In Different Places

Edmund Marsh

MY WIFE HAS PLANS for retirement. Travel plans. For too many years, she’s lived a mostly travel-free life. We’ve logged just a few short excursions to hither and yon.

Yes, there have been reasons for this dearth of travel that were largely beyond our control. But her biggest obstacle has been—and continues to be—me. I’m mostly a homebody, and I’ve been reluctant to change my ways.

My wife didn’t choose to love traveling. Rather, she was born into a family of travelers. When she was a child, her family spent summers and holidays camping all over California and other western states. Later, one of her brothers roamed Europe and elsewhere during 20 summer breaks from teaching school. I’ve written about another brother and a cousin who live abroad. In that article, there wasn’t enough space to list all my wife’s kin who live or have lived overseas. I suspect this familial wanderlust began when an ancestor decided to hitch up his wagon and head west.

By contrast, my family genetics incline us to move once and stay put. There are exceptions, but a majority of my family members hew to this trait. It was certainly true of my parents. My mother still lives in the house they bought in 1952, and she can list her traveling vacations on two hands—with fingers to spare. My genes tell me to be still.

Despite that, I’m not completely opposed to traveling. I’d like our retirement to have an ample amount. That’s where our differences start, however. My idea of ample falls short of what my wife considers barely adequate. While she’s dreaming of destinations and thinking of the itinerary details, I’m fine-tuning the latest iteration of my home project list. We’re both searching for happiness, but looking in different locales.

My wife, it seems, may be the one looking in the right place—or places. Research shows that frequent travelers are happier than non-travelers, though the effect may be short-lived. According to another study, just thinking about travel leads to more happiness. In addition, travel may make us healthier and more creative.

My wife doesn’t need to review the research. She already knows from experience that a change of scenery brings on a change of mood. As a college student, she traded her junior year at the University of California, Los Angeles, for a year at England’s University of Sussex. From that home base, she hopped all over Europe and even down to Morocco. After returning home, she jumped at the chance to travel when opportunity and her finances allowed. How did all this kinetic energy meet me, the immovable object? Travel, of course. She headed back east to Georgia for grad school and never returned to California.

I’m aware that many people share my wife’s passion for points unknown. Here on HumbleDollar, several contributors have written about their journeys, from learning while touring to just roving about. Indeed, Americans are currently traveling in record numbers. Am I the lone soul who is content just puttering about the homestead and avoiding the bother of schedules, questionable food and lugging heavy suitcases—there’s a reason they call it luggage—or do I have a kindred spirit out there?

I know there’s at least one other HumbleDollar writer who is happier staying home, and research indicates we have company. Data gathered from 13,000 people from across Europe show that our home can be an important contributor to wellbeing. In fact, 15% of our total happiness comes from our homes, according to the study. This is quite a bit more than the 6% from our earnings or the 3% derived from the job we do. A good part of the joy comes from a feeling of pride, but certain physical features of our home can also boost happiness.

For instance, a survey of 6,000 homeowners found that home design influenced the overall happiness of nine out of 10 of those surveyed. Moreover, fully 65% are happier at home than away, with a new or recently spruced-up home bringing the most happiness. The two attributes that have the largest impact on happiness: big windows and comfortable furniture.

What are my wife and I to do as we strive for a blissful retirement together? The research doesn’t offer clear guidance. Even so, I’m not worried. Yes, my wife and I favor different pursuits, but those take a backseat to our most important shared values, such as our commitment to our faith, family and friends. Science affirms that we’re on the right track.

We’ve been grounded for more than a few years, all but compelled to stay close to home by family and work responsibilities, plus the pandemic. It’s been no strain on me. I selfishly enjoyed not having to compete with vacation plans for time spent at home. For my wife, however, the tension has become palpable. It’s time to bend in her direction and cast off from the home port.

Accordingly, we’re planning a trip to California next year to take care of some family business and play at being tourists. A trip to the U.K. is slated for the following year. I’m not looking forward to the airports and so on, but I know it’ll be worth the hassle to see the smile on my wife’s face. And to tell the truth, since we’ll be in the neighborhood, there’s a little private garden over there that I’m hankering to see.

Ed Marsh is a physical therapist who lives and works in a small community near Atlanta. He likes to spend time with his church, with his family and in his garden thinking about retirement. His favorite question to ask a young person is, “Are you saving for retirement?” Check out Ed’s earlier articles.

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