One Year of Early Retirement, Part 2: All Our Adventures // Our Next Life: work-optional living, early retirement, financial independence, FIRE, happinesswe retired early

One Year of Early Retirement, Part 2: The Adventures

Here’s something we did in our first year of early retirement: We saw Beyonce.

A year in which I spent a lot of time in a mouse onesie and got to see Beyonce already counts as a pretty great year.


My first day as an early retiree, just over a year ago

But here’s something else we did: a whole bunch of other stuff that’s even more memorable.

A year in which seeing Beyonce’s groundbreaking Coachella set doesn’t even rank in your top ten memories is a downright amazing year. And that’s what our first year of early retirement was.

So even though I talked in part one of this series — the first year’s lessons — about not being able to do everything you want, even when you have lots more free time, the truth is that we did a whole freaking lot in just one year.

No profound thoughts in today’s post, just a great big rundown on a spectacular year that made every dollar we saved feel well worth the trade-offs. Even though it looked a lot different than we’d originally envisioned our first year might look, we feel profoundly grateful to have gotten to do so very much. There is still a lot of pinching ourselves going on around here.

Recounting it all is a massive reminder of just what’s possible when you create a work-optional life for yourself.


The punctuation marks in the first year of early retirement were the trips we took, visiting two new countries (Taiwan and Monaco) and two repeats (France and Mexico), and stateside hitting New York twice, Coachella, New Mexico, Denver a few times and a bunch of local spots. Though I didn’t fly nearly as much as I did in past working years, I still flew plenty.

Starting with the evidently giant plane we flew to Taiwan:


We loved every minute of our time in Taiwan, and can’t figure out why more westerners don’t visit the country. It’s an incredibly beautiful island with tall mountains, deep gorges and dramatic scenery, the people are super friendly and the culture is fascinating. And it’s cheap!

And, more importantly, they have (gluten-free!) sweet potato balls at every night market:

I may have eaten my weight in them while we were there, given the otherwise limited gluten-free offerings. But I happily munched away on my slightly sweet fried dough while Mark sampled the country’s actual culinary treats, from various parts of roosters to takoyaki to local greens to soup dumplings. (Not pictured: the papaya milk. Oh my god, the papaya milk.)

And then there was the food they have that we could easily have here, but don’t. Like mango shaved ice. Why isn’t that a thing here?? And yuzu ice cream?! You already make it, Haagen-Dazs! Just sell it here! 

But we did more than eat in Taiwan, I swear.

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We also high-fived Smurfs:


Met a robot who wasn’t too into us:


Hit 180 mph on a bullet train (same trains as Japan’s shinkansen but so much cheaper!):


Felt hot and sweaty while the locals were all bundled up:

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Saw more lanterns than we could count:


And biked around military sites and old Qing Dynasty communities on Kinmen Island, just off the Chinese mainland:


I took way too many pictures of the beautiful temples all around the country and the incredible contemporary art that’s everywhere a temple is not. You can see a bunch of them on Instagram.

But by far the highlight of the trip was Taroko Gorge, a dramatic white marble gorge that starts in the mountains and empties into the ocean. Please do yourself a favor and put it on your life list.


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Tanja Hester, author of Work Optional and Our Next Life, on the Jhuilu Old Trail in Taroko Gorge, Taiwan

Then we hopped a plane to come back home (hooray for a few lingering upgrades from my work travel days), and it was still only January.


And January means time to ski! Except that we didn’t really have any snow yet. Which was okay with me, because by February 15, I had a book deal, and was preoccupied with that.

The snow waited until March to fall for real, but then it really fell. We had to cut a path for the dogs to go outside, but didn’t bother creating a path for us some days, because we had nowhere to be.


We let folks visiting town have at the weekend powder, and we stayed in where it’s warm (er, sort of). And when the weekdays came around, we got after it.


An empty chairlift on a powder day is a glorious thing.

(Always wear a helmet, kids. Don’t follow Mark’s bad example in the backcountry.)

Also in March, we got the chance to get a behind-the-scenes tour of Harry Potter World at Universal Studios Hollywood, and we practically ran down there. It was in the Sheraton overlooking Universal Studios that I wrote my blogger manifesto post, my most controversial and commented-on post ever, and while the full spectrum of comments came in, we were lapping the Hogwarts castle ride over and over.


That wasn’t the end of Harry Potter for us in 2018. A few months later, in May, we got to see both parts of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on Broadway, with the original West End cast. It is by far the most spectacular work of stagecraft either of us have ever seen.


In April, I took my dad, a military history buff, to New Mexico to the Trinity Site open house, which only happens two days a year, with a side trip to the Very Large Array (VLA). You can go all the way to ground zero, where the first-ever nuclear bomb was tested, marked by the obelisk.


I mentioned on Twitter a month or two prior to the open house that we were going, and Carl and Mindy of 1500 Days decided to join in, along with Noah and Becky from Money Metagame. (That second pic is Carl posing his dinosaurs with a dead baby rattlesnake. Because of course it is.)

It was a nerdalicious trip, and some special time with my dad.


And then it was time for Coachella, but not before a mistake in home hair coloring led to a drastic change.

I tried hard to make purple stick, because pink’s not really my thing, but managed to make it purple only fleetingly (and slightly). So I’ve stuck instead to shades in the red family.


Coachella was great (Beyonce, obviously), with beautiful interactive art as always.


But it was also the first Coachella when I had to accept that my genetic issues are officially limiting me, and I had to get ADA accommodations and use a mobility aid. That was hard to admit to myself. Which may have played a not-minor role in needing to bump up the antidepressant dose, as I talked about last week. (Though mental health is not a tidy cause-and-effect relationship. And depression doesn’t have to be caused by any events.)


Not long after, it was off to New York to see Harry Potter, and to pay my publisher a visit (I was walking about three feet off the ground), meet up with some financial independence enthusiasts from the region and speak at Google.


For Mark, the summer looked a lot like this, but on cooler terrain:


And for me it looked more like this:


I called the summer of 2018 my indoorsy summer. Both because of my book and some persistent joint pain and blood pressure regulation issues. (The low BP variety, not high. The main reason why I needed accommodation at Coachella and will likely need it again this year.) Though this photo is from the one outdoor session, and is thus misleading, I did get to venture out to another indoor space when I attended all the craft talks of the week-long Squaw Valley Community of Writers, which I’d always wanted to do while working, but never could because I was traveling or working:


The indoorsy summer lasted until I turned in the book manuscript in early August, and Mark and I celebrated our 10-year anniversary in the same place in Sonoma County where we’d gotten married and celebrated five years:

And then I dashed off to Minnesota for CampFI Midwest, a preceding meetup with some fantastic Minnesotans and a postscript tourist day in Minneapolis.

In September, Suze Orman’s people called, and asked if Kara and I wanted to interview her for what would become episode #21 of The Fairer Cents, and obviously we said yes. Though we didn’t get many words in, as you can see.


And then it was time for FinCon in September, always a highlight of the year. This year, I got to lead a session, sit on a panel with some FI blogger friends and moderate a panel for the podcast that will air next month.


And then I had zero chill about winning blog of the year, and I definitely don’t look at the trophy every single day or anything.

In October, we took a short trip to Los Cabos, Mexico, after Starwood’s timeshare division made us an offer we couldn’t refuse: $200 total for four nights oceanfront, plus a $75 resort credit, plus free breakfast because of our platinum status… all in exchange for taking the timeshare tour. It was an easy yes. And it did not suck.


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Near Todos Santos, Mexico, on the Pacific Ocean side, north of Cabo San Lucas, Mark decided he would battle the ocean.


Mark had a good time, but the ocean won.


A few short weeks later, it was time for the first-ever Cents Positive retreat for women interested in financial independence. We flew off to Denver and had an incredible time. My heart pretty much exploded.



We had less than 24 hours at home after Cents Positive before we flew to Paris for our month-plus away, much of which is documented on Instagram.

We hoofed it up the hills in Montmartre.


We sipped lots of wine out of tiny glasses.


We ate the world’s best gluten-free pastry.


We celebrated the release of the Beaujolais Nouveau in Beaujolais.


And we saw the view Van Gogh saw in St. Remy-en-Provence, before flying to New York to see what he painted in St. Remy, now hanging in MOMA.


But most significantly, we attended the 100-year centennial of the end of World War I on Armistice Day, November 11. We stood out in the rain to watch world leaders mark the occasion, and I sang La Marseillaise with French citizens, as I’ve dreamed of doing since French class in high school.



Some other things we did this year:

Mark split a lot of wood, some of it with a New York Times photographer watching.


We watched lots of dance, from the American Ballet Theatre Nutcracker, to the Paris Opera Ballet’s tribute to Jerome Robbins to avant garde black box theatre dance in Taipei.


We rode lots of trains, all over Taiwan and a little in France, something that still feels novel to us as mostly trainless Americans. (You can tell the one in France because I’m holding an eclair. Though I would be happy holding an eclair at all times.)


Mark found himself very amusing.



(In case that small photo isn’t clear, Mark ordered our ski passes, and submitted my most derpy-ever photo as my official pass pic. Because he’s hilarious like that.)

We hung out with early retired friends outside of FinCon, CampFI and Cents Positive, including Courtney and Steve of Think Save Retire, who visited us, and Jeremy from Go Curry Cracker, who showed us around Taipei.

We met monkeys in Taiwan, who were not friendly.


I got my last upgrade as a United 1K.


Then there was everything else we did that doesn’t make for great pictures:

  • Catching up on years of sleep
  • Catching up on years of the Great British Baking Show
  • Attending friends’ weddings
  • Watching Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding at 3 AM (no shame)
  • Camping out at the library or Starbucks for days at a time to finish the book first draft, then later the revisions, then later the copyedits and then the final look
  • Volunteering for the two local orgs we’re each president of, and the third we do a lot of fundraising for
  • Making new friends online and off
  • Seeing Beyonce

What else did we do in our first year as early retirees? We did our best to assuage the retirement police, of course, by partaking in one of the few approved activities we’re allowed to spend our time doing: sipping an umbrella drink on the beach, preferably midweek:


Happy “Saturday”

As for this year, our second early retired year, it’s off to a great start. We rang in the new year at a Rat Pack-themed party with friends.


I spent a week in the studio to record the audiobook version of Work Optional.


And I got to hold in my hands for the first time an official, finished book with my name on it.


I’d say year two is already looking pretty spectacular. ;-)

I hope your 2019 is fantastic thus far, and if you feel like leaving a comment, I’d love to know what your biggest adventures of last year were, and what you have planned for this year. As always, thanks for reading and dreaming along with us!

Stay tuned for the third and final part of the series next week, on things we’re changing about our early retirement in 2019.

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61 replies »

  1. My first year of early retirement starts in about 7 months. If mine looks half as fun as yours, I’ll be a happy camper (in more ways than one — we plan to buy a camper).

    Best wishes for a successful book launch and a Happy & Healthy 2019.


  2. New poster. A year plus follower of your blog and podcast. Love it all. Keep it up and never quit producing. Your content is so real and valuable and has helped me to frame my journey. This past year, I went part-time to pursue my passion area of social work. Funny enough, I actually make more part-time. 🤷‍♀️ Looking forward to all that 2019 brings.

  3. Even though I am much more of a homebody, I cannot get enough of these adventures! I am so thrilled that this year is going well. And I am equally excited for the audio. It’s honestly one of my favorite ways to read – I love read the book and then listen afterward. It’s so special hearing an author’s words in her voice!

    • The great thing about ER is you can do all this stuff AND still have lots of time at home! ;-) And thanks for sharing my excitement for the audio! I had a great time doing it, and think that will come through in the recording. Fingers crossed!

  4. Okay your pictures of Taiwan (now and on Instagram) are definitely bumping that country up on the list of places I want to visit, but selfishly my favorite part of your year was obviously Cents Positive. Not so patiently waiting for your book to arrive now…

  5. What a year for you guys! It’s nice to see the possibilities you can have from owning your own time. We’re so looking forward to it! I know money doesn’t buy happiness in itself, but it can definitely create an environment where you can at least pursue it. Keep up the fun and showing everyone what’s possible. If you ever make it to the central FL area, look us up. Maybe you could try out a salsa lesson? ;-)

    • Whew, it was! And yes, exactly. Money doesn’t buy happiness, time doesn’t buy happiness, not having to work doesn’t buy happiness. But life is still waaaay better with all those things. ;-) And stay tuned on central FL — I have family there so will be back at some point!

  6. Wow that sounds like a wild and happy year! You really packed a lot in. I’m with Angela: Taiwan is now on the travel to do list.

    To answer your question, my highlights of 2018 were visiting Singapore and Ecuador for the first time (also my first time on mainland South America) and setting a new record for my longest time at one job: 1 year, 11 months ☺️. Still there and going strong. 2019 plans include more time with family and visiting Costa Rica and Western Mexico for the first time.

    Thank you so much for sharing! It’s really interesting to see what early retirement looks like for different people.

    • Go to Taiwan! You won’t regret it. And funny you went to Singapore! We had that booked first, before we switched it to Taipei after we couldn’t get the upgrades confirmed. But that’s definitely on our list. And I’ll see Ecuador in November for the Chautauqua — yay! Your 2019 sounds wonderful, too — hope it’s great!

  7. I am in awe at how much you and Mark did in one year — looks like 5 years of rich life activity when you see it all at once. Having read over many of your previous posts, it’s clear to me that the amount of planning, foresight and deep thinking that went into your FIRE plan allowed you to “hit the ground running” and led to unexpected opportunities. Thanks for providing inspiration and demonstrating the potential of a work optional life!

  8. That’s a lot of activity packed into one year no matter where you are on the working spectrum. Cheers to 2019 and may it be more epic than the last!

  9. Even though I followed your blog and saw most of these adventures, it’s really cool to see it summed up in one place. The question, “Won’t you be bored?” out of early retirement is pretty laughable when you look at all you accomplished this year! I travelled a lot in the beginning of the year, started a new job, started a new blog, and have always had inklings of a book somewhere on the horizon. It won’t be for another few years so it’s really cool to see the process of releasing your book, and I can’t wait to read it!!!

    • Oh yeah, “won’t you be bored?” is hilarious. Show me when we’d have time to be bored!! :-) I know not everyone’s early retirement is as jam-packed as ours, and not everyone is sitting on a boatload of travel miles like we are that let them do a bunch of big trips for cheap, but still: you have newfound time to do what you’re excited to do. You will love it. :-)

  10. Real estate is pricy in the SF bay area but we do have mango shaved ice and Thai rolled ice cream (not in this article but Icicles in Pleasanton has it) and we are driving distance from you
    Where to find snow ice
    Here are some Bay Area spots to get the Taiwanese sweet.
    100% Sweet Cafe: 2512 Clement St. (near 27th Avenue), San Francisco; (415) 221-1628. Also, 3288 Pierce St. (near Central Avenue), Richmond.
    37 Degrees Dessert Cafe: 1155 Taraval St. (near 21st Avenue), San Francisco; (415) 566-3887.
    Fluffy Snow: 1314 Noriega St. (near 20th Avenue), San Francisco; (415) 566-6288.
    Snowflake: 4288 Dublin Blvd., Suite 105 (near Tassajara Road), Dublin; (925) 551-0971.
    Snowice: 3561 El Camino Real, Suite 99 (near Lawrence Expressway), Santa Clara; (408) 251-1002.

  11. Sounds like you guys had a lot of fun!

    Is there any reason why you don’t share any hard numbers? It would help make the post more substantive given many of us are trying to achieve FI.


  12. Looks like you had a great time in year 1! Heck, you look almost too busy! You’re retired you know… relax a little! :)

    I really like the more personal feel of this post Tanja. I should really do one of these “annual summary” posts for my blog too!

    • Hahahaha. We have relaxed PLENTY! (And also, I’ve learned that maybe not everyone is equally cut out to relax. I am happiest doing stuff.) And yes, please do a personal annual summary post! This was a ton of work, but super worth it. And bonus: we’re now directing relatives here instead of sending a new year’s update letter. Ha!

  13. Okay of all the amazing photos here, I think my favorites are the ones of ballet performances. Because yessssssssssss. When I go home to visit my parents, my mom and I usually go to a Carolina Ballet performance, but I definitely want a lot more ballet in my post-FI life.

    I’ve got some exciting big things on the horizon—a title change whenever HR gets their butts in gear about making it official, a weeklong trip to Amsterdam in a few months with probably a day trip to Paris, probably a change of scenery in the form of a move later this year, CampFI Mid-Atlantic (see you there, right?), and FinCon—and smaller adventures like hiking weekends. I’m looking forward to it all

    I am eagerly checking my mail, waiting for delivery of a beautiful copy of Work Optional!

  14. “I’d love to know what your biggest adventures of last year were.”
    My wife and I went to Switzerland for our 20th wedding anniversary. However, the timing kind of stunk because you both were in Minneapolis when we were gone in August. Totally would have come to see you as we live a whopping 3 miles from the falls and often attend the State Fair.

    “and what you have planned for this year.”
    Saving, saving, saving. Oh right, we’ll still take some trips to the North Shore of Lake Superior and state parks for sure.

    P.S. Must pre-order book and try to be one of the lucky few to have a Skype meeting; too much fun that would be.

  15. Wow, what a great list!! You definitely went big last year and I love it.

    I retired last year (age 43!), we sold our lake home (which we bought before we found the super early retirement concept!), and did back to back cruises to the Panama Canal (and Colombia and Costa Rica), and to CUBA. It was my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary and they didn’t want a party, just a family vacation. Ok, I can deal with that. ;)

    While my husband didn’t retire as planned because it took longer than expected to sell the cabin, his retirement later this year will of course be 2019’s highlight. Since he’s only 8 months away from being fully vested in his 401k matching (vs the 60% he is right now), it makes sense to have a little patience. It’s not worth that much because he’s only been there 2.5 years, but we’re making every dollar count right now. It also minimizes our COBRA coverage until we qualify for subsidies next year. We are also finally going to Portugal this year!

    Oh, and it’s our 20th freaking wedding anniversary in September, so I’ve set aside a budget for something that isn’t Europe (where we’ve frequented). Maybe Kenya or South Africa or Thailand…or Taiwan?? Lol

    Can’t wait to see 2019’s recap in another year. I bet this is another great year!!

  16. Whew, what a year! All of the travels and fun events are exactly the kind of things I love too. I had no idea there was a Beaujolais festival either – that sounds like fun.

    That sounds like a LOT of travel. Do you want to travel more or less? With roughly 50 days in hotels last year we felt like we overdid it. Do you have an idea of how much of the year you’d like to travel?

    Taiwan is high up on our list to checkout too – the food sounds epic there. My wife and my first date was to see Spirited Away which is based on a place in Taiwan that would be great to see.

    I picked up an Ikonpass this year too! With 5 resorts here in the Salt Lake area, if you want to ski out here sometime, let me know! Deer Valley is my favorite so far, but a lot to see.

  17. Geez, early retirement looks so dull and boring…NOT! What a great first year.

    I absolutely love visiting Asia. There is something so creative and fun about the food over there. I have been to Taiwan twice to visit Dragon Gal’s family, but we really haven’t really been tourists there on our own. Would love to check out more of the natural scenery of the island some day. On our last trip there we got to fly on EVA Air’s Hello Kitty Jet, which was fascinating for an airline geek like me.

    If you think Taiwan is cheap, check out SE Asia. We were in Thailand in November and we could eat most meals for $1 to $2 per person. And our Airbnb for a week in Chiang Mai, was $275, pool included (and that was one of the more expensive ones).

    We are off to Australia in February….a handful of days in Sydney, which we have been to (but almost a decade ago), and then some time down in Tasmania, which we haven’t been to. I really want to climb the Sydney Harbor bridge this time.

    I was in the hospital for 11 days in early December with a random/unknown virus that morphed into mild pneumonia That experience definitely made me think more about early retirement and trying to pull the trigger sooner rather than later. It will be interesting to see how 2019 evolves for me on that front.

    Thanks for sharing all the pics of your experiences!

    -Dragon Guy

  18. Wondering if the holiday season was less stressful in retirement? It seems so stressful from the week of Thanksgiving straight until New Years.

  19. My question! I’m sure you’ve addressed this and I’ve missed it….
    When you’re out socializing, meeting folks etc, how do you answer that question- what do you do???
    ( sometimes I like to not ask that question but it’s an amazing default we have).
    And what are your range of reactions and reflections?

  20. Hey, I was at the Cents Positive Retreat and I may have missed it, but wasn’t there supposed to be a news story on it? Whatever happened with that?

  21. Man oh man oh man oh man…what a great first year! Soo happy for you and Mark and look forward to seeing you in 2019. P.S. Seriously considering this Above the Clouds Retreat. After our first CampFI…we’re hoooked.

  22. No lie, I feel like I have to take a nap after reading all that and I knew about most of your adventures :D

    What a fantastic first year in retirement for y’all. Cheers to an even better second year with the book launch and everything else you’re getting up to <3

  23. I’m still a few years away from FIRE, but I did go on quite a few adventures last year. Made it to Iceland in early Apirl, then headed to the east coast to Williamsburg, VA and explored Jamestown and Yorktown as well as heading to Virginia Beach for a day at the end of April. In May, we went to the West Coast for a 4 day cruise and a couple days at Disneyland. In August, we headed to Pensacola to play on the beach for five days before heading to NOLA for a couple days then back home to the Midwest.

    This year, I’ve already gone on a 5 Night Disney Cruise that was awesome (I have a now 6 year old). In May, I’m headed off to Europe for 10 days, 2 in Paris, and 8 exploring Spain. In July, we are headed for Niagara Falls for a week, and then in October, we’ll head to New England to see the Fall colors for a 9 nights. Travel is a priority for me…so I try to fit in what I can, and use points and miles to make it affordable.

    Enjoyed your year in review. I hope 2019 is even more awesome!

  24. You forgot the part where you and Mark became extraordinarily fit and got plastic surgery before appearing in the French media.

  25. Congrats on your book and a great first year! FYI, I think you mean “Paris Opera Ballet’s tribute to Jerome ROBBINS”

  26. Last year was not an early retirement year for me, but it was a get over a LTR year. This allowed me extra space to figure out what I want life to look like. It was so much fun! I finally went to Provincetown with some friends and did a bunch of queer stuff my closeted ex was not into. Then I visited Europe for my nibling’s first birthday and Thanksgiving. It was an A+ year.

  27. Hello TANJA & Mark:

    I am a tawainess. I ‘m so happy that you love taiwain as I.
    And I bought your book(chinese version).And cheer me up to walk to FIRE.
    Thanks a lot And have a nice day wihout work.
    And If possible please come to taiwain again.