I Retired at 40 to Sail Around the World — Here Are the Strategies I Used to Make It Possible
When people hear that we sailed around the world (I let that tidbit drop a lot), a common question is: How much money does it take?
When I started saving for early retirement, I thought it was only about money, and my own background drove me to accumulate as much money as possible. When I was a teenager our family fell apart in a big, splashy, made-for-TV movie kind of way. My dad had a brain tumor, my mother left to pursue her career, and my parents filed for both bankruptcy and divorce. By first world standards, I understood financial insecurity at an early age.
Determined to educate and better myself, I joined the Army as soon as I possibly could to learn a skill and get an education. I didn’t earn much money in the military, but my only expenses were a Datsun B210 (I loved that car!), college courses when I was not deployed, and personal travel.
I saved every other paycheck in fixed interest certificates of deposit at the bank until I received my first financial guidance in the form of a Money magazine and read about ways to earn higher returns. I then moved my money into a brokerage account and right away realized the higher yields of a long-term tax-free bond fund and no-load Standard & Poor's 500 Index fund.
My plan was to retire after serving 20 years in the military, then live off my pension and the interest from the $100,000 nest egg I was trying to accumulate. That sum seems insignificant in terms of today’s buyouts and big salaries, but I was just a teenager and the thought of that much money blew my mind. The point is, at the time, I didn’t really think about what I would do with early retirement freedom and thought about saving money more as a cushion against poverty. In the end, we were able to save much more than $100,000 in a taxable brokerage account, whose interest we live off today in addition to our pensions.
Begin with the End in Mind
At 30, I married Glen, who brought an even bigger idea to our relationship: retire early and sail around the world. That audacious and fantastic dream taught me that accumulating money for its own sake was not enough.
Having a powerful dream energized both of us; saving and investing our money went from machine-like to exciting. We lived solely on Glen’s income as an engineer and directed my Army salary into a wider diversity of no-load mutual funds, to include international, Standard & Poor's 500, growth and long-term, tax-free bonds. We trusted those funds to provide low risk and steady growth for our IRAs, Glen’s 401(k), and sail-away nest egg.
The Secret Sauce: Visualize the Life You Want After Retirement
The separation of military deployments is hard on relationships, but we found a powerful tool that kept the passion and commitment strong for both our marriage and dream to sail around the world: visualization. No matter where I was stationed or deployed—the DMZ in Korea, Bosnia, conducting nuclear weapons inspections in Russia—every night I visualized what I called, A Perfect Day on the Boat.
Whether in a tent, a Quonset hut or working in subzero temperatures in Russia, I fell asleep imagining myself on the deck of a sailboat anchored in clear turquoise water or flying under sail with dolphins off the bow. That image ended every day with a smile and kept me sane and focused no matter my real living conditions. It also made the extensive preparation, study and training required for our voyaging plans a pleasure rather than burden; I could close my eyes and know how wonderful it would be.
Image Comes to Life
Once Glen and I got both our hearts and minds in gear with visualization, unseen hands seemed to clear a path to our dream. I was 40 and Glen was 55 when we retired with our respective military and government pensions. The boat itself was the big question. I always saw myself on a well-equipped, ocean-capable, sleek and fast sailboat. However, offshore voyaging boats built in the U.S. were beyond our financial reach.
At just the right time in our plans, a Money article came out about the increased power of the dollar and the advantage of buying Europe-based mutual funds. That article was our springboard to buy a blue-water-capable boat overseas for half the cost of one built in the U.S. The unexpected advantage in the currency exchange rate allowed us to sail off in a brand-new French-built Amel sailboat, designed to be sailed by a couple and sturdy enough to cross oceans. We named our boat, It’s Enough, and it was exactly what we needed to make our dream a reality.
Your post-retirement plans are likely far different from ours. But remember, that wonderful post-retirement lifestyle is your goal, not the money. These days, my husband I live in a log cabin in the high country of Arizona. We still travel the world, but now as international disaster response volunteers for the American Red Cross, installing communications and internet for disaster relief and humanitarian operations.
You can visualize your dream on any budget, it’s just a matter of scale. Let visualization empower your actions and not only will you realize your plans faster, you get to live it in your mind, starting today. Enjoy your journey!