December 21, 2011

Retirement Road Trip: What Can You Learn?

Taking a vacation is one of the real joys of a satisfying retirement. Sometimes that means a night away at a local hotel or resort. It may mean a long weekend when your calendar is amazingly open. Every once in awhile it means something truly out of the ordinary: a cruise through the Caribbean, a week on the beaches in Hawaii or Mexico. No matter how elaborate or inexpensive, a vacation always has the possibility of enriching your life in ways you didn't expect. It becomes more than just a break in your routine.

In the spring of 2010 my wife and I took a driving trip. This wasn't a two hour jaunt to Flagstaff, or 6 hours over the desert and mountains to San Diego. This was a long distance endurance test: 25 days covering 5,000 miles and eight western states. Named The Drive Till You Drop Road Trip we saw the country, experienced bizarre weather, lived together in close quarters for almost a month and not only survived but prospered.  

We even managed to handle a major adjustment without a meltdown. When we were as far away as we could possibly be from Phoenix (Port Townsend, WA) our eldest daughter called to tell us our third grandchild was coming early and asked when would we be home. The answer was "as soon as we can." The return 1,500 miles was covered in less than three days and in time for the birth of Kassidy.   

When we were able to catch our breath, unpack, and download 3,200 photographs, we asked ourselves was it worth it? What did we learn? Quite a lot, actually:

Compromise and patience. For something this involved, we began planning 6 months before leaving in late May. Thank goodness for the Internet and AAA's maps. With a set limit of days away and so many places we could see, there was a lot of compromise involved. After some give and take on both our parts, we developed a viable itinerary.

Even the best-made plans need to be adjusted. Consistently rotten weather for a good portion of the trip forced us to re-route and re-plan on the fly. In late May we didn't expect to encounter snow, hail, sleet, days of heavy rain, fog, and temperatures in the 40's. We certainly didn't pack for it. A laptop and WIFI allowed for last minute reservation changes....along with a little luck and a lot of prayer.

Seeing America up close and personal is a thrill The country looks totally different from the window of a car than from the window of an airplane. Small towns are often interesting, welcoming and attractive. People are generally friendly and helpful. Tell them you are on a long road trip and everyone expresses envy. Little known attractions and historical sites are everywhere. With the freedom of a car, we were able to stop where and when we wanted.

Seeing your traveling partner up close and personal is a delight. There is no better opportunity to learn more about your traveling partner and yourself than being in close proximity for 25 days. My wife and I both came home feeling the time together was a tremendous bonding experience. Even after 34 years of marriage we discovered new things about each other than will help us weather the next 34 years.

Time away from routine is important.  The change in your schedule, the different foods, sights, and sounds can act as a tremendous dash of refreshment. Having someone else do the cooking and cleaning is hard to turn down. I knew there were things happening at home I'd have to deal with upon our return, but while away it seemed like someone else's life.

Creating forever memories is priceless. We finally decided to take the trip because we began to worry we'd run out of the ability or opportunity if we kept delaying. Now, we have the satisfaction of doing what we set out to do, and creating memories that nothing can take away from us. The money we spent was an investment in us and worth every penny (lots of pennies!).

We like small vacations. A weekend away or even two nights at one of the Scottsdale resorts is a tremendously invigorating experience. But, this road trip was unique. No other trip to Europe or Hawaii or wreck-diving in Bermuda came close to being as intense a learning experience. I would heartily recommend one as part of your journey in building a satisfying retirement.

June in West Yellowstone

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  1. What fun! Hubby and I talk about this a lot. Did you stay in hotels? Or camp or RV? Curious. I'd like to hear more how you did it.

    Yes....envy....but good for you!

  2. Morrison,

    We stayed in motels/hotels and B&B's. I had plotted out the trip ahead of time and had booked most lodging before we left, especially around Yellowstone, The Olympic Rain Forest, and the Bed & Breakfast places.

    But, because the weather was so horrible we were thrown off the schedule a few times or couldn't get to where we were supposed to be. So, out came the laptop at any place with WiFi, I found an alternative, booked it and then canceled the place we couldn't make. Only once (Olympia, WA) did I lose a deposit.

    When we were in Port Townsend, Washington (just a few miles from Canada) and our daughter called to say her baby was going to be early, we abandoned our leisurely trip down the Oregon and California coast and beat a hasty trip home.

    That meant 7 canceled reservations and staying at whatever was available when I got tired of driving. But, we made it back to Phoenix in just under 4 days and was there for our granddaughter's birth.

  3. We love to travel also. Sometimes somewhere that requires great planning and sometimes to a place where we just sit. Always fun. and always good to leave it open for changes. We so enjoy the people we meet or the freedom to stay somewhere we really like for an extra time. Much easier to travel when no having to juggle around kid's schooling, etc.

    Sounds like you two have traveling well in hand.

  4. Yep, I love those long trips. One this year will be across the gulf coast to the seaboard and then up to charleston-not sure what way I will get back

  5. I am filing this idea away in the back of my mind for when my husband retires.

  6. Julie (Midlife),

    Our next long road trip will be structured differently: more sitting and fewer 300 mile days. We'd like to find small, off-freeway towns and explore them fully over several days. Where is the question, but probably start in Maryland and then into Tennessee. Maybe I should start planning now!


    We have played with the idea of driving from Phoenix to San Antonio and then to New Orleans. Betty hasn't been to the Crescent City before.


    The planning is so enjoyable you can start now!

  7. I love this! My spouse and I are planning a six week Pacific Northwest RV trip the summer of 2013, the first full year after his early retirement at 56, and I am so excited I can't stand it. Of course, I get excited just taking our RV (a modest, but comfortable, Fleetwood popup trailer) out for a quickie weekend trip, so my excitement threshold may be lower than most peoples, but still!

    Anyhow, I am quite confident there will be days when things don't go exactly as planned and my spouse and I get a bit, ummm, irritated with each other. However, as someone wise once said, though we may get irritated with each other on occasion, we never get bored, and we never stop loving each other!

    And yes, it's just as you said - we need to go away so we can come home and reappreciate our more normal routines. And vice versa too for same.

  8. Oops - quick follow up - I've heard the pleasure factor of planning for and taking a vacation broken down as follows:

    1/3 is in the planning
    1/3 is in the doing
    1/3 is in the remembering

    Which is why I've begged my husband to please, please, never surprise me with a trip. Selfishly, I get far too much pleasure from the planning portion of a trip to ever want to have it taken away.

  9. ETTamara,

    We drove from Phoenix to Zion National Park, then through Salt Lake and Ogden to Yellowstone. We went through Jackson Hole, up through Montana with plans to see Glacier National Park. In early June it was still closed due to snow, so we continued through Spokane and on to Olympia National Park which is incredible. The rain forests are unbelievable.

    We love the rugged Oregon Coast and enjoy towns like Newport and Florence. Northern California is just as rugged and remote and worth some time.

    You will thoroughly enjoy the trip.

  10. ETTamara,

    You are right...planning is almost as much fun as going because you have all options available to you. Pulling out maps, scouring the Internet for places to stay and things to do is almost a hobby of mine!

  11. My favorite vacation in recent years was not the trip to Paris or the one to Greece. No, it was a road trip with two of my daughters, and my nephew and his wife. It wasn't as ambitious as yours, but we drove down the Pacific coast from Oregon, through the redwoods, and down to San Francisco. We stopped when we wanted to, took detours, laughed a lot, and had a grand time. Even with five of us in the car, it was roomier than a plane, and there were no airport hassles. And no bag fees! I decided right then that that was the way to go!

  12. We did the Maine coast two years ago. Lobster rolls at every turn.
    Best laid plans need adjustment is high on my list:)

  13. If our next road trip starts in Maryland that will involve a flight over and back just so we don't spend 10 days to get to the starting point and home again! But otherwise I am in your planes, no strip searches, no shoe removal, no surly flight attendants.

    Actually, Betty and I have been discussing a long train trip. We both love train travel. It is expensive (too much to make rational sense) but the experience of traveling by train is one of our favorite ways to see the country up close. Our first choice will probably be the route from L.A. up to coast to Seattle.

  14. Janette,

    I love the Maine coast. Growing up for part of my life in New England made trips to New Hampshire and Maine logical choices for the family. Lobster and clam rolls...yummy!

  15. Before we decided to move completely to a new state (as well as me working longer), we talked seriously of selling our home, moving the possessions into storage, buying an RV, and traveling the country or two years. Since we would not be paying high property and other taxes, as well as fees, I had estimated it would only cost us $10-15K at most more than if we just sat in a house in NY. At the end of the two years we would have decided on what part of the country we liked the most, and settle there permanently.

    While we are very happy with the decision to move first, and I still enjoy that whole paycheck thing, something still tells me it would have been one heck of a two years. Your trip, even if somewhat shorter, brought back some of those memories. Appreciate it, Bob.

  16. Chuck,

    I'd never buy an RV due to the high cost, depreciation, and insurance. But, I'd love to take a month trip in a rented one. Even though it would cost as much as a month in Hawaii it would be a great experience.

  17. To all Readers,

    I'll be away from a computer for a few days. I'll react to any comments upon my return.

  18. If you can survive bad weather on a vacation, you can survive anything. Sounds like you had a fine time, including the finale. Good for you!

  19. It’s like grandma on my dear mother’s side always used to say, “Just sleeping in a different bed at night makes me feel like I’ve been on vacation."

    Because she was a depression era survivor, I think I understand grandma’s motivation quite well. When discussing vacations and travel in general for the family, emphasis was always placed on the expense. A result of this is apparently to not travel often. Instead only venture to someone’s nearby guest bedroom — on vacation


  20. Bob,
    In one of your previous posts you mentioned about how your next trip might include stopping and exploring communities off the major interstates, and TN could be one of the states you decide to explore. We are in a smaller town/city right on/off I-40, the most traveled major highway in TN. Let me know if you decide to do so and we'll help you guys get a feel for the area.

  21. Sightings,

    Yes, the weather was uniformly miserable. After awhile it became almost funny and certainly added memorability to the trip. Of course, a week after we returned the weather was sunny and seasonable in the same areas that had given us sleet, snow and blinding rain!


    I'm just back from 2 nights in Flagstaff with the family for a quick Christmas getaway. The snow, 20 degree weather, and waking up in a different house made for a great break in routine. It was also nice to drive 2 hours back to Phoenix and find a 63 degree day.


    It is likely that trip will be in 2013. But, your offer of info and a personalized intro to the area is very generous, and one I will take you up on. We have friends in Chattanooga, and I had business clients in Knoxville, Memphis, and Nashville so I have a basic familiarity with the state. But, the back roads and quaint towns are what we want to see when we take that vacation.

    1. Hello all,

      You have created a very good site. By demonstrating the value of active retirement planning and overcoming common barriers to saving money, retirement road trip provides participants with information to help build confidence and a renewed sense of purpose and momentum. Thanks a lot....


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