If there’s one thing I learnt from retirement, it’s that it’s not a vacation.

Yes, I had freedom.  Yes, I travelled, and yes, I was sometimes found sipping a cold beer on my hotel balcony at 5 pm, but that’s where the similarity ends.

The idea that, once you leave work, you’ll sail off into the sunset to enjoy days of endless pleasure is an outdated fallacy.  The reality of retirement today is that it’s longer than ever before, and as we all know, longevity is becoming increasingly difficult to fund.  As record numbers live into their nineties and even become centenarians, retirees realise the plans they made as young adults are financially and fundamentally flawed.

I’ve lived retirement.  I entered it, and ten years later, I exited by unretiring.  Since then, I’ve spent my days helping others avoid the traps I fell into.  In this series, I’ll use my experience to look at the four things I believe you need to have a fulfilling retirement: travel, work, volunteering experience, and the opportunity to develop your mind.

Let’s start with travel . . .

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.  Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

That was Mark Twain’s argument for adventure, and I couldn’t agree more.  It’s why the first piece of advice I give to people planning for retirement is to take a gap year and use that time to visit bucket-list destinations and work out who and what fuels you.

The reason I suggest this is that when we are young adults we transition from education into working life.  Some take a gap year, others jump right in.  As we age, we transition from singledom to marriage, from women and men to mum and dad and often, sadly, from child to carer.  And yet, despite experiencing all of these transitions, when it comes to the end of our working life, we simply stop.  One day we’re a manager, teacher, or IT consultant.  The next we are simply ‘retired’.

By taking a gap year, we give ourselves the time, energy, and freedom to transition into this last phase of life and the opportunity to set ourselves on the best possible path.  This is when we discover which activities we lose all sense of time doing and the people who inspire, lift, and energize us.

A later life gap year (or even three to six months) is not just about visiting dream destinations, it’s about much more than that.  It’s about exploring new places, new ideas, new feelings, and experiences.  Done well, it will stretch your mind, change your perspective, and broaden your horizons.  Having set many clients on their gap year adventures, I have some advice . . .

Best laid plans

Like any big adventure, a gap year needs careful planning – often years in advance. I suggest you start to think about this at least five to ten years before you retire and begin budgeting for it too. If you create a separate savings account specifically for your travels, it’s much more likely that you will use that money for the purpose it was intended. Be mindful that travel costs are rising and that you’ll need to set aside additional funds for the ‘boring’ stuff like insurance, car hire, kit, and equipment.

Pack it all in

I have a carpe diem attitude to life, and whilst I don’t suggest your gap year is so packed full of adventure that it becomes a stress-inducing race to tick off your bucket list, I urge you to bear in mind that the time to travel to the places you most long to see, is now.  Without putting too fine a point on it, none of us are getting any younger, and if far-flung or intrepid destinations such as Australia, New Zealand and even Botswana are on your list, I strongly suggest you prioritize them, as, in the years to come, you may not have the capacity to go long-haul.

Map it out

There are travel consultants the world over who specialize in retirement, and it’s definitely worth enlisting their counsel.  They will be able to help you map out your journey, planning not only a route but the best times to visit the places you want to go.  They’ll help you to avoid the expense of peak times, the heat of the ferocious mid-summer sun, and don’t forget they have local knowledge so you can coincide your visit with celebrations, cultural events, and even the arrival of spectacular wildlife.

Work, rest, and play

Retirement may not be a vacation, but your gap year travels certainly should be.  Time is on your side, and you should use it wisely.  Make sure you budget enough so that you can really experience a place, letting its aura sink deep into your soul.  Rent a home, instead of a hotel room, or even be brave enough to house-swap.  That way, you immediately put yourself in the heart of a community and the hands of the people who know the place better than anyone else – the locals.

Feel the fear

Whilst this is about enjoyment, it is not a time to play it completely safe.  I believe that fear holds the key to the life we seek and that the best experiences come from being brave enough to step outside of your comfort zone.  And that is exactly what I urge you to do.  On my recent travels, I’ve taken a hot air balloon ride across a desert, learnt to surf, and even ‘performed’ the dance of an eagle in front of a group of strangers.  Every one of these experiences was exhilarating and taught me something about myself.  None were comfortable journeys to embark on.

Travel as a tribe

When it comes to travel, some people prefer to go it alone, whilst others wouldn’t go anywhere without a ‘partner-in-crime’!  No matter which camp you sit in, remember that when you experience something with a group of people, you see it in a multi-dimensional light.  The opportunity to meet new people and encounter different viewpoints is what this gap year is all about.  That’s why I encourage you to give group travel a go.  Whether that be a touring trip across Europe, a volunteering experience where you could, for example, help to protect biodiversity in the Galapagos Islands, or a trip with a group of people you already associate with at home. Taking grown-up grandchildren on vacation is another growing trend – one which allows you to see the world through their eyes.  An inspiration for wanderlust, if ever I saw one!

We have a free webinar coming up on the 19 July where we will explore the retirement life further; CLICK HERE if you would like to join us.


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