So, here we are six months later...fully settled in Thailand, taking a moment to stop and share our pre-retirement thoughts with you and how our unconventional decision has impacted our day-to-day lives.
What we thought:
Early retirement would mean sweet freedom! No more jarring alarm clock dictating our days because our time would finally be our own. We would have a clean slate to do whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted to do it. We imagined that it would feel much like Spring Break every day, not just for one brief and glorious week.
What we got:
We no longer own a clock of any sort and often we'll forget what day it is since we've found we no longer use a heavily marked-up desk calendar like during our teaching days. Every day really does feel like Spring Break, which is amazing and unsettling at the same time. We're now at the realization that this is not a long vacation but a permanent, daily way of life for us. Randy is handling the extra time much more fluidly than I. I find myself having moments of restlessness, where I feel like I want to do something. I just don't know yet what that 'something' is. I definitely don't want to bear the shackles of working full time again, but I now understand that my career as a teacher was strongly intertwined with my identity. As I navigate the waters of my "new normal", I will continue to do some much needed self-reflection as I search for projects and fulfilling commitments to focus on.
Getting an Education Visa would be the most ideal way for us to spend a whole year at our first destination of Thailand before moving on to see the rest of the world. That would prevent us from having to do all of the often inconvenient "visa runs" that those with tourist visas had to constantly plan and budget for. Additionally, we would be taking Thai language classes together to learn the language and that would give us a leg up on overcoming the vast language barrier. We reasoned that a year was plenty of time to get to really know a place inside and out.
What we got:
We happily got started as students in Thai school and it was rather surreal to be on the opposite side of the desk again. We learned a great deal of very helpful vocabulary and were so proud of ourselves when we would be understood by Thai people outside of class. However, the excitement of going to class started to wear thin not long after the Thai government changed its rules overnight to double up the hours that Education Visa students would be required to attend classes. We now had to attend four days a week, rather than just two days. Then, Randy's trip to Nepal to complete his Everest Base Camp trek caused him to encounter a flight delay during his return to Thailand. His arrival here was one day after his 90 day Education Visa expired so they would only allow him back in the country on a 30 day tourist visa. Now that Randy's Education Visa is perfunctorily stamped null and void, he is going to be making those visa runs after all. As for me? I have no desire to continue going to Thai classes solo. I was getting burned out as well. I really enjoyed learning the basics and since the curriculum is now moving in a direction that doesn't interest me as much, I have dropped out of Thai school and will accompany Randy on our first visa run next month to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for a week of exploring. We're looking at this fork in the road as a blessing in disguise. Now, instead of staying here to meet the ever-changing Education Visa requirements of mandatory class attendance, we get to travel to a few other places in Southeast Asia. It's a win-win!
Starting out our early retirement in Chiang Mai would be just the right fit for us. We were already pretty familiar with the culture, food, and geographic area from many previous family vacations to Thailand. Chiang Mai, being located north of the much more busy and chaotic Bangkok, would provide us with a smaller city-like feel. It had all the necessary amenities we desired such as restaurants, coffee shops, markets, malls, golf courses, and top notch health care facilities. Plus, we knew the weather in Chiang Mai would be much less stifling since it was located more north and nestled in the mountains. The idea of constant sweltering heat did not appeal to this snow-loving gal at all. We looked forward to making friends here and participating in the plethora of colorful cultural celebrations.
What we got:
Once we eventually got out of tourist mode and into everyday living here in Chiang Mai, we found that, while still a great city, it has lost some of that "new penny shine" that places have when you are only there for a short vacation. For me, the weather is really difficult to adapt to some days. I am not a fan of really hot and humid climates and that is exactly what we have here on a daily basis, much to my chagrin. I have adeptly learned ways to beat the heat such as swimming during the hottest part of the day and finding indoor activities like sipping iced coffee at a local cafe or window shopping in an air conditioned mall. Cultural activities still amaze us with their pageantry and symbolism. We have also met some amazing friends such as the Wagoner Family (wagonersabroad.com) but when you make friends with other travelers you say goodbye to them much more quickly than friends you make in a work environment. In hindsight, although Randy is fine with the original timeline of a year in Chiang Mai, six months has been plenty of time for me in one location. I am finding myself ready to move along and see someplace new. I think it's my wanderlust gene kicking in!
Choosing Thailand would be very conducive to staying within our self-imposed budget of $2000-$3000 per month. Thai apartments are very reasonable to rent long term and the food is practically free, it's so ridiculously cheap. An entire Thai meal can cost as little as $1 per person, believe it or not! We would be able to easily stay on or under our budget with these cost projections. Randy daydreamed about golf trips and getting at least one ($6) massage per day, as he did whenever we came to Thailand on vacation.
What we got:
If you read our previous post "Bait and Switch" (http://freetirement.weebly.com/blog/bait-and-switch) from when we came on a pre-retirement scouting trip in April 2014, you know that apartment hunting brought its own set of issues. After some angst and adjusted expectations we ended up with a great condo here in an eclectic neighborhood that meets most of our needs, but we now realize that we could have easily taken one of the less pricey older units that we saw previously and nixed for one minor reason or another. Also, as it turns out, now that I can cheaply and easily acquire Thai food for every meal of every day I have discovered that I don't really want Thai food every day. Unlike Randy, who eats Thai food almost daily, I am more inclined to seek out Western-style foods such as pizza, salads, or sandwiches rather than always stopping by the local street vendors' food carts. We are still doing great with our budget and have even been under $2000 per month for most months. We have noticed that our "Western cravings" such as imported cheeses, wines, and non-Thai food options do begin to add up since they are almost triple the cost of locally made items. Massages and spa treatments such as manicures, pedicures, facials and even a blowout for my hair continue to delight me with their amazing prices of only about $6 or less per pampering option. We really live a high-end lifestyle here without the high-end price tag.
Early retirement would be our chance to step into a lifelong travel adventure together. Travel has been our passion from our very first trip together 25 years ago. We would finally be living the dream, as they say. Robert Frost's words about choosing the road less traveled would be our guiding mantra to a bright and exciting future.
What we got:
Although early retirement hasn't been completely stress free and it's not always beach chairs and sunsets, it was the absolute best decision we could have made together. We are so excited about our future, whatever that may bring. We have lightened our load to the point that we could decide at the spur of the moment to just pack it all up in our carry on bags and head off to another destination that we want to explore. That sense of complete freedom and unencumbered possibility makes me simply tingle with joy. Our choice? It was to take the road less traveled...and that has made all the difference.