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Hitting the Road

Richard Connor

MY WIFE AND I JUST returned from the first extended road trip of our retirement. We were away two weeks, drove 2,800 miles and visited 10 states. The primary reason for the trip was to stay five days on a houseboat on Beaver Lake, Arkansas, with seven friends.

We broke the trip into three phases. The first part took us from New Jersey to northwest Arkansas in two-and-a-half days. Along the way, we stopped in St. Louis to visit the Gateway Arch National Park. We also drove a short distance along legendary Route 66 in Missouri. It wasn’t a very exciting section of the historic 2,448-mile highway. Next time, I’d like to traverse some of the more celebrated sections, especially a special corner of Winslow, Arizona.

Phase No. 2 was five days and nights on an 80-foot houseboat on Beaver Lake. We fished, swam, paddled, grilled, read, played games and enjoyed each other’s company. Seven of the nine passengers are retired or about to retire. Two of our friends are still actively working but looking forward to retirement. There were lots of discussions about travel destinations, Medicare and retirement locations.

The third phase consisted of a semi-leisurely drive through Memphis, Nashville and three places in North Carolina—Asheville, Winston-Salem and Raleigh. In Memphis, we toured Graceland, ate some good barbecue and heard terrific music on Beale Street. A special place in Memphis is the National Civil Rights Museum. The museum is located at the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King was shot. It’s quite sobering and educational, and well worth the time.

In Nashville, we hit some of the honky-tonks—Kid Rock’s and Jason Aldean’s—and had dinner with our nephew. Meanwhile, in Asheville, we hiked some of the Blue Ridge Parkway and strolled the city’s River Arts District with another nephew. We didn’t tour the historic Biltmore Estate on this trip but plan to return to the region and explore it, along with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

For the remainder of the trip, we visited family. It was great to catch up with brothers, in-laws, nieces, nephews, and great-nieces and nephews. Several of my wife’s brothers had purchased homes during the pandemic, and it was fun to finally see their new places.

With some planning, we were able to keep our travel costs to a reasonable level. We used Marriott points to cover most of the hotel stays. Our total gas bill was around $400. Gasoline prices in the Midwest and South were less than $4 per gallon. We paid $3.19 in Tennessee.

Food costs were a mixed bag. We planned well for the boat trip by shopping at Costco before we left. We transported a 40-pound cube of frozen protein from New Jersey to Arkansas, which included salmon, chicken, steaks, lamb chops and other perishables. For the drive, we bought healthy foods, and snacked or picnicked along the way.

Restaurant prices around the country seemed to have all risen in concert. As part of our weight-loss efforts in 2022, we’re learning to make smarter and healthier choices when dining out. Sharing an entree and a salad helped our wallet and our waistline.

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There was one restaurant that was a real bargain—Moose Café in South Asheville. For about $10, you got coffee, freshly baked biscuits with apple butter, a three-egg omelet loaded with your choice of fixings, and grits or hash browns. We turned down the carbohydrates, but they brought them anyway. The total bill was under $20. It’s nice to know such places still exist.

One theme we heard about throughout our trip was the noticeable migration to southeastern states. SmartAsset recently published an article that noted that high-earning households are migrating predominantly to Sun Belt states. The article’s findings meshed with the anecdotal stories we heard along the way.

North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee are receiving a large influx of households from higher-tax northern states like New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The shift was detectable in the ubiquitous construction we saw in Nashville and elsewhere.

The majority of my wife’s siblings and their children now live in North Carolina. Several moved from the Philadelphia region to be closer to children and grandchildren. Our friends who own the houseboat are actively considering where they might retire. Their primary home in Wichita, Kansas, is a five-hour drive from Beaver Lake. For many of us, planning where to retire is as important as saving for retirement.

The other overwhelming takeaway from our trip is obvious, but still profound: If travel is important to you, do it while you can. All of our boatmates strongly agreed with this. Family members we visited later in the trip also heartily echoed this advice. One lamented that she’d started slowing down when she reached age 70.

My wife and I have spent this year working on our health and fitness. This paid off nicely. On the trip, we were able to enjoy ourselves more, be more active and were generally more comfortable driving long distances. After two weeks on the road, we were pleasantly surprised that we weren’t exhausted and dying to get home to the Jersey shore.

There are several more places remaining on our bucket list. These include Alaska, the Rockies, and much of Europe and Canada. When I was drawing up our initial retirement budget, I included what I thought was a generous $2,000 per month for travel costs. We may exceed that over the next five years, but I’m okay with that. My advice to other retirees: Hit the road while you can.

Richard Connor is a semi-retired aerospace engineer with a keen interest in finance. He enjoys a wide variety of other interests, including chasing grandkids, space, sports, travel, winemaking and reading. Follow Rick on Twitter @RConnor609 and check out his earlier articles.

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Matt Hartshorn
Matt Hartshorn
13 days ago

Richard, I’m sure you’ll find that flat-bed Ford when you visit Winslow, there are a few around, but as suggested, don’t spend too much time in that tourist arena.
But do go back to Asheville and take the time to visit a couple of glass blowing shops (Lexington Glassworks is amazing) and budget for an incredible culinary experience at Plant (Plantisfood.com) which has made me a believer in plant-based food as an alternative to my bbq palate.

corrupt
corrupt
13 days ago

Winslow is a dive that is full of tweakers. Don’t expect too much or you’ll be disappointed.

Paul Trayers
Paul Trayers
14 days ago

My advice to other retirees: Hit the road while you can.Thanks for supporting my views also Rick!

Derek R. Austin
Derek R. Austin
14 days ago

A more realistic estimate of travel costs would be $0.50 per mile, or $1,400, not just $400 in gas.

Martin McCue
Martin McCue
14 days ago

Once your health starts to decline, your travel options start to decline. For example, trips where you would do a lot of walking (or even standing) may not work any more. You may begin to avoid countries that are not super-safe. You may need to stay close to pharmacies or lavatory facilities. At a certain age, it may become harder to rent a car – some countries prohibit it at different ages, mostly in the 70s. And, of course, you may have to be caring for someone, or someone may have to be caring for you – a warm and loving trip still, but not what you both would have preferred.

mytimetotravel
mytimetotravel
14 days ago
Reply to  Martin McCue

If you are traveling abroad there is also an issue with medical insurance. Some companies won’t insure you at all over 70 or 75, some companies will but significantly limit coverage. Some Medigap plans provide limited coverage with a lifetime cap of $50,000 and 20% co-pay, Medicare Advantage plans have to be checked individually.

DrLefty
DrLefty
14 days ago

We just finished a three-week trip to Europe—we’re 62 and not yet retired, but we’re very focused on travel and not waiting for retirement to do it, for exactly the reasons you discussed.

We also have focused on health and fitness these past couple of years, and wow, did it pay off on this trip—so much walking, so many stairs, especially in Venice and in Greece. Some days my Apple Watch had me at 20K+ steps and over 30 flights of stairs! We went to the Ancient Greek amphitheater in Epidaurus, and I decided to climb to the top. I was the only person in our tour group to do it. I had no problem keeping up with anything, anywhere, and that meant more to me even then getting to buy a new wardrobe in smaller sizes!

Rob Jennings
Rob Jennings
14 days ago

My wife and I have a good to visit all the National Parks in our retirement. The pandemic delayed us a bit but we took advantage of that time-out to visit all 41 state parks in our adopted home state of NC. LIke you, we frequently use hotel points and visit fun places and family and friends on the trips. We do the same on my work trips, as I am semi-retired. We also committed to our fitness hiring a personal trainer and getting to the gym and out on local hikes-I hope doing this will delay the onset of the slow go years to our 80s. I did a lot of international travel when working so we are mostly limiting our travel to the US, although we had a couple of great trips already this year to UK, Ireland and Switzerland. As we have already visited most of the eastern parks, we are now onto the western parks and Alaska not to mention Canada. When we are home are “between trips” and I enjoy the planning.

Andrew Forsythe
Andrew Forsythe
15 days ago

Great article, Rick. I admire your energy and ambitious travel agenda.

Before your next journey down Route 66, here’s some more musical inspiration (were the Stones ever really that young?): Rolling Stones Route 66 Best Video – YouTube

mytimetotravel
mytimetotravel
15 days ago

“If travel is important to you, do it while you can.”

Absolutely! I took early retirement in 2000 so that I could travel before I got too decrepit. In 2017 I developed a variant of rheumatoid arthritis which, even though controlled by medication, has severely limited my ability to travel (plus I am now immuno-compromised). I am so glad I was to travel extensively for fifteen years.

I was already living in North Carolina before I retired, so no need to move. I expect to move into a CCRC in the same town next year.

Jerry Pinkard
Jerry Pinkard
15 days ago

Doing travel when you are younger and able is great advice. I retired 12 years ago at age 66. My wife is not too mobile any more, so our travel and activities are much more limited. I took trips to Italy and Holy Land without her for that reason.

I am blessed to be in pretty good shape at age 78, but had I retired a few years earlier I would have been able to do more things. It was financially viable but I chose to add a buffer to my retirement. May not have been my best choice.

We seriously considered moving to NC mountains or SC coast. We owned property in Charleston area but decided to age in place. We may have made a different decision had I not retired in the middle of the great recession when real estate was kind of crazy. We remodeled our kitchen and living space in our current home. Our ranch home is on a wooded 2 acre lot that is very private. We love it here and never want to leave. Our goal is to never have to go to assisted living or SNF, but time will tell.

T. V. NARAYANAN
T. V. NARAYANAN
15 days ago

Two points I learned from this article: 1. Hit the road while you can. 2. After retirement move to sunbelt to save money and enjoy the sun. Luckily it turned out that way for us. We traveled to many places in the US and many foreign countries. We were living in New Jersey while we were working. Now we live in Florida. My wife deserves all the credit for that. I was reluctant to move after we both retired largely because of inertia.

Boomerst3
Boomerst3
11 days ago

I lived in Florida while working. Way too crowded. Too many bugs, cockroaches and fire ants. Also, the heat in the summer is as bad as the cold up north, and it lasts longer. May to end of October. Humidity is intolerable

Nate Allen
Nate Allen
15 days ago

Did you visit the new (free) museum at the base of the St Louis Arch or ride the (paid) tram to the top? The tram scared me more than I like to admit, but the view at the top was great when we went and the museum was very good for a free one.

Other free activities around the St. Louis area (for other bargain hunters like myself) include the zoo, the art museum, the science center, and Grant’s Farm. (also you get free beer at Grant’s Farm) Technically, some of these places have pay to park but if you can walk a few blocks, there is usually free parking to be found, especially in non-busy times. (Or use public transport bus terminals.)

Last edited 15 days ago by Nate Allen
Rick Connor
Rick Connor
15 days ago
Reply to  Nate Allen

We did visit the Gateway Arch museum and took the Tram to the top. Well worth it for the views. We also stopped at the Route 66 State Park visitors center. They are repairing an original bridge that was part of the original roadway. The visitor’s center has some cool memorabilia form the era when Route 66 was a primary road.

R Quinn
R Quinn
15 days ago

Well, Richard, you beat me to it. My wife and I are two days away from leaving on our third major road trip across country. Now I’ll have nothing to write about. 😎.

Our initial target is Idaho, then Oklahoma. Why you may ask? Because that will mean we have visited all fifty states and another bucket list item checked. On the way back we will visit Waco Tx and Laurel, MS for no other reason than they are the locations of two of my wife’s favorite HGTV shows. Go figure.

We love to travel, but these days the airports are such a hassle so we cancelled a cruise we should be on now in favor of the car. My wife’s back and mobility issues are now a factor as well so what you say about travel while you can is so true. I’ve resigned myself to the fact we will not make it to some of our other travel goals simply because of age, but we have been to countries I would never have thought possibly and I did get to ride a camel in Morocco.

I’m not sure about the age 70 thing though, for generally healthy folks age 75 or later is easily possible. We’ve been on trips where there were 90 year olds. I will be 79 in a few weeks and my wife is 83 and we have just started slowing down as much as I hate to admit it. When we were going to Europe twice a year, we easily spent $30,000 or more a year.

As the slogan goes, Just Do It, see the USA and the World. There are amazing things to see and people to meet.

Last edited 15 days ago by R Quinn
Ellen Evans
Ellen Evans
14 days ago
Reply to  R Quinn

I hope you check out the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum near Oklahoma City. As a young teenager the amazing art there left a big impression on me during a family cross country trip in the 90’s.

mytimetotravel
mytimetotravel
15 days ago
Reply to  R Quinn

If you don’t want to fly (and it does seem to be a major hassle right now), consider taking the train. There are several cross country routes, and you can rent a car if necessary when you get to your destination. Back in 2012 I took Amtrak from New York to Chicago, to San Francisco, to Portland and finally Seattle. I came back on Via Rail across Canada. I had a sleeper, and meals (surprisingly good) were included in the fare. (See https://mytimetotravel.wordpress.com/2012/05/02/the-lake-shore-limited/ )

Rick Connor
Rick Connor
15 days ago
Reply to  R Quinn

Dick, have great and safe trip. My wife also enjoys the shows associated with with Waco and Laurel. We were in Bentonville, AK, home to another popular HGTV show.

This trip added a few states for both my wife and me. We both have a dozen or so to go, mostly in the SW, Pacific NW, West, and Alaska. Planning for some of them next year.

One thing that is hard is there are lots of places we haven’t seen, but also places we’ve been we’d like to return to – like Ireland, Maine, and others. Hard to hit them all.

Nate Allen
Nate Allen
14 days ago
Reply to  Rick Connor

Bentonville, AR? (Unless there is also a Bentonville in Alaska that I am unaware of.)

Edmund Marsh
Edmund Marsh
15 days ago

Good travel article, Rick. You whetted my appetite to revisit some of my favorite places here in the South. My family thinks the Biltmore is worth including on your next tour.

Rick Connor
Rick Connor
15 days ago
Reply to  Edmund Marsh

Thanks Edmund. We drove into Biltmore’s property thinking we could at least do a driving tour, but you need a ticket even for that. It was already late afternoon so that didn’t make sense. We definitely will plan more time in the area.

William Perry
William Perry
15 days ago
Reply to  Rick Connor

For me the garden’s at Biltmore was the high point during a summer visit and during a winter visit the Christmas decorations is like walking through a living Currier & Ives picture. We bought a case of wine their from the on site facility and open a bottle on special occasions to remember a college roommate of my wife who we toured Biltmore with. I recommend good walking shoes and going sooner rather than later. Thanks for sharing your trip.

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