2020 was our first full year in retirement and everything went mostly according to plan. Ho hum, just another year in the books. I’m kidding, obviously. Instead, our resolve was tested, both mentally and financially. We learned way more than we ever wanted to know about coronaviruses and how they spread. And we received a stark reminder of all of the things that we normally take for granted, like freedom of movement.
A few months ago I learned about an interesting visa option. Taiwan offers a specialized resident visa (like a US Green Card) called the Gold Card. The resident designation for this visa is an important distinction. While almost no country is accepting tourists at the moment, most all of them accept their residents. This includes Taiwan. My initial research showed that both Katie and I should meet the qualifications. The visa is a long term one, valid for up to 3 years. That means that we could stop doing the monthly “visa dance” here in Vietnam while getting to travel to a new country. Even the application price was very reasonable at ~$300 each. It almost seemed too good to be true.
There are a lot of challenging things about traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although I should probably put “traveling” in quotes, as we’re not moving from place to place right now. We have to deal with standard virus prevention measures like everyone else, but being in a foreign country also presents its own unique issues. While I realize that everyone is experiencing problems during this trying time, I felt like I should document mine.
The last time Katie and I stepped foot on US soil was on June 26, 2019 when we walked into LAX to board our flight to Asia. While we quit our jobs two months prior, leaving the country felt like the true start of our retirement adventure. Many hours later, we arrived in Bangkok ready to explore the world. During the last 12 months, we traveled through Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, back to Thailand, and then on to Vietnam where we’ve been grounded due to the ongoing global pandemic. Throughout these travels, we’ve spent way less than I anticipated. And while I post spending reports for each location, today I’m going to provide a summary of all of our costs by category instead.
As early retirees and nomadic travelers, we do not own many possessions. We also are not big spenders. Nevertheless, our life still feels pretty luxurious on a day-to-day basis. This is almost certainly because we have an abundance of the greatest luxury: time. We’ve been retired for over a year now and it still feels amazing having the flexibility to do anything (or nothing) on any day of the week. Still, when it comes to material luxuries, we have fewer compared to our previous working life. Lately, we’ve started to reverse that trend.
It was just over one year ago that Katie and I vacated our last permanent residence to become nomads. Prior to leaving, we spent a lot of time thinking about what this new life would be like. Since we were undertaking such a radical lifestyle change, it was impossible to know exactly what we would experience. All of our ideas were just educated guesses. A few months prior to leaving, I wrote down a bunch of these expectations. I’ll share these below and compare them to the realities of life in SE Asia. Let’s see how close I got.
It seems like the writing is on the wall. Not enough people in the US are taking the COVID-19 virus seriously. Up until very recently, officials and hospitals didn’t have enough testing kits and were only testing people exhibiting the worst symptoms. Even people with direct exposure to confirmed cases were being denied testing if they weren’t showing symptoms. Due to this ineptitude and the exponential nature of the virus spread, it seems like it’s only a matter of time until the number of cases in the US explodes. When that happens, even those of us 7000 miles away will be impacted.
Katie and I just wrapped up 19 nights in Hanoi. We visited for the first time almost exactly a year ago, but only for three nights. That previous visit was part of our first trip to Asia and our last vacation ever. At the time, I thought the city was totally crazy but also a lot of fun. It’s a cacophony of sights, sounds, activity, and traffic that’s both entertaining and intimidating. I assumed that a longer stay would allow us to explore at a slower pace, help mitigate some of the sensory overload issues, and be more enjoyable. I was wrong.
By any measure, 2019 was one remarkable year. We experienced such drastic changes that the beginning of the year almost feels like a whole different lifetime. The top among these changes was retiring from our jobs at the ripe old ages of 41 and 42. Even though we have only been retired for 8 months, it might as well have been a decade ago. It feels like forever since I stepped foot into a fluorescent lit office partitioned into cubicles. Part of the reason for this distance is that we completely uprooted our lives upon retirement. If we had stayed in the same place but just stopped going to work, it may not have felt as drastic. Instead, we not only quit work, we also sold everything we owned and got on a plane bound for Thailand. Lots of other things happened too.
In the financial world, front-loading means to invest a large sum early instead of spacing it out over time. (Not to be confused with a front-end load, which is a fee charged by some mutual funds that I would never invest in.) For example, I could front-load my IRA contributions by investing the $6000 maximum in January each year as opposed to contributing $500 per month. Or I could front-load my 401k by contributing more than $1583 per month, reaching the $19,000 yearly maximum before the end of December.