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.
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.
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:
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.
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 (Physician on FIRE, Big ERN and Jonathan from ChooseFI) 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.
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 Russell 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:
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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Categories: we retired early