This is what our last six weeks has been like:
A week in DC to say our goodbyes to our colleagues and careers
A week in Virginia and New Orleans to celebrate our early retirement
A few days at home followed by most of a week with family for Christmas
A few final-final work days at home for me to finish up (and to get the 401(k) match)
A week at home scrambling to finish final retirement to do list items and one big to do list item I’ve been working on for a while, and to prepare for our first big trip
Two weeks traveling all over Taiwan
A delirious 12-hour flight, four-hour layover and hour-long flight to get home
A rushed grocery shopping trip, a drive home, a four-hour nap and a late night to write this post
In other words, a LOT.
And in other other words, not the right way to begin early retirement.
But then again, maybe it was exactly the right way to begin it.
I’ll tell you all about it, and then you can share your verdict in the comments.
Psst. I’m sharing loads of pics from our Taiwan trip in the newsletter going out Friday morning. Be sure to sign up if you’re not already on the list so you don’t miss it! I’ll be sharing more travel details in the newsletter from now on, so get in on it if you want to hear more about our adventures.
The Celebration Thinking
We’ve always celebrated little milestones along the way to early retirement, and that’s helped us beat impatience and cope with work stress. And we wanted to carry that celebratory spirit into our final work hurrah.
Most of all, I did not want coming home from that final visit to our companies’ offices to feel like just coming home from another work trip, something I’ve done hundreds of times. I wanted to do something that would force us both to stop checking our phones and email, and to create a visceral separation from work so that when we came home, it would feel like we had come home from vacation. And we could then continue that vacation state of mind and sail smoothly in early retirement.
So we decided that we’d leave DC that last Friday night, drive down to Charlottesville to see Mark’s best friend from college, catch JMU playing in the FCS semi-final and then fly to New Orleans for a few days of low-key reveling. It was the mid-December off-season and was cheap to stay in New Orleans, so we booked it.
And those few days were wonderful. We didn’t plan too much and just wandered around one of our favorite places to visit, catching lots of live music that we just happened to bump into, and spending a little time at the Hotel Monteleone’s Carousel Bar.
The Next Three Weeks of Early Retirement
We got home from that trip and only had a few days before leaving for a Christmas trip to see Mark’s family in Denver (and meet up with awesome FIers in Longmont!), most of which was consumed by phone calls to Covered California and Blue Shield, as well as AT&T. (I got to keep my work phone, but it’s locked until March, so I have to stay on AT&T until then, and switching things from work to me proved to be stupidly hard. Because, apparently, AT&T just got into the phone business. Oh wait.) And booking hotels, flights and trains for within Taiwan, which we hadn’t had time to do earlier.
We then jetted off to Colorado, had a lovely time, came home and promptly got sick, and then had only a few days to get ready to go to Taiwan, our first international trip as retirees. I had dreams of writing all the blog posts that would run during the trip in advance, but ran out of time to do that, and so had to find little moments to write while traveling, and accepted that I wouldn’t have time to respond to comments until the flight back.
The Hastily Planned Big Trip
The Taiwan trip came together only a few months ago, but many of the details we only booked a week or two before we left. Which would be no big deal for a longer trip, but with only two weeks there, we needed to be fairly efficient.
The whole thinking behind it was in line with the celebration thinking that inspired the New Orleans trip. We wanted to get out and DO SOMETHING right away in retirement that would make us feel retired. As a bonus, I had four free global upgrades on United that were expiring and had to be used by the end of January. (“Free” by only spending weeks of my life on planes in 2016.) When we booked it, we knew January was smack dab in the middle of ski season, and we didn’t want to miss all of it, so we decided we should go somewhere fairly contained, where we could see a lot of it in two weeks or less.
At first, we booked eight days in Singapore, thinking we could easily see most of it in that time, and also thinking that the longest flight from the U.S. was the perfect way to get the most out of the upgrades. But then United put us on the upgrade waitlist, and we flinched. We weren’t cool rolling the dice on maybe being in economy for 18 hours each way. So within the 24-hour cancellation window, I called United and had this conversation:
Me: Soooo, instead of going to Singapore, we’d like to go somewhere else.
United: Okay, where?
Me: Where else in Asia could we got for two weeks in January for the same price or lower, and have our upgrades confirmed the whole way?
United: How about Taipei?
Me: [To Mark] Hey babe, wanna go to Taiwan?
Mark: Uh, sure.
Me: [To United] Cool. Let’s do it.
And maybe that was the first moment I actually felt like retirement was real, a few months before we quit. We didn’t care what the dates were because we weren’t planning around anything. We didn’t have some jam-packed, meticulously planned itinerary we had to squeeze into limited vacation time. We could just have the option to go to a place and say yes.
And we said yes.
Which felt great, until the weeks ticked by and we hadn’t planned much, and also ran out of time to learn the language. I bought a phrasebook that we never really used (because, omg, Mandarin is hard), and Google translate is worthless when the language is mostly poetic and metaphorical anyway.
When we went to Japan last year, I did a level 1 language course, and was so glad I did. I had some basic conversations with people we met, and just felt more respectful being able to ask for what we needed in their own language, or at least to start the conversation that way. I couldn’t read one bit of the signage in Japanese, but having some verbal grasp of the language no doubt improved the trip. Mark learned the basics, too, which helped. We also studied some Japanese history, which made some things more interesting, like when we went to the Kabuki Theatre and saw a samurai play. We’d hoped to be able to cram with at least some level 1 Mandarin before going to Taiwan, and were disappointed in ourselves for not making it happen.
So though we loved Taiwan (and will have plenty more to say about it in the newsletter), and think everyone should put it on their travel wishlist, we basically got around the whole country just saying “hello” and “thank you” in Mandarin, and forcing others to do the language work for us. Which felt lazy and disrespectful, but also like a missed the opportunity to interact more deeply with the people we met.
Fortunately, Jeremy from Go Curry Cracker showed us around Taipei on day one and used his much more legit Mandarin skills to introduce us to some things that made our trip way better.
Also speaking of language skills, big shoutout to Bob of Tawcan for translating my dietary restrictions into a handy sheet in Mandarin that I could show people. I didn’t get sick once!
The To Do List Throughout, and Doing It Wrong
I am under no illusion that I’m going to live some super relaxed, pastoral early retirement. I am a doer, a yes-sayer, and an insatiably curious and interested person, and I am always going to have more that I want to do than there is time to do. Mark has fewer of these inclinations, but he also says yes to stuff, so we both walk around with long to do lists all the time, career or no career.
And these first few weeks of early retirement have been no exception. There’s been more to do than we’ve had time to do, and for the most part we dropped the to do list while in Taiwan, and actually enjoyed ourselves. We had our first consecutive days of actually feeling retired (realizing it was a weekday and we weren’t thinking about work and didn’t feel the compulsion to check our phones), which was different from the weeks at home preceding the trip, when we felt guilty for not getting more done. (It actually felt like we were wasting long weekend or vacation days, and the guilt was real.)
But that only meant either working in the middle of the night there and not getting enough sleep, or coming back from vacation to long to do lists, which is not what this whole early retirement thing is supposed to be about. And more than once we’ve felt like we’re doing it wrong.
Though we wouldn’t have wanted to waste those free upgrades, we wish we’d had a little more time before heading out on our first trip, at the very least to bone up on the language more, but preferably to trim down the to do list a bit more in advance.
Or Maybe Doing It Right?
If tasks expand to fit the amount of time you have to complete them, maybe the amount of time we had before the trip was irrelevant anyway, and we would have felt like we were scrambling no matter what.
Maybe the big exhale we each had when we sat down in those big Polaris seats from SFO to Taipei was only possible because it had felt like a sprint to get through our tasks and get on the plane.
Maybe getting on the road to another country where we couldn’t speak the language was exactly what let us feel retired so quickly, less than a month in.
Maybe being on the other side of the world, in a timezone nowhere near anyone we might email or tweet at, was precisely what allowed us to keep our phones in our pockets instead of having our noses in them.
I do know that when we landed at SFO yesterday and cleared customs, my first thought wasn’t, “Okay, what emails did I miss?” It had nothing to do with my phone or work or any of my old habits. It was, “How can we get an update on the storm that’s coming, so we know when the powder’s coming?” And for Mark, he hadn’t even turned his phone on the whole trip, so his first thought was more along the lines of, “Huh, my phone still works.”
We rushed too much to get out the door on the trip and didn’t do the prep we wish we’d done, but in the end, it was still amazing and life list worthy, and we came home feeling like retirees.
So maybe we actually did do it right?
How do you want your early retirement to begin? Or for those who’ve already achieved it, how did it begin, and was it what you expected or nothing like that? What do you think about how we did it – did we do it wrong and spoil a chance to have clearer heads (or to take a longer first trip)? Or did we accidentally do it right despite all the scrambling? Let’s discuss in the comments!
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Categories: we retired early