Monthly Archives: June 2013

Why Travel Alone?

Part 2:

(In our previous post, a week of accumulated travel gotchas had left us pondering whether we had it in us to be the eponymous authors of a “No Pension Will Travel” blog.  Read Part 1 here.)

The rain didn’t let up for the next two or three days.  The tour’s biking was shortened the first day, and canceled on the second when the black downpour was lit up by lightning and drowned out by thunder rolling across the Camargue.  We squinted through fogged-up windows as the barge eased its way up the rising waters of the canal, and we listened to our guide extol the beauties of a seaside town we might never see.

Les Baux-de-Provence, Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur

Les Baux-de-Provence, Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur

By the third day, we’d developed some perspective.  I think the sun that broke through during the afternoon leg of our cycling made a shining contribution.  The biggest factor was that, for the past few days, we’d been part of a group of twenty-odd travelers – in the same boat, so to speak.  We’d had people we could talk to besides each other, some only in halting German or Italian, but many in English.  Our sense of isolation had evaporated like the puddles in the afternoon sun.

In my single twenties, I’d been content to travel solo in Brazil or Germany.  Likewise Cheryl with a girlfriend in Quebec or Maui.  In our thirties, we’d reveled in multi-week road trips around Australia.  In our forties, we’d loved our six-month family sabbatical on the back roads of Costa Rica with our two young boys.  Most of these trips had involved significant linguistic challenges, and we’d risen to them admirably.  We’d looked forward to more of the same in our retirement travel plans: learning one language after another, and hobnobbing with the “locals”.

However, while in Costa Rica, we had developed a sense that there was a certain isolation born of operating in a linguistic and cultural milieu in which we were only so-so competent.  We’d even ruled out the possibility of full-time overseas retirement in Latin America.  The potential isolation had swayed us.

We must have guessed our travel requirements were changing.  This was our second bike trip in Europe and we’d tried both times to enroll a few cycling friends to join us – without success.  In talking it over now, we realized how important our need for camaraderie had become.

We identified a few other travel discoveries.

We resolved to schedule “down days” while traveling.  On a three-week vacation, it’s tempting not to want to waste a single day “doing nothing”.  However, this kind of travel is demanding.  It’s much more work than working.  Trying to find one’s way around strange cities, attempting to be understood in one language after another, these tax the mind and the body.  A day off is both earned and needed.  It allows a different awareness – a time to integrate the deluge of new experiences – an opportunity for unexpected connections, like unexpected sunshine, to appear unbidden.  Why not ensure we spend these breaks in an environment conducive to rest and reflection?

En route to Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur

En route to Saint-Rémy-de-Provence

We learned, again, that much as we still love each other after thirty great years of marriage, we are not and cannot be all things to each other.  Traveling as a solo couple through a non-English speaking country, we can put unrealistic expectations on each other to relieve the sense of isolation.  When this leads to the occasional meltdown, it helps not to take it personally.

It’s our desire to engage some travel companions that will be a driver for some of our investigations.  How can we travel more in small intimate groups, especially since recruiting from among our current circles has turned out harder than expected?  Are there better ways to get a group of us traveling together?  Do we need to find local clubs with a mandate for group travel?  Are there ways to travel in small groups and stay in touch with the people we meet afterward?  Can meeting new people this way also help our quest for new communities as we retire:  countering the diminishing connection with our children, leaving our current employment circles, moving away from our current neighbourhood?  We hope to answer these questions in the next couple of years.

We’d love to hear from you on this subject.

A couple of group travel options we’ve had some experience with:

  • G Adventures – the great adventures people:  we’ve done one trip with them, sailing the Greek Islands out of Santorini.  We will no doubt do more.  We have friends who’ve done several.
  • Bike Tours Direct – One-Stop Resource for Bike Tours Worldwide:  we’ve done two great European bike tours with them, and are already planning our third.  Good service, great selection!  Girolibero, the company running our Provence tour this year did an admirable job of mitigating the negative effects of some challenging weather conditions – hats off to them!

Two options we’ve not yet investigated:

  • Odyssey Treks – creating local friendships through adventure travel.
  • Probus Worldwide – activity clubs for active retirees. A group of 11 from a single Probus club was riding with us on the Provence bike tour.

Why Travel?

I looked at Cheryl in stunned silence.

They were just a few words, but they got my attention.  “I don’t even know why I want to travel, anyway.”

My mind went into overdrive.  Had I wasted $15 for the wrong domain for this blog?  Was it to be NoPensionNoTravel.com?  Would I have to travel alone?  Was our whole retirement plan in ruins before we’d even retired?

The trouble was: I knew exactly what she meant.

Aigues-Mortes

Aigues-Mortes, Languedoc-Roussillon

This trip was to have been an experiment – a taste of our carefree travel-more, spend-less lifestyle.  We were on the edge of the French Mediterranean in late April, ready to enjoy a weeklong bike-and-barge trip through sunny Provence.  We’d packed for the near-tropical weather the region enjoyed two weeks before.  Now it was seven degrees Celsius and a chill wind drove the rain through our light windbreakers.  My audio guide for the medieval wall tour had just shorted out from the water running through it.

In the six days since we’d left home, we’d been singled out for random customs inspections, had our overseas ticket canceled during our connector flight, and had the bag with all our biking gear disappear at our transfer point at Charles de Gaulle Airport.

Travel glitches notwithstanding, we’d made it to Barcelona prepared to make friends with the locals with our passable Castilian Spanish, only to find that the locals viewed Castilians a bit like imperial occupiers.  And we hadn’t learned a word of Catalan.

We’d looked forward to getting to know our live-in AirBnB hostess, only to learn on meeting her that she’d lost her job and been forced to move in with her boyfriend and rent out the rest of her apartment to other travelers.

Having heard endless warnings about swarms of pickpockets, we’d wandered around the City of Gaudí with safety pins on all our zippers.  The watchword was “situational awareness” – and at times, we’d felt like I Spy‘s Culp and Cosby, back to back with our guns pointed outwards.  Despite our precautions, we ended our five days stay with a lot less money than we’d planned – although I’m sure the pickpockets got none of it.

The pickpockets probably stay home when it rains.  “So should we,” I’d muttered as we dashed from the shelter of one overpriced Catalonian clothing store to another.

En route from Spain to France by bus and train, we’d paid a fortune for indifferent sandwiches at a gas-station pit-stop that could as well have been in Ohio, and almost missed our connection when the 501 irregular French verbs Cheryl had been studying for the past six months proved inadequate to the task of finding the right train to Aigues-Mortes.

Provence for Dummies

Are we two Dummies in Provence?

Aigues-Mortes.  Literally “dead waters”.  Dead in the water is how we felt as we searched our tablet for the least depressing weather forecast for our upcoming week of cycling.  The Provençal sun was missing in action.

A lot of things had gone missing.  Missing flights, missing baggage, missing hosts, missing toilets.  Even missing fiber from eating nothing but white bread.  No wonder public toilets are so hard to find in France!  No one needs them!

Most of all, we were missing someone to talk to besides each other.  To talk to in a language we felt at home in, that is.  A week of “Bonjour! Ça va? Il pleut beaucoup!” – or the Spanish equivalent – engenders a certain social isolation.  I think that was the crux of the matter.

So why do we want to travel anyway?  Are there things we need to do differently when we travel now?  Is much-anticipated travel really going to be a big part of our upcoming retirement?  These questions we pondered as we scoured the tourist shops for waterproof sweaters and gloves that hadn’t been displaced by high-priced French bikinis.

(To be continued…)

Okay, so Why Blog?

“I don’t understand why anyone would have a blog anyway.”

Cheryl’s crisis of confidence came the day after we’d registered the blog name.  It wasn’t an auspicious beginning.

I had to admit she had a point.  We had little time to devote to daily blog reading ourselves. Had I just wasted the domain registration fee?

Still, when I had recently pruned my own list of blogs I subscribed to, I had kept on a fistful.  Though I didn’t read every one every time, I valued seeing their postings in my in-box.  I realized that they provided me with inspiration, entertainment, and information.  With the hope that our thoughts will provide a few people with the same, we have given the blog a reprieve from deactivation.

Shedders

Lessons in Shedding the Past

  • Shedders, by Heather Bolstler – The story of how 6 urban revolutionaries rewrote the manual on retirement:  Three professional couples take on the project of creating a joint retirement home and make it a reality.  Now it continues with frequent intimate reflections on life in their new “family”.  Engagingly written, it has been a personal source of inspiration about creative “retirement” in general.  The “shedding” refers to decluttering, both mental and physical.
  • Married with Luggage –  Life is Short. Live your Dream:  A couple in their 40s exchanged their traditional life in the suburbs to follow a dream of traveling the world. Now they inspire and help others to follow theirs, whatever it may be.  Decluttering is also a theme here.
  • RTW Expenses – How Much Does it Cost to Travel Around the World?  Written by “Married with Luggage” travelers, it provides monthly detailed reports now covering almost three years of enticingly inexpensive travel.  Great source of useful benchmarks – and an inspirational message.
  • Nomadic Matt – Travel Better, Cheaper, Longer:  The 30-something author of “How to Travel the World on $50 a Day” provides a lot of practical advice on how to travel for less.  And even at twice his age, I still find lots here to inspire!
  • My Lifestyle Career – Fun Ways to Work During Semi-Retirement: We realized that we both had to work beyond retirement, and wanted something productive to do.  This author made it look like fun!
  • Changing Course – Helping people around the world work at what they love, follow their own road, and life life on purpose since 1995:  Another great source of inspiration from a “non job” career coach and the creator of “Profiting From Your Passions”®.
  • Daring to Live Fully – Live the Length and Width of Your Life:  When I was starting my bucket list – or “life list” as author Marelisa calls it – this was one of my best sources of information and inspiration.
  • Blue Zones® – Live Longer, Be Happier:  Not only does this site make living to a happy old age look enticing, it provides on-the-ground research that may help us achieve it.

I wonder if Cheryl will read this post?

Where are we traveling?

Financial Independence Day came and went.  Financial independence was nowhere to be seen.

Ten years ago, my Cheryl and I crafted an investment plan that had us reaching job-free living and travel last year.  A decade of dismal investment returns, and we were not even close.  Our financial advisor agreed far too readily.

Fleeing the Bulls?

Did we miss out in the running of the stock market bulls?

We are embarking on a journey to construct the lifestyle we had in mind without waiting for the assets we thought we’d need – or the pension we’d never have.

Hearing an echo from many busted boomer friends, we thought we’d share our journey to inspire and perhaps enlighten others.  Or maybe warn of our mistakes.

Our lines of action and investigation include the following.

  • Traveling more for less.
  • Lowering our expenses without sacrificing quality of life.
  • Creating “post retirement” careers to make up the shortfall – and to maintain our sense of purpose.
  • Starting new activities, projects, and friendships to carry us into our “third age”.
  • Most of all, finding or building a new community – a group of us with similar objectives and who can support each other in achieving them.

We’re paying special attention to the community aspect.  We want to expand our ability to embark on adventure and cultural travel with small groups.  We’re looking at various ways of collaborating on housing.  We value the input on all these themes from both our local and virtual communities.

If this is your journey, we’d love to have you travel with us.