My Retirement Plan – Fully Executed with New and Authentic Life Experiences

As we each learn to navigate our own personal retirement jungle it is nice now and then to hear success stories from fellow travelers. A reader of LoveBeingRetired shares her journey and proves once again Retirement is Only the Beginning!

Written by Lynn Lotkowictz

About two years ago, at age 63, I realized it was time to create a meaningful retirement plan. My 30+ year, very rewarding career in sales and management was winding down. My pension was set so I was lucky that I had flexibility.

Retire? But to what? I don’t play golf, crochet, play bridge or enjoy any of those interests my friends do. I adore my grandson and family, but they are 1,200 miles away so a weekend four or five times a year is the best I can do.

Travel, the outdoors, healthy endeavors and children are my passions. In 2013 I started to work on a plan for the next phase of life. The goal was for it be meaningful and rewarding.

I surfed the internet looking for travel ideas, cost-effective options and different ways that volunteering would be mutually beneficial with my interests, skills and passions.   My good friend bought me a book on volunteer travel. In my free time I read, analyzed and sifted through websites, books and talked with colleagues and friends.

I narrowed down the volunteer organizations to those that had places I’d like to go and involved my interest in helping young people. I called each group, asked lots of questions and, most important, asked for email addresses of people who had traveled with them. That, I thought, would be the best way to learn about the pluses and minuses of a program.

During my last two years of full time employment, I traveled to Crete, Greece with Global Volunteers, a non-profit, non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The trip was wonderful. I worked with the Morfosi school, an after school program that helps students practice conversational English. The location is breathtaking. The students are energetic and genuinely interested in learning. There was ample free time to enjoy museums, archeological sites and traditional dining. I worked with a team of volunteers who have similar goals and interests so I also made friends.

After I returned from my second trip (2015) even more enthusiastic than the first, I decided to look into some options to enhance my skills. Since many GV service program center around working with students on English, I researched courses that might give me some tips and new skills. There are some online courses in “TEFL” and a Eckerd College, here in town,  offers a four-week, day program through Via Lingua that qualifies you in some countries to teach English as a second language. I’m not planning to move to China or anywhere else, but think it would be useful to pick up some solid tips on teaching English as a second language and the more I learn the more impact I can have on the students.

My third trip with Global Volunteers Crete program was in October 2016 and it was my best experience to date. Why? After three trips to the same island, I’m familiar with the local bus service to comfortably get around. I know the best spots for an espresso, spanakopita (spinach pie) and a cool drink beachside.

The students remember me and their warmth is exhilarating.  It’s a joy to watch them mature from year to year and improve their skills. When I was leaving this year they hugged me and said we hope to see you next year.  By going back to the same program, I’m building meaningful relationships. I stay in touch with a handful of the students all year round via social media. I’ve made friends with the teacher and her family and am invited for coffee on the weekend with her friends.

My very generous boss wanted to throw me a retirement party.  I suggested he instead make a donation on my behalf to Global Volunteers for future trips, and he did!

(Dinner entertainment in Havana!)

In January 2017, my first month of official retirement, I took a trip to Cuba, also with Global Volunteers.   Along with nineteen other volunteers, ranging in age from 30-78 I spent s week on various work projects that included painting a fence, visiting with seniors at a care center and working with students on conversational English after school.  The beauty of this trip was we stayed in guest houses with locals (private room/bath etc.) in the neighborhood of Miramar.  This was a short fifteen minute ride from Havana.   Put simply, this was a wonderful authentic experience in a country that most Americans know little about as it has been off limits for most of our lives.   There was ample free time to visit museums, art galleries and experience the wonderful Cuban music/dance.   Some of us even went to the famed “Tropicana” show!

I am happy to report I’m executing my retirement plan exactly as I had planned!

Do It While You Can

No one knows how long they will remain physically or mentally able to enjoy what life has to offer. The reality of aging is things get harder rather than easier as the years pass. Activities we took for granted just a few decades ago may suddenly become too difficult to undertake. No one wants to spend their second act looking in the rear view mirror at what was. We want to look forward to what will be.

Glenn Frey of the Eagles said, “People don’t run out of dreams; people run out of time.” Think of all those plans you hope to embrace once you leave work behind to focus 100 percent on retirement. Free time is a blessing. Freedom to do what you want when you want is what retired life is all about. Once you arrive the trick is to not let the moments pass you by without making an impact, without grabbing for all you can.

My folks have been retired about 20 years. They have pretty much given up on long distance travel. Hassles of airports and security lines, rental cars and navigating unfamiliar surroundings is to the point they just don’t want to do it anymore. But before that they were traveling machines. They wandered Europe in a VW bug while my dad was stationed in Germany. They made regular car trips across the US in search of historic sites and memorable monuments. Mom and dad truly traveled, loved it, have collected many great memories, and are now content with staying closer to home. The point is they did it while they could.

A month ago my dad had a stroke. He is 85 and had been struggling a bit over the past year with his balance and a slight slur when he talks. The stroke was severe impacting his speech and leaving him paralyzed on his left side. After three weeks of intensive rehabilitation he is improving and we are moving him home. But once home, mom will require 24/7 help to assist with day to day living for how long yet to be determined. Dad is improving – we can understand what he says and he is getting stronger. But how far will he recover? No one knows.

You don’t always have to wait for retirement. I know it’s hard to set aside time when living an incredibly busy life but how rewarding it can be to explore your passions before you retire. Younger with more stamina and no sore knees you can truly enjoy the moments to their maximum. Your eyesight is as good as it will ever be. You may feel a bit tired at days end but you have the will to press on – mind over matter is still possible. Although you cannot do all those things you hope before your second act delaying everything is a risk. You never know where you will be or in what shape in 10 or more years.

Most of my family is big believers in walking, hiking and generally getting out into nature. My wife and I deliberately chose a retirement area with an abundance of state and national parks packed with enough winding trails and hidden vistas to keep us busy for years. My favorite aunt at age 75 traipses around the world on tours and trips that inevitable involve navigating many miles on foot each day. And don’t get me started about my Swiss family. They can walk me into the ground while easily hiking seemingly vertical paths leading to hidden lakes and secluded restaurants only accessible on foot (or helicopter). We are generally in the same age group and love hitting the trail. And we realize we may not be so fortunate to be as mobile as my aunt when we reach her age so we do it now while we still can.

Having reached retirement age or thereabouts most of us realize we are not in control of as much as we would like to be. So much is beyond our sway if we hope to make good on our second act we must remain opportunistic. Don’t let possible good times pass us by. Stop thinking about it and instead do it. Get going while the going is good. I know I cannot change the past. And I don’t know exactly what the future has in store. But I am here today, now, in this moment. It is up to me to make the most of this moment while I am still ready and willing and able.

LoveBeingRetired.com

Retirement Road Trips – Six Steps to Memorable Extended Travel

Written by Joe Bruner

Confident in the belief that life was about more than the career that I enjoyed, I retired on August 13, 2015 with the intent to begin the next chapter of a life well lived.  To be sure, I would miss all of the things that everyone mentions when leaving the work force—the friends, the challenges, the structure—but I never worried about being bored.  In the years leading up to retirement, I grew increasingly excited about the opportunities that lay ahead. There were books I wanted to read, a camera I wanted to use, stories I wanted to write, and, most importantly, vast stretches of America that I wanted to see.

Three days after retiring, my adorable wife and I left on the first of three extended road trips, each trip lasting a month or longer, and returning after every one genuinely grateful for the experience and eager to plan another.  We are certain there are many others in or nearing retirement with plans for extended travel at the top of their bucket list so, with that in mind, we want to share some of the lessons we learned which helped to make our experiences both memorable and rewarding.

Commitment

Before you make the plans for an extended road trip ask yourself some very probing questions. Can you live without the weekly golf match with the guys or the bridge luncheon with the girls? What about that fabulous birthday party in three weeks that is going to include everyone? Will I really enjoy being that far from the comforts of home? We had those questions and then some.  A recent survey showed that 60% of husbands wanted to spend more time with their spouse in retirement, but only 43% of wives felt the same.  Would Helen (adorable wife) survive with me stuck to her side for five weeks? Wanting to make this road trip so badly, I was almost afraid to ask, but I did and we had a serious discussion about it. Helen is a busy person and frankly, I was surprised (and thrilled) when she exclaimed enthusiastically “I’m all in”.  This is essential to success, so be sure you’re both committed.

Plan

A thorough plan takes time but it can be as exciting as the trip itself. We started planning almost two months out by selecting the region of the country and the cities we wanted to visit. We found Google Maps to be very helpful in calculating travel distances and selecting routes. Regardless of whether your preference is for campgrounds, motels, or even bed and breakfast inns, you should make confirmed reservations.  Once you’re on the road, your plans may change, and you can adjust accordingly, but having a confirmed reservation is a great comfort.  Reviews on Trip Advisor served as our guide for reservations. Two tips might prove useful; (1) Travel after school starts, usually around the middle of August when the crowds are reduced significantly and; (2) organize everything into a loose leaf notebook according to the cities you plan to visit.  We had a tab for each stop that included a hard copy of each reservation confirmation as well as magazine and newspaper articles about things to do in the area.  Add a couple of sheets of loose leaf notebook paper to each tab for notes.  It helps when submitting reviews on Trip Advisor for good (and bad) service for future travelers.

joe-and-helen-bruner-mackinac-island

Don’t Overdo It

On our first trip, we had so much energy and excitement flowing through us that we wanted to do it all. We were in Kure Beach, NC and had made two sightseeing trips two days in a row. In addition, we were having a hard time passing up all of the enticing places to eat and drink. At that point we realized that doing it all was impossible. We were near exhaustion and still had four weeks to go. Out of that weariness, two principal guidelines for extended road travel were born.  First, we would limit ourselves to no more than one major sightseeing excursion and one eating experience per day. We broke with this principle rarely. Second, we planned one or two “down days” where all travel activities were suspended. This gave us the chance to stretch the legs, catch up on email, do laundry, make trip notes and even pay bills.  Both guidelines kept us fresh and energized.

Don’t Fret Over Wardrobe

We discovered on about the second week that no one knows that you wore the same outfit last week. I found that I needed a good rain jacket, three pair of cargo pants (great for cell phone, receipts, maps, etc.), comfortable shoes and some golf shirts. I did pack one nice, dressy pants and shirt combo, but never used it. Helen’s advice is much the same—comfy shoes and comfy clothes— and make that suitcase as light as possible.

Senior Discounts are Plentiful

Travel can be expensive so we did a little research and found that businesses love giving discounts to Senior Citizens. With a little digging, I came up with almost three pages of discounts on food, lodging, and services that are there for the taking. Sometimes a cashier will give it without being asked (gray hair helps), but most of the time you have ask, so don’t be bashful…it pays off. The best discount of all is the National Park Senior Pass that permits the pass holder to bring three adults into a National Park for free for a lifetime. The pass is available to anyone over 62 for a one-time fee of ten dollars. The pass may only be purchased at a National Park (no mail or online purchase).  We rarely pass a National Park when traveling. Be sure and get a National Park Passport also. Collecting the stamps for each park is a lot of fun.

Roads Less Traveled

America is a place of staggering beauty. Without a doubt, the best way to see it is by traveling the roads that take you through the small towns and villages that make our country so unique. Our road trips took us through New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C, but those can be busy and expensive places. Finding parking can sometimes be a challenge.  Some of our most memorable experiences however, were in towns like Beaufort, NC, Solomon’s Island, MD, Grey Eagle, MN, or Bayfield, WI. There is much to learn and do in small town America so stop, visit a Farmer’s Market, browse through the shops (we love antique shops and flea markets), taste the wonderful food of the region or walk through a park and introduce yourself to someone. If you’re fortunate, you may find a local festival underway where you can really get a feel for the culture like the one we found one this summer in International Falls, MN.

There is a lot of country out there just waiting to be seen and you’ve earned the opportunity to explore it all. We sincerely hope we have given a little help and insight to those of you with plans for extended travel in your “Golden Years”.  We especially hope that the first road trip is successful and leads to many more.  So, slow down and put away that smartphone, take the first exit off the interstate, and hit the road less traveled.

It’s only the beginning, but we’re happily Easin’ Along now…hopefully we’ll see you along the way.

Joe Bruner retired from a career in the home building industry and a career as an officer in the US Army Reserve.  He and his wife Helen live in Knoxville, Tennessee. They have written extensive articles about their travels on their website Easin’ Along (www.easingalong.com).