Retirement Done Differently by Bob Lowry

Retirement Done Differently by Bob Lowry

Last month, a reader suggested I explore the journey of retirees who have lived their life a little differently than many of us. That sounded like a fascinating idea. The problem? My retirement has been pretty standard. While I left the working world earlier than I had planned, I live in suburbia, have a steady life, and rather traditional goals for myself and my family. Something may go wrong at some time in the future, but I am not the person to ask about retirement done “differently.”

What I can do is share some examples of what a “different” retirement may look like. But, then, the real expert is you. Either you have approached this phase of life on a less-traveled path, or you know someone who has. This should be a an interesting learning experience for us all! I guess this is a natural followup to the previous post about retirement being a personal path.

Examples of a Retirement Done Differently

1. Retire to a foreign country

Becoming an expat is the choice of a growing number of retirees. The State Department estimates at least 9 million Americans live in other countries. Of those, close to a half a million are 65+. Social Security checks are sent to those who live outside the U.S., but Medicare does not apply.

Of course, in places picked by retirees good health care is often much more affordable than in the States. Plus, housing costs can be dramatically lower, too. For a look as some of the top reasons to retire in another country, click here.

If you’d like to read the stories of those who have chosen to spend their retirement years in another country click here for some of the most popular blogs. International Travel is another site that specializes in expat living: click here.
2. Living Full time in an RV, travel trailer, or boat
Living all or most of the year in an RV or trailer has been well documented. If you love to travel, don’t mind small spaces and have few belongings, and can handle basic maintenance chores, living in a recreational vehicle may be the right choice for you. Check out this site for a quick overview of this lifestyle, or this article from the New York Times. Thousands of retirees earn extra money each year by accepting one of the jobs listed in the Workamper News.

One of the best summaries of RV living can be found here. This couple is not retired but their answers match with our experiences. Some of the better fulltime RV blogs are available here. I am a big fan of Wheeling It. They write well and provide plenty of excellent information.

A little less usual but not unheard of is living on a sailboat or motorboat. I found a web site with an excellent overview of what living on a boat full time is really like. Click here.

A new phenomenon is spending most of your retirement on a cruise ship. Not for those on a limited budget, there are benefits: meals are all provided, there is a doctor and medical clinic open 24 hours a day plus most entertainment options on board are free. Someone cleans your “home” every day. You visit fascinating foreign ports on a regular basis.  Actually, I wrote a bit about this choice in a blog post, Unusual Retirement Options a few years ago.

3. Starting over in dream location 
A little over a year ago I had a post about Brett and Laura, a couple who sold all their belongings and moved to the island of Kaua’i. Their blog, The Occasional Nomads,  is an excellent overview of their life, day in and day out, 2,600 miles from the mainland. They aren’t hesitant to write about both the mundane joys and problems of living on an island.
Importantly, the couple spend two years researching the idea of a move before committing to such an upheaval. They have family on both the mainland and in Japan, so Hawaii is actually centrally located for them. Take a look at the blog post for some insight into their decision-making process.

4. Volunteering overseas

Linda Myers has been a blogging friend for several years. She and her husband spend part of the year in Arizona and the rest in their home not far from Seattle. Her blog, Thoughts from a Bag Lady in Waiting, is one of my favorites.

Starting a few years ago, she and her husband, Art, started volunteering at a refugee camp north of Athens. Just this year alone she has been several times. Personally, I find that type of dedication inspiring and encouraging. An overview of her last, 31 day stint, is summarized here. Giving that much of yourself to those who really need your love and support is a special way of sharing part of your retirement.

5. Living off the grid

I have no idea how many retirees have decided to disconnect from normal support services and live a low cost life off the grid, but I am sure there are thousands. Estimates are that less than a million Americans live without regular utility services. For our purposes, off the grid means not being connected to a normal supply or electricity or water. It might also mean no Internet or cell phone services.
Solar panels, a wind turbine, or generators for electricity, propane as a source for cooking or heating, a well or hauling water from another source, are alternate ways to maintain a liveable environment. A composting toilet or septic system would be involved. The house may be tiny, it may be on wheels, it may even be a canvas Yurt, though none of those options are required for disconnecting.
Why would some do this? I would suspect cost savings is the primary motivator. So is wanting to have as little a negative impact on the environment as possible, as well as living closer to nature. For others, a survivalist bent means being more self-reliant than most of us.
If this subject interests you a beginner’s guide to on how to live of the grid  might be a good place to start. A couple’s story of disconnecting in one of the harsher places in the country can be found by clicking here. For retirees, cutting as many ties to regular support systems as possible probably means living full time in an RV. (See Section #2 above)

I’d love to hear from folks who have picked one of these retirement paths, or even one I haven’t noted. Just as interesting would be someone who tried a different path and found it wasn’t for them.

By Bob Lowry

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