I’d forgotten how much fun holidays are. It’s been four years since we’ve taken one. Gotten out of the country during the winter when the beaches and seawater seem like gifts from the gods and you feel blessed to be alive.
Our vacation was a long time coming. After I sold my downtown Toronto condo and purchased a new home in Oakville I was so thrilled to be back in a larger space with windows that open wide onto the backyard deck, ample space for entertaining and a private third floor writing room, I decided to put all my chips in one basket: the home.
For the last three years, my spouse and I were focused on decorating our new home while paying down the mortgage. In my sixties, the decision to buy and take on a new mortgage was a big one. Beyond question, the house is my biggest asset and my time and the money invested in it have paid off.
We relish our surroundings every day. The fireplace in the bedroom: a wonderful luxury. The knowledge that the house was a prescient investment: a sure way to sleep tight at night.
While global stock markets roil with political uncertainty, the house remains rock solid. As spouse and I settled in, real estate prices in our community rocketed. Our Oakville home is worth 25 per cent more than it was when we purchased it in January 2014.
Yet, I wanted a change of scenery. In the fall of this year, with an icy, bleak winter ahead, I took stock of the value of the house and my investment portfolio and decided to cut myself some slack. I booked a cruise on the Celebrity line for the last ten days in January. Spouse and I were heading to the Caribbean, all the way south to Barbados and we couldn’t wait.
Problems did emerge even before we departed. I’d booked the holiday directly with the cruise line rather than a travel agent. What I learned was it’s a big mistake not to take advantage of the services of a reputable travel agent.
Celebrity spelled the name of my spouse incorrectly and no matter how many times I called and even after I paid them to change the spelling on his air ticket, it was not corrected.
If Air Canada hadn’t been kind enough to change the spelling of his name at the airport and keep the flight open for us, we’d have missed the cruise entirely and at our cost.
True, we got off to a bad start, but after that it was smooth sailing. Literally. We sailed on the Equinox from Fort Lauderdale to the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Kitts, St. Maarten, down to Barbados and back. Ten days of perfect sunny, warm weather, gorgeous beaches, brilliant meals and a verandah stateroom where we took afternoon cocktails and held hands watching the lush green islands of the Caribbean pass languidly by.
At the 8:30 dinner seating, we were fortunate enough to sit beside a couple from Germany who shared our values and interest in politics. Dinner conversation became a highlight of the cruise, as was the tour of Barbados we took with a group of inner-city Americans. The Germans had traveled the world while the Americans had never been outside their country and both points of view were enlightening.
After a few days on the ship, spouse and I were both relaxed, sun tanned and finding ourselves renewing a romance that began five years ago. He holds down two jobs while I freelance and sit on various boards. It’s remarkable how busy we are and how difficult it is to find unstructured time to just kickback and enjoy each other’s company.
The vacation reminded us that hard work, diligent saving and investing is not just to see returns on a spreadsheet. As we age, I believe we have the tendency to become overly cautious, to worry about finances and retirement in a way that can be counter productive; that is, keep us from experiencing the very things we’ve saved for.
A wise economist said to me, “There are two major problems in retirement. One is not having enough money to see you through. The other problem is having so much, you spend all your time worrying about paying too much taxes as you cash in your assets.”
For most of us, having too much money is not the issue. The trick is to find the happy medium, the sweet spot where you have enough to shelter yourself from the storms of older age, such as health tsunamis, but not so much that you can’t relish the joy of retirement. Travel can be a guilt-free component of that joy.
The Caribbean cruise reminded me that in retirement, we do get the opportunity to let go of the reins and occasionally splurge. Guilt free. I’m already dreaming about next winter’s vacation. Any suggestions?