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The Mini-Retirement Misconception

Photo by Tina Su

When I first learned of the mini-retirement concept, I was immediately attracted to the idea. To me it represented freedom. I had all these romantic notions associated with it, and when I found a way to take three months off from work, I jumped at the first chance and ran with it.

While traveling is an eye-opening experience and a chance to see how others live in vastly different cultures. It is exhausting, on many levels. It quickly became clear to me that the romantic concept of traveling is flawed.

I often ask people: if you had all the money in the world, what would you be doing? The most popular answer is: to quit my job and start Traveling. There’s nothing wrong with this answer, I too have given it many times. However, in this answer, we include the notion of escaping our current realities while longing for something else in its place. And when we actually get to that place which we’ve longed for, disappointments sets in, for it did not meet the expectations conjured by our imagination.

My Personal Story

I left for India three months ago, mesmerized with the ideas of peace and spiritual growth, of ancient cultures and creative stimulation. After we landed, our happy thoughts quickly subsided when we were confronted with culture shock, poverty, pollution, chaos, and haggling (of course, we got the first list as well, but the peace came to us much later). Soon, thoughts of home, family and the usual comforts we took for granted became a regular mantra, and became the focus of our longing. I’m not going to lie, traveling in India as a foreigner was hard. In fact, traveling anywhere foreign for more than a month is hard.

Prior to leaving, I had longed for the freedom to travel. I was tired of my daily routines at the office, I wanted to get away. For years, thoughts of traveling became a kind of escapism and added spices of hope to my work routine which I was quickly losing interest in.

Within a few weeks on the trip, the excitement of exploring new destinations became a routine. Each day, we lined up along the hundreds of other tourists visiting must-see places, walked along souvenir sellers using the same sales tactics, haggled with taxi drivers, and ate the same food offered in all the restaurants catered to travelers. I’m being sarcastic here, but the message is clear: I’ve traded one routine for another. Except now, I longed for something different.

After six weeks of traveling, I was starting to get bored. Sightseeing got old really fast, and I didn’t want to visit another fort or palace again. After eight weeks of floating around without real responsibilities, I was anxious to come home and be productive again.

Despite the amazing things I saw and the heart-warming people I met on the trip, I was excited and ready to jump back into my old reality, again. I couldn’t wait to get home!



The Lessons

While traveling can enrich your life experience and enhance your understandings of other cultures, it will not make you happier and cannot be the solution to your discontentment at home. I’ve learned that, at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter what I’m doing, as long as I am being productive and contributing towards a greater cause other than myself. Regardless of what I’m doing, true happiness can only be found right now!

Other lessons I’ve learned:

  • Our Mind Likes Problems – Because I didn’t have much responsibilities or commitments while I was traveling, my mind was quite unoccupied of problems and conflicts, thus gaining more clarity with my inner thoughts. With my new found mental space and clarity, I noticed that my mind would try to create conflicts in order to fill this extra space; as a result, to disturb the new found peace. My mind would pick up all the little annoyances from around me and try to snowball them into what seemed like life threatening issues to shakeup the inner stillness.
  • Don’t Take Things for Granted – During our trip, we realized how little we actually appreciated our everyday conveniences, until we no longer had them. Things like: hot shower, 24hr electricity, running water, a clean toilet which doesn’t leak, restaurants serving consistent meals, pleasant customer service when things go wrong, the availability of lettuce in a grocery store. When we landed in Heathrow airport on our return flight, I was shocked and grateful to find the bathrooms with toilet paper. I now give thankful thoughts to every little thing that contributes towards my comfort and wellbeing. Simple things like having running water, supple food, and my comfortable home.
  • We Need Very Little – After traveling in one bag for several months, it became clear how little we actually need in order to be happy. After coming home to the rest of my stuff, they felt like heavy burdens which weighed on my soul.
  • Happiness Is Here, Now – Regardless of what we’re doing, we can find happiness in this moment. The problem is, we often do not seek happiness in this moment, and then become consumed with reasons why we should escape this moment. Instead of focusing on why you’re not happy, ask yourself: what can I gain from this moment? What can I learn? What good can be drawn from this situation? Where is the goodness, where is the beauty?
  • Purpose & Meaning – Once the essentials in our lives are fulfilled, we need purpose and meaning. I learned that feeling productive and working towards a purpose is important to me. Extended periods of doing nothing will result in boredom.
  • Slow Down – It’s amazing how rushed we become as we move through our hectic schedules, running from one task to the next, and packing our calendars with more commitments than we can handle. Many people I encountered in the extreme north and south of India, lived with such simplicity, clarity and calmness, yet they are some of the happiest people I’ve met. They carried an unspoken grace with them, and smiled cheerfully at anyone. I can just imagine now, as we go to bed after an exhausting and full day of running around, the rest of the world is starting a new day: Mr. Nawang in Ladakh is tending to his apricot trees and making breakfast for his guests with a large smile. Mr. Thomas in Alleypy is sitting along the Kerala backwaters to enjoy the sun rise and waving at families passing by in bamboo boats on their way to the morning market.


Tips for Your Mini-Retirements


  • No Expectations – Things never turn out the way we expect, and pre-determined expectations can decrease our joy while we’re in the moment of truth. I can only tell you that, during our trip, expectations have only lead to disappointments. While it’s hard not to have any expectations, try to minimize them by wearing an open mind and a positive outlook to welcome new experiences. Instead of being disappointed from failed expectations, focus on the lessons learned that contributed to you as a person. Focus on things you enjoyed. Focus on the gains.
  • Take Your Time – Don’t try to see everything on one trip. Otherwise, you’ll get burnt out really fast and will start to resent your trip. Aim to see less number of cities and spend more time in each. I recommend, no less than a week in each new city.
  • But, Not Too Much Time – As I’ve mentioned, we got bored after week six. By week ten, we couldn’t wait to get home. While there were many amazing things still left to see, we missed the simple conveniences of home. Of course, everyone is different, but if you’re like us, we don’t recommend going for more than 6-8 weeks, unless you had other purposes and plans.
  • Vacation At Home – Just because we have vacation time, doesn’t mean that we need to travel somewhere far. After feeling exhausted from our trip, we’ve taken a special fondness towards the concept of vacationing at home. There are so many relaxing things you can do: get on a healthy exercise and diet routine, work on a home project, get organized again, spend days in a comfortable chair curled up with some good books, do a movie marathon with your loved ones. What sounds good to your soul?
  • Have a Purpose on the Trip – Instead of traveling as just a sightseeing tourist, consider staying in one place for an extended period of time to work on a personal or social project. This will add more meaning to your trip, and will give you the opportunity to get to know an area and culture beyond the tourist destinations. Some ideas: volunteering to teach at monasteries and schools, volunteering at a charity, take a meditation or yoga class, take a cooking or language or dance class, start a personal art project.
  • Daily Gratitude – At the end of the day, make sure to list out the things you are grateful for that day. You can do so by whispering out aloud with closed eyes and a smile just before bed. Traveling can be challenging for the body and mind, and it’s easy to get caught up in the negative and unpleasant events that occurred during the day. Practicing gratitude will help you maintain a positive outlook and to focus on things that you’ve enjoyed.
  • Prepare for Difficulties – Know ahead of the time that you may encounter difficult situations and people. Prepare your mind for such thing by reminding yourself that this is the perfect opportunity to practice acceptance and understanding.
  • Don’t Plan Everything – Have a rough idea of what you want to do and see, but don’t tightly pack everything to a schedule. Leave some room to adjust the sail, based on the wind conditions of your trip. For example, when we left, we only had our flight tickets to Delhi and one other flight booked to our second city. We eventually booked nine other flights while we were traveling. This gave us tremendous flexibility and a sense of exploration.
  • Do Budget – Prior to leaving, plan how much you’d like to spend in total, and then only leave that much in your checking account. Budget major categories such as transportation costs, hotels and other spending. We did this roughly but did not follow-through to re-evaluate our budget during the trip. As a result, we ended up spending much more money than planned. Remember this: it doesn’t matter how cheap things cost, they can add up very quickly into a large number.
  • Smile – Smile often and do so authentically, even to those who has ripped us off. It’s much more attractive and better for our health than feeling bitter about it. Laugh it off!


Parting Words

In the end, our three months trip was a tremendous learning experience about ourselves and in coping with extreme circumstances, both positive and not so positive.

I’m still a fan of the mini-retirement concept, except I now have a better understanding of what it means to have a lot of idle time and its challenges. Next time we have a mini-retirement, we’ll be spending a third of that time vacationing at home. Oh Yeah!

The point of this article was not to advocate that traveling is bad, but rather that it is a learning experience with its own set of challenges. It’s not all perfection, as created by our perception. Our perception is interested in creating distractions to escape this moment. Lots of people set the idea of traveling on a pedestal (especially authors and media), but in doing so, we treat the present moment as a mere means to an end, and forget that happiness can only be found in the Now.

It’s important to have dreams and goals, but don’t forget to experience joy, Now. In between striving towards our dreams, remind ourselves to step back and see what we can do to find joy in what we’re doing, regardless of what we’re doing, right now.

Open Question to the Audience:

If you had all the money in the world, what would you be doing?
Share your answers in the comments. I can’t wait to read them. Thanks for sharing, my friend. :)

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About the author

Tina Su is a mom, a wife, a lover of Apple products and a CHO (Chief Happiness Officer) for our motivational community: Think Simple Now. She is obsessed with encouraging and empowering people to lead conscious and happy lives. Subscribe to new inspiring stories each week. You can also subscribe to Tina on Facebook.

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103 thoughts on The Mini-Retirement Misconception

  1. Tina, your words are inspiring. People associate travel with different conditions, mindsets and circumstances. Fundamentally, how we feel about travel may stem from our experience or, it may stem from stories we have heard, seen and read about. We each find or rediscover our true selves by learning to step outside comfort zones. Each person can do this in the mind, wherever he or she is. Yet, some people sense that transplanting themselves in a foreign place is more desirable. If you travel, you live and learn like e veryone else. You do so your own way, in your own time. You come to realize how you perceive yourself is actually independent of external conditions. You discover whether your underlying motivation is reaaly love or fear.

  2. Tina,

    I’ve travelled a lot in the last 12 years or so, and there is truth in what you’re saying. There are times I’ve felt a little like that too.

    But please consider that you chose India – a very, very different culture from what you’re used to for your first real trip away. There are many other places in the world where you wouldn’t encounter quite so many frustrations. South America, for example. Or Europe. Or, the South Pacific. Or even in your own back door of Canada and the US. The frustrations are what add up and make you start missing home.

    I guess what I’m saying is that on the basis of one trip you’re being a little harsh on the entire concept of travelling. Try somewhere less ‘exotic’ next time – and somewhere that’s just more fun. It’s a vacation – it doesn’t have to be about the culture – it can just be about having a good time.

    If you really need something else to be doing – then learn a new sport or hobby. You could learn to dive in Australia, Greece, the Carribean, almost anywhere. You could learn to ski in South America during your summer, or in Eastern/Western Europe, Canada, or the US during your winter. You could learn to salsa dance in Colombia, or tango in Buenos Aires. You could learn to sail, paraglide…, the list is almost endless! If you spend a month in one place learning a new skill, sport or hobby, you not only get to get to know the locals in a deeper and better way, but it breaks up your trip, is a lot of fun, and you’ll make some good new friends all over the world.

    The point is to take a break from your everyday routine, explore some new ideas with new people, and to learn and grow as a person.

    Aim for somewhere fun – you’ll get more out of it than you will somewhere ‘exotic’.


    Nice suggestions Chris. You are right.
    We did take up diving while in India and that turned out to be a highlight for our trip.
    Your suggestion for sailing is a great one. We’re noting that one down. :)


  3. Dan

    I traveled for 3 years, India, Philippines, Argentina, Chile, and other places in the US.

    I agree with your point 100%. traveling is hard and can get boring fast.

    Of my 3 years, I was in India for 8 months. When you choose India, you choose the hardest of the places to stay. India is certainly lacking the comforts of home and India does not adapt to outside customs. It is great fun in the beginning but have 2 months I wanted some food that caked in spices. I remember eating plain rice for a week just to give my taste buds a rest.

    That Said, i think i could get used to living in the Philippines for a while. 1000’s of islands to explore, they love foreigners and you have all the comforts of home if you want them. Things are pretty cheap too

  4. ashwin

    Tina, do you think your experience would have been different, perhaps more positive, if you had visited another country perhaps one that is more foreigner friendly or even the developed world? I think India is a hard pill to follow for first time travelers. Better foreigner friendly countries for example, are Thailand and Philippines. So what do you think?


    The thing is we are not first time travelers. We’ve been to developing countries like rural China and Morocco without too much headache. As I’ve mentioned, I think it was a combination of staying in India as a tourist for too long. I think playing tourist for longer than 2 months is too much to handle. Much better to go for either shorter period of time, or go on a purpose for a predetermined project. A friend of mine just came back from her 2 months trip to India and felt the same. It’s a challenging place to visit for long periods of time if you are used to life in western countries. :)

  5. Interesting perspective! We have been traveling for almost 2 years on an open ended trip around the world and we are having the time of our lives and do not miss home at all.

    Funny, how travel affects different people in different ways. Our is a full time early retirement though, with a young child that we homeschool as we go. Preparing her for life as a global citizen in the 21st century is a big motivating factor for us, although I think we would find a way to keep it interesting even without that.

    We are close to a few couples who have been “perpetual travelers” for twenty some years since they retired early in their 30’s to travel. They are still thriving in such a free lifestyle as we are. To me, it feels like this is the way life is meant to be lived. I love how travel helps one to live in the “now” and take nothing for granted.

    We also have spent most of our time in Europe thus far, although we have also spent some of it in Morocco and Turkey.

    I think part of the key, for us anyway, is slow travel. Taking time to immerse in a culture and also time to just really enjoy each other or the people we meet. If we like a place we stay a month or 5 months. We can never remember what day or time it is because we do not need to ever know and I love that! I love living a life that is endless summer or perpetual spring or always Saturday!

    When I was in my early 20’s, after my husband graduated from Harvard, we traveled all across the U.S. for 6 months….from Boston to the Keys and then on to San Diego and up to S.F. and I loved that trip. At that time, I was ready to get back to work. Different times in life can make things look very differently.

    When I lived in Italy for a year in my 20’s I got very homesick and yet we have not been homesick once yet in almost 2 years on our journey.

    Now that I have met all my life goals, I feel no need to ever go “home”. I feel like my home is always with me, even as I travel. I have my dearest beloveds with me and the rest of my family and friends are just a skype webcam call away. The more we travel like this, the more we want to keep doing it. The world is so small today…. and yet, so big too and so much to see and experience.

    Some people do find that freedom that you were looking for in travel! If I had all the money in the world, I would be doing exactly what I am doing right now. It is a very good life. ;)

  6. Hey Tina,

    Great to hear! I took a week long sailing course in Greece last year and it was amazing. Stunning mediterranean, amazing food, happy, helpful people, beautiful islands everywhere – just incredible! In 3 weeks you could both become certified Day Skippers – and be able to charter a yacht anywhere in the world for any of your future trips!

  7. Tina, I like the way you write. Through simple words and phrases you manage to transfer all the meaningfulness of the issue. Would like to answer your question.

    If I had all the money in the world I would build my own world with my family, close relatives, friends and other good-hearted folks.

  8. Pretty interesting read, no doubt. It was humorous too. By the way, I am from India and I understand your reference to the numerous palaces and forts.

  9. This is a super article and I am looking forward to learning more and more from you.

  10. Moments are precious.

    Perceived negatives serve to enlarge positives, but with no actual judgement. Love everything for being the best whatever it is, emotion, place, person, event. It’s Life!


  11. Tara J

    I am denying the fact that I need all the money in the world to do something different. In about one month I plan to transition my reality from breadwinner/career gal to mom/homemaker. We are taking a substantial hit to our budget, but I am inspired that this will be truly living in the moment for me and my family. My daughter is almost 4 and I have dreamed of this since well before she was born. I am so excited (and a little nervous) anticipating the day I leave the corporate rat race to nurture and grow my family.

    I appreciated your thoughts in this post about not having expectations – I need to remind myself of that for what’s next.

  12. hi tina!

    glad you’re back here at TSN. sorry i missed some of your posts.

    much as I’d like to travel to other countries, and experience their culture, i know that i’d still long for my home country…there’s no place like home, it’s true. maybe i’d love to travel, but for a week or two only…:)

    take care.

  13. I like your insights extracted from your experience. I wish more people would do the same. Here are a couple of things that might be helpful for me to add.

    You’re going to feel good when you are pursuing an activity that you believe contributes to your successful life.

    Just like not hearing the noise of a falling tree in the forest a life not shared is a life not lived.

  14. The system behind money is giving value and the most quickest, productive, and effortless way of giving value is through passion expressed. The universe is always expanding and through passion you help it expand.

    You also help yourself expand in the process too. You teach others to reach points of empowerment through living your passion (whatever your passion might be), since you are connecting to your emotional output. Passion teaches both sides: the giver (of passion) and the receiver to expand, grow, evolve, etc. Passion is built on purpose and purpose always leads to progress through a series of events.

    Here is a list of the steps in how passion teaches both sides (hence, giving/ receiving value in abundance):

    1. The giver of passion is lead to a profound understanding about what they are passionate about.

    2. The passion within the individual reaches a dedication to teach it. They are then inspired with empowerment to share this newly found insight.

    3. Through repetition of sharing this universal knowledge of information, they subconsciously teach themselves to remember it. For example, professionals miss steps, leave details out, and consciously forget how to do their profession when teaching. Professionals do things out of habit and habits are done through the subconsciousness. The subconsciousness takes over and the consciousness is off thinking about other things. In order to teach, you have to gain conscious control and this is easy to do if your not a professional.

    4. Through a series of events, eventually they subconsciously program themselves to live what they are teaching (rather than just teaching it).

    5. Through living this empowered information, it leads them to another profound understanding, and the process repeats itself again. The infinite circle of progress is complete.

  15. shanon

    Good article. I’ve taken more mini-retirements than I can remember. They are a natural by product of life in Alaska, as so much of the work is seasonal. I was raised to always budget my money to last through a winters lay off, and long since started to embrace them. The longest traveling one I ever took was two months, and yes, after a time, I really started to prefer to stay at home. My family, friends, hobbies, dogs everything I liked value enough to maintain in my life is at home; I dont want to spend too much time away. As a buddy once said ” After two weeks in Hawaii, all I can think is, I cant ride my snow mobile laying on this beach!”
    A simple lifestyle enables any number of freedoms. Thanks for the article.

  16. P

    I’ve traveled alone for close to a year and never once did I long for the shackles of employment or the mundanity of HOME. The rise of production in the workplace does not impress me. I have learned some people need employment, they need to feel productive. I pity them. Take the regular hours of employment and the requests for time off, and the subjugation of my dreams and my personal freedom to a MANAGER — let it all burn in the fires of Hell. I am not a HUMAN RESOURCE! My soul dies every day I have to suit up, put on my game face, and check my personal values at the door. Be here now. That is excellent advice. But in the land of business bloodsuckers, I have never been here. I have been gone, always gone, my body an empty shell, the corporate profile an invading virus. Business casual is a casket.

    Travel can sometimes be difficult, but I take refuge in the knowledge that I do not have to wait in lines nor do I have to see every ancient castle or fortification. Travel is not sightseeing. I can sit in my room, if I so choose, and read; or I could while away the afternoon at a cafe. When I get overwhelmed, I close the shades. Home is where I am. Familiarity breeds discontent. Homesickness is a pang telling your heart to return to the familiar, but for your soul to rush for the unknown. No one grows without pain. Succumbing to homesickness is like succumbing to anorexia; it will stunt your growth.

  17. Very useful post, thanks. This reminds me of a chapter from the book “The Art of Travel”, which talks about motivations for travel. It goes into how our imagined travel fantasies / escapism never live up to our expectations. The actual travel experience involves a lot of waiting, jetlag, frustrations, and culture shock that we had not anticipated. Anyway I found your post by searching for “mini retirements” under Google, and I think this gives people a more balanced perspective on things. It certainly did for me. I am planning my trip right now, and I like the idea of traveling slowly, and staying in one location for a longer period of time, learning language and culture. Thanks for sharing this.

  18. Bill Robison

    What I would like to do is go back to Costa Rica, but not as a tourist. To find a nice simple place to live and create a life there for a few months, again not as a tourist but live as a Costa Rican. I understand that I was not born there and my Spanish at best is horrible, but to get into a routine.
    I would do a tourist thing once in a while but mostly eat at the same places, shop at the same stores and just enjoy being.

    I think the whole mini retirement is not about a long vacation, but more about a mini retirement. I live in Orange County, California but I do not go to Disneyland often, or Knotts Berry Farm or any of the other tourist spots. When I go to the beach it is not in summer when the crowd is big, I go during the off season and eat at small places where the local people go.
    To me retirement is not about going to tourist spots every day, or having a planned agenda, it is just waking up in the morning, having coffee, reading the paper and not having to do anything if I do not want to. If I want to go back to bed and sleep longer, then I can do that. Mini retirement is not about going here and there and seeing this and that, it is just a smaller version of retirement. Getting up in the morning and living in a place that is somewhere else, but living a life at a pace different than a vacation. Living life relaxed with no particular place to go.

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