I travelled for four months as part of my early retirement plan. Now I’m back home, it’s time to look back and see what I thought of it.
Firstly, why did I decide to travel? I knew early retirement would give me more free time so had to think of ways to fill it. Like many others, part of my answer was to say I would travel.
That’s a common response to questions early retirees face - what will you do, won’t you be bored? Even those who haven’t previously thought about travelling seem to blurt it out, myself included!
In fact, I’m the person who takes a two week vacation but is ready to go home after ten days. And despite my job taking me to many different places, some even to live in, that’s not the same as travelling.
But as I said, I did blurt out that I would travel and, more often than not, when I say I’m going to do something I try to follow through and do it. So, even though I didn’t see myself as a natural traveller, I persuaded my wife, we packed our bags, and off we went.
Now that the four months of travelling is done, how did it go, what did I think of it, and would I do it again?
The plan – to where and for how long
We were away for 4 months from 16 July to 14 November 2018 and went to Bali, Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, India and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Here are links to my weekly posts from the trip:
If you’ve seen my previous posts, you’ll know that I like to record my costs. I may have retired from being an accountant, but some habits are hard to shake.
Anyway, this is what we spent for 2 people travelling for 122 days.
I’m sure it's much more than other youngsters🤣 spend and, although I didn’t have a preset budget, it is more than I expected.
However, it’s for two people, it includes 18 flights each, accommodation for 4 months, and numerous excursions and entry fees.
And most important of all, we can afford it.
Booking.com and Hostelworld.com were our go to sites for accommodation. Mostly we booked a day or two in advance, and sometimes just moments before checking in. If we weren’t sure about a place, we booked one night only, and extended if we liked it.
We had a mix of hostels, homestays and hotels, aiming for rooms with en-suite bathroom, although occasionally we shared a bathroom or had a bed in a hostel dormitory. I told Sally that the dormitories are fun, but I’m not sure she’s forgiven me yet!
Hostels were my favourite provided they had good kitchens and common areas. You get tired of always eating out, so it’s nice to stay in and cook at the hostel. It’s cheaper too. For some of the hostels, forget your preconceived ideas, they can be great.
Second favourite were the homestays. Most of the hostels and homestays were much better than the budget hotels, although now and again we booked a nice hotel as a treat.
Definitely read the reviews. Not all accommodation is created equal, so the reviews give a better chance of picking something that’s good and suits you.
The exception to this approach was India, where we booked a tour package in advance, which included hotels. They were OK, but overall they were the most expensive and most average accommodation that we had.
Packing was one of my successes, I think I got it just right. In addition to the set of clothes I wore for travelling, this is what I packed:
This all fitted reasonably comfortably into my Osprey Fairpoint 40 litre back pack. I chose this pack because I wanted to feel like a backpacker and because it rated well in reviews.
The pack meets most airline's carry-on size rules, although it’s generally above the carry-on weight limit when full. It’s well made so I didn’t worry about the material tearing or the zips breaking. If I had a quibble, it could have had more smaller pockets to store odds and ends - not a deal breaker, but a useful improvement.
My packing secret weapon is compression packing cubes. I used these ones from Eagle Creek and they compress your packing massively. I’m a big fan. Shop around for the best price - I got mine in the mall for a good price in the January sales.
My other packing tip is not to take too many shoes as they take a lot of space, particularly if you have big feet like me! I only took flip flops and some grey running shoes and it worked well enough for me.
Sometimes we simply watched the world go by, or explored places by ourselves, went to the beach, or visited markets. Sometimes we did nothing at all. But we also did quite a number of organised trips. These are the ones we paid for:
Mount Batur trekking & Tegallalang rice terraces, Bali
Daintree Rainforest, Queensland, Australia
Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia
Whitsunday Islands Boat trip (3 days/2 nights), Queensland, Australia
Fraser Island (2 days/1 night), Queensland, Australia
Great Ocean Road self drive road trip (3 days/2 nights), New South Wales, Australia
Barrossa Valley Wine Tasting, South Australia
Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Thai Cooking Class, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Sepa Trekking (2 days/1 night), Sapa, Vietnam
Halong Bay boat trip (2 days/1 night), Vietnam
Vietnamese Cooking Class, Hoi An, Vietnam
Forts, palaces, temples etc, Delhi, India
Taj Mahal, plus palaces and forts, Agra, India
Safari (1 day/2 nights), Ramthambore, India
Forts, palaces, temples etc, Jaipur, India
Tea Plantations and 4WD tour, Munnar, India
Houseboat trip (1 day/1 night), Kerala, India
We were also lucky to have friends show us around in some locations, so we got a double benefit of time with friends and local knowledge at the same time. Definitely some of our favourite days.
With these trips, and the countless temples, museums and other sights that we visited by ourselves, I think I’ve done more sightseeing over the last 4 months as in all my years to date!
What we liked best
What a tough question, because the different countries and different sights and activities are, well, different and therefore, how do you compare?
But I did find that I liked the nature more than the cities and buildings. I want to sound more exotic, but I don’t think we saw anywhere with more beautiful scenery than Australia. The beaches were amazing, and mostly deserted, and the Great Ocean Road drive was epic.
We met up with existing friends in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Dubai, and new friends made via this blog in Sydney, Adelaide and Phuket. We had an awesome time with all of them and they definitely make the “what we liked best” list. Seeing "things" is great, but spending time with people is better.
Visiting Hiroshima and learning about the Atom Bomb dropped on the city and it’s people was emotional but very worthwhile. It really wasn’t so long ago and is a vivid reminder that we mustn’t let such things happen again.
We loved it when our daughter, Rebecca, came to meet us in India and Dubai. How can she have grown up and left home already? Maybe I'm older than I think!
Then there’s the crazy busy Hanoi, the beauty of the Kerala backwaters, the digital nomad life in Chiang Mai, the sunrise from Mount Batur in Bali. Or even just the fact that we had an idea to travel, and actually got off our butts and did it.
I can’t choose, but hopefully you'll understand why it’s impossible to reduce it down to one favourite item.
Was there anything that disappointed?
Yes, but not too much.
Bali topped Sally’s list of places to go but it didn’t quite match expectations. The perfect pictures on the internet probably have something to do with it - real life doesn't come with filters or air brushing. Perhaps 5 star hotels would have got us closer, but we don’t regret the more normal life experience that we had.
Other than that, I’m a bit disappointed that I didn’t maintain my routines:
I wanted to blog about both our travels and FIRE topics, but only managed travel posts.
I planned to run 3 times a week, but only managed 4 or 5 times in four months. I’m going to pay for that as it will hurt when I start running again.
I envisioned our travels would be a healthy eating journey, but beer or wine with dinner most days doesn't meet that aspiration. It’s OK now and again, but it became a habit. It wasn’t the plan, and it cost a fortune!
The positive spin is to take these as learnings and try to figure out how I do better on them next time.
What we would have done differently
Another difficult question. I don’t think there is too much, but a few things that spring to mind are:
We wouldn’t book such an organised itinerary for India. Maybe it was OK for a first trip, but next time we would have the confidence to be more independent.
Travel a little more slowly, spending more time in less countries.
Be better at choosing some of the trips. I suspect other trips to the Whitsunday Islands and Fraser Island may have been more suitable for us than the ones we booked. We should have read more reviews and trusted the travel agent less.
I think that’s it, so not too big a list, and certainly not bad for our first effort at travelling.
How did Sally and I get on?
Surprisingly well, given that we were together 24 hours a day for 122 days in a row. That’s a lot of time for me to get something wrong!
Maybe we were lucky, but I can’t remember arguments or cross words between us. Perhaps because we were too busy doing new things, and we both had a common purpose with the trip.
Would we do it again?
I guess this is the real test as to what we thought of travelling. So, yes and no, isn’t a very satisfactory answer. And the answer Sally would give is a little different from what I would say.
Yes, because it was fun and we got to see and do many things that we’d never done before, and many people don’t get to do. But we’ve covered only a small part of the world, and there’s much more to see. That's me speaking, and Sally would be more towards the no side.
No, because we’re not teenagers and perhaps a little less backpacker style matches our lifestyle more.
Combining these thoughts and given the slightly divergent answer of Sally compared to me perhaps says that:
We'll do more travelling, but perhaps a little differently. Sally favours finding a base to rent for a month or two and then exploring from there. I'm happy with that, it sounds like a slightly more settled and grown up plan.
Or would an RV / campervan be the best of both worlds? Easy to move around, but no need to repeatedly unpack and repack the backpack. Perhaps a short trip to test the idea?
And if I fancy a bit of real backpacking, maybe some shorter trips with my kids. We'll send Sally a postcard.
And that's it. These travels are finished. It's been an adventure and generated a bundle of memories that we'll always have. Something that a lot of people talk about, but not many do. And now, I guess it's time to get back to normal early retired life, or at least our version of it.