As described in our last post, Cheryl and I are looking at our options for finding or building a community to live in. While working on that, we’ve made some progress in more limited community aspirations. Here’s one of them.
Last year Cheryl and I decided to form a local Meetup.
Meetup.com claims to be “the world’s largest network of local groups.” As the company advertises, “Meetup makes it easy for anyone to organize a local group or find one of the thousands already meeting up face-to-face.” (Meetup’s mission is to “revitalize local community and help people around the world self-organize.”)
Paul had been attending Meetups related to his profession for several years. Last year, we decided to investigate groups more in line with our hobbies, travel, and retirement plans Since then we’ve joined about ten communities related to travel, travel writing, outdoor activities, photography, foreign languages, and small-business networking – in fact, so many that we have yet to actually meet with some of them.
There was one topic we had trouble finding, and that was the theme of creative retirement around which this blog is centered: “adventurous financial independence without waiting for a net worth of two million dollars.” We didn’t have a lot of friends who wanted to investigate these kinds of ideas so we decided to form a local Meetup for just that purpose.
A year and a bit later, with very little direct publicity, our Meetup has over 100 on its mailing list, and – pretty much every month – some 15 to 20 of them get together in an informal venue for presentations and discussion. We’ve covered topics such as Collaborative Housing, Financial Independence, Life Transitions, Making Travel Pay, Financing a Travel Lifestyle, Planning a Round-the-World Trip, and various other travel secrets. In addition there have been social nights and photo nights with no set agenda.
Meetup.com has been a helpful platform for organizing, advertising, and managing these events. By means of a suggested $5 donation at a member’s first meeting of the year, we have covered all expenses, including site fees, with a small contingency fund carried forward.
Along the way, we made several discoveries. One thing we learned was that most of our peers were not familiar with Meetup.com. Many of our new members had never joined a meetup prior to ours. As such, they are sometimes hesitant in coming out to their first event. We’ve found that pre-screening new member profiles and requiring pictures helps put people at ease. (Before we started pre-screening, we did have one or two incidents involving inappropriate spam from new members.)
Another surprise was how far people were willing to drive to attend a meeting. We’ve had participants from as far away as a 90-minute drive – and return the next time! For Cheryl and me, a 90-minute drive usually leaves us scanning AirBnB for overnight accommodation. There is clearly a real hunger for this kind of face-to-face connection.
The most pleasing discovery was how well people fit together. Our Meetup members coming together around a common theme seem to feel relatively at home, and open up quickly. Many of our meetings have the flavour of old friends coming together, even when half the participants are first-timers. We’ve been able to schedule events with no agenda and expect that good conversation will develop.
Of course, it takes some effort on our part to make sure new people feel welcome, and are introduced to others when they arrive. We also make sure that everyone has name tags – a helpful icebreaker. A realistic program and agenda helps manage expectations.
Thankfully, we’ve had several members offer to host meetings. Most of our events have taken place in private homes, or sometimes in apartment common rooms – although we have rented rooms for larger events. As the number of members continues to increase, we expect to investigate other venues such as area restaurant meeting rooms. We know of some that only have a $5 minimum per person for such uses. For now, we can usually squeeze 18 or 20 into most of the living rooms in the area, even if some of us are on the floor.
Even more important, most of our presenters are “home grown”. While we have brought in outside experts for some topics, many have been ably handled by members. Often we’ll have two shorter presentations in one evening. We’ve attracted an eclectic mix of people in various stages along the retirement path, and many of them have complementary skills or learning that they are willing and able to share.
For our minimal troubles, we’ve met a collection of interesting people – and get together with some of them on a regular basis. We’ve learned some very helpful information about traveling cheaply and making money on the Internet. We’ve had a chance to reflect on some of the deeper issues of ageing and retirement. We have a sense that we’ve helped others expand their retirement horizons. All at very low cost, and with a good helping of fun. In the future, we envision joint travel opportunities, and maybe some long term friendships.
Starting a Meetup was definitely a good idea. We’d definitely recommend joining one or two – or a dozen – and if you can’t find what you’re looking for, then why not start your own?
Meetup: “using the Internet to get off the Internet.”
- A little bit of Meetup history
- Find a Meetup near you
- Start your own Meetup
- Meetup HQ blog (in case you need more inspiration)
Let us know how it goes.