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. “That’s 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 can’t 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 QuinnsCommentary.net. 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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There is definitely something to be said for long (3-6 month) visits to other places. It gives you a totally different outlook on a place than spending a couple weeks on vacation.
Carol has it absolutely right. I am 79 and my wife is 76. We just returned from 3 weeks in Africa, including hiking to see gorillas in Uganda and safaris in Zambia. We are going to British Columbia next month to track grizzly bears, and in the next year we have booked trips to Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, the Galapagos, Norway and the Arctic, and Papua New Guinea. In addition, I have booked trips for myself to ski in Montana and play golf in Scotland. We are lucky to be pretty healthy and have the money to do this, and I understand that not everyone is this lucky. Nevertheless, although it is sometimes difficult, travel keeps us young and vigorous. I have been to 66 countries and my wife has been to over 120. We plan to continue as long as we can. Some of these trips are difficult, but you do not know what you can do until you try it. If these types of trips sound too intimidating, there are incredible sites in the US that are much less strenuous to visit. Richard is right – “Good health is a blessing, money helps, but it’s all about attitude as well.”
Way to go, Carol. I took early retirement (with pension) so I could travel, and now I have been grounded by rheumatoid arthritis and the need to avoid Covid I am so glad I did. My longest trip was ten months RTW, mostly by rail (Scotland to Saigon by rail) in my late fifties, but I know I couldn’t do that trip now.
Great story. Carol needs her own blog. I’ll be looking for a chance to use the Godfather line with my own kids.
Today Carol is in Nairobi!! Eating ostrich!! I’m thinking that is not on my retirement bucket list. Must have been tough catching it.
“She has a pension”
This is the secret to retirement. Every one of the retired people I know has a pension..
We travelled a lot when younger, even immigrating to a new and strange culture (USA). I’d like to visit Scotland and Germany again, but most of our travel now is to family in Africa and Australia. When I get too old to work my plan is to spend time gaming the credit card points systems, to get travel credits..
A pension is invaluable no matter what you have to put up with at work to get it. If you want to see how one guy uses credits/points to the ultimate for travel check out rootofgood blog.
I hope Carol’s daughter is happy to let her mother live with her rent-free. Even though I helped out one of my children during his 20s, I would never expect him to take me in without paying my share unless I was unable to do so.
I should send the paragraph about staying with her adult children to my “adult ” children. Not paying rent and maintaining an unnecessary home easily pays for many hotel rooms. Bon voyage.
Maybe Don Corleone had the right idea
Perhaps I will make them an offer they can’t refuse.
this is a great time to travel especially with strong dollar, however what strong dollar gives inflation may take.
To each their own; I’m glad that a life of adventure fulfills your cousin. As a new retiree, I’m often asked about my travel plans. I have none, and that seems to disappoint just about anyone who asks. But I am grateful to find fulfillment and wonder each day — without the urge to travel or to meet others’ expectations.
Yup – no pension here- just invested savings – and no one I know in real life has a pension. So blowing that much on travel, especially in down markets, seems nuts.
Instead I instantly escape to anywhere I wish, including worlds that don’t exist, just by opening a book. A great book and a wonderful cup of coffee or glass of wine beats jet lag, sardine seating, canceled flights, miserable airports, price gouging, and rudeness of other travelers – ten fold.
Just as many here with pensions like to say they’re necessary to retire early and how you feel bad for those of us without them – I often feel so sorry for those who don’t savor reading. Or who crave exotic travel, gourmet food, high priced toys.
I don’t have to work until I’m half dead or gut out a tedious job for years, just for a pension to afford all that. I’m free.
Yes indeed, each to their own, but I have to admit I can’t understand the absence of a desire to travel, learn, explore, experience different cultures. That has been the best part of my retirement. So far 44 countries and two trips across the US and about to start the third. It’s an amazing world out there. You haven’t lived until you had a soldier point his rifle at you in the Kremlin because you stepped off the curb and walked in the street.
To each their own, but you must enjoy what I enjoy or your life isn’t rich as mine. ???
Who said that?
Thank you! I never cared much for traveling but I’m glad I did some in my 40’s.
Now I use my increased leisure time to enjoy local and touring bands who play here in Atanta. This keeps me plenty busy besides babysitting my grandchildren.
I’ve always supported the music scene here (even dabbled briefly in the business) and most of my friends of all ages are from that. It amazes a lot of them to see a 67 year old at shows by herself though I started doing this when I was 16.
I sure won’t judge any of y’all for not going to indie, punk rock, or metal rock etc. (lol!) Do what makes you happy!
Deeply exploring the natural, local, world is far more interesting to me than exploring different cultures. There is so much to learn, on every level, from the microscopic to the big philosophical picture. I am constantly humbled, thankful I have access, and reminded that nature has something to teach us at every turn.
YES!!! I’m blown away by just seeing the different plants in another state. Contemplating a tiny seed with amazement and wondering at the process of what it will become….magic!
I find it amusing how we, want to see an ancient building, on a far off shore, while the people of those places, want to come see our natural wonders!
Go to a National Park and you will find many MANY people from some far off country visiting it.
We are so lucky in this country!
You do realize there are natural wonders, national parks, etc all over the world to see and admire. We are off on a trip soon only to add the final two states to our travels so we have visited them all.
An inspiring story !
Here’s an update. Carol is in Africa after 29 hours of travel and several connections- with no glitches. She has found the gorillas after hiking hours in rain and mud above her ankles. Got within three feet of gorilla family who were peacefully eating lunch. You go girl.
wonderful – so fun to hear the updates! The time and effort people go through to travel genuinely amazes me. I can’t even motivate myself to book a 2 hour flight! But it’s sure great to hear about other people’s journeys. I’m the only friend or family member that actually enjoys hearing all about someone’s trip and seeing their photos/videos. It’s my way of traveling, without the time, expense and exhaustion.
An enthusiastic start on her retirement journey. She is young yet. We shall see if her go go go attitude survives past 75. I hope it does, but we’ve all seen others slowed by age. Her carefree manner of money non-management may catch up with her. She’d do well to read Humble Dollar and Quinn’s Commentary.
I think if you knew her, you may feel differently. I have no doubt her attitude will never change even if age forces a bit less activity. As far as money goes, she has a pension, SS plus $ – just like me now that I think about it. I’m 79 and my wife is 83 and we are about to depart on our next cross country adventure. Good health is a blessing, money helps, but it’s all about attitude as well.