I’m back home. This year's early retirement travels are over and it’s time to look back over the last three months.
Let me first backtrack to the "why" that's behind my travels? It goes back to pre early retirement when I was trying to figure out what would replace work? Part of my answer was to say I would travel.
It’s a fairly common response when asked “what will you do?”, “won’t you be bored?”. Ahead of time I had trouble figuring out what would fill my days and I didn’t feel comfortable committing to early retirement without at least a semblance of a plan. Saying I would travel filled some of that gap, even if I wasn’t sure it was what I really wanted to do.
That's how travel ended up on my early retirement plan and, because when I say I’m going to do something I try to do it, I'm doing it. Four months to Australia and Asia last year and another three months this time around. Was it a mistake or a good thing to put it on my early retirement plan?
The travel plan – to where and for how long
Last year we travelled to Australia and Asia for four months, so we headed in the opposite direction this time, to Costa Rica, Colombia and California. I was away for 12 weeks, my wife, Sally, came for the first 5 weeks, my daughter, Rebecca, was with me for 4 weeks in Colombia and I had 3 weeks by myself.
If you're interested in more detail, here are the links to my weekly posts from the trip:
If you’ve seen my previous posts, you’ll know that I keep track of my early retirement costs and it’s no different while travelling. I may have retired from being an accountant but it seems some habits linger on.
Because Sally was only with me for five weeks, I've tried to show the costs for me only. There were some joint costs that I’ve had to split, so it won’t be perfect, but it’s close enough.
The table on the left are my total costs for three months and the table on the right is the average daily cost. Figures are in GBP - for Euros add approximately 10% (12% if you want to be exact) and for USD add a third (31% if you want to be exact) to these figures.
I guess it's unsurprising that California was the highest cost, followed by Costa Rica and then Colombia with the lowest cost. They aren't exact like for like comparisons, for example I had a rental car in California and Costa Rica but not in Colombia, but the costs still show some interesting trends.
We stayed in a mix of places.
In California, it was motels or hotels because there mostly didn’t seem to be other options.
Costa Rica, with Sally, was mostly a private room with en-suite bathroom in a hostel or homestay, although we did treat ourselves to a nice hotel to finish our trip there.
Colombia was mostly hostels, normally a bed in a four person dorm, although we did treat ourselves to a private room for the final week.
For a little extra variety, accommodation on the Ciudad Perdida (Lost City) trek in Colombia was basic, a long row of bunk beds in an open-sided building, but I was treated to all the comforts of home when I stayed with my friend while I visited him in California, the best place I stayed!
The daily average cost of accommodation (for one person) was:
£44/€49/$58 in California (slightly helped by staying at my friend’s for 3 days)
£15/€17/$20 in Costa Rica
£7/€8/$9 in Colombia
As the saying goes, if it isn’t broken don’t fix it. My packing list worked well for our previous year’s travels so I took exactly the same this time around.
Oh, that worked well comment doesn't include for when I was at Lake Tahoe in the snow and -8°C (-18°F). I was woefully unprepared for that but it was only for a few days.
Also the same as last year, my packing fit comfortably into my Osprey Fairpoint 40L backpack which went as cabin baggage on the flights. My packing secret weapon is compression packing cubes which really help shrink the packing.
We mixed some exploring by ourselves, going for walks, watching the world go by, relaxing on a beach or in a café along with some organised tours or visits to attractions. These are the organised tours/attractions that we did:
In or from Costa Rica:
Chocolate farm tour in Puerto Viejo
Trip to Bocas del Toro, a Panamanian island in the Caribbean
Overnight trip to Tortuguero, primarily to see turtles
La Fontana Waterfall
Santa Elena nature night walk
We also paid entry fees to visit Santa Elena Cloud Forest, Baru National Wildlife Refuge and Cahuita and Tortuguero National Parks
Cartagena walking tour
Ciudad Perdida (Lost City) trek (4 days/3 nights)
Jungle Joe Minca tour
Communa 13 walking tour in Medellin
Coffee farm tour in Solento
Wine tasting at Silverado Winery, Napa Valley
Plus I spent a couple of days at Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park
What I liked best
One of my favourite things is simply watching what normal life is like in different places, be it viewed from the window of a bus, walking down the street, sitting in a café or visiting supermarkets.
Of the more organised things, our early morning nature boat tour and late night turtle watching in Tortuguero in Costa Rica was a highlight as was the Ciudad Perdida (Lost City) trek in Colombia. The trek was much tougher than expected but, as they say, the best things in life don’t always come easy.
Another highlight was reconnecting with my old school friend after 24 years. I made a big detour for this and I’m very glad that I did. On route to see him, seeing the massive Sequoia trees in the Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park was special, I just wish I’d had someone to share it with.
For places, I’ll stop there, although it seems unfair not to mention how beautiful the Old Town of Cartagena is or how the small towns of Salento and Guatape appear to be lifted straight from a picture book. The chocolate farm tour in Costa Rica and Jungle Joe's Minca tour were also particularly memorable. And then there was the look on Sally’s face when she saw a sloth up close. I could go on. Luckily there’s no such thing as too many good memories.
Last, but very much not least, I got to spend time with my daughter. Tom at Sightings at Sixty was one hundred percent right when he commented how rare a treat it is to spend a whole month with our grown up children.
Was there anything that disappointed
I guess there must be something, but I can’t think of it. Of course, some things were more highlights than others, but I can’t think of anything that I regret doing or seeing, at least not sufficiently to put it in this category. I’m a little surprised.
What would we have done differently
I was on my own for the final two weeks in California which was OK, but it would have been more fun to have someone to share the experiences with. If I were to do it again, I’d still go to see my friend in California but would save the rest of my trip there for another time when Sally could join me for it.
My healthy eating and exercise targets
Last year when we went to Australia and Asia I planned to run regularly and eat healthily. Despite those good intentions, I ran only a handful of times in four months and came back weighing 3kgs more than when I left.
In an attempt to do better this year I decided to award myself a mark out of ten each week for exercise (a run or other workout) and healthy eating. This is how I did:
My average marks over the whole the whole trip were 6.6 out of 10 for exercise and 6.8 out of 10 for healthy eating. Maybe that’s equivalent to a B minus and a bit below what I’d have liked, it would have been nice if I managed 8’s.
Now I'm home, I wonder if I was a little harsh with my scoring? The scales say I’m now 79kgs, which is 5kgs lighter than when I left three months ago. I wasn’t expecting that. I suspect that abstaining from alcohol during the trip played it’s part and perhaps my eating was a little better than I’m giving myself credit for as well.
Putting travel on my early retirement plan - a mistake or a good thing?
A good thing, for a few reasons.
First, I knew that I wanted to step away from my old corporate life but it was still a difficult leap to take. I needed at least a semblance of an early retirement plan to help me take those first steps. If nothing else, travel helped pad the plan out so that I found the courage to make the leap into early retirement.
Second, I'm not a natural traveller and find aspects of travelling challenges me and takes me out of my comfort zone. I think it's important to be stretched at times, something that used to come with my job but now I have to generate myself. One way I do so is by travelling.
Thirdly, because there are many interesting places, people and sights to see while travelling. It's interesting, thought provoking, sometimes challenging but also fun visiting them. It's easy to sit at home viewing these things on TV, but better to see them in real life.
Three completely different, but equally important reasons, which make me glad travel was on my early retirement plan.
Would I do it again / what’s next?
I’ve made reasonable strides against my travel plans, but there’s still lots to see. That means that, yes, I’ll do it again.
Sally still isn’t keen on the longer term travelling though so we have to square that circle somehow. Another challenge is the cats. Two years ago they went to live with our daughter (after all, we have them because of her), but they seem to have come back to us which makes longer periods of travel difficult.
Therefore, my instinct for what’s next is a number of shorter trips, which sounds like a great way to see the United Kingdom and continental Europe.
But for this year, that’s the travels done. We also had a trip to Germany earlier in the year and our Route de Grandes Alpes cycling tour, so I’m not doing badly with my travel adventures. Like last year’s trip, it's been an adventure, generated a bunch of memories and, at times, taken me out of my comfort zone. It’s something that a lot of people talk about, but not many do. And now I’m home, it really is nice to sleep in my own bed again.