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.
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.
When we arrived in Danang on March 11th, Vietnam was ramping up its efforts to control the spread of COVID-19. While the country had been taking the coronavirus seriously all along, things were becoming more urgent. PSA banners had been hung on light poles of every major street and daily announcements were made over loudspeakers. Restaurants, coffee shops, and other non-essential businesses were ordered to be closed. Shortly after that, masks were required in all public places, indoors and out.
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.
After spending four weeks in Hoi An, I can confidently state that it’s one of the prettiest cities we’ve been to. The tropical climate allows flowering plants to thrive and the pastel colored buildings and vivid lanterns hanging everywhere are simply gorgeous. Earlier this month I published two pictorial posts, Hoi An during the daytime and Hoi An after the sun goes down. If you saw those posts, you can tell that it’s supremely easy to get good pictures here. The main downtown area, the Ancient Town, is car- and scooter-free so it’s wonderfully peaceful compared to most of Vietnam. The beauty and pedestrian friendly spaces draw scores of tourists from all over the world. It’s become one of the most visited places in Vietnam.
[Author’s note from the future: This post has not been edited from it’s original text. However, please keep in mind the context in which it was written. At the time of publishing, COVID-19 was mostly contained to a single area of China and was nowhere near a global pandemic. The US CDC was not recommending that the general public wear masks, only medical professionals. Obviously that turned out to be a pretty egregious error, but that’s where we stood in mid-February 2020. We still followed a “when in Rome” policy and wore masks as requested, even if we were initially skeptical. With hindsight, these requirements turned out to be quite smart and effective . Also with hindsight, I probably would have used a softer term than “hysteria” to end the next paragraph.]
Upon arrival in Ha Long, we took a Grab taxi from the bus station to the high rise apartment building where our Airbnb was located. While waiting in the modern lobby, we noticed multiple signs in multiple languages about steps to prevent transmission of the coronavirus (COVID-19). After a few minutes, we were greeted by our host. She immediately grabbed two surgical face masks from the reception desk and had us put them on. We were then escorted to a back room. Once there, we were informed that we needed to have our temperature taken by a forehead scanner before gaining access to our rental apartment. Luckily, Katie and I both registered in the normal range. I’m unsure of what would’ve happened had we not. This was our introduction to the coronavirus hysteria.
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.
A little over six months ago, Katie and I kicked off our nomadic early retirement by taking the long flight from the US to Thailand. That initial visit had us starting in Bangkok and moving south to explore three gorgeous Thai islands. Tourist visa restrictions meant that our visit had to end within 60 days, but the Thai people and their awesome food made a lasting impression. After spending four months traveling through Cambodia and Malaysia, we decided to make a return trip to Thailand. This time we headed north to spend a month in Chiang Mai.
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.
Kuala Lumpur is a cosmopolitan city with a green twist. The downtown area could be mistaken for Chicago or New York at first glance. It’s full of tall buildings, trendy shopping, and plenty of traffic. Yet despite the gigantic skyscrapers of glass and steel, nature still exists here. The sidewalks often pass by huge trees that were here before there was concrete or asphalt surrounding them. The tropical climate means that everything grows fast while frequent rains keep things clean and green. It’s a city that was literally carved out of the middle of the jungle and it shows.