While this blog is relatively new, my goal to retire a year before my Dad retired is not. The goal has been around since October 2002, shortly after he stopped working.
Back then at age 27, I had a lot of time to start getting serious about saving for retirement. But I was not serious about retirement planning yet, I was serious about backpacking.
Fourteen months earlier, with the last $6,000 of cash in my account, I set off to travel for four months in China and Southeast Asia. Traveling with extreme frugality, I was able to extend my trip for another ten months to South and Central America.
It was the trip of a lifetime, but when it was finished I found myself broke and living with my parents with no cash savings, a small bit of debt, and few job prospects. Since then a lot has changed. After many life events and a lot of hard work, I am well on my way to reaching my retirement goal, to stop working completely at age 55. It is that 14-month trip and my passion for extensive travel that motivates me to retire.
At this point in my life, my free time is consumed by house projects, family, and reading news and financial blogs. I do not read travel blogs anymore. Part of me wants to read and envy travel blogs of people who are traveling and writing for a living. But a bigger part of me says been there done that, I will travel like that again someday… today I need to focus on reaching my goal.
Pluto the Traveling Tattoo Artist
Back in 2001-2002 when I was traveling the world, the idea of travel blogs wasn’t around yet. The thought of traveling, writing, and making enough money to eat and sleep on from a blog wasn’t possible yet either. Or at least it was rare.
Back then there were websites, the term blog wasn’t common yet. I did, however, come across a rather impressive but primitive website that I followed for some time thereafter.
While in a hostel in Quito, Ecuador, I met a Canadian traveling tattoo artist named Pluto, who was riding his motorcycle around the world with his much younger Thai wife, tattooing backpackers to pay their way.
Coincidentally, I had heard of him months earlier in Siem Riep, Cambodia at a hostel called Smiley’s. Pluto left a bumper sticker on the cork board with his very long web address. On his site was a travelogue of his journey and a sample of his artwork, in addition to his most impressive piece of art, his left arm. He gave every person that he tattooed the opportunity to give him a tattoo on his arm.
As far as tattooed arms are concerned, it was a mess! But what a piece of art it was, a personal tattoo from each of his clients over many years. I spent one night with Pluto, holding a bright lamp to illuminate his canvas, the back of a fellow motorcyclist staying in the hostel.
Both of them were taking liquor shots for the entire inking. This guy Pluto was passionate about his lifestyle. He said to me “Man, I could draw up a killer scorpion for that leg of yours. What do you say?”.
As a man who was at or nearing traditional retirement age, Pluto was quite an inspirational figure.
Making a significant life decision such as quitting your job and traveling the world takes meticulous planning, financially speaking. My backpacking trip was the result of three years of saving money. The travel planning part was easy… buy a one-way plane ticket to somewhere interesting and go from there until you run out money. Getting my life in order before I left was the bigger challenge.
Why would I leave a good paying job with a promising future? When is my lease up? What am I going to do with my car? What am I going to do when I return? In hindsight, these questions were minor concerns and did not impact my planning much; I just made it all happen. I was young, single, and adventurous.
Single Income, Three Kids, Oppressive Mortgage
SITCOM. As of not long ago, I define SITCOM. Although I do not consider my mortgage oppressive, it is significant and daunting. Despite some negative connotation, I am a proud SITCOM. I do not have the freedom or desire to pick up and travel the world again anytime soon.
The time I spent traveling in my twenties was an incredible character building experience. I lived extraordinarily.
Now, you can say, I live ordinarily.
Having lived that way in my twenties, I don’t look back wishing I had done something different. I lived exactly the way I wanted to. Now that I am married with kids, I am also living life exactly the way I want to be. When I retire, I will do the same.
Yesterday’s simple questions like What’s the cheapest way to get to Beijing?, are replaced with the more difficult questions What is my next career move? What are going to be the best stocks to buy and retire with? How long will this government shutdown last? How much will college cost in 2031? How will I provide healthcare to my family over the next 18 years and beyond? Will my 20 month old son always be so stubborn? When you go SITCOM, your responsibilities multiply. But that is OK with me.
I never did get that scorpion tattoo from Pluto. I had an early morning flight to Panama to catch, and let’s face it, tattoos are not for everyone. But Pluto left a lasting impact on me. My wife and I will travel with our kids before they head off to college, and we will retire early and travel as long as our health holds up.
If I retire with a small fraction of the adventurous spirit that Pluto had when I met him in Quito, my retirement will be glorious. For now, I am planning carefully for tomorrow, and not looking back at yesterday wishing I was still on the road. If I do occasionally stumble upon one of the many well-written, wonderfully photographed travel blogs out there, it makes me think about how great my trip was a decade ago, not how magnificent today is and the coming years will be. And that’s why I try not to read them.
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