excitement and wonder. We decided we weren’t interested in visiting places just to say we’d been there; we wanted to go places that spoke to our hearts and souls in some way. Japan has always been a location that brings us deep joy when visiting, a feeling that has only increased over the years. While we enjoyed every place we visited during our travels, there were definitely locations that brought more joy than others, some of them quite surprising in retrospect. There were others that didn’t as much as we had imagined they would.

So, we have added does it spark joy? to our list of criteria, and it may just be the most important of all. Kaua’i is definitely at the top of that list but unfortunately doesn’t meet many other of our criteria these days. We also noticed that a couple of other places we’d started to evaluate definitely didn’t spark any sort of joy and actually made us feel sort of miserable when we thought about living there. We just couldn’t imagine ourselves living those places or being happy there no matter the low cost of living or whatever other benefits they might provide.

I’m glad we have time to figure this all out, and to make the best decision for our future, one that will not only give us a location that meets most of our needs and wants, but bring us happiness and joy as well.

How We Did It

(This is an updated version of a previous post.) 

Some friends once asked us for a blueprint of how we set up our nomadic life, and how we sustained it. The first point we made was that we weren’t the first to do this nor would we be the last, and how we did it was definitely not the only way. We met other nomadic couples during our travels, and every one of them was doing long-term travel differently from us and funding it differently as well. Our inspiration came from Michael and Debbie Campbell, the original Senior Nomads, but everyone who has committed to a big travel adventure is doing what works for their energy level, bucket list, and budget.

Our full-time travel lifestyle started from a casual comment Brett made one day when we were trying to prioritize a list of travel destinations. We were still living on Kaua’i at the time, enjoying our life there (well, except for the humidity), but YaYu, our youngest, would heading off to college in a few months and Brett and I were eager to hit the road on our own and go somewhere we hadn’t been before. As we were discussing different locations, Brett said, “I wish we could see them all.” We both stopped immediately, looked at each other, and at the same time asked, “Could we do that?” We spent the next few weeks talking about the possibility of traveling full time and crunching numbers, and eventually figured out that by saving every extra penny we could, getting rid of almost everything we owned, and giving up our life in Hawai’i we could make a big travel dream happen.

Many people have assumed that because we traveled full time we must have a large retirement income but that wasn’t and isn’t true. We’re definitely not made of money (our income would probably surprise most people), but we’ve found it was possible to travel full time on our income as well as cover our expenses with careful planning, no debt other than my student loan, and an ability to stick to a budget. Our situation was somewhat unique in that we didn’t own a home when we began traveling and our daughters earned enough from work to supplement the scholarships and financial aid they were awarded and paid their own college expenses. Although the Senior Nomads were homeowners when they set out, they still initially sold all their stuff and rented their house while they traveled, and we could have done the same if we had still been homeowners. Because our income came/comes primarily from government pensions – Social Security and Brett’s military retirement (and a small pension from Brett’s last employment) – it was/is consistent from month to month which makes budgeting easier. All we had to do was figure out how to live off of that income while we traveled beyond covering travel expenses, a couple of fixed payments, and getting our college-aged children to and from places. We had/have no other extra income, no big investments to manage, no secret slush fund, and we didn’t take money from anything but our travel savings. Instead of paying for rent, utilities, gasoline, insurance, car repairs or home maintenance we used our income to cover airfare, Airbnb rentals and daily living expenses.

Our travel lifestyle worked from two different directions: 1) we carefully planned ahead and 2) we had a budget and stuck to it. For almost a year and a half before we set off on our Big Adventure, we saved as much as we could to cover as many up-front travel expenses as possible, like our train journey across Australia and our tour in India, and as many flights, Airbnb reservations and other expenses as we could. That got us started and we were able to sustain the rest of our lifestyle on what we received each month as we went along.

Planning ahead for where we wanted to go and what we wanted to do gave us plenty of time to find affordable flights and/or other transportation, and affordable Airbnb lodgings as well. Nothing was left to chance and there was very little to no spontaneity involved when it came to those big decisions. Once we committed, we were committed – there was no backing out or changing our minds, mainly because we would have lost quite a bit of money if we had. We also continued to put money away into our travel fund every month to cover transportation and lodging expenses ahead of time.

The only fixed bills we had each month were my student loan payment and our phone plan, deducted from our pay automatically each month. So, the amount we had in disposable income each month didn’t vary. That income covered lodging and long-distance transportation costs, groceries and (very) occasional dining out, local transportation, admissions, souvenirs, etc. Brett maintained a diary of all our spending every day to keep track of how we were doing and to let us know when we might need to cut back or tweak things a bit (he still does this every day). We had to adjust that amount and lower our daily spending average when we started putting money away to help YaYu graduate from college without any debt or at least with as little debt as possible. We were also fortunate that we have military healthcare which covers us worldwide. In fact, we learned that because we have military insurance we didn’t qualify for regular travel insurance! Our credit card benefits covered most of the other travel insurance items, such as canceled flights, lost luggage, etc.

We initially thought a year or so of full-time travel would be enough, and afterwards we’d be ready to settle down somewhere, but we found the longer we traveled, the more we wanted to continue. We had a much better time than we imagined, and learned things along the way to make the experience go more smoothly. For example, we discovered we preferred longer stays of at least a month in a location versus moving every few days or even every couple of weeks – we tried that and it was exhausting – and that longer stays usually provided a sometimes substantial discount for housing. We worked it out where we got together with each of our daughters a couple of times each year as well as spent time in Japan with our son and his family. We made the lifestyle work for us and not the other way around. While we are happy to be back on Kaua’i these days, in hindsight we realize we maybe should have fulfilled our stay in Japan, and then traveled on to Mexico and stayed put there as getting resettled on Kaua’i ended up costing us much more than expected. However, it’s been an extremely safe place to ride out the pandemic; the same probably could not have been said of Mexico.

There is no one-size-fits-all way to do long-term travel. How one accomplishes it or adapts to it is completely customizable according to one’s own circumstances, financial and otherwise. We flew from place to place, but have met others that were doing long-term road trips around the U.S. and Canada, staying in Airbnb rentals in the locations they visit. Some were pulling a trailer or driving an RV and camping. Other people we met were housesitting and others had kept their homes but did house swaps. The one thing everyone seemed to have in common was living within their means and living with minimal possessions, and prioritizing experiences rather than having things to show.

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. 

Although the lifestyle is not for everybody, if you’ve ever dreamt of trying out the nomadic life for a while, I firmly believe a way can be found to make it happen in a way that works for each person or couple or even family. All that’s needed is imagination and the courage to take the first step. Oh . . . and, no pandemics.

Should I Write a Book?

Back when I graduated from high school, my senior English instructor predicted that I would someday write the “great American novel.” I’m now nearing the end of my seventh decade and I’m here to say that is not going to happen. I do not have a novel in me . . . at all.

However, I have been thinking of writing another sort of book, and Brett and I have been talking the past few weeks about whether I should write one based on what I’ve covered in the blog over the years: getting to retirement, setting goals, making plans, traveling, and making our dreams come true on a not very big income. I enjoy writing, and it’s not like I’d have to invent the wheel or anything, mostly pull things together, organize it all, and polish everything up a bit. I have a tiny bit of experience writing a book with chapters: my Master’s thesis had over 400 pages, nine chapters, and an appendix. I’m not sure that counts for anything now, but the research, organization, and writing took months and taught me quite a bit about the process. In some ways it could be a similar effort for the type of book I would write now.

I’m not anywhere near to getting started on anything though, and haven’t the slightest idea right now of how to get published if I was to decide to write something. Actually, that would probably be my first task as I have no interest in paying to be published nor self-publishing. I also have no desire to write a travelogue, nor a how-to book – there are plenty of good ones out there already.

That’s really all I have to say about it now, but I’d like to throw a few questions out to you all:

  1. The BIG question: Do you think there’s a book in all of this?
  2. If yes, what aspects of our story do you think would make for a good book? Our getting out of debt? Moving to Hawaii? Our life on Hawaii? Our Big Adventure? How we set goals? How we manage our finances to reach our goals? All of this? Or maybe something more focused?
  3. Is there a way you think a book like this should be organized (chronological, by theme, or in some other way)?
  4. Anything else?

I look forward to reading your comments, suggestions, and opinions, even if it’s thumbs down. I have the best readers ever, and have appreciated your thoughtful comments over the years and know I will get good, solid advice from you that I can trust.

I’m looking forward to hearing from you!