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The American Dream Isn’t A Place

The Stranger At The Party Said He’d Go, Too…

In Chiang Mai, Thailand, I recently met a woman who retired and then saw her life veer unexpectedly. She longed to go to India, but was leery of traveling there as a single woman. She mentioned her dilemma to a still-in the-labor-force young man at a party. His answer: “I’ll go with you.”

Of course, she’d never considered asking a single guy to join her. But when she got the offer, she went for it. The two traveled together to India and fell in love. He joined her in early retirement, and they’re now moving to Asia full time.

Meanwhile, Paul and I have changed our travel plans. Again. We’ve made so many changes to our itinerary in the last 18 months that change seems to be the current constant.

We’d originally planned a trip to Kengtung, Burma for this week. In 1930, Somerset Maugham visited here and wrote about it in The Gentleman in the Parlor. Paul has wanted to go ever since reading Maugham’s book; he figures little has changed in that part of Burma.

But, at the last minute, we had to cross Kengtung, Burma off our to-visit list for now. We made this decision after a close Thai friend warned us of the serious outbreak of dengue fever in northern Thailand. She presumes Burma is also affected. We were also worried about malaria. Our friend suggested we head south instead of north. We took her advice and opted for Malaysia.

We also had to turn down a friend’s recent invitation to visit him in Bali. It coincided with the end of Ramadan–party time and family time in Muslim nations. Everyone travels and airfares skyrocket. Paul and I have the freedom to travel at any time. So, rather than fight crowds, we prefer to leave holiday travel to those with fewer options.

Stick around the old neighborhood, back in the U.S., and life pretty much carries you along. But move overseas, or become a perpetual traveler like Paul and me, and you have to push a bit more.

The key here is balance. You want to make plans and stick to them. You want to be reluctant to follow last-minute whims that take you off course. On the other hand, you need to yield and change when new information presents itself. You need to keep an open mind, allowing the future to unfold rather than insist it fit into a certain game-plan.

A recently retired couple in their fifties wrote to me about their anxiety of an uncertain future. They feel overwhelmed with the impossibility of sorting out and nailing down their long-term plans. They’re dealing with typical questions of retirement: what to do with the house and pets, where to go this winter, how best to manage time, etc.

We received a similar question 20 years ago. A Canadian couple e-mailed and asked if they had to sell their large, custom-designed home and get rid of their dog. I replied that if they could afford to keep the house and their dog, keep them and see what happens. They did just that. Friends rented their home and took care of the dog. The couple took off for a couple of years to explore the world.

After extensive time on the road, they realized they didn’t need the large home but yes, they did want a home base. They bought a small beach cabin with friendly neighbors who would keep an eye on the cabin and take in their dog when the couple traveled.

Fast forward to now and this same couple still have the cabin, still travel considerably, and have had innumerable and unfathomable adventures and challenges that would have been impossible to imagine when they first retired.

Like the single lady at the party who longed for India, allow for the unexpected. Look for balance between the comfort of short-term plans and the possible need to change them. And forget about the longer term–anything farther out than a year or two. Stay focused on the near term and you can listen more easily with an open mind and be flexible when change is required.

Vicki Terhorst

Continue Reading: Are Americans Safe In Ecuador?

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