where to go next-24 months of exploration

PCT Oregon

Deciding “where to go next” is a big topic for us. Here’s my answer; I don’t know. We had a rough master plan put together when we left our jobs two years ago. Thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, India and a solid maybe to somewhere European. Toss in a smattering of random trips, and we’d arrive at a complete 24 months of adventure, and we’d then head back to our respective careers.

A strange thing happened about midway through our two years…a world wide pandemic and family challenges. Instead of global exploration we returned to the United States to sit and wait, and wait.

After waiting, and waiting…we decided to purchase a truck and a truck camper to explore the United States. We’re now traveling around the United States in our camper truck. It’s a country mile from what we planned, yet, here we are, adjusting our plans of “where to go next” on a sometimes daily basis.

How did we did decide to pull the trigger and hit the open road two years ago?

When to go: pulling the trigger

I had to admit to myself that I wanted more out of this phase of my life than a steady paycheck. (It’s also OK to admit that a steady paycheck is the most important thing in your life!) Being rather risk adverse, I remained at my last job for 18 years.

The happiness arc of my last job

If you know me, you know about my love of graphs! Here’s a graph I began creating in 2017. Calendar year versus happiness. I started reverse plotting my major job accomplishments and my level of job happiness for each of the 18 years. The blue dots told a clear story of decreasing happiness and diminishing career accomplishments. I stayed at that job, too long, out my own fear of change. (On a side note, I took out specific product names and the initials of my managers, but you get the overall graph concept, yes?)

I found “The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick)” to be a great read.

Where to go next: don’t wait for retirement

We made a decision, a long time ago, that we didn’t want to wait until retirement to really enjoy life. Four heart surgeries gave me the gift of a honest, self-administered, longevity evaluation. As much as I may not want to admit it, I may not be immortal. Not to worry though, I’m still buying green bananas.

I sat through an employer sponsored 401k investment seminar a few weeks before I left my job. I hadn’t attended one of these little ditties in about a decade, so it seemed like I was overdue! The 401k folks were aggressively pushing the concept that we should plan our financial investments as if we are going to live to be 100 years old.  I was mortified when a co-worker began quietly weeping.  Seriously?  100 years old?  Shut the front door on your way out!  I’ve stuck a fork in the dirt at 85 years old.  Maybe I’ll live longer than 85, but 100? I think that having an honest discussion, about our own projected “life arc”, is beneficial.

Where to go next: employment future

I worry much less today, than I worried when I was employed, about my employment future.  The worst has happened! Oh No!  I’m unemployed!  Two years ago I was a bit consumed with the thought of entering the job market again, keeping up my contact list, engaging with my former colleagues, etc. 

Today, I’m not as worried about it.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s still on my mind. Yet, whatever is going to happen, will happen. I do keep in loose contact with a few former colleagues, but that’s more out of a desire to stay in contact with them and maintain friendships, not out of a desire to maintain business contacts.

Where to go next: What do you “do” for a living?

I’m still not great about answering the question about what I “do” for a living.  I’ve been working with my dad setting up his financial investments.  The financial advisor asked me what I “do”.  Uh, “unemployed?  Retired?” (Even using “retired” word is enough to send my own financial advisor into heart palpation’s!)   When I filled out legal paperwork to assist with his finances, the paperwork asked for my employer and address.  Uh….”Self employed?”

I suppose it’s natural. People that we meet want to know what we “do” for a living. We’re still relatively young, we can move quickly for a good buffet, so we don’t necessarily look to be a exact match for so many other older nomadic travelers. It costs money to live a nomadic lifestyle and everyone kind of wants to know how we afford this lifestyle.

In non-official discussions I now respond to the employment question with something along the lines of “I’m a recovering Engineer.” If they press for more of an answer I’ll give them “Once upon a time a I was a fairly smart fellow. Today, not so much.”

Where to go next: LinkedIn (thinks it) has the answer!

LinkedIn still drives me a bit batty with jobs that look fantastic!  About once a month a really plum looking job will float through my In-Box, and it still gives me pause.  If I were at home in Portland, I’d jump on these opportunities, but I’m not in Portland, so I don’t. 

Perhaps it’s my mindset, and not the jobs themselves, that’s slowly evolving. It seems like there are more jobs that are appealing to me today than were appealing to me two years ago. This may also be related to our dwindling savings accounts!

Where to go next: I wish…

I can’t tell you how many people we’ve met during the past two years that tell us “I wish I was doing what you’re doing! I wish, I wish, I wish….”  To which I say, “just hush up and do it!”  Now that we’re out here traveling, we meet people ALL THE TIME that have opted to do something completely different with their lives and have walked away from homes, cars, careers and families.  When we visit family or friends at their homes, we’re the two wing nuts that walked away from great jobs.  Out here, on the road, we’re just part of the normal, everyday scenery.  I wish that we had acted sooner, rather than later.

I interviewed (Yes, interviewed with a list of questions!) everyone I knew who had walked away from good job to be travel for more than a year. Wanna know something crazy? Every single person told me that I should just do it, they had very few regrets to their choices.

Walking away from everything absolutely requires difficult choices and sacrifices.

Where to go next: End of life finances

I’ve become completely absorbed with my parents finances during the past 18 months. I’m taking a hard look at the remaining resources of two mid-80’s aged, relatively “good” savers. I’m eyeballing the fiscal reality of two different care facilities and their individual associated costs. Here’s my conclusion; it’s almost impossible to save enough for the extended cost of two care facilities unless you’re seriously rolling in the dough. It’s quite easy to hit $100k, per person, per year, and that’s on the low end….and it’s all cash baby!

So, our financial reality is that if we live into our 80’s, and we both end up requiring an assisting living/memory care facilities, we’ll end up broke at some point. While that’s kind of grim, it’s also a bit freeing. We’ve made good decisions and hopefully invested our money wisely. Yet, even having done that, we’ll loose it all if we need prolonged medical care. This isn’t a statement of right versus wrong, it’s just statement of reality for us as Americans. At some point, everyone will (well almost everyone), if they live long enough, run out of retirement money.

When I strip this kind of financial craziness thinking out of my lexicon, that I must be able to take care of myself financially through my own death, retirement planning is actually easier. 

Where to go next: This is a one way ticket

There are many ways to create large changes in our lives without quitting the job, selling the cars, selling the house and sticking out our thumbs for adventure. Yet, that’s what Noelle and I opted to do, and it’s working for us so far.

We’ve met so many ‘almost’ fellow travelers who are just waiting for the situation to be almost perfect before they make that leap into the unknown. What’s the worst thing that can happen? We’ve already shit on our shoes, so we can rightly testify, you’ll survive.

So, Damn the torpedoes!  Four Bells!  Full speed!

What’s stopping you?

6 Comments

  1. Heidi Halverson

    UPDATE: I didn’t get the application engineer position that would have involved travel and working from home, and there may not have been a position – still not sure if the company knows what they want. This was a case where a recruiter interviewed me for a position that was not advertised on the company’s website.

    Anyhow I got a position in May where I’m working as a commissioning engineer. I test out the facilities (mostly HVAC, but also electrical) like chillers, cooling towers, boilers, air handling units, terminal units in rooms, and data integration of these systems with the building automation system. I work in an office with a rag-tag team of new hires, mostly immigrants with little experience. There’s a lot of prep work – developing test scripts, managing data on assets and install status. Nothing is really that hard, but the project as a whole can be overwhelming. These past few months I’ve been leading a project that is a new hospital and it has been a lot of work, but I like it. It’s gratifying to be part of building a new hospital and making sure all the systems work together. I really like working with other people on a team. Working alone is lonely, especially in a new position, and in commissioning where we are verifying the install to find non-compliance issues – so we come in and the end to find the mistakes – so we are not well liked and it takes time to build up a level of trust to have a working relationship. But I work for an engineering firm and commissioning engineers are the cool guys at the engineering firm. It’s fun to do field work and i like learning something new, or a lot of things new. I like working with the control techs and the install contractors.

    Not sure the purpose of this comment. Mostly I re-read my prior comment and this is a follow up. My graph would show positive happiness as the dependent variable for this period of my life. I guess I am curious as to what is next for you two. Making money doesn’t necessarily make you happy, but not making money and drawing down your savings will make you less happy over time, I know from experience. So yeah, it’s 2021, update the graph and tell us your plan for the future. Not dead yet… Keep going.

    Reply
  2. Donna

    I enjoy your graphs. Must be the accountant brain. They just make sense to me. I’m thankful for the time we’ve been able to connect and get to know you both better, thanks to your adventures. The door is always open when you miss the heat and dust of the desert.

    Our next adventure starts with, grandbabies! Two weeks until the first is expected. I’m off to face this new adventure in a few days. I can hardly wait.

    Reply
  3. Karen E Huck

    Great thoughts. Graphs still don’t get them, sorry! Ya know things still come up on Linkedin for me as well and I think should I go back? But then I remember I’d have to manage people and then I’m like, nope! That’s why I walked away. And I use to love working with staff. So I dropped it all, quit! Never quit a job in my life and I’m so glad I did. Scary, but it was the right thing. I think we just get to a point that you say, I’m doing it. What the hell. Anyway I’m happy for you both I like to think of people like us a survivors who can reinvent ourselves.
    Keep traveling safely! Easter card was adorbs, thanks.

    Reply
  4. Heidi Halverson

    I love the graph. I could look at that for hours. I really want a follow up of 2018-2021. I love the irony of graphing subjective data for your own amusement. As if…

    Yes, I agree with your conclusions that old age is not affordable. The thing is that the average lifespan of someone in a nursing home is 18 months (preCOVID). So $100k/ yr works out to $150k total per person lifetime full care costs ON AVERAGE. Most of us have much more than that saved up by the time we reach retirement. Just like everyone else, the ppl who live to 100 are relatively healthy, active, up until the end. Generally ppl don’t need full time care for 20+ years of their retirement. As for the costs you spend what you have then you are eligible for Medicaid. Between Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid we take care of our seniors, regardless of their savings. It’s not a great system, but it sort of functions. If you are *lucky* you die instantly in old age at the very point where you have achieved a full life, yet before debilitating health issues of old age creep in. My uncle just died last week, 88, was living at home, fell, and went to a rehabilitating facility, but he had problems swallowing, aspirated, got pneumonia and died within a week. He had had heart problems, but his story is very common, where a fall or crisis of some sort puts an elder in the hospital or care facility and they decline very quickly and that is it. We are all in the process of dying, some of us choose to live. Plan for the future, but celebrate today because today is a gift and tomorrow is not guaranteed.

    Happy for you and Noelle. And I feel for you. Dealing with my mother-in-law’s illness and death and aftermath sucked so bad. She had the money for all the care she needed but was too afraid to hear what the doctors had to say – she was dying – and was fiercely unwilling to sell the farm. So she lived like a homeless person in the only home she had ever known and fear prevented her from accepting help. I get it but wow! Very hard to witness her reckless choices. It wasn’t as hard for me as it was for Kent because I have more emotional distance from his family.

    I love traveling and miss it. I have a natural curiosity that is satisfied by a changing environment. But more than that traveling forces you to live in the present, you don’t have that wanna get away feeling or that anticipation/dread for holidays vacations, etc. Everything is here and now.

    I am being recruited in LinkedIN to work for a start-up company doing technical support of sales of a new product. It is a remote position that involves travel. Which is something I really haven’t considered up to now. Kent recently retired – a full pension makes retirement an easy choice – and now it makes more sense. The pandemic has normalized remote employment, and I like the idea of it. You work from home and then travel for jobs, projects, sales meetings, etc. I don’t know if it will work out but I like the idea of my employment not being tied to any specific location. Two of my neighbors work remotely from home and others are doing so temporarily for through the pandemic that never ends.

    I think you are a good writer, I find your writing very enjoyable to read. You could try freelance writing where you submit stories with a unique perspective on stuff. It wouldn’t pay tremendously well but would be a nice side gig that would bring in some $. If you are ambitious you could write a guide book or something similar. It comes down to what do you want to do. If you think about it, there are a lot of ppl out there who work from home and write or work temporary gigs and make their own hours take on projects that interest them. For right now I would say that you are temporarily retired. I’ve been “retired” for 15 years and getting back into the workforce is a challenge because ppl think I being retired is sitting around doing nothing, and it’s not. I have a lot of responsibilities to my family and taking care of that is in many ways work, and I don’t get paid for it.

    Good luck to you both and thank you for sharing. Life is a journey. Safe travels.

    Reply
  5. Gregory Fast

    The promise of a graph hooked me into opening this article immediately!

    Reply
  6. Big Dummy

    Long term care policy.

    Example: $500,000 deposited now buys TWO unlimited $120,000/year LTC insurance benefit packages…if in good health. Caveats apply. Your cardiac issues may not be the kind that impact LTC usage (I.e., maybe it’s the kind that kills you quick).

    That’s how one affords it…

    Reply

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