Perpetual Retirement

Why Would Someone Live Like This?

“Sometimes people ask me why I’ve chosen the retirement lifestyle that I have,” writes Asia Correspondent Wendy Justice. “I’m retired overseas…but nowhere in particular. Some people refer to it as perpetual retirement.

“What would motivate someone to live like this? Do I hate the United States? Do I hate my family? Did I hate my job?

“I’ve never been able to satisfy my urge to travel and see new places by taking two-week vacations. That’s barely enough time to start winding down enough to begin to enjoy the new place. As a child, my family didn’t take a vacation every year. However, every few years, we’d take an eight-week-long cross-country trip. For me, eight weeks was a good start.

“No, I don’t hate the United States or my family. My job? Well, jobs, I’ve found, are replaceable. That’s what I’ve done by changing careers from nursing to travel writing. I can honestly say now that I love my job!

“What I do hate is boredom. Getting into a routine, spending 50 weeks out of the year working so that I can have 2 weeks of freedom. Going to the same places, seeing the same people every day, who must feel as I do…all of us getting older, one day at a time…

“That is why I decided, six years ago, to retire young and to travel until it wasn’t fun any longer. Since 2005, I’ve been living that dream. I’ve settled down for extended stays a few times along the way—a year in the United States, almost two years in Kuala Lumpur, and several months in both Chiang Mai and Hanoi. That helped to stave off traveler’s burn-out.

“And I’m happy to report today, six years after my perpetual retirement adventures began, that it’s still fun.

“This week I’m in Hanoi. Coming here has been like seeing an old friend again. Hanoi has changed in so many ways from just five years ago when I was last here…and, at the same time, it’s barely changed at all. It’s still ancient, lively, dirty, gritty, raw, delicate, artful, elegant, tranquil…

“Hanoi is a large city, cold in the winter, packed full of motorbikes and noise and strangeness. Why do I like this place so much? Somehow, here in Hanoi and in other places around the world like this, my senses seem more acute, more engaged. Every day here is a challenge, everything is new, and every turn leads to the unexpected. Unlike ‘back home,’ where, for me, familiarity seemed to breed dullness.

“In places like Hanoi, nothing is familiar.

“On the train heading here from Nha Trang, I shared my four-bed cabin with my husband and a younger Vietnamese couple. In Vietnam, elders are very respected. I’m only 56 (and generally think of myself as still in my 20s!), but, to these folks, I am the age of a grandmother. Thus, I was accorded the same level of respect that they would show to their own grandparents.

“They dug into their suitcases and insisted on giving us instant noodles, a beverage of Bird’s Nest Soup (made from the saliva of swallows, believed to have great medicinal properties in this part of the world), some beer, some cigarettes, eggs…They wouldn’t stop until they had nothing left to give.

“They had the better (and more expensive) bottom bunks, and we had the top bunks. The young man insisted that I take his lower bunk and that he would take my higher bunk.

“When the dinner cart came down the aisle, they had to buy food, as they had given everything they’d brought with them for their own dinner to us. We tried to pay, but they wouldn’t accept. We gave them some instant coffee. They were grateful.

“If I’d stayed home, stuck with my nursing career, and lived frugally, I’d probably have a bigger nest egg accumulated by now than I do. On the other hand, not a day goes by when I don’t appreciate the life I’m living.

“Following my heart, making the leap…it was the right choice.

“No, I don’t hate my country. I return to the States every year or two to see my house, my friends, and my family. But I have found a sense of freedom, living this life that I have adopted, that is so fulfilling.

“At one time in my life, most of my friends lived within an hour or so of my home. Now my friends live all over the world. I’m keeping a house in the United States, but I’m also renting a house in Nha Trang. My home is wherever my husband and I happen to be at the time.

“So many people have told me that they wish they could afford to do what I’m doing. I tell them that they can. If you really want to see the world, explore, discover, live like the locals, live a richer, fuller life that could well cost you less than the life you’re living now, chances are good that you already have enough money.

“If you take your two-week vacation and cry when it’s over and time to return to the ‘real world,’ then maybe it’s time to plan for a new life…

“One full of the unexpected.”

Kathleen Peddicord