Retirement Thoughts from Asia

This is the first in a series of longer articles which I’ve decided to stage as a static page instead of blog posts. Each article will be on this page separate by the name of the article and the date created.

Retirement and Travel in Asia – 27 September 2018

Many of us reach retirement age having worked for decades in a single or multiple career. Life basically changed for me the day I walked out of my last company in the Silicon Valley. On the 28th of February 2018, I left a final position which was very rewarding for me at a few levels and one at which I could have stayed longer. They asked me to consider staying and my senior VP flatly stated he refused to accept my retirement. The retirement for me was voluntary because I had a plan. The plan had slowly been taking shape since the previous year when I had vacationed in Canada. But in all honesty I had known a thing would happen at some point since about 2009. The interceding years were filled with pain, discovery, divorce, perhaps some redemption. But then 2018 arrived and I knew the days were numbered.

I did the following things to lock in retirement.

  1. Visited the local social security office and claimed retirement benefit after turning 65. This required 4 hours of waiting and an hour of meeting the retirement benefits counselor who was actually a joy to work with. I filled out the forms and was notified by the regional office a week later that my claim was approved.
  2. I had the benefits start after my last paycheck at work. This was a good thing I think for me since it gave the process a bit more time to work.
  3. I received formal notification that my benefits had kicked in and would be direct deposit to my bank.

Really this was all it took from a government perspective to retire. Now for the most exciting part of implementing my plan that had been floating around on Google Docs and later on Ulysses for a year give or take.

After Retirement, then Travel

The most exciting part once I got the approvals for retirement was the preparation for travel. I knew I would not be coming back so the travel became very important to have a plan for six months so I could have stability. I knew that I wanted to go slow and steady and not rush through so many countries and continents in so many days. I also realized I could not take a lot of stuff with me. Starting in January 2018, I began to dispose of things to get to the desired state. That state was a reduced set of clothing and possessions. I had to make final choices of what to bring for technology and electronics, what carry on travel backpack would be used, how much to carry for clothing, and what I needed to support myself for banking and mail services.

As February came around, travel preparations were more intense. I only had a shorter month to go. I had bought the one way tickets and already had a 6 month tourist visa to Vietnam but first had two weeks in Japan to see Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Osaka. I knew by September I would cross over to Cambodia and stay longer there too. I did not know in Vietnam the travels I would do in country or how it would be to live there for months. I made wrong decisions about clothing for Vietnam and also packed too many changes of clothing but in February I had no idea.

Then before I knew it, it was the last week of February. I had going away lunches and some sobering moments thinking of the travel change. Now I was down to a reduced set of belongings and only the car. The belongings were in control but the car required a transfer of ownership to my daughter. I vividly remember dropping off a small rubbermaid container of papers and the car and then walking to the BART station and catching the light rail across the Bay to a hotel by the San Francisco International Airport. It was the day before the adventure would start. I felt I had done as much as possible to reach my goal. Here are some bullet items I had done. Some cross over to retirement and others are travel related.

  1. Got rid of all debt which was a relief. When I transferred the car, the insurance policies, costs for servicing, costs for gas all went away. I had no recurring debt! I had no credit cards either. I disavowed the use of those years ago. But one error was believing that Bank of America was a good choice for travel. It is not! I had set up a second account with Capital One 360 as a personal checking account. At the point of leaving though, I kept the BofA checking and savings account and transferred monies around.
  2. Setup a mail forwarding service with US Global Mail. I will never regret this step! Taking control of my mail was a huge thing for traveling forever. They are excellent at providing the support that ex-pats need for a life on the road. I can have things shipped internationally, they scan mail to PDFs, provide a decent web interface to see things, and also the cost associated is much less than with other services. If you are retiring and leaving forever, do not leave your mail with family. You will drive them crazy or at least totally frustrate them.
  3. Get all remaining accounts setup as paperless including the social security administration (which still sends things physically) and facilitate your change of address with the USPS as needed. You have two choices. You can do a temporary change or permanent. I did a temporary change of address first and then logged back in the USPS website and changed it to permanent. Make sure you change all addresses on accounts to your mail forwarding service. Some may require a phone call to the bank or card company. They don’t like the mail forwarding services too much.
  4. Don’t forget travel alerts if your bank needs them. Also don’t forget to have two accounts at different banks.
  5. Also consider phone services. I have and will need a basic US phone service that can be used to make and get calls to US numbers. This can be done easily with Google Voice before you leave or with an app like Hushed on your mobile phone. I recommend using the Google Voice number for WhatsApp registration and use. It never changes and is easy to get before leaving. Now with Hushed I can make calls with a US phone number to another US Phone number from Cambodia or Vietnam and have done this to close a savings account at BofA.
  6. Check and double check your paperwork . Make sure you have done the research and are covered for visa and passport needs. Make sure your passport has at least 6 months but it should have much longer. Get the papers and passport photos printed out you need. I found an app for my iPhone that did passport photos and then submitted them for printing for much cheaper than a trip to Walmart or a drugstore.
  7. A final word on electronics and phones. Make sure your devices all work in all countries and support the voltages you will want to use them in. Make sure you have charging devices that will let you easily charge a phone or tablet and a laptop. If you carry a laptop, do you really want that 6 pound monster or perhaps a chromebook would work better? I have a MacBook 12 inch 2017 model which is at 2 pounds in weight. It’s nice on the road. Make sure that your phone is SIM unlocked and you are good with how to change SIM cards. Phone service is different where you end up and you will buy SIM cards and use them.

Now perhaps you have all the items checked. Retirement is a go. You have filed and received official notification of award. Travel has a basic plan which is flexible and can be changed as necessary but if you are going slow, consider that if you can have 6 months somewhere you can settle a bit. You have electronics and charging that will work in the countries you are going to. You’ve decided on a platform and ecosystem that will work for you. You have cloud storage for documents that you can reach easily from your devices. Cloud storage will help dramatically. I use Google Drive and iCloud storage. I buy more of both and they work pretty well.

You have all the boxes checked and you’ve minimized or become a realist with what you can carry. Where should you go? I cannot really tell you about other places except for Vietnam and Cambodia. Either place is cheaper than what you are used to in the states. But things work differently. Money, transportation, food, social life, travel within the country are all different. You need to do some diligence because I cannot name a country for you to visit. I can tell you that Vietnam is fun place but you could get there and not like it. I think you need to study things and read a bit before you decide. A shorter trip may help as well. I will say that a few things are significant. How the country’s Visa laws work. How different it is in the place you are going. How long to stay? These are all personal decisions. I can tell you that staying longer is better because you get stability and get a sense of how things work. I don’t think you want to be a RTW traveler or digital nomad but you may want some of the services that these guys use. No rules apply to what you call yourself.

This leads me to the next article in the series which will come in a week or so and is about traveling in Asia with limited funds.