Retirement – It’s Not What You Think

Statistics tell us that 10,000 baby boomers in the United States will reach the retirement age of 65 every day for the next nineteen years. Some will keep working either because their retirement savings were wiped out in the banking crisis or because they have worked all their adult lives and that is all they know. Those are not necessarily bad decisions, as long as those decisions are made for the right reasons.

Hiking up Cerro Negro in Nicaragua

When I announced to friends and acquaintances that I was planning to retire at age 62, I cannot tell you how many people tried to warn me against that idea. The reasons given were typically:

  1. You will be bored.
  2. You will lose 25% of your Social Security benefit, and you won’t have enough to live on if you live to a certain age.
  3. Inflation will eat up your purchase power when you are on a fixed income, and you will not be able to maintain your lifestyle.
  4. The cost of health insurance will eat up your life savings, especially if you become ill.

While none of those ideas are wrong, they all have one thing in common. They are all rooted in fear. Fear of the unknown. The unknown is often scary. Anyone without a sense of adventure will always seek the most comfortable, the most predictable, and the most secure path through life. This story is not for those people. My message is for any younger reader who wants to know what retirement might have in store for you, because unlike life after death, I am still able to contact you from the other side and give you a glimpse of what retirement might be like.

First, you will not be bored. Boredom is for people who never developed any interests outside of their careers. And you will finally have time to do many of the things you put off while pursuing career goals, raising a family, or seeking to fulfill your version of The American Dream. You will suddenly have time to go hiking or skiing, time to play with grandchildren or nieces and nephews, time to volunteer at a school or a shelter or a hospital. And perhaps best of all, now you will have the time to travel! All those expensive vacations you put off your whole life, other than maybe Hawaii or The Bahamas, are now a real option.

Macaw photo op at the Bird Park in Iguazu, Argentina

I don’t have time to be bored. I am doing things I always wanted to do and didn’t have time. I am writing for three blogs and I have a children’s book ready to self-publish. I am traveling (40k air miles in 15 months). I also just completed training to be a Certified International Tour Manager through the International Guide Academy. I am now qualified to work as a tour director anywhere in the world, and I am applying for jobs I only dreamed of when I was younger. Who knows what 2013 will bring?

If retirement is not what you think, then what is it? In a word, it is opportunity – the opportunity you have worked your whole life to experience and enjoy. It is a gift of time, something you haven’t had enough of since you were a child – time to read, time to write, time to play, and time to work at whatever you have been putting off.

You don’t have to be all that adventuresome to enjoy retirement. You just have to decide what is important and to live within your means. I accomplished this by moving outside the United States for the time being. I have been blessed with excellent health my whole life, and that is a gift I don’t intend to squander by sitting around. I still have three continents I haven’t yet visited, and I have my blog name to live up to. Part of my legacy will be that of a global explorer.

Florence and I in Argentina near the majestic Andes Mountains.

Vacation of a Lifetime

Near Ushuaia, Argentina – September is still Winter

I was so tired of my job. I was 61 years old, almost a year away from eligibility to file for Social Security early retirement. My wife missed traveling, something she had done a lot before meeting me on a cruise ship to Alaska in 2005. One day we were discussing retirement plans and she asked me, “What’s on your Bucket List?” Without even a pause I replied, “I’ve always wanted to see Patagonia.”

My wife, “The Count” muppet of planning (I love to plan things – mwahahaha!), immersed herself in organizing what became known to friends, acquaintances, and eventually to us as The Vacation of a Lifetime. In June, 2011, we gave notice and we sold our cars, house and furniture. We hauled everything remaining, mostly clothes and tools, to my brother-in-law’s airplane hangar in Southern California and launched a four month adventure in Latin American. We felt my Spanish was adequate to satisfy us that we could get by in foreign lands.

We picked the top five countries we would consider as places to live. Ultimately, our choices included Panama, Nicaragua, Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile. (Panama and Nicaragua inspired previous posts. Uruguay and Chile are on my to-do list.)

Iguazu Falls from the tour boat; the revving motors are drowned out by the roar of the falls crashing on the rocks. The mist is like spray from fire hoses.

After a week in Buenos Aires, we were ready for some open country. First stop, Iguazu Falls. Selected as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature, Iguazu is a mile wide river splitting into 275 separate waterfalls and cascading 269 feet over the cataracts. Like Niagara, the falls need to be experienced from each side.

With the roar of the falls still ringing in our ears, we board our flight to the end of the world, Ushuaia, Argentina, and just like that it’s winter. Good thing we packed lots of extra clothes, because we used them all! The thrill of seeing the Andes Mountains up close for the first time is the fulfillment of a lifelong desire. I drink up the views of towering, snow-capped peaks as the low angle of the sun reflects off their summits. The pure, clear water of the lakes and rivers and the pristine forests are like an elixir that clears my head and buoys my spirit. The mountains are like temples of the gods. How else to explain their grandeur.

Patagonia is a region that includes part of southern Chile. How was I to know the best was yet to come? The next installment of Vacation of a Lifetime will go there.

Part of the mile wide Iguazu Falls as seen from the Argentina side.

With the roar of the falls still ringing in our ears, we board our flight to the end of the world, Ushuaia, Argentina, and just like that we switch from summer to winter!

Lake Fagnano and the Andes Mountains from the road 10 miles outside of Ushuaia, Argentina.

September is still winter in Tierra del Fuego. These huskies love to run. We Huskies (University of Washington) love to hang out together!

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