Somewhere between gap year travel and post career retirement lies a sweet spot for balancing life
You may be wondering “should I quit my job and travel the world?” If you’re asking that question then the answer may partially be yes, but there is an alternate solution. Consider taking a mini retirement: an extended, more sustainable vacation from your reality giving you time to reconsider your path, enjoy the fruits of your accomplishments, and return to the “real world” rejuvenated. Sure that seems vague, so I’ll break down what a “mini-retirement” is and why you should start planning for your next one.
Many people are familiar with the European concept of “Gap Year Travel” in which a late teens or early 20’s college student takes off a year between college studies to travel the world and learn about him or herself. We are all too familiar with the golden parachute know as retirement: work for 40 years post college, scrimp and save along the way, and hopefully at age 65 you will be able to walk away from that career and tour the US national parks in an oversized RV in the summers and escape to Florida in the winter. But shouldn’t there be something in the middle of that 40 year span of life to ensure we are taking full advantage of the one life we’ve been given? That time when we start to notice as youth fades and (hopefully) wisdom grows? During our late 20’s and early 30’s we’ve finally paid off school loans, saved a decent amount of cash, and are beginning to realize whether the path we are on is one that will be a road of contentment and happiness for the next 30 years…or perhaps realize that our approach to life could use a little recalibration. This sets the perfect stage for the “mini-retirement”.
So what is a “mini-retirement”? A mini-retirement is a period longer than a vacation in which you step away from your job, your “plan” in life, and your responsibilities to travel and do…frankly, whatever the hell you want. Whereas the gap year kid is in search of self-discovery, the mini-retiree is getting back in touch with the person they discovered in they’ve already discovered but often subjugate to the demands of life, career, social circles, and society in general. Whereas the 65 year old retiree has the money but no longer as the physical ability or energy to cross off the crazier items on their bucket list, the mini-retiree puts their hard earned money to use building memorable experiences when the stars of resources (financial or otherwise) and physical ability are aligned.
Why should you take a mini retirement?
1. The idea of a traditional retirement is disappearing
Once upon a time, people toiled for hours a day and years at a time with a few weeks of vacation each year. The tradeoff? A guaranteed pot of gold at age 65 and the freedom to do as you please from that point on. That promise of retirement is disappearing, so what should you do? Maintain a balanced, high quality of life well into your 60’s that you can happily exist without “permanent” retirement. Recent research has indicated that staying gainfully employed well into old age does wonders for health and longevity. What does this mean? By spreading your retirements throughout your life and accepting the idea that the line between career and “freedom” isn’t as clear as you think, you can add years, health, and enjoyment throughout your life.
2. The self-awareness achieved in your early 30’s (and beyond) enhances your travel experiences by altering your perception of the experience
As you grow and learn you become more aware of your place in the world, your beliefs, and what makes you happy, much more so than in your early 20’s. The result? You perceive experiences differently. Different aspects of experiences become more valuable to you. Given your experiences, growth, and (hopefully) maturation in your late 20’s, you will perceive each place, experience, taste, and interaction differently than you did as a 19 year old kid. You will see more of the interconnectedness that exists in the world. You may visit fewer bars and visit more museums instead, or visit fewer museums in exchange for more beaches and hiking trails. You may seek out older, working class citizens that represent a different side of the country than the college students you celebrated with before. Your growth changes the lens through which you interpret your own experiences, changes your travel preferences, and changes how the experiences enhance you.
3. You will never have more (physical) youthfulness than you have now
“Youth is wasted on the young”, and in your early 30’s you are undoubtedly filled with youth and life, energy, and the ability to push your limits physically. Whether it is Macchu Picchu, hiking fjords in Norway, trekking to Everest, or walking through Patagonia, some of travel’s most fulfilling experiences have a potent physical aspect. When we’re younger, we can more easily take the physical obstacles in stride. This allows you to focus less on trying to breath and focus more on taking in the amazing views. Traveling in your 30’s, instead of postponing until your 60’s, makes sure the view is the only thing that will take your breath away.
4. The financial resources you’ve saved will put your travel experiences on a new level and ultimately rejuvenate you in preparation for your next stages in life
Given the amount of time you have been in the workforce, you will likely have a little more money saved up to travel with than you did at 20 years old. If you don’t, then there’s no reason you can’t continue working for a couple years and optimizing your current situation to save more. That little bit of extra money could mean a little more comfort traveling, another exquisite meal, or an irreplaceable experience. A trip to swim with a whale shark is only $70 in the Philippines. A classy Argentine dinner of steak, more steak, wine and a Tango show is only $20. One week in the Galapagos islands filled with lobster dinners, beachside cocktails, and snorkeling excursions can be crafted for less than $500. Those price tags can be out of reach for a 19 year old. For someone in their 30’s, that kind of money can be saved by skipping a few cocktails at the bar over a couple weekends. A 19 year old budget backpacker must selectively choose which experiences are worth splurging. For an early 30’s traveler on a budget travel plan in a budget friendly country, few experiences are out of reach. Even more, the rejuvenation that comes from such experiences will push your energy and drive to new heights when you return to the world.
5. The self-examination that occurs during travel will help you “optimize” your path in life
If you are like most “30 somethings” you are at (or have passed) many crossroads relating to career, relationships, family, and life in general. How often do you have the opportunity to go into a vacuum without the common pressures of life and reconsider what “your” path is? What is important to you at the end of the day? What is worth living for? What is worth working for? During a few months of travel, which will be completely focused on experiencing the new places and people around you, these questions may not be answered but your view on them will become much more clear than they would be after a decade of responding robotically in your daily life. You may ask “what is the value of understanding my path without having an answer?”
If, after deliberation on the “vacuum of travel” the realizations you have simply imply that is time to correct your path (even if you unsure of what exactly that path is), you will know before it’s too late. At the very least you will have a vague idea of where to go, or what to try, next. If the answer is that you are lucky enough to be on the best path for your life, then you have the confidence of knowing it is time to double down and commit even further…pop the question, vie for the promotion, start the business, repair the relationship, etc. because the best time is now. In any case, the introspection that occurs during travel will help you optimize your path in life. The time in a vacuum, away from your professional track and mental baggage will encourage you to assess your path in life and either commit further or start designing something that is better for you.
6. There is a whole world that you have not explored
There are plenty of places you haven’t been where you may want to stay forever once you discover them. There are plenty of people in the world that you haven’t met that you just may fall in love with. There are plenty of foods you haven’t tried that are exactly what you’ve been craving. There are plenty of things you haven’t done that would give you the sensation you’ve been longing for. All of this is out there…waiting for you.
Now, perhaps, you are sold on the idea of taking a “mini-retirement”. What next? That’s completely up to you…but here are a few recommendations for designing your path.
1. Aim for places that are culturally robust: An array of food, complex origins, and culturally robust
As we get older our tastes change and we require more substance to be satisfied with experiences. The idea of “doing something just to do it” or just because it is novel may leave something to be desired in many experiences. You can compensate for this by aiming for travel to places that have depth and multiple levels to dig through. Argentina, one of my favorite places, has a plethora of Italian, Spanish, and German influence which engages my senses and my mind every time I visit. Asian civilizations of Thailand and Japan have existed so long that the history, customs, foods, and architecture can enthrall you if you stop to pay attention to them. The cuisine of Middle Eastern and North African countries like Israel, Jordan, and Morocco are so delicious and simple yet complex that you can eat for days and still be entertaining while inadvertently learning their culture and history through the experience of food. What’s the point? Partying and beaches are great, but for a deeper feeling of satisfaction, balance your travel between pleasure and depth of experiences.
2. Aim for places plentiful in what you need: Beaches, mountains, coffee, beer, etc.
We all have primal, visceral urges that make us happy when satisfied. Some people like sunshine. Some people love great beer. Some people like fresh air. Whatever your primal urges are, make sure that the experience satisfies you with them. Southeast Asia provides culture and amazing beaches. Southern Argentina provides endless Patagonian mountains and grilled meat. The Netherlands provides “smoky delights” without the legal troubles. Bottom Line: Be honest about your desires in life and craft the beginnings of your travel around that. You can always adjust your travels as you “get your fill”.
3. Plan for 2 years out: financially and professionally
A mini retirement can easily be saved for (~$18k-$25k for a year of budget travel) and can easily be planned into your next progression professionally. Perhaps it is time to move companies, go to grad school, or start your own company? Or perhaps it’s time to suggest the value of sabbatical or unpaid leave policy to your employer? Maybe layoffs are in the future (even if you don’t expect them) and if you plan accordingly then unemployment can easily be turned into funemployment. No matter what the answer is, if you plan for one to two years out you can easily setup a situation to escape for 3 to 12 months. The answer of how to save and what to do next professionally may take some creativity to craft but regardless of how outlandish it may seem, with dedication you can make anything a reality over two years.
You may wondering “How do I save for travel? What will it cost to travel? How can I plan for after the mini retirement? ” All of these questions will be answered in articles to come. For now, making the decision to take a break is the perfect first step.
Many people forgo the pleasures of life because of procrastination. Don’t let this be you.
So does this seem possible? What would you need to make this happen? Tell us what you think!