Scribbles from R Scott Jones
May 31st, 2024

Attempting a mini retirement


The first time I heard the term "mini retirement" was in Tim Ferriss’s (unfortunately named book) The Four Hour Workweek. The underlying idea is to not wait to do stuff that's important to you until a future that may not arrive; that with a bit of planning and (ahem) "lifestyle design," you might be able to prioritize something a lot earlier than you had expected.

Several years ago, my wife and I started exploring the concept for our own lives. We were already making some big decisions about designing the life we wanted, which (if you know us) naturally focused on our ability to travel. That resulted in us sitting down for one of those SWOT analyses, and choosing to expand our time freedom over taking the next step in my career in public lands conservation—a pretty drastic step, but one that was aligned with what we wanted in life. (Being intentional in your life choices is an underrated superpower.)

But as we thought about what we wanted for our life—as much travel as we can while we're young enough to enjoy and benefit from it, plus a quality retirement that still allows us to fill in any travel gaps we've left while traveling a bit more slowly—we realized that our life planning was based on an underlying assumption.

We assumed that we would enjoy full-time, long term travel—the type we had envisioned doing for a significant portion of our retirement years. Our plans revolved around the idea that we were dying to travel, travel, travel to all the countries we haven't yet visited, as soon as the shackles of full-time employment were removed (in 4741 days, not that we're counting down or anything).

We realized that, while we most certainly enjoy relatively long and frequent trips, that we are basing lots of decisions on that untested assumption. Neither of us has traveled extensively for an extended period of time, let alone internationally. The longest trip either of us has done was the seven straight weeks of fast-paced travel I did back in 2016 when I visited 100 national park units in 100 days to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Parks System.

But that's different than spending the majority of a year in foreign countries, eating unfamiliar foods, struggling with a foreign language, experiencing new cultures, constantly pushing your comfort zone, missing your friends, and so forth.

If we didn't actually enjoy that experience, then we may make significantly different financial, travel, and lifestyle decisions between now and retirement. So we wanted to test it out, by traveling overseas for three straight months. And, of course, it would serve as a nice break for both of us as well.

Of course, taking off for three months is easier said than done. The three big limiting factors have been my wife's job in the federal government (which does not allow for remote work, and absolutely does not at best, very rarely grants time off over three weeks), my dad's health (I've been a primary caregiver for him, and his health tanks every trip we take), and of course, the extra money we'd need to make it a reality.

So four years ago, we started seriously strategizing on these topics. How could we make this happen, even if we thought it was a long shot at the time?

We came up with a years-long plan for how to position my wife's job in a way that more easily allows for extended time off, both as a result of a new position, shifting job responsibilities, covering other maternity absences, and most of all, accumulated goodwill. Fingers crossed that we're successful on this front, but—remarkably—things seem to be coming together...

On the second topic, we knew that my dad wouldn't live forever. We probably couldn't travel in an extended fashion while he was still alive—he lost 20 pounds during the three weeks we were away in December, for instance—because his health was so directly tied to my involvement in his life. But he had survived countless episodes that doctors did not anticipate him surviving, even beating hospice. So we had long since stopped predicting what would happen; it was just too hard to bet against him. He finally passed earlier this month.

And finally, on the third challenge, we reduced our monthly spending rate and saved enough money to cover our expected expenses, both for direct travel expenses and for maintaining things at home. We'll use a combination of vacation time we roll over each year, accumulated vacation time from the current year, administrative leave, and several weeks of unpaid leave (we saved for this, too).

Things may have finally aligned for us to attempt a mini retirement.

So where would we go? Well, we've already built two sets of three-month itineraries.

One involves seeing just about all of South America, and the other involves visiting the Balkans. South America would work best for a Nov-Feb travel window (which would also allow us to more efficiently split vacation time across two calendar years), but would revisit a number of places my wife has already been. The Balkans trip would fall more like Mar-Jun or so, be entirely new terrain for both of us, but cost about twice as much.

I'm not sure when we'll decide, but we're actively weighing the options and revisiting the itineraries. Of course, a choice only matters if we can successfully get the time off approved, so we're not exactly making any official plans just yet. But we'll want to be ready if/when the moment arrives. Fingers crossed we can pull this off!

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