Last week, as I was driving my work-paid rental car along the ocean, enjoying very different weather from the wintery bluster at home, sipping my work-paid fancy green juice which followed the work-paid Starbucks soy latte, headed toward my work-paid hotel, I had one of those realizations:
All of this goes away when we retire.
We’ve written before about the things we’ll actually miss about working (it’s more than just the stuff they pay for, like our phones and home internet, or getting slightly better treatment at hotels and airports), but the reality of our lives right now – especially mine – is that we don’t actually spend all that much time in our small mountain town where we live. Of course we have a close-to-paid-off house here, we have friends here, we volunteer and are involved in civic causes here, and we spend lots and lots of time working in our home offices here.
But it’s not like we’re spending all of our time frolicking in the wilderness. Or soaking up the small town living. I’m in an actual city for work almost every single week, where I am allowed to expense things we wouldn’t buy for ourselves anymore, like the aforementioned latte and fancy green drink, or dinners at trendy restaurants. I never get a chance to miss “city things.” And despite completely changing our spending habits for our own personal funds, I still live a pretty yuppie lifestyle thanks to work reimbursing this stuff a day or two or three every week.
(Proper disclaimer here: I do not spend extravagantly on work’s or clients’ dimes. Often I buy my meals at Whole Foods, and stay at less swanky hotels than my colleagues choose. But I also do make different spending decisions than we make with our own money, often for the very practical reason that I can’t make my own coffee or juice at a hotel, or cook all of my own meals. But it also feels like a treat to enjoy a nicer meal when I have to be away from home — not gonna lie.)
If you’d asked us five or ten years ago if we think of ourselves as city people or small town people, we would have probably said city people, but then added that we’re happiest in the mountains. And we each came upon this love of the mountains separately — it was one of the things that made us instantly simpatico. Moving to the mountains was never about the small town part, per se, although you sure do get a lot more natural beauty when the place you live isn’t covered with pavement and buildings, and has fewer people milling about.
We had a bunch of reasons for moving to the mountains, all of which were and still are totally legit in terms of our long-term happiness:
- Though we loved living in the city, we were spending tons of time and money traveling to the mountains as often as possible, to ski in the winter and to camp and climb in the summer. We wanted to stop wasting that time and money.
- We could only “afford” (per our definition, not the banks’) a small condo in the city, while we could actually buy a house in the mountains. We were so ready to stop sharing walls.
- We had a sneaking suspicion that the traffic and noise were making us a little crazy, and we were eager to escape that.
- It’s harder to put down roots in the big city, and we wanted to feel more connected to a place.
- We completely fell in love with our particular mountain town when we visited it on a ski trip. That was the game changer.
We love living where we do! But there are also things we miss, mostly related to convenience, about living in a big city:
- The ability to walk to coffee, groceries or just about anything else, almost any time of day or night.
- Street lights. No, seriously. Walks are done at sunset, unless you want to realize what real darkness actually looks like.
- Restaurants open past 9, and more than a handful of them that we like.
On balance, it is still so totally worth it to have the privilege of living where we do. Those things we miss are tiny in comparison to everything we gain by getting to understand, every day we’re home, what quiet actually sounds like. By getting to breathe air that isn’t filled with car exhaust. By having mountains for a skyline, instead of manmade structures. But we also have all-expenses-paid trips on the regular to get our fix of city life. What happens when that stops? Are we cut out for small town life long-term?
We’ve definitely noticed that our vacations have shifted since we moved here — when we lived in the city, we did almost all of our travel to the wilderness and mountains, but when we moved to the mountains, we started using our vacation time to visit cities.
Which tells us: We’re probably always going to want some balance of city time and mountain time in our lives.
Fortunately, our early retirement plan is to travel a ton, so we should still be able to get big chunks of city time, even if they’re not nearly as often as I get them now (that’s not a bad thing — the pace of work travel is too draining to be sustainable long term). And knowing that the adjustment to full-time small town life could be challenging for us, there are some things we can do to ease the transition:
- Make a big effort in 2017, our last year of working, to travel less for work, to ease into being home a lot more. This will involve being a bit more obstinate with clients, but I can do it.
- In retirement, plan regular mini trips to cities, even if just for a concert, a day a the museum or a chance to walk around. Even if it means camping outside the city proper to do this on the cheap.
- Build big chunks of city time into our international trips, or even just longer trips around North America. We have a fierce love of the national parks and forests, but maybe we don’t need six months at a time of just camping. :-)
Like so many things in life, we think the devil is in the details on this one. We are definitely not cut out for living in just any small town. But we think we’re going to do well in ours over the long haul. But we’ll build in lots of balance just to be sure.
Anybody else considered leaving the city for early retirement, or like us, actually done it? Or do you have concerns about whether you’ll be happy long-term where you live now? We’d love to hear if anybody else thinks about this question!
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