March 11, 2018

Is Retirement Like a Vacation? Yes, But Not How You Might Think



People who are not retired might assume that retirement is like a never-ending vacation: no schedule, no endless commutes or meetings, no worrying about being down-sized. Live where you want, do what you want when you want to.

I will be the first to say that retirement is fabulous. This June will mark 18 years since I left my working days behind. And, in many ways retirement is like a vacation, but maybe not quite in the way you think.

A well-deserved break from work, a vacation, includes:

1) Sunny days, but also cloudy days, rainy days, or snowy days.

2) Days that are exciting, open you up to new experiences, and create lasting memories.

3) Days that are routine: laundry that must be done, food shopping or other chores, a headache lasts too long, you are feeling grumpy or out of sorts.

4) Days that are disappointing: an excursion is cancelled, a promising museum is not worth the price, the weather means no zip lining.

5) Spending more money than you had planned on a fancy restaurant meal, some nice mementos or decorations for your home, splurging on a convertible or SUV instead of the compact car you had reserved, does serious damage to your vacation budget.

6) Going home re-energized and ready to take on the world.


Guess what, retirement has the same combination of days, events, thrills, disappointments, budget-busters, and energy as your last vacation. How could that be? Retirement is all about freedom, making choices, avoiding what you don't like, having time to indulge in what you love.


Well, yes and no. Retirement is a time of life when you are more likely to be free to follow your dreams, passions, and interests. Time is more under your control unstead of your master. You build your schedule more to match your preferences. 

But, retirement is also just a stage of living. All the stuff you don't like or want to ignore doesn't simply go away with your last paycheck. The sun shines, the rainy days come, the bad weather spoils plans. Laundry piles up, food must be replaced. Doctor appointments can't be put off forever.

The car doesn't start, the porch roof leaks, the dishwasher stops cleaning dirty dishes. Your taxes are still due in April.


The two part series of a few weeks ago about getting out of debt and turning one's life around were strong example of this blend of the happy and the sad, along with the mix of living one's dream and having that dream interrupted by unpleasant reality.

Both true stories ended well, though life might still hold a few surprises for Barbara and Laura. If that happen I'm quite confident both women will find a way back on track to a place that satisfies them.


To expect retirement to be a time of never-ending pleasure and satisfying your wants is to set yourself up for disappointment. That's just like expecting your dream vacation to be a perfect 7 or 10 days with no problems, no hassles, no setbacks. 

To expect retirement to be another stage of life, with all the ups and downs that implies, is to be properly prepared for what will come. You have a satisfying retirement within your grasp, and that is the ultimate definition of a vacation.



23 comments:

  1. Bob, your post immediately brought to mind our family vacation from last year – a nearly six week long, cross country National Parks camping trip. Our daughter had just graduated from high school and it was her last major vacation with us. (Our son had “aged out” several years prior.) We traveled up the west coast, visited nine National Parks and enjoyed incredible adventures in each. We also broke down twice – once with the truck (failed transmission, still under warranty) and once with the travel trailer (a blown wheel bearing which damaged the axle) plus there was that nerve-wracking visit to the Urgent Care Center. It was a spectacular vacation and a terrible vacation. Despite all of our planning, life happens as it will. I would bet that the people who are generally the happiest and most satisfied (whether retired or in the workforce) are the ones who plan for the rainy days, celebrate the sunny ones and maintain a positive attitude and a sense of humor when life throws them a curve.

    Do you know that, with a little help from technology, you can actually buy a new truck over the phone if you have a good relationship with your local dealer? Don’t ask me how I know . . .

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    1. The old saying that you can't know what happiness is without sadness is true. It is often the case that problems or mishaps are the basis for the strongest memories and stories of a trip away.

      We celebrate and soak up the good days, tolerate and learn from the not so good, and move forward. That is life, and a vacation.

      We

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  2. It is funny to think about retirement as a vacation of sorts. Have only been retired for four years but at this point it feels as if this is the life I have always led. I very seldom ever think of my work years, except for some of the positive like overseas trips and the like. Although I tend to move on very quickly when it comes to life, perhaps many people feel the same way. Your point around retirement being a stage of living absolutely holds true, and is what you make of it. Hate it and you will be miserable for a long, long time. Embrace it and it can be a great ride as long as it lasts. Best wishes to you and Betty, and all the readers on this journey to or into retirement!

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    1. Thanks for the well wishes, Chuck. Same to you and Deb.

      The people who will be disappointed during retirement likely entered this phase of life with some misconceptions. It is no different from any other stage of life in terms of the highs and lows, problems and promises, except you are more in charge. Having more control over time and what commitments are kept or passed up makes all the difference.

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  3. I actually feel like retirement is a vacation most of the time.Living here in Arizona, we have our tea on the patio in the morning, the pool and waterfall and inviting to look at till it's warm enough to swim.Even with Ken working part time, he works from a home office. No commute. Takes off when we travel. We sleep in, we take off at spur of moment. Lakes, parks,library. All on weekdays when less crowded.. Still have daily life stuff to deal with. But most of the time compared to how the working years were,especially, I do still have that "vacation " feeling even after 4 years! I have to pinch myself when I walk down the street to play Hand and Foot with my group, and we can even have wine with lunch sometimes!!!!

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    1. You and Ken went through some more difficult times figuring out what worked for you. Now, you have found the best balance. Real life is still with you but how you spend the bulk of your time is much more under your control...like being on vacation!

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    2. Wow Madeline....you make me want to retire to Arizona...lol!

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    3. The summers are HOT, but we have been here over 30 years and love it.

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    4. Yes, that first year was rough! But, when we moved to the mountains Ken was certainly on permanent vacation!! LOL!! It just didn't work that way for ME, in the woods.I couldn't bear the climate, the remoteness of a small town, the conservative climate of the politics and people who lived there, and so many other elements .. and it's funny, when the woods WERE our vacation place (when we worked!) I loved it! Go figure.Life is a rubik's cube, I guess, you just keep turning it in your hands with faith and a sense of fun and eventually all the pieces fit together! We're in a good space right now! Yes, anonymous,come to Arizona!!!!!

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  4. It's like vacation, except you never have to go back to work. But I think the key to a happy retirement is to: start something new. Doesn't matter what it is, as long as it's something that you want to do ... and all the better of you can do it with other people.

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    1. A retirement that stays stuck with one way of living or one routine would be quite mind-numbing to me, you, and a lot of others. Try something new, anything new, and life is better.

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    2. Tom, I think you're right--with freedom and time you get to pick up new hobbies and interests-- I have taken up playing cards,(Hand and Foot with two girlfriend groups) and water color. I always have done crafts but get to do it more. Ken has taken up guitar.It's lovely to have... tiiiiime!!!!

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  5. It's better than a vacation because I get to stay in my favorite place (home) and I don't have to pack or get on a plane to get there!

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    1. How true. Also vacations end after a set period of time, retirement doesn't until you shuffle off your mortal coils!

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  6. Without the 60 hour work week it is definitely different, vacation like maybe. My wife is like Galen in that her favorite place to be home doing what she does each and every day. I am an adventurer so I often consider her life as mind-numbing, as you say. It took quite a few years of before we settled into something that make us both happy. For the last few years I have been traveling solo on 2 -4 day trips at least once a month from Spring through Fall while she remains at home. I just wish we had found this solution earlier.. ha...

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    1. If it work for both of you, it is a perfect solution. I know you love your truck with the camper shell and taking photos as you explore.

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  7. Great post today. You hit the nail on the head. My favorite thing about retirement is no longer having to put up with mean people. I was a medical assistant in an extremely busy office and boy, could it get stressful. The mean ones are very few but they could ruin your day.

    Now, I make a point of smiling and joking with everyone I meet who has to deal with people all day long.

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    1. I have found if I am pleasant and use the medical assistant's name she (sometimes a man) seems much more interested in me and my care. It is just common sense, but ignored by too many people, as you well know.

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    2. The medical providers are pushed so hard by insurance companies to see more people per day to make up for the awful levels of reimbursement, that the whole office is always stressed out. ONE of the awful things about our country's health care system.I agree with Bob,treat the front desk as nicely as you can..they are just doing what they are told they have to do.Facing a waiting room full of people WAITING while the doc is two hours behind, is..truly awful. Hope for some reform (UNIVERSAL health care???) in my lifetime??

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  8. Another accurate and insightful post! We just returned from our first real retirement vacation. As Tom said above, the wonderful thing about it was that, upon our return, we did not have to slug in to work today. We just returned to more "vacation".

    However, as you pointed out, life does not stop during vacations. On the second last day of the trip, we had a text from our son (to whom we had loaned our car during the trip) that the car had a flat tire. So the first order of business on our return was changing that tire and taking it in to get patched (and teaching him how to change a tire on his own). Oh well, at least we didn't need to have that vehicle to get to work and didn't have to fit those repairs in around a work day!

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    1. Good story about the tire...I went through the same thing. Then I convinced her to get AAA coverage!

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  9. “But, retirement is also just a stage of living. All the stuff you don't like or want to ignore doesn't simply go away with your last paycheck” - I like this point about retirement being a stage of living. Although retirement can feel like a never ending vacation in some ways because one is no longer subject to the rigours of the workplace, I am not quite ready to to fully embrace it as a time just for fun and hedonistic self indulgence (notions associated with vacation). I would like to have a retirement in which I am still engaged in meaningful ways with the world and contributing in some way. Also, as you point out, the goals and dilemmas of our lives don’t just disappear with retirement. It reminds me of an insight that I had when I took my first big international trip in my early twenties - wherever I went in the world, there I was (meaning, I could not escape myself).

    Jude

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    1. Personally, I would find a permanent "vacation" type of retirement quite boring. Even sitting on my favorite Hawaiian beach for days on end would no longer satisfy after awhile. We need some stimulation to feel alive and productive.

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