Designing Our New Life – The Power of Early Retirement

Designing Our New Life – The Power of Early Retirement

Change. I thrive on it. It’s the only way to continue to learn, grow, and become better. On the flip side, I think that complacency is just the path to a slow death.

That’s why, as much as I know I’m going to miss Boquete, I’m excited to map out our new life for next year.

We’ll be moving back to the U.S. in May of 2022. Although a year seems like a long way off, it’s time to start thinking about what things will look like for us when that happens.

Will our new life be back to living in a house or apartment and just going through the motions like we did for so many years before?

Or will we take things to another level and dive into a new adventure?

I’d guess we’ll do a little bit of both. The freedom that early retirement provides gives us so many choices that we wouldn’t have otherwise. I’d imagine that we’ll dive into some fun first before we settle into a place. Then I can envision us settling in for a little while and hanging with friends and family some more.

I’ll tell you, when we first decided to move back, I wasn’t happy at all. And I know there’s going to be a lot of things I’ll miss here (especially the perfect daily temps and the friendliness of so many people here). However, the more I think about it, the more excited I get about the possibilities to come.

Let’s talk about the road we’ve traveled, why early retirement is the key to an amazing life, and some thoughts for our new life.

The ride thus far…

If you’ve been following along, we’ve had a wild ride so far. We reached a million-dollar net worth in 2017 (which has grown quite a bit since). We continued saving and investing, Lisa slowly phased out corporate life, and then I retired from my career at the end of 2018.

Then, in the summer of 2019, we moved to Panama in the beautiful city of Boquete. It’s a smaller town in the mountains with an estimated population of 30-40k and another estimation of 10% of that number being ex-pats like us.

Life’s been good. Between the daily 75° F temps every day and the beautiful landscapes, it’s hard not to love it here. We’ve met a ton of people and made new friends. We enjoy a lot of time hiking, walking around the town, taking beach trips, and trying out the amazing restaurants. And Faith’s been doing well homeschooling.

Designing Our New Life – The Power of Early Retirement - Jim, Lisa, and Faith in front of a waterfall

Then a little virus decided to be a big problem. What are the chances that a once-in-century pandemic hits shortly after we move to another country to start a new life?

It was a struggle here, too. Panama was extremely aggressive and we spent months in complete quarantine. And we were lucky – many working Panamanians were out of jobs and just trying to make ends meet to be able to feed their families.

We finally took a humanitarian flight out in July of 2020. Because the Panamanian borders were closed to non-residents, we weren’t sure if we’d ever get back there again. So, we made lemonade out of lemons, bought a 2012 Honda Pilot, and took an awesome road trip around the U.S.

Luckily, the borders re-opened and we made it back to Panama in October of 2020. Things have loosened up here dramatically since then. Masks are still required in public, your temperature is taken and hand sanitizer is given before entering commercial establishments, and there is still a curfew every night. However, those small things aren’t a big deal in my book.

So we’re getting back to normal here with our lives. However, we still don’t feel comfortable hanging out with other folks, taking public transportation, and other potential “VID-spreading” activities like that. The good news is that we’re planning on heading back to the U.S. again in July and Lisa and I will get vaccinated while there. The bad news is that Faith will only be 11 by then and will likely still be too young to get her jabs just yet.

We’ll still need to be a little careful after that, but considering the virus usually doesn’t affect kids as badly as it could adults, we’ll have a little more confidence in getting back on the bus, having lunch with friends, etc.

After a long discussion, we decided to continue living in Boquete until May of 2022. That’ll give us a chance to try to knock out a punch list of activities we’ve wanted to do here and enjoy Panama even more. We lost a year to this stupid virus but we don’t intend to let this next year pass us up!

The power of early retirement

When it comes to long vacations or sabbaticals, they tend to end with you moving back to reality and going back to work. And when I think of moving back, I still seem to have that notion in my head… but I don’t need to.

Sure, we’re planning on moving back to Ohio next year, but there’s no reason that we can’t spice it up with some flexibility that we couldn’t do if we were working.

There’s no job to go back to for us. We don’t have to worry about being close to work, though we’ll likely go back to our neighborhood so Faith can attend her old school. However, we’re going to move back in May and Faith won’t need to attend school until August… and that’s if we decide not to continue homeschooling.

That gives us an entire summer of fun that we can mold to our liking.

Early retirement gives us the freedom to design our new life however we like. If we want to float around without a real home for a few months kind of like we did in 2019, we can do that. If we want to travel across the country on a massive road trip, we can do that as well.

It’s strange to realize just how powerful this is – without having a job or a house/apartment anchoring us down, we’re completely liberated. We can go wherever we want and stay for as long as we want- especially if we continue to homeschool Faith. The power of early retirement is truly amazing.

So let’s talk about some of our thoughts on this new life of ours.

Designing our new life

Keep in mind that Lisa, Faith, and I have just started brainstorming some ideas. There’s nothing firm set right now… but that’s half the fun! Here are a few thoughts that have come up in our discussion.

First off, my initial thought was that we’d move from Panama right into an apartment in Ohio. In fact, I was thinking we would possibly even the same apartment complex we lived in for almost a year before we moved to Panama.

But why? We don’t need to do that. Why go right into “normality” when we have a lot of breathing room to be more creative?!

Since we know that the soonest Faith would go back to school (if we don’t homeschool another year) would be in August, why not consider foregoing a rent payment for a few months? Don’t forget that we sold almost everything we owned before we moved here.

And since almost every place here in Panama is fully furnished, we didn’t accumulate a lot of crap here either. We plan to come back with just two suitcases each just like we did when we moved here. That means we don’t really need a place for excess junk we bring back. If we do need to dump off anything we don’t need right away, we’re still renting a small storage unit in Ohio we can use.

So what to do for those few months?

Another road trip!

We had such a blast on our 40-day road trip in 2020 that it only makes sense to do it again. This time around though, we’ve learned a few things. The first is that the three of us sleeping in the back of a Honda Pilot on an air mattress isn’t great.

Designing Our New Life – The Power of Early Retirement - Air Mattress Sleeping

The problem isn’t so much that it’s tight – we can accept and tolerate that. However, throughout the night, anytime any of us would try to roll over to get more comfortable, the air mattress would make a ton of noise. Imagine each of us moving throughout the night and waking each other up. That doesn’t bode well for a night’s sleep.

But after our road trip, we did try taking Faith’s old real mattress and using that instead of the air mattress during a camp-out at my cousin’s house. That mattress worked so much better! Much more comfortable and a lot quieter.

So that approach would be a winner for this road trip.

The other thing that was kind of a pain on our big road trip was setting up shop each time we’d arrive at a campsite. We’d rush to get to a place and set up before the sun would set because it would be a lot tougher to do otherwise. This was the routine when we’d get somewhere to stay overnight:

  • Take everything off the cargo holder from the back of the SUV temporarily.
  • Move all our stuff from the backseat and trunk area of the Honda Pilot to the front seats (and we’d have to cram everything!).
  • Lay the backseat down (Faith obviously sits there while we’re driving).
  • Inflate the air mattress.
  • Make the bed and get it all set up.
  • Move everything back onto the cargo holder and off the ground.

And during this time, we were trying to get dinner made as well. It wasn’t the end of the world, but it was a little project with each overnight stay in the car.

So my new idea was to kill two birds with one stone. I like the simplicity of traveling in our car and I don’t want to go all-in with an RV or a pop-up or anything. However, a little more storage room would make all the difference. If we got a small enclosed cargo trailer, this could be a huge help. Here’s a picture of what I’m envisioning:

Designing Our New Life – The Power of Early Retirement - A 4x6 enclosed trailer might be just what we need!
Image from Rocky Mountain Trailers

That said, there’s no way you’d find me paying over $2,700 for something like this! Instead, we’d look at seeing if we could find one for much, much cheaper at either a second-hand place like OfferUp or Craiglist. Another option would be to rent one. At a glance, U-Haul had a slightly bigger version for $15/day.

Regardless, imagine that we have the mattress and bedding in the back of the Honda Pilot. We’d likely use a tie-down strap to keep it folded somewhat while in the back since Faith sits back there. I’m sure she wouldn’t want a mattress tapping her on the head while we’re driving. But then, everything else would be stored in a little trailer like this.

Our evening could then flow like this when we got to a place we wanted to stay overnight:

  • Lay the backseat down (again, Faith sits there while we’re driving)
  • Unstrap and lay the mattress down
  • Make the bed and get it all set up

Holy cow, that’s easy! I like that flow a lot better! Efficiency is a good thing.

Then we started doing some random brainstorming on where we would go from Ohio. This is still in the very early stages but here are a few quick (and very random!) mentions, especially from Faith:

  • Canada / Niagara Falls
  • Cedar Point
  • Great Wolf Lodge
  • Las Vegas
  • Alaska
  • Texas

Haha, needless to say, that would put us all over the map. I think we’ll need to look at a map with Faith and try this again on figuring it out. Rest assured, we’ll be using RV Parky again for this trip!

But we like the idea of doing what we did last time. We did some tent camping, slept in the car some nights, stayed with family/friends, and stayed for 5 nights in different Hilton hotels (absolutely free!). If staying at hotels for free sounds appealing to you, check out my post, Free Nights – We’ve Had 5 at Hilton Hotels Recently.

This time though, we’ll probably travel a little slower and stay for 2-3 nights in most areas so we can explore a little more.

Every new life should include a train ride through Alaska!

When the girls brought up Alaska, it made me think of the train rides you see on TV traveling through the beautiful mountains there. We’ve talked about doing an Alaskan cruise before but the tropical cruises always win out because, well, it’s not freezing in the Caribbean!

But maybe this is something we could combine as part of the road trip. If we’re driving across the country just to do it, maybe a train ride through Alaska would be an awesome addition to the plan.

Designing Our New Life – The Power of Early Retirement - Train through the mountains of Alaska

I know nothing about this sort of thing. I’m guessing that the train rides would be out of somewhere like Anchorage though and that would mean we’d need to fly there. Maybe we could visit Seattle first and then fly out of there to Alaska.

If you’ve ever done this before or have some input on it, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Let me know in the comments.

Vacationing here and there…

We’re also talking about possible places to fly to for a vacation. Our favorite, of course, is to take a cruise. You get to visit multiple countries in one trip with the actual traveling between the places being the best part!

Yeah, I know – cruise ships, COVID, germs, etc. – what a cesspool. Don’t care. I love ’em and would head back on one today if we could. Soon enough, my friend… soon enough!

Designing Our New Life – The Power of Early Retirement - On our balcony on a cruise ship

Another thought I threw out there was a place called Lake Chapala in Mexico. I’ve heard from a few people in Boquete talking about that being a somewhat comparable place to Boquete. I haven’t dug into it too much yet but it sounds interesting nonetheless. If it turns out to be a place that fits the bill for us, it would be fun to check it out for a couple of weeks.

Down the line, this could be an interesting alternative to Boquete. I don’t know about the travel either but going back and forth to Mexico might just be a little easier than Panama.

Also, I just listened to a great podcast episode from Joshua at Radical Personal Finance titled: How to Move to Mexico (and Why You Should Establish Residency Now, Not Later). It seems extremely easy to gain residency with very few requirements and it’s made me raise an eyebrow of curiosity. Maybe Mexico will be another new life of ours down the line!

Continuing our new life

After we’re done traveling for a few months, we’ll likely get an apartment at least for a year. We’ll possibly move into the same complex as we lived before we moved to Panama. That way, Faith could go to the same public school system she was in previously.

The reason this is important is that the transition from homeschooling to regular school likely won’t be crazy easy. However, she already knows (and keeps in contact with) some of the kids there. That might just make things a little smoother.

Again, that’s if we decide to not continue homeschooling. Homeschooling’s been great for us for so many reasons but that’s a topic for another day.

After the move into the apartment, who knows? I don’t like the idea of buying another house right now or possibly ever again. I love the flexibility that we have now to be able to move to different places as we see fit. Maybe we’ll rent a house if that fits our needs a little better.

Lisa’s also talked about going back to work part-time. She likes the structure and socialization that it brings with it. Funny enough, that could also carry implications that we’ll need to be careful of with our Roth IRA conversion ladder. But an easy way around that would be to just have all or most of her earned income go toward pre-tax retirement accounts like a 401(k) or traditional IRA.

In the long run, time will tell what our new life holds. And that’s the beauty of financial independence – the choice becomes yours and freedom becomes your best friend.


So that’s where we are on things right now. It’s early though – we still have a year of fun to enjoy in Panama. And who knows, things will likely change by the time next May rolls around. We’ll probably add some things and take away others. Regardless, it’s fun to brainstorm and come up with ideas for our new life!

Plan well, take action, and live your best life!

Thanks for reading!!

— Jim

42 thoughts on “Designing Our New Life – The Power of Early Retirement”

  1. So Jim, you never really got into the reasons you decided to leave Panama. Bored with it? Does Faith want to get back to American friends? You guys miss your families too much? Just curious. Rick

    1. Hi Rick – I talked more about our decision in my linked post, We Decided Not To Move Back Home to the U.S. Yet!. We love it here in Boquete but it really boils to a couple of things:

      • We think Faith should be around more kids (though she’d be content without that!)
      • Missing family and friends – which is why we’re going to move back to Ohio versus somewhere without snow… ugh. 🙂

      Regardless, you never know if we’ll end up back here down the line once Faith’s older… time will tell! In the meantime, we’re going to make sure to enjoy every minute of this next year while we’re here.

  2. Enjoy your choice. The only thing that slightly disturbs me is your use of the word “I” in your postings. Sample: today you used the I word about returning to the states. Only in later paragraphs do you talk about what your wife and daughter want and then only about “fun” the last year In Panama. I may be wrong, but you never said what “they” want in a choice to return to Ohio.
    Good luck in your last year. Stay safe and healthy.

    1. Sorry if that threw you off but believe me, it’s been a collaborative decision. Personally, I’m torn – I love the weather, people, and small-town feel here… but I also know in the back of my mind that there are a lot more opportunities for everyone back in Ohio. And, of course, family and friends are back there.

      Faith would be content to just stay here in Panama forever. Although one of the big driving points for this is to get her around other kids again, she could care less. She’ll be excited once we’re actually back but she’s disappointed that we’ve decided to move back.

      And Lisa’s ready to go. She likes Boquete a lot but she gets homesick probably more than any of us. I think she also wants to go back to work (part-time) to have something more structured to do and for the social aspect… and probably to get away from me and Faith periodically! 😉

      If homesickness didn’t come into play for Lisa and Faith, we’d probably move to someplace without snow. So I guess back to Ohio it is… for now at least!

      Hope that helps!

  3. The Alaska Railroad trip you are talking about goes between Fairbanks and Anchorage. You could drive up to Fairbanks once Canada opens up, take the train to Anchorage, and then enjoy Anchorage and other places by rail and bus for a while. Then you could take the train back to Fairbanks and drive where ever you wanted. If you do drive to Fairbanks, I highly recommend takingthe Cassiar Highway through BC.

    1. Thanks, Mary – great information! That seems like one heckuva long drive to get there but if we make Alaska our focus then it sounds like it could be worth it. I’ll be coming back to this comment to dig into things further if we decide to make it happen!

  4. Sounds like a good plan with plenty of time to think ahead and make the most of it!

    I have a solution for you. Instead of moving back to Ohio, move to a place with more moderate temperature and a great lifestyle.

    I am seeing an uptick in people interested in migrating to California from the south or the Midwest for a better life.

    Considerate! There’s a reason why California has the most number of billionaires by far and millionaires. They can live anywhere, but they choose California.

    Sam

    1. California does have great weather but you’re right, Sam – it’s for folks with the big bucks. Although we’re blessed to be early retired and not need to work again, we still have a “fixed income” so to speak and California would be too pricey for us. That’s one of the reasons we came to Boquete in the first place – it has the beautiful 75° temps every day but the costs less than most states in the Midwest.

      That said, we considered moving to another state (like TN or SC). However, we’d still be in the same boat with Lisa and Faith still being homesick. Going back to Ohio (at least for now) will fill those gaps, albeit with the fact that I’ll go back to having to deal with the cold and snowy winters I hate. But at least we can travel during those times a little easier now.

      1. Oh heck, we can do better than that – we’ll let you stay in our 35′ fifth wheel at the campsite we recently purchased. No charge (and 3 swimming pools!). The offer stands, we’d love to have you spend some time in the Appalachian Mountains with us (cue the banjo’s…)

  5. Jim, great post. As my family gets closer to FI we are fortunate enough to start having discussions similar to yours but it proves what this journey provides. We sometimes get frustrated with all the options but then we try to remind ourselves that we are lucky to even being able to have options which sounds like your problem/blessing =). Any thoughts on heading over to Europe or Asia?

    1. It’s crazy to grasp just how much choice FIRE brings and you’re right, it can be a bit overwhelming… in a good way!

      Both Europe and Asia (and Australia) draw interest with all of us. In fact, Thailand sounds like an awesome place to check out. The problem is that I get antsy on a plane. Flying to Panama isn’t too horrible because we always have a layover along the way. But once we get at about the 4-hour mark, I gotta get off the plane. If I went to Europe or Asia, I’d probably be the guy you see on the news that flips out and had to be zip-tied until landing. 😉

      I’ll stick with North and Central America for now and have to explore the rest of the world through the internet!

  6. For whatever my 2 cents are worth…if you’re looking to take the most advantage of the flexibility you have before your wife and daughter potentially return to work and school, Alaska would seem like it offers the most adventure. It would also probably be more difficult to do if you had to fit within the confines of work and school structure so now might be the most opportune time. Whatever you decide, enjoy!

    1. That’s a great point that I didn’t think of, NMW. Maybe that would make sense to either do in the summer or sometime soon thereafter while we’re still possibly homeschooling. Thanks for the 2 cents… I’ll take ’em!

  7. Yes! Take a road trip here in Mexico, there are a lot of options for you guys! Chapala sounds good, San Miguel de Allende, Merida, Tulum, are other great places you can visit…

    Good Luck

    1. Awesome! Thanks for the other places to dig into, Fabian! I haven’t heard of the other areas you’ve mentioned but I’ll definitely be jotting them down to dig into more. Very much appreciated!

  8. Stephanie Chin

    Great post!

    Alaska was the cruise I enjoyed the most. Even compared to Disney in Europe. It’s a much more casual affair, the scenery is amazing and there’s a lot of fun excursions. If I remember correctly you can add the train to some cruises. And some cruise one way and train the other way too. We were on Holland America.

    Can’t wait to hear what you decide!

    1. That does sound pretty awesome, Stephanie! Maybe for time’s sake, we could separate the road trip and Alaska into two separate trips. I like your idea of doing a cruise and incorporating a train ride into it if we can. Thanks for the great info!

  9. For natural beauty that is a little closer than Alaska, I would recommend the Canadian Rockies: Banff, AB, Lake Moraine and Lake Louise, Canada. This area is rated by National Geographic as among the top 25 most beautiful places on the planet. Abundant wildlife including grizzly and brown bears, all readily visible from the safety of your Honda Pilot.

  10. TunaFishTuesdays

    Ahh, the fun and excitement and trepidation of long-term planning! Good luck with all of it.

    Two thoughts” first, thanks for the tip on the residency in Mexico podcast–I will listen to it today while doing some cooking. Been thinking about that ourselves for a long while and all info is helpful. Well, “most”, I suppose!

    Second, as far as your possible road trip: have you thought about a car topper instead? I would think you’d get better mileage, a cheaper startup price, better handling and ease of maneuvering (wow, I had to look up the spelling on that one!), and great efficiency in terms of stopping for the night, having things organized according to use and set up. Our family used one on a six-week road trip with two kids years ago and it was great.

    Have a great time with your last year in Boquete!

    1. Haha, it’s nice to just be able to copy and paste “maneuvering” from your comment if I needed to since I know you already looked up the spelling! 😉

      We actually owned a car topper a couple of years ago and it worked well for what we needed it for then. The thing I don’t like is that on a big road trip, climbing up there several times a day to get what we needed would honestly be a pain in the butt. A trailer would be so much easier to access so much… for me at least. But maybe it could be worth the hassle versus the cost/handling versus a small trailer. Guess we’ll see what kind of mood I’m in as we get closer!

  11. Jim, I’ve only just started reading some of your posts and following along in your journey. Everything has it’s ups and downs no doubt, but this is quite the adventure you guys are on! What amazing memories you all have already made and will continue to make to carry with you throughout your life. Not to mention, all of the great exposure and life experience you are giving your daughter at such a young age. What a great gift! If there ever was an example of what FI can bring you, this is it! Kudos to you guys for putting yourselves in a position to control your future and live life on your terms! Very inspiring! Can’t wait to see where your journey takes you…

    1. Thanks, Chad – very much appreciated. That’s how I look at it, too… even though we’re heading back to the US next year, all three of us have had a great experience here already (minus the pandemic!). Once we get back to the US, that freedom FIRE provides will continue to give us so much time together so we’ll keep having fun with new adventures!

  12. It’s anticipated that vaccination for children under 12 will be approved by late summer.
    The medical trials are ongoing now.

    1. Good to know, Mark – hopefully, we’ll get lucky and be able to get that taken care of before we head back to Panama. It’s a long shot (we’ll be heading back in early to mid-August) but that would be nice.

  13. You could rent an Airbnb for a month at a time to explore various areas. That sounds like a lot of fun to me.
    As for change, I’m not sure how I feel about it. Mrs. RB40 loves stability so we don’t really change much. I like change if it’s for the better. I don’t know…
    Next year will be a big year for us too. Mrs. RB40 plans to “retire” and see if she likes it. We plan to travel extensively. Hopefully, Covid will be under control by then.
    We’ll see how it goes.

  14. Change keeps things interesting, so it’s good that you’re trying not to just going back to your “old life”.

    As far as the Alaska trip goes, your best bet (with Canada being closed) is to fly to Anchorage and catch the train from there. My parents have done it. They said it was a nice trip, but nothing outstanding.

    A lot of people enjoy taking a cruise up to Alaska from Seattle. It’s just like your typical Caribbean cruise, except it’s cold and there’s whales and snowy mountains to look at.

    1. That’s interesting to hear that your parents weren’t blown away by the trip – I don’t know a ton of people personally who have done this so any info is good info. I like the idea of combining a cruise with the train trip – hopefully, we would love one of both parts of that vacation!

  15. I went to Alaska as a kid, it was a fly in rent an RV and then drop it off and take a cruise back to Seattle. It offered the best of everything

  16. It’s great that when you are early retired, it’s your choice on where you want to live and when you want to walk.

    Just today I was eating my subway Tuna sandwich because it was my lunch hour and my boss comes flying in and calls me to work on something… Like… Can’t I enjoy my lunchtime without being bothered and feeling the need to respond?

    I can’t wait until I work on things I want to, not what someone else wants me to.

    1. Ugh, that sucks. I remember being in the same boat – lunchtime wasn’t really lunchtime if something was going on. And a tuna sandwich from Subway sounds pretty delicious right about now! 🙂

  17. Best of luck and sounds like an adventure over the last couple years Jim. While most of us know that buying experiences is better for happiness than buying things, the less talked about thing is that anticipating those experiences is a big part of the enjoyment as well. Have fun with the choosing and the looking forward to 🙂

    1. You’re so right about that – the lead-up to things like vacation can sometimes be just as exciting as the actual trip. A lot of times we have countdowns on calendars or widgets on our phones. The planning and daydreaming about it just seem to instill happiness. Hmm, that might be a good blog post in the making! 😉

  18. Incredible to see what can be done with a Honda pilot! We have one, too. We may have to try out your strategy one day! Congrats on making the big decision to move back. I look forward to following your journey!

    Disha

  19. Have you considered postponing your vaccination trip to the US until September/October? In all likelihood the Pfizer shot will be approved for 2-11 year olds in September and probably will be available almost immediately. Your daughter could get the shot too, then.

    (Or, if she’s 11, will she be 12 soon?)

    1. That’s a really good thought but, unfortunately, we wouldn’t be able to stay in Panama that long. Since we don’t have residency here, we have to follow the tourist rules which say that we can’t be here longer than 6 months at a time.

      Hopefully, things start opening up here in Panama by the time we get back, and maybe we can get her the Pfizer shots later in the fall (she’s just turning 11). Worst case, we’ll get her jabs when we get back to the U.S. again for yet another visit around November/December.

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