For many the first activity of a post-retirement life is to pack up and leave home for a far flung experience. For individuals who plan to continue to work Post50 taking a gap year is growing in popularity.
Seems we all want to be on the move. Travel is a top priority for 59% of retirees according to a 2013 study.
With late-in-life freedom, there’s a romantic notion to the idea of leaving home. We hear a siren song from Tahiti, the RV points westward, Italy beckons, New Zealand’s Milford Track craves our boots or ghosts of past lives plea for a visit to grandpa’s cabin deep in the Nantahala Forest with ten long lost cousins nearby.
Must we go? We must.
Compelled to enter a Post50 life with travel at the forefront, we pocket the AmEx, grab a neck pillow, Ziplock our snacks and set off on a journey.
What I want to know is ‘why?’
What is to be accomplished or gained? Are we off to capture lost adventures of youth? Will you be happier after you see inside the Louvre? Will finding your center happen after 4 days walking on the Inca Trail?
As for that 40% who don’t have travel as a top priority, do they risk ending up on the low end on the totem pole of life satisfaction?
For the record, it is not documented that travel is necessary for a happy, well-lived life.
You must admit travel plans are a dandy answer when people inquire what’s up for our third act.
“Oh, what are you going to do now that you’re retired?”
(or more to the point)
“Oh, what are you trying to do with your life now that you have thirty years left?”
Here’s the cool, awesome answer: “We’re off to Qatar and Mongolia. Then a couple of months on the Amalfi Coast. After that, we’ll see. Gjirokastra for Christmas probably.”
This is not about pooh-poohing travel. My lifestyle has travel and living/working in third world countries and a marriage as a priorities. After long good-byes my husband’s last words are always the same – “Please be careful.” We know Skype is a godsend for marriages like ours when one travels and one does not.
I travel and meet a diverse socioeconomic strata of individuals and couples who spend a good deal of time enjoying the heck out of seeing the world.
Our tales of wooly adventures are awesome and we can go on and on about travels over rutted roads the likes you’ve never seen. If you want to tell us about fishing on your neighbor’s lake on lazy summer afternoons or describe how the moon comes up over the mountain, we’ll listen but as soon as possible we’ll slip in the name of a small village like Tinguiririca betting you’ve never heard of it and we’ll take it from there.
We can make you feel little if you don’t travel and see the world. We even try to make each other feel little.
Here’s the deal. Choose travel for any other reason than wanderlust qualifies as supremely important and you’re in trouble.
I know because I meet sorry-I-ever-left-home, grumpy, confused people trotting the globe every day.
What Kinds of Experiences Increase Happiness?
Allen, a newly minted retiree from New Jersey fresh off a two-week Mediterranean cruise, sits in the kitchen of the Rome B&B where we first meet and summarizes his experience with eyes rolling upward. “I hated it.”
So why did he go? “Travel is what people do right after they retire isn’t? See those things we missed while we were working. Tick off the Bucket List.”
“But next time,” he adds with a head nod in the direction of his wife, “she can go with my sister.”
Eventually the conversation slows. Allen sets his coffee cup in the sink, folds the maps he’ll need for three sightseeing days in the crowded streets of “The City of Fountains” and starts to follow his wife out of the room.
Turning back he mouths, “I am ready to go home…now.”
In “Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending,” authors, Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton, offer research confirming that experiential purchases (like trips) provide more happiness than home ownership.
Experiences not things, we are told, enhance our happiness.
In fact, research tracking people over age fifty finds those who spend more of their money on “leisure experiences” – trips, movies, gym membership-report significantly greater satisfaction with their lives.
Let’s dig deeper. What exactly are the travel “experiences” to yield a high degree of satisfaction? What is the optimum length of the experience?
Take a moment and see which of the following you think has the best happiness yield:
A. Luxury cruise to the South Pole. (3 weeks)
B. Around the world trip. (2 years)
C. Joining the Annapurna Expedition. (45 days)
C. Watching the moon come over the mountain. (10 minutes)
The answer is “it depends” because neither the length nor the kind of experience is definable. For you, the highest source of happiness might be the Annapurna Expedition while Allen will score his happiness points catching the moon somewhere close to his home in New Jersey.
In my case this information means that eating a Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip LARABAR while sitting at the end of my dock at sunset could surpass the happiness quotient when compared to three months living in Cuenca, Ecuador (where I am right now and it’s raining.)
Remember while experiences do ratchet up happiness, book clubs, cycling groups, community theater, your senior golf group and backyard flower garden all qualify.
When I get home,watching Season 4 of Downton Abbey plopped on my living room couch with popcorn will make me over-the-top happy.
The bottom line is people don’t need to travel to life a happy life.
Stand Still, Stay Home and You’ll Be Fine
“Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.”― Anne Lamott
Not all of us yearned to be engineers or dentists for one reason or another and some people don’t want to travel. They never get excited as they retrieve a black roller board from high in the closet. Some aren’t sure where their passport is; others don’t have a passport.
Life around them seems to hold far more than they ever hope to soak up – ever.
My father’s backyard garden was all he needed to win his happiness game. My husband flew for Delta Airlines for 34 years, has a passport yet finds a three hour drive to New Orleans good for his annual dose of travel. My cousin in Kentucky has been outside the state lines once in seventy years on a car trip to Florida and smiling Ecuadorians don’t hanker to leave their country.
You know individuals like this. They like to stand still. They hunger not for another corner of the sky.
Truth be told they seem to be poking up the happy trail just as good as me and all the other people I know who can’t fathom life with out a journey on the calendar.
Travel is often chosen as the necessary accessory for a full, vibrant life when in fact it’s not something some individuals need or want.
Travel may be one of the most overrated concepts for living a fulfilled life.
A fulfilling life comes when we determine what we want before we take action. The transition from demanding careers to the creation of a Post50 lifestyle requires us to map out our priorities and create a new kind of life to live. This is the hard work of creating a new life.
We are not hardwired for adventure. The immediacy of travel as you enter this late-in-life stage is a way of acting out a new life even before deciding how to live that life.
Before you exalt and program journeys as a must have in your Post50 life design, explore these questions:
- Is leaving home a low, medium or high priority?
- What percentage of time do you want to travel?
- Does the travel honor a dream or past goal?
- How big will your regret be if you don’t travel?
- What local experiences could be enjoyed?
Clarity on “travel” is a vital perquisite for successful life design.
I’ll Be Back
Up until now, I thought I was better than a person who chose to stay home or never go further than a stone’s throw from the county line. Even typing this, it sounds more high and mighty than I might like.
Although, I can still say I’m honestly amazed someone wouldn’t want to see the Christmas Market in Dusseldorf or scan the Green Mountains of Vermont, what I can’t say is that a journey anywhere will lead to more happiness.
Life goes on no matter where you are. Unless travel is part of a well-designed, thoughtful plan those who choose to explore the world will not gain any greater long-term well-being and happiness than those who rock on their front porch.
I live in a pretty house on the water and am 7 miles from the most gorgeous sugar sand beaches in the world. (Do not argue with me on this, I will win.) I’m sure there are those who wonder why I leave so often.
But I know why I do. Because “travel, living and working in third world countries” was the very first thing I wrote down when I designed the lifestyle for my last thirty years of life.
My husband always asks, “Do you have to go?”
I hug his neck and reply, “Yes I do.”