New town, no job…no friends?

There is so much to look forward to when you move: setting up a new home, a chance to purge the junk you’ve accumulated, exploring your new town – just to name a few. All of those things and more are very much the same when you’re no longer working. In fact, you’ve got more hours available each day to enjoy them! And you can make those numerous Lowe’s / Home Depot trips at times far less busy than you could if you still worked. But there’s something important that you don’t often see discussed on FIRE blogs or videos: the challenges of making connections and building friendships in a new town without a workplace as a central meeting point.

A brief review of recent history

I left my job nearly fifteen months ago and my family moved a few weeks later. Our new home is about three hours away from where we used to live. That means our friend group of more than eight years is within range for weekend visits, but of course those require planning. In addition, all of my close friends are still working full time – or even quite a bit more. That means weekdays are totally out and weekends are their main time to “get everything else done”. So our availability is totally different, which makes perfect sense. Admittedly I have a hard time remembering this sometimes when awaiting replies to my many text messages (sorry!).

A few weeks ago there was an otherwise inconsequential event in my life that started me thinking more about this topic. As we discussed on a recent episode of Two Sides of FI, I had made weekend plans with friends near our former home. For perfectly sensible reasons, my friends needed to postpone. I was really disappointed, and even more so than I’d let on to anyone involved. The change of plans made me feel like I didn’t matter as much to my friends as they did to me – which was of course a very silly and wholly irrational reaction. But the emotions I felt were very real, I assure you.

Why was this little thing so impactful? I had really looked forward to those plans, it seems. But why? Sure, it would have been fun to see friends. But we didn’t have anything monumental planned for that weekend, after all. And we’d likely all get together in just a few weeks (we did, and it was great). The answer is pretty simple: I haven’t made many friends since we moved, and I’m almost solely relying on my out-of-area friendships for that connection. There are a variety of reasons I haven’t yet made many friends in my new town, COVID being just one of them. But there’s a simpler reason well within my control, and one I just hadn’t yet realized.

Making friends for the world to see

Your place of work is not the only opportunity to make friends, of course. Many people build friendships through civic groups, clubs, or places of worship. But at least for me, my closest relationships have always come from the workplace, so it’s what I know best. There is no easier place for me to find like-minded people, and the collision factor of working in an office provides many opportunities to learn about people. From there originate the kernels of what later yields close friendships. It’s a very different beast to start from zero in a new area where you are no longer working – at least for me, anyhow.

My ever-astute wife, Lorri, pointed out something rather eye-opening to me while filming 2SFI: I hadn’t really been doing very much to make connections and build new friendships since moving. Honestly I hadn’t really thought that my inaction was such a big part of it but of course she was 100% right. People clearly weren’t lining up on our doorstep to introduce themselves and hang out with me – I have no illusions that I’m so interesting or fun to be around such that they’d want to do that. So naturally I had to be much more motivated about the whole thing. Obvious, right? Truly, it hadn’t been to me until that moment.

Current status + steps taken so far

I’m not lacking for social interaction in our new town. In fact, one of the very reasons I took the job one day a week at the winery tasting room is for that engagement with others. That goal has been achieved, and I’m really enjoying it. But it’s not likely I’ll make effective friendships from a largely tourist customer base. However, just working in wine has given me a springboard to meet others in the industry who clearly share common interests with me, and that’s been great. Lorri works part time at a brewery. As you’ve gathered, I like beer, and frequent those establishments as well. So any of these things could well yield friendships. Recently, I’ve started to more actively seek out opportunities to meet industry folks. I think I’m off to a good start and have met some great people but clearly need to keep it up.

As I wrote above, clubs are also a great place to connect with people through common interests. Both Lorri and I are 20+ year homebrewers and love engaging in activities around beer. There is no local club dedicated to homebrewing in our town, so we are starting one! After polling for interest in a few online forums, our first meeting is a week away. I’m excited for the possibilities here. In addition to hopefully making a few good friends, this is also an opportunity for me to teach, something I really enjoy. So even if I’m wrong about it being a great way to make friends, I know I’ll find benefit from starting up this organization.

Where do I go from here?

I think persistence is the name of the game for me at present. As described, I’ve taken a few smaller steps to put myself out there more and actively seek opportunities to connect with people. And I’ve met some nice people who I enjoy hanging out with. But I also know that I’m just getting started. I need to follow up on the leads I have and also seek more. There are a few people with whom I feel there could be a connection. I need figure out if that’s true or if they might just be nice acquaintances. It takes time to build good friendships, after all – and that’s OK. I certainly believe it is effort well spent.

I will certainly continue to get together with my very good friends who live out of the area – several are irreplaceable in terms of their importance to me. And I don’t want that to change! But realistically, I also need to keep seeking opportunities to make friends locally. This town is where we’ve chosen to live and at least for the foreseeable future, will remain. It just makes good sense to find a couple of good friends nearby. Wish me luck!

image source: Photo by Duy Pham on Unsplash

Reflections on the longest vacation of my life

It’s been just over a month since my last post – the longest writing break I’ve taken in the year that this blog has existed! Why did that happen? No, I’m not just being lazy. It was primarily because I was traveling with my family for five weeks. Yep, you read that correctly. Like most people, our vacations have historically been one week, with a few 10 to 12-day trips in recent years. This means that this trip was the longest we’ve ever taken, by more than double! What was that like and what lessons did we learn from the experience? Read on to find out all the details!

Wow, five weeks? How we spent all that time

As for many people, COVID-19 lockdowns and precautions meant that it had been about a year and a half since we’d last seen extended family and friends. Since we live in California and my wife and I are originally from the Northeast US, plane travel is effectively required to visit our parents along with other relatives and friends. By late spring we finally felt sufficiently comfortable to plan this trip. We had several family events on either end of a five-week period in June and July, and that ended up defining the duration of our travel.

In total we traveled to five states (CT, FL, MA, ME, and NY), took six flights, and drove an awful lot of miles. About half of our stays were in the homes of relatives or friends, with the remainder in vacation rentals and hotels. We had a rental car for about half of the trip and a relative graciously lent us a car for the other portion. Besides our travel and lodging, very little of our trip was planned in advance – more on that later. Most of our time was spent visiting with people, and my wife, Lorri and I spent six days properly vacationing in the Florida Keys and Miami area.

In short, our trip went really well! It was wonderful to see our family and out-of-state friends after such a long time apart. We really enjoyed the time we spent with everyone and made some nice memories. In terms of logistics – honestly, the air travel went better than expected and we felt pretty comfortable with how all of that was handled. While we needed to move around a lot to make all our visits, I think we struck the best balance we could between traveling and downtime. It was a lot of driving, but having such a long vacation meant we could spread things out to make it more manageable. Taking our longest vacation ever also taught us a lot of things.

Lessons learned from a long post-FIRE trip

I thought it would be useful to summarize our learnings in a list of short snippets, which is what I’ve done below. Recently we recorded a Two Sides of FI episode on this topic that will go into more detail on these points. I’ll update this article with a link to the video once it’s live!

Longer duration trips = less planned time, lower stress, and more relaxation

In a 1-2 week trip (or especially a three-day weekend!) I, like many, tend to feel pressure to schedule the majority of our time in order to maximize our time away. In other words, try to see/do as much as possible to get the most value out of the trip. I found that this pressure is greatly reduced in a >1 month vacation. We planned fewer things in advance and just organized our time as we went based on how we felt. We even had days where we simply took it easy. One day in Key West we just walked around and took in the sights. Not having pressure to “do stuff” was really great, and much more relaxing.

No interference from work is an obvious but amazing reality for me now

As I left my career behind more than a year ago, there are naturally no more work-related interruptions to vacations. Of course I knew this would be true but on reflection I realize how big of a deal this is. In the past, I spent my early mornings (while the family was still sleeping) on vacations catching up on work email, phone calls, etc. Occasionally trips were briefly interrupted to deal with the latest crisis back at the office; an hour-long work call while at Disneyworld comes to mind. That pressure and inconvenience is now gone! That means a more relaxing trip overall and a quicker ability to get into a vacation mindset. That’s not just better for me, it’s better for my family!

I pay even more attention to spending and being thoughtful about choices now

I’ve always considered myself a thoughtful spender, even on vacation. And this is certainly essential when you are saving and investing on a path to early retirement. It’s also true that on this first big post-FIRE trip, I found myself even more conscientious about spending. I wouldn’t say I felt limited, as budgeting for vacation is very much part of our plan. But I did think more about the merit of individual choices and trying to maximize the benefit of the expenditures. Lorri and I did have one really nice dinner out in Miami, which was wonderful. But I opted to skip the wine pairing as I wasn’t excited about it vs. having that money available to spend on something else for our trip. That’s just a simple example but it makes the point. When you are drawing down vs. accumulating assets, this mindset makes sense.

The flexibility afforded by removing work constraints is really valuable

In the past, we always had to plan family vacations around my work schedule. That didn’t always coincide with school breaks either. There were even times when my wife and daughter traveled somewhere without me because I just couldn’t get away from the office – or I had business travel that conflicted. That’s no longer an issue. This has a lot of benefits, including reducing travel expenses. Now we can plan flights or hotel stays on less expensive / less busy days or times of year. Even while my daughter is still in school and longer trips are limited to her summers off, we can leverage this. Just like going grocery shopping mid-morning on a Tuesday, post-FIRE schedules afford a lot of benefits.

This trip was a great way to test the waters of future long-term travel

My wife and I have always dreamed of longer term travel, living abroad for part of the year, etc. But it’s just a romantic notion until you’ve done it, right? While the format of this trip wasn’t exactly what we have in mind for future vacations, the duration let us test how we’d feel being away from our home so long. As we discussed at several intervals on the trip, we both felt really good about it. Five weeks never felt “too long” to us. We did agree that moving around weekly was probably about the shortest frequency we’d want to relocate on a longer trip. That was a good lesson, was the overall finding that we are now ready to try longer trips! Once our daughter is out of high school I’m sure we will do that – and now with a much higher degree of confidence. I can’t wait!

Wrapping up

Everyone has their own version of what they want retirement – early or otherwise, to look like. For Lorri and I, that vision has always included longer term travel and short term relocation. We know that this first long trip is only the first chapter in that book, but we’re happy to now have it written! There are many things that can define a successful retirement, and for us, fulfilling and fun travel is a big part of that. Irrespective of your own goals and preferences, I hope you find utility in our learnings. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to share them with you.

What questions do you have that I didn’t answer here? I’d love to hear from you. Best wishes to you all! Mahalo. ?