If you missed Monday’s post and haven’t checked out the Mad Fientist podcast featuring me (!), head on over there and give it a listen.
We’re still out on what has easily been one of the best trips of our lives (Best. Ski Trip. Ever. Plus… I heart Japan so much)… and what will probably be the last international trip that we can actually live tweet and live Instagram. Once we’re “out” later this year, we won’t share travel until after we’re back home because we don’t necessarily need the whole internet to know when we’re away from home. (Though we do often have housesitters, and always have neighbors watching the house… just in case any would-be burglars happen to be reading.)
But planning and going on this trip have cemented for us that we’re ready to start planning for the travel that will comprise the rest of our lives. (!!!) And something occurred to us as we’ve thought about that: This is the real retirement planning.
Deciding to save and figuring out how to allocate resources is super important, of course, but that’s just building the foundation of your retired life. Retirement itself is life, not money, and so retirement planning is really thinking about how we’ll live and what we’ll do, not continuing to count our pennies.
And it’s crazy awesome to realize that we’re now at that point, where we can actually think about this stuff in real, legit, we’re-actually-gonna-do-this-stuff terms. Which means that it’s now time to confront some of those questions we’ve been wondering about for a while, like how many trips do we want to take each year? Should we do one big trip or multiple short trips? Should we try to cover as much ground as possible in a short time, a la Chris Guillebeau or The Resume Gap, or take our time and spread stuff out? There’s a lot to ponder, so let’s dive in.
Retirement Planning Is Life Planning
I’ve written this plenty of times before, but I’ll write it again: money is a tiny piece of early retirement or any retirement. Sure, money makes all of this possible, but saving for retirement is mostly a waiting game, and living in retirement is (we hope) about living our most stoked lives, not about looking at our accounts every day.
So while we still have some money stuff to figure out in more detail (namely how to structure our cash accounts in retirement and exactly what we want our withdrawal strategy to be), we’re consciously shifting into the more granular life planning.
Some of that stuff is easy in our case. We know we will buy midweek ski passes next year instead of the more expensive unrestricted ones we have now (so excited to stop being weekend warriors with the crowds!), and we know we’ll shift down to slower internet at home and cheaper cell plans.
But then it’s time to think about the bigger, more inspiring question: Where do we go first?
Travel Planning with (Almost) No Restrictions
We’ve each separately taken one extended European backpacking trip in our lives, but other than that, we’ve never before been in the situation where the constraints of any trip were entirely up to us. Starting in January, we can take as long a trip as we want, to anywhere in the world, and we can even have no end date set if that’s what we feel like doing. And we can travel in off-seasons, when travel is cheaper, and have endless freedom to book based on award ticket availability.
Granted, our phase one retirement budget doesn’t allow for luxury travel (we’re saving that for phase two, after age 60), but we have bucketloads of United and Marriott miles, and we’re willing to travel to the cheapest parts of the world where our dollars will go far. So we’re looking at a travel future with essentially no restrictions, or certainly fewer than we’ve ever had before.
It’s discombobulating, actually, this lack of boundaries. You mean we could take a nine-week trip if we feel like it? Or even a four-month trip? Whaaaaaat?!?! Yeah yeah, I know that’s the whole point of early retirement, but thinking about it all in actual reality still doesn’t feel possible. It’s like this nice dream we’ve been playing along with, but never expected to come true. Except now it is.
Travel Long or Travel Short?
There are great examples out there of every kind of travel — from short trips to no-end-in-sight trips, and there clearly isn’t an objective right or wrong answer. Part of the fun of early retirement will be figuring out what kind of travel suits us best.
Though I’d love to think that I could live out of a backpack for an extended time (heck, I practically do that now for work!), I think the same feelings that make us want to have a permanent home base will make us want to touch back down at home more often than the perma-travelers out there.
Especially because of the food issue. As a gluten-free eater out of medical necessity, I’ve found Japan to be super tough, which was surprising at first. It seems like it would be easy with the lack of bread, right? But no, gluten is in everything. I learned the kanji symbol for wheat, and I am not joking that it is in every product in this picture except one. And it was not a short process to figure this out. And same with restaurants. Multiple places have said they cannot serve me at all. Womp womp. It’s tough not to feel a slight longing for home when this happens, and especially when there’s such a steep language barrier.
The Best Part of Travel
It might have something to do with having the best ski days of our lives, or with ending each day with a relaxing onsen, but we’ve noted multiple times how little we’ve thought about work on this trip. Or even about home. Or anything to do with our “real” life.
And I do think that’s a huge appeal of travel — it gets us out of our usual routines and forces us to be present in a completely different way.
We’ve found the same thing to be true in the backcountry. Get us out onto a mountain ridge where finding shelter is an actual life-or-death matter, and I’ll bet you anything there’s no way a work thought is popping into my head.
Forcing us to be present is exactly what meditation does, and I happen to believe that anything that forces us to be present can have many of the same benefits as true meditation. It’s my favorite part of rock climbing, that forced sense of focus and immediacy. And I think it’s why achieving a flow state feels so good. And travel can have this same effect.
Of course, we hope to need this forced presentness less in retirement, when our thoughts will no longer be so work-dominated, but even the most blissed out hippies among us can still benefit from confronting an unfamiliar reality right in front of our faces, instead of living inside our heads or on our phones.
Starting with Goldilocks
This two-week trip has been wonderful so far, but it has also been too short. It hasn’t remotely allowed us enough time to explore the nooks and crannies of the places we’ve been, or to engage enough with locals, and we’ve only included two places in our itinerary. So it feels like a good place to start our planning is thinking about two weeks or so in each place, enough time to have multiple unplanned days for open exploration without feeling like we’re wasting time. Smaller places might not need quite that much time, but bigger places might beg for more, so we’re thinking of that as the average.
As for total trip length, we’re thinking we’ll start in the six-week range. Long enough to feel like a real trip, but not so long that we get home-sick or have to deal with extended periods when finding something to eat is hard or impossible. And not so long that we violate one of our core tenets of early retirement:
Part of the Point Is to Be Home
We purposely moved to the mountains — and specifically to our mountain town in our mountain range — because we love it there. And a big part of wanting to hurry up and retire early was to have as much time to enjoy our local area as possible. So being away for more than six weeks risks missing a whole season, which is not something we’re okay with. We don’t want to miss peak ski season or peak hiking/biking season, and the shoulder seasons in-between are the best in terms of smallest crowds, so we don’t want to miss those either.
In fact, plenty of the travel we plan will be less of the get-on-a-plane variety, and more of the get-a-backcountry-permit form. And a lot of that stuff will be in our own backyard, or with a few hours’ drive. It’s pretty incredible to think that, soon, we’ll be able to be out for multiple weeks so close to home without seeing anything or anyone from home. Whether it’s hiking a long trail or going out on an extended backcountry ski hut tour, we have plenty on our radar.
Where To Go First?
As I shared on the Mad Fientist podcast, we have had Iceland in our sights for a while, because the glaciers are receding rapidly there, and we don’t want to miss the chance to see them. We’d hoped to go while still working, because it’s expensive there, and easier to fit into our budget now than post-ER. But we picked Japan this year instead (another pricey destination), so will just have to suck it up and find a way to make Iceland work on a budget.
We’re also thinking about coming back to Japan to see the places we’re missing this trip (everywhere outside of Tokyo and a small part of Hokkaido), especially Kyoto, Mt. Fuji (you better believe we’re gonna climb that sexy beast of a mountain), and the Japanese Alps. I’m going to keep studying Japanese to be better prepared for our next trip here, whether that’s in a year or in 10.
We have a long list of places on our longer-term travel list, and we know that campervan travel around Europe and Central America and a backpack sojourn across Southeast Asia are on our semi-near term list, along with travel to the national parks of the U.S. and Canada. Plus, I’m pretty sure Maggie will never forgive us if we don’t get to Alaska soon. ;-)
Where Would You Go? And For How Long?
But we’re plenty open to suggestions, too. Where would you go first if you were on our timeline? What’s a place you’ve loved that’s not talked about as a great destination? Or where are you dying to go ASAP? And how long do you think you’d travel at a time ideally? Any aspiring permanent nomads out there? Or homebodies who can’t imagine going out for more than a few weeks? We’d love to hear how you guys are thinking about this stuff! Let’s talk about it in the comments.