Adventure. Romance. Intrigue. These are the thoughts that come to mind when dreaming about world travel – whether backpacking through Europe, hiking through the Amazon, or braving the bone-chilling cold of the tundra to the north. These are the type of experiences that we typically have in our 20s, that decade full of existential crises in which we strive to identify who we really are and where we belong. Have your fun while you are young, because then it is time to settle down and be responsible.
Baloney. I, for one, have never done anything at the so-called developmentally appropriate time. While most people complete their bachelor degree in four or five years, I spent 15 years completing mine, fighting homelessness, illness, and trying to forge my way through the unknown forest of academia without enough social capital to weather the storm. At 36, I tell everyone I encounter that life is so much better this side of 30. I fought many battles and demons throughout my 20s and would not go back even if you paid me.
So while many people may have had the privilege of having a “gap year” or being able to travel extensively worldwide in their youth, I did not. It’s a little hard to contemplate world travel when you are trying to figure out how to get yourself to work everyday, hoping that you have a functioning vehicle and enough gas money to navigate the 12 miles between home and employment.
When I say that life is so much better on this side of 30, I truly mean it. In my 30s, I have finally grown comfortable in my own skin, I have figured out how to adult (sort of), I finally completed not only my bachelor degree, but also graduate school, and have been able to meet life’s challenges and obligations with more confidence and grace than I ever had in my 20s. While many people may have getting a stamp in their passport as an item to be completed on their bucket list before the age of 30, I have get a stamp in my passport on my bucket list for age 40. If you haven’t noticed, for all my degrees and intelligence, I’m a little slow on the uptake on some things.
Here launches the Freedom at Forty Plan. As I approach my 37th birthday, I am looking at about 37 months to prepare to make this happen. I already have a passport. I ran a marathon in Canada right after the regulations tightened that required a passport for entry to and from Canada, before the invention of enhanced driver’s licenses for those living in border states. As many times as I have used my passport to go between Canada and USA over the years, Canada never stamps it. Plus, in my book, Canada doesn’t count. It’s our neighbor right next door. I’m looking for Adventure with a capital A.
While I have always had this dream of backpacking through Europe, it has been a rather big, daunting, and vague goal. I decided that if I am truly going to make this dream a reality, that I better pick a location, a date, and start planning and saving to make the trip happen. I chose my 40th birthday because I feel like I want to do something big to commemorate the passage from my 30s to my 40s since my 30s have been so significant, and frankly, the best decade of my life. When I go from 39 to 40, I want to do it with a bang. Practically, this also gives me about three years to try to save the money for a large trip. Unfortunately, I am not one of those people with a safety net or a strong support network, so I have to do everything on my own, and I have to work for everything I want. If I want to travel internationally, then that money is going to have to come out of my own hard earned paychecks and have to be squeezed somehow out of an already tight budget.
I began by researching airfare, so that I could get an idea of how much money I need to try to hoard over the next few years. Even after checking multiple cities in multiple locations, I have decided that Europe is way too expensive for someone with my income to be able to afford. Also, if this is going to be the first true week long vacation of my life (and it is), then I have ideas on what I want to be able to do during that week in a particular location.
I want to go surfing. It’s been years since I have been able to go ocean surfing. The past year or so, I have been landlocked to the Great Lakes. I want the big waves. While the Atlantic has been okay the past few years, it does not live up to my time on the Pacific Ocean. Plus, there are other oceans and waters that I have yet to surf.
With all the research I have done on airfare, activities, culture, and safety, I have settled on Nicaragua. Nicaragua has the beaches and is a great surfing destination. I also plan on going volcano boarding. Nica is the only place in the entire world where you can go volcano boarding. If I am going to spend money on international travel, I am going to do it all.
I am calling this my Freedom at Forty Plan, because I have sacrificed so much of myself, my relationships, and my life in the pursuit of my education, that I am now free to do whatever I want to do. I am no longer confined to a semester schedule or a particular geographic location due to classes. At forty, I will finally have the freedom to travel internationally, as I have so longed to do for many years, and hopefully attain that feeling of adventure, romance, and intrigue that I seek.
In addition to having three years to save, I also have three years to learn Spanish (again). Spanish is my fourth language, and I have not retained it, as it has proved to be the most useless of my four languages (probably hard to believe, but it’s true). While I am sure that it is probably possible to get around Central America without Spanish, I believe in being a respectful guest if I am going to visit someone else’s country. I also believe that knowing the language will empower me so that I am able to better keep myself safe (multiple food allergies remember – I don’t want to get caught in a major medical emergency in a country where I don’t speak the language), and better able to fully immerse myself in the culture and interact with the people in ways that is going to make this one of the most memorable experiences of my life.
If people do not travel in there 20s, or even if they do, most people envision being able to travel while in retirement. I want to travel as soon as possible while I can fully enjoy the experience. With all due respect, as I’m sure that there are octogenarians who do, but I do not personally envision myself still surfing in my 80s. Running marathons, maybe, but probably not still surfing.
That said, in addition to my Freedom at Forty Plan, I am also thinking about my retirement from the workforce in about 30 years or so. I have joked that I will be working until I die, but honestly, I don’t want to do that. I want to retire from the workforce and be able to enjoy life. So while I am trying to save for my Nicaragua trip, I am also trying to save for retirement. Again, I never do anything at the correct “developmental time.” I realize that I should have started saving for retirement when I started working 20 years ago, but life circumstances just did not lend itself to that reality.
I am also taking this trip to Nicaragua trying to figure out where I want to retire. I have already decided I am not going to stay in my current location. For one, I don’t want to be here that long term, and second, I can barely afford to live in my current location on my current salary; if my earnings are reduced in retirement, I definitely have to relocate.
Nicaragua will complete my bucket list item of having a stamp in my passport by age 40, and will hopefully be one of the more remarkable experiences of my lifetime. I also plan on going with the vision of retirement. In my research, I have discovered that it is sometimes cheaper to expatriate and retire in other countries than it is in the USA due to lower costs of living. Nicaragua has generous visa requirements for ex-pats from USA and Canada. Central America is one of two locations that I am seriously considering for that time when I decide to leave the workforce.
Freedom at Forty is a lovely three-year plan that may or may not also fit into my long-term life plan. If I decide not to expatriate, then I have lost nothing. I have completed my goal of international travel and I’m sure will have a phenomenal vacation. Yet, Nicaragua could also be a location where I decide to retire. I haven’t decided yet. I have 30 years to go before I get there. I’m just trying to keep all of my options open.
Adventure, romance, intrigue. My time is coming. Now that I have a location and dates planned, the hard part comes of pinching pennies, making good choices, and trying to live life while saving for my future. It may not be backpacking through Europe as I imagined, but I am sure that I am going to have the time of my life. I spent 20 years in college, working on one degree after another. Now, it is time to spend the next three years of my life trying to check an item off my bucket list.
My retirement from my career as a professional college student has truly given me the freedom to be the captain and navigate my own life unconstrained by the linear goal of achieving an education. I have many goals in life and many items on my bucket list. Freedom at Forty is just the beginning. Graduation from graduate school was not an ending; it is the beginning of the rest of my life.