My Retirement Hero

Richard Quinn

CAROL IS MY COUSIN. Long divorced, she raised three daughters on her own. Now newly retired, her life is one long adventure—tackled with an incredible attitude. Some people approach retirement with trepidation, but not Carol. She was out of the gate with gusto.

Carol retired from Medtronic in November 2021, after 22 years. She’s a registered nurse who assisted doctors with the insertion of medical devices. She has a pension—Carol became eligible just before the company stopped offering them. Now 65, she’s waiting to collect Social Security until her full retirement age of 66½.

She sold her townhome in December 2021, moved in with one of her adult daughters, and pays no rent. Her daughter lived with Carol as an adult a few times, so Carol is collecting on that. She says she takes her approach from a line in The Godfather, a movie she’s seen many times: “Someday, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do a service for me.”

Carol turned over her 401(k) and the profit from her townhome sale to a financial advisor, and crossed her fingers. Yes, her free-spirited approach to life also applies to finance. Her investments are allocated 41% mutual funds, 30% “other” (whatever that means), 27% “equities” and 2% cash. “Thats about all I know,” she tells me, but she promised to ask about the “other.”

My cousin described her immediate plans this way: “I’ve decided to spend the next year-plus traveling and hitting many of the major European, African, Asian and Australian tourist sites. In the medical field, I learned that once you reach a certain age, you’re much more vulnerable to chronic medical problems. I am healthy and want to do challenging activities now, and for as long as I can. Then I’ll do the more relaxing stuff.”

I kinda think “relax” is a foreign word to Carol.

She recently returned from three months in Europe. I asked if she was bored back home. “Heck no,” she said. “I’m bogged down in paperwork—getting ready for the next trip.”

Carol requested that I note the difference between a “solo traveler” and a “singles traveler.” The latter is often assumed to be on a quest for a partner. As she said to me, “Why cant a healthy, adventurous, financially comfortable single woman just want to explore the world, learn ancient history, see iconic sites and admire famous artwork?”

Why not indeed?

In case you think she’s exaggerating her appetite for travel, take a look at 2022 so far. In February 2022—just as a practice run, my words not hers—Carol spent three weeks in Belize. While there, she made casual friends with an elderly couple who have been traveling the world since their late 50s. The couple confided that they both have fairly serious medical problems, but they keep on going.

Perhaps that should be an inspiration to us all, especially those who like to depict retirement as having three phases—go-go, slow-go and no-go. That’s not Carol. She’s more go-go-go. After Belize in February, she traveled to Spain in April.

“I arrived in Bilbao for a 15-day tour of northern Spain. Then I headed south through Portugal, ending in Porto, a beautiful seaside city. My next stop was Tonbridge in the UK. I stayed with a friend and lived like a local.”

My wife and I can relate to that. We met a couple on a cruise several years ago and remain friends. We have visited each other in the U.S. and U.K.

“Next, I was off to Italy with the Tonbridge friend, traveling with her for three weeks. One week in Tuscany, including cooking classes, and then off on a journey across northern Italy. Three days in Cinque Terre, a group of five villages on the northwest coast of Italy, where we hiked from village to village. We ended up in the beautiful village of Vernazza.”

Carol made all the arrangements online before leaving, including all the trains that carried her from city to city. She stayed in bed and breakfasts and three-star hotels.

I’m exhausted just writing about this adventure. But that was only the start.

“We took the train to Florence for four days, hitting the major sites. Then we took a train to Venice for three days. We strolled the canals and took water taxis. We skipped the gondola rides as they were ridiculously expensive.”

Three months in Europe and the gondola was too expensive? Oh, Carol. A few years from now, you’ll regret that.

“On to Rome for five days,” she recounted. “Tours of the Colosseum, Vatican and Borghese Gallery. The tour guides in Italy have been so good. We got around by walking. I never used taxis or public transportation. You save a ton of money if you walk.”

She wasn’t done. “Another train to Pompeii for three days. My friend returned to England then, so I was alone. Being alone is both lonely and wonderful. When I’m alone, I do whatever I want. Some days, I just snack. Eating pastries for the entire day is so liberating. Cannoli or sfogliatella? Big decision.”

Carol gained eight pounds during her trip. She says it would have been 20 if she had taken taxis. Instead, she walked and hiked. “I climbed Mount Vesuvius and did two separate tours of Pompeii and Herculaneum.”

All this exercise is getting a bit much. But we’re not done yet.

“Next, another train to Catania, Sicily. It’s a cool, four-hour train ride. At Messina, they split the train in half and tow the cars onto a giant ferry boat.” In Sicily, Carol climbed Mount Etna while it was “spewing volcanic ash all over.”

My wife and I rode to the top of Mount Etna once in August. Steam was coming out the top as we made snowballs in a foot of snow.

To pay for 18 months of travel, Carol has allocated about $50,000. But she keeps adding to her itinerary as she goes, and expects to withdraw more cash to pay for it.

Her investments are down about $200,000 since January, but there’s no panic. Carol says, “I have lived through many economic downturns, both nationally and personally. Que sera, sera.

I bet this shakes up some HumbleDollar readers, who tend to be serious and meticulous about investing. It makes me wish I had a bit of that “whatever will be” attitude toward money and life.

After enough pasta and cannoli, Carol flew back to Tonbridge. You can only take mushy peas for so long, however, so after three weeks she took the Eurostar train to Paris. There she spent the last four days of her European adventure, but she is already talking about going back.

By the way, Carol has a three-country adventure in Africa starting this month, where she plans to look for gorillas. She is now busy completing the extensive paperwork. Then next January through March, she’s off to Australia. What will she do in the time between October and January? Explore some of the U.S., she says.

Carol is my retirement hero.

Richard Quinn blogs at Before retiring in 2010, Dick was a compensation and benefits executive. Follow him on Twitter @QuinnsComments and check out his earlier articles.

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