Yes, I Really Did Retire at 54 and Travel the World

The plaza in Competa, Spain.

Time flies when you’re having a good time! The last seventeen years have flown by that’s for sure. Turns out time also flies by even when you’re not having a such a good time. However, I’m not going to write about the bad times this morning. I’m going to answer a question — again— that over the last seventeen years I’ve been asked a lot

How did I manage to retire at age fifty-four?

That’s the #1 question that I’ve been asked over and over again. There’s a string of questions that follow, but I’m only going to answer the #1 and #2 questions. What’s the second question?

How did I manage to travel the world for four years after I retired?

So, let’s start at the beginning.

Once upon a time, I was a public school educator for twenty-two years and an administrator for six. I taught grade five for most of those years and LOVED it. I enjoyed my job during a time period when being a teacher was a good profession. I like kids (and dogs) better than grownups, and kids (and dogs) like me. I love school, and so I found a way to attend school for most of my life. I was either a student or a teacher from kindergarten until I was fifty-four years old.

At the end of that summer, I didn’t return to school for the first time since kindergarten.

I was a principal of an elementary school in rural Maine for the last six years of my career. I didn’t enjoy that job as much. I think it was because over 50% of my time was spent solving the problem’s of adults. Let me tell you, compared to children’s problems, adult problems suck. Teachers, parents, school board members, all demanded my full attention. Unlike teaching, there was rarely a day when I’d made everyone happy.

So, one day, almost out of the blue, I decided that I wanted to look into early retirement.

I really didn't expect anything to come of it, but I made an appoointment with the department of education and drove down to the state capitol with a list of questions.

Turns out that I was vested enough to be able to retire if I was willing to take a significant hit to my pension.

Here’s what went through my mind.

Both of my kids were finished with college and working. I was tired of my job. I wanted to recreate myself. I was ready for an adventure. How big of a risk was I willing to take?

I had a backup plan if truth be told. I decided I would retire, start collecting my pension, and accept a job in another state. I picked Florida.

That was a mistake. Florida, I soon found out, was a sunny state for shady people. Furthermore, the only job I applied for was with a charter school. We didn’t have charter schools in Maine. I had no idea how slipshod they could be. I took the job.

We winterized our house, hired a guy to look after it, and headed to Florida.

By February, I had resigned. Needless to say, there were a lot of things that my superiors asked me to overlook, things that were pretty iffy practices. I wasn't about to risk my sterling reputation. It was traumatic. Later, the charter school, one of many in Florida, was shut down. It took far too long, in my opinion, but that’s Florida for you.

Florida left a bad taste in my mouth.

The work world has become pretty shitty across the board in the last seventeen years, including my beloved profession. I hold Florida partially responsible for leading the nation down a nasty path. Florida is a trendsetter but not in a good way.

So, I had to make a decision.

Did I want to go back to Maine, get a new job in Florida, or do something entirely different. I chose something entirely different which brings me to question number two.

How did I manage to travel the world for four years?

First of all, I could’ve easily traveled the world much longer, but my granddaughter was born and I came back to the states to be close to her. I was renting an apartment in Killarney, Ireland at the time. Two weeks before she was born, I returned stateside for her birth. My plans were to rent an apartment close to her and live six months stateside and six months abroad. Needless to say, I took one look at her and permanently changed the way I traveled thereafter.

Now, I winter for a few months every year in Spain. However, prior to her birth, I lived everywhere but nowhere for almost four years.

It started out as a gap year. I quit the shit job in Florida and convinced my husband that before I decided whether I wanted to work again or not, that we should consider going abroad for a year. He’d already quit his low paying job in Maine to go to Florida with me.

When I suggested that he quit work entirely for a year so that we could go abroad, he jumped on board quicker than I had expected actually. So, we made our preparations to go to Europe, like two kids taking a gap year between college and their first job.

Was I nervous?

You better fucking believe it. I was extremely nervous, but I believed that when the year ended that we’d return to the states and both work again.

Our first adventure landed us in Spain where we rented a house in a little whitewashed village in Andalucia called Competa. I literally drew the name of the town from a hat. I’d never been to Spain before and knew nothing about Competa, but I was not to be disappointed.

We fell in love with Competa and Spain.

We lived there for the 90-day limit allowed on our American passports. Every year since then we’ve returned to the same region. Eventually, we moved down to the coast where we now keep an apartment for part of each winter.

This was before the 2008 crash and business was booming.

Lots of northern European retirees were moving to Spain, buying property, and enjoying the year round good weather, similar to American snowbirds who move to Florida. It was one big party at the time. We made loads of friends from all over the world while my Spanish improved immensely.

When our clock ran out on our stay in Spain, we went to Ireland where we lived for over two months in the town of Tralee on the mouth of the Dingle Peninsula.

We immediately fell in love with Ireland as well. To this day, Spain and Ireland have remained in my top five favorite countries. We were scheduled to arrive in Malta for our third 90-day round, but made a three week stopover in the city of Prague first. That was right before Christmas. The four countries that we experienced were a wonderful contrast to one another. We loved Malta, too, where we rented a 400-year-old house in the village of Attard.

No matter where we lived that year, we didn’t need a car.

That saved us loads of money. Public transport was widely available. We also walked — a lot. By the end of our gap year we were both in great physical shape. We shopped where the locals shopped, cooked our meals in the apartments we were renting, ate out where the working class ate, avoided touristy areas, and didn’t buy stuff.

We lived on a tight budget.

At the end of our year, we knew that we simply weren’t ready to return to life as usual. However, we needed to figure a few things out first if we were going to live this nomadic lifestyle indefinitely.

The rest of the story involves another major shift in how we lived our lives.

We sold our house, sold 90% of our personal belongings, started an international house sitting business to cut costs of long-term travel, and ventured out into the world once again, even more foot loose and fancy free than before.

We spent months and months in Mexico, Portugal, the Isle of Saba, Spain and Ireland.

We even took care of a yacht in Baja California and a house perched on the highest point of the isle of Saba where we could see all of the islands of the former Dutch Antilles from the pool.

Now, we keep an apartment in Spain in a small fishing village not far from the city of Malaga.

We can see our beloved Competa nestled high in the Almijara Mountains when we walk the seaside promenade across the street from our apartment.

We return every year for a few months during the winter.

My story is many layered. Learning to live simply, travel light, and stay out of debt has helped to support my travel adventures. Aging will no doubt influence my future decisions as COVID has done, but I have never regretted retiring early.

Many people tell me that they would miss working.

I understand. It was difficult for me to make the decision to walk away from that chapter of my life as well. But I was hungry for adventure. I think if I’d followed the traditional route that I’d always wonder what I’d miss.

Time flies by and I try not to waste a minute of it.

Teresa Roberts is a retired educator, author, world traveler, and professional myth buster. You can find her books on Amazon.



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