A taste of mini retirement

I love that feeling of being in the clouds where earthly troubles seem far away

Ah, what bliss!

Ten days into my five and a half weeks holiday, I stop counting. The days roll into one another. The most pressing thing on my mind is where I’ll spend the day and then the meals I’ll enjoy.

I start to wonder – is this a taste of a mini retirement?

I am not specifically taking a mini retirement right now – a lot more planning is involved than what I have done for this trip. From what I understand it to be, a mini retirement is a planned break from your career and you are best to set a time frame and goals for it.  It is not just a holiday.

But the idea is now very intriguing.

I have never considered taking a mini retirement before. Because I started my FI journey later than most, my goal is to reach FI and hopefully retire earlyish within the next 10 years. So taking a mini retirement seems pointless as it will delay my final goal of retirement needlessly.

However, right now in my life journey, after saying goodbye to a stressful work situation, the idea of spending time away from work is very appealing.

How is this trip different from other holidays?

Of course I have been on holidays before, but this is my first overseas trip since pursuing FI.

I wrote about my first domestic holiday after starting my FI journey here –  there was an internal struggle between wanting to do it all and holding back due to the expenses. All the time thinking at the back of my mind – can I do this cheaper?

Because that was an expensive holiday, I was wracked with guilt.

Not remorse.

I loved all my experiences of being in Uluru and that dinner under the stars was just sensational.

Since then, I am learning to balance frugality with living with intention and letting go of guilt and expectations.

It is ok to spend money on what I value.

Bearing that in mind, I have scheduled in a few dinners at pricier restaurants in each city I’m visiting. As culinary adventures are my thing. And I do pay to attend any exhibitions I’m interested in or entrance fees into certain tourist sites and cooking lessons (um … those culinary adventures again!)

Where I have saved money is by using Qantas points for my major flights. I am staying in flats in London, Prague and Budapest instead of hotels. I eat street food whenever possible. And make some meals myself, buying ingredients from local supermarkets (or have been eating with family in London) instead of eating out at every meal. Or I eat a big meal, for example a decadent afternoon tea at The Savoy – which was my lunch and dinner for the day.

I use ING Direct’s debit card to withdraw cash in local currency or pay for online bookings or so I don’t pay foreign exchange fees.

I am conscious of what I am spending but I am not letting money be a deterrent if I want to experience something I value.

Having time to just be …

I am a multi tasker – I like to have lots of things on the go all the time. Unless I am physically or emotionally spent from work – then I just flop on the couch in a comatose state.

Even while on holidays, I like to cram in as many activities as I can. So I don’t waste the opportunity to explore a new city and experience its culture and food. It usually takes many hours from Australia to visit anywhere so time is precious at my destinations.

This holiday however, I have tried very hard not to schedule too many planned activities – besides deciding the general neighbourhood of where I’d like to be on any given day.

What I really need on this holiday is rest and rejuvenation.

So how am I doing?

I am sitting in a one bedroom flat in London overlooking a beautiful tree lined streets as I write this. It is less than a 10 minute walk to my brother’s flat.

Over the past week, I have spent more than 12 hours a day with my little niece – a time that I will always treasure. It has been awesome, watching her learn new skills such as cycling for the first time.

There are new arts and craft projects every day – making jellyfish and lobster from toilet rolls and pipe cleaners one day; painting ceramics another day. We practise reading and writing; adding and subtraction.

All this in between visiting the dinosaurs and whales at the Natural History Museum; looking at the planets at the Science Museum. Having paper aeroplane competitions. Making apple crumble and cookies.

I love her endless curiosity – she is going through the ‘why’ stage. Her enthusiasm for simple pleasures like watching a street performer ‘blowing’ the biggest bubbles is infectious.

Before arriving in London, I had a 2 day stopover in Hong Kong. I indulged in street food, walked from one charming village to another on Lamma Island (a little island about a 30 minute ferry ride from Hong Kong island) and learnt how to make dim sum from a local chef.

Look what I learnt to make in Hong Kong – rice rolls

Plus I am finally reading Work Optional by Tanya Hester – it’s been on my bedside table since February.

So it has been a perfect start to a holiday where I have time for myself and time with my family. I am looking forward to more weeks like this.

Moving forward …

Maybe I should consider having a longer break every year, not just the customary 4 weeks every full time worker is entitled to in Australia. We are also very lucky in that we are entitled to long service leave of 12 weeks every 7 to 10 years with the one employer depending on our industry. I have about five weeks accrued at this stage.

My brother and sister in law work demanding jobs. I have dealt with countless women with young children in my job. The guilt of these mums  and the pressure they are under to leave on time to pick up children in day care etc is real. While I don’t have children myself,  I understand the feeling of being torn – I have witnessed it often enough in my colleagues and friends.

I am considering offering to help them over the summer holiday period, even if it’s only for 4 weeks. If I can somehow organise a more economical accommodation option, I could extend that to more than 4 weeks. I do have 5 weeks of long service leave up my sleeve.

Yes, my journey to FI and retiring earlyish will be delayed.

But the privilege of spending time and sharing some of my niece’s days is priceless. And so rewarding.

Final thoughts

The idea of an 8 week break every year is very tantalising. I may not be able to name it as a mini retirement but hey, what’s in a name? I am going to let this idea sit and simmer and see where it leads.

And continue my saving goals – there is no harm in having as many options as possible. Which really is the whole point of being financially independent.

Are you planning a mini retirement? Are you slowing down to FI?

Travel – is it self indulgence or self care?

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

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I love travelling.

Discovering new destinations, learning about different cultures & customs, eating new foods, enjoying a new activity or mode of transport …. What’s not to love?

When I was growing up, we lived in a different country to the rest of the extended family. We always travelled in the school holidays, alternating between visiting two sets of grandparents in neighbouring countries.

So from a young age, I was very used to travelling – long days cooped up in cars and immigration queues at customs checkpoints; big and small aeroplanes; even helicopters.  Armed with a book or two, I could withstand any travel inconvenience, delay, cancellation or simply just the boredom of waiting. 

Since the family immigrated to Australia, we have all continued travelling, even if it was just visiting family back in Asia. My parents travelled until recently when my mother’s dementia made it increasingly difficult. My brother now lives in London and his family travel a lot especially before they had children.

To date, I have travelled to 24 countries. The tally should increase to 26 by the end of the year. I do not include any countries where I’ve only been to the airport on transit.

But since discovering FIRE, I have felt guilty about spending money on travel.

Related post: My conflict between FIRE and YOLO

I suppose because I don’t usually travel on the cheap … unless the cost of living in the countries I am visiting are low or the currency exchange is in my favour.

It is expensive to travel from Australia

We are so far away from the rest of the world, which can be a good or bad thing.

A one to two hour flight from Melbourne takes you to Sydney, Hobart, Canberra … whereas a one to two hour flight from London takes you to Dublin, Paris, Lyon, Copenhagen, Brussels, Amsterdam, Zurich, Geneva ie cities in a different country!

Don’t get me wrong – there is no need to travel overseas to have a good holiday. There are incredible places within Australia to see and experience – Uluru, the Whitsundays to name a few. Though to be honest, I haven’t seen that much of Australia besides all the capital cities – yep, I have visited every capital city in every state and territory.

That leaves the majority of the continent to explore – I want to visit Broome, the Kimberlys, Kakadu, Kangaroo Island, driving across the Nullabor to Perth … My logic though is that I will visit my own backyard when I am older, when the thought of being in a plane for twelve hours is horrendous …

Travel hacking

Unfortunately for us Aussies, travel hacking is not as lucrative as in the United States.

I am very envious of their credit cards awarding generous reward points for dollars spent. These reward points can then be redeemed for flights and hotels within the States or overseas. As in you may be able to travel for FREE!! Check out travel miles 101 if you live in the States for lots of ideas and strategies to start travel hacking.

I do use credit cards to earn Qantas frequent flyer points (I pay off the full balance each month). I take advantage of sign up bonus points each year by getting a new card and closing another. All of my bills are paid by credit cards via direct debit; I pay by credit cards whenever I make a purchase, big or small.

Still, it takes me 2 years to earn any decent points for overseas travel. A one way economy flight to London costs 60 000 points.

Accommodation is the killer

I don’t have any cards that award points for hotels. Sometimes I use Qantas to book hotels if it is the cheapest rate and I can earn more points along the way. It is far better to redeem Qantas points for flights rather than for hotel stays.

And I feel like a fraud in the FIRE community in that I don’t like staying in hostels. Airbnb has let me down in the past so I am not a fan. Just thinking about couch surfing gives me palpitations. House sitting – I don’t mind but without the pets please as I am too scared of what can go wrong.

So while there is some scope to save on flights using frequent flyer points, I still need to pay for accommodation. Not 5 star hotels but a basic 3 star hotel in Europe may set you back $200 a night.

What I do have is a separate Travel fund that I diligently pay myself each week.  I realised how important travel was to me when I would readily pull money from my emergency fund instead of touching the travel fund.

So how do I justify this expense?

It is a toss up between self care and self indulgence …

I love the whole process, even the initial research of – where will I go? Where will I stay? How will I get there? What sort of activities or sights should I plan for? How long do I need at each destination? How much time will I allow for this, that and the other?

There is something about the anticipation of freedom, of new experiences that excite me and draw me again and again to travel. Just thinking about travel makes me happy.

Of course, sometimes there is stress and anxiety about how everything will come together.

But that satisfaction and sense of achievement when all planned activities have proceeded without a hitch … that is priceless! I am guilty of scheduling lots of activities, meals at specific restaurants etc while on holidays.

Note to self – next holiday, I need to schedule more rest and relaxation time. So I don’t come home from a holiday needing another holiday to recover.

But overall, I am a much more relaxed person when I am travelling versus the me at work.

It brings me so much pleasure later too, after the trips are done and dusted. When I am in my own home, eating the chocolates or snacks that I have brought home or seeing something on TV and thinking I have been there and the flood of memories open up …

This surely is self care? As defined in this article by psychcentral.com – “self care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health”

Planning my travels and travelling certainly takes care of my mental and emotional health directly and my physical health indirectly.

Is travel an escape from the reality of my daily life? 

I am currently reading Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Domingues (affiliate link). It raises many questions about how I am living my life and how I am using my time, my most valued and finite resource.

It also made me reflect on my love of travelling. 

Do I use travel as a way of escaping? Escaping the stresses of my job and the boredom sometimes?

The answer is yes – guilty on both counts.

It is difficult for work to contact me when I am travelling overseas due to the time differences. If I were travelling within Australia, I am still very available. The stress just melts away as the plane takes off  into the sky.

I once booked a flight to Tokyo because I was sitting at my desk working on paperwork for an upcoming accreditation and being bored out of my mind. An email alert from Qantas advertising a cheap fare to celebrate their direct flights from Melbourne to Tokyo flashed up. Ten minutes later, I have a seat on a flight to Tokyo. If that is not impulsive, then I don’t know what is.

This is probably the self indulgence part! As defined by Merriam-Webster, self indulgence is the “excessive or unrestrained gratification of one’s own appetites, desires or whims” Yep, definitely self indulgence.

So if my work is not so stressful or demanding, will I still love travelling?

Guess my answer will be evident once I stop working!

The Dilemma

However the question I come back to again and again after discovering FIRE is – if I indulge now and spend my money travelling, will I then travel less when I retire? ie will I run out of money for travelling by the time I retire? It will be supremely ironic that when I finally have all the time in the world to devote to travelling, that I cannot afford it.

I remember being on a tour through Europe in my mid twenties where several members of the group were not physically fit enough to climb the steps up to The Parthenon in Athens. I felt so bad for them – imagine spending your life wanting to visit these unbelievable far away places, only to get there and just admire from afar, not getting close enough to touch and interact.  It is still closer than watching on TV or reading a book, I know.

I resolved then that I would not leave travelling to the to do list at the end of my life (which was how I thought retirement was – the end of my life!) but rather, while I was working and physically capable.

There is also no guarantee that I will live long enough or not succumb to dementia early in my retirement. That thought is always at the back of my mind – my Mum has dementia and this has severely impacted her enjoyment, ability and desire to travel. (And impacted my Dad as well)

And speaking of ageing parents, I may not have the freedom and flexibility to travel for long extended periods once their health deteriorates even more in the future. I may be anxious about leaving them and worry that I am not there for them should something major happens.

Changing focus

My focus in travel has also changed slightly.

I now have a little niece living on the other side of the planet, in an expensive city. I want to spend time with her in her environment, getting to know her routines, learning what she likes to do – just building a relationship with her. It is important to me to do this now and not wait until she has grown up to be an adult.

So spending time in Europe is a top priority in my travel plans.

Final thoughts

In the end, travel for me is probably both self care and self indulgence. I need an escape from my daily stresses and so I indulge in an activity that brings me great joy – travelling. Although for now, my focus will be to spend as much time as possible visiting my niece in Europe.

Travel is an expensive hobby for me. So saving for my Travel fund is crucial in addition to earning frequent flyer points. Plus I haven’t totally written off Airbnb, housesitting ….

I just need to learn that it is ok to spend money on what brings value to my life. And not feel guilty about it.

What about you? Is travel important to you? What are your strategies to make it happen?

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