Welcome To A Marshmellow Retirement!

“So You Want to Retire” …that was a statement and a question I repeated to myself so many times a few years back, but like everyone else, I wasn’t sure I had enough funds to be able to do so, so I pondered the thought until I finally decided it was time to take some action in that direction.

I guess a lot of choices have to do with the type of person you are, but for me, I’m the kind that has a little faith and believes I should live life to the fullest while I still have time to do so. Life isn’t promised forever and we have to make the choices on how to live it in a fulfilling way.  I had been working in a specific career for over 25 years and although I enjoyed what I did, I was burned out.  Getting up everyday and hitting the clock no longer provided me with satisfaction. The only thing that seemed to stay on my mind was how and when I was going to take my next vacation.

Approaching 62 and knowing I had the ‘ability’ to retire early and collect social security was exciting to me. I also had a minimal 401K from my job, so I needed to determine if I was just plain crazy in trying to retire early or if I had enough to put my faith in the odds and just go for it.  So the first thing I did was to search for an investment adviser who could project my percentage of funds for the next 30 years, along with social security, and give me an honest projection of possible success or failure.  Based on his report of 87% probability of success, I took the plunge the moment I hit 62…..but I had lots of planning to do first.

So if you too are ready to take the plunge, take a look at How to Start Budget Planning.

My Safari Adventures…in Africa!

How do you describe something that you can’t find words for? Africa!  ‘My’ new found discovery!

I took my first trip to Africa in 2007, about four years before I retired. My cousin begged me to go, along with another cousin, so after careful consideration, I said yes. All I can say is, ‘Thank Goodness I said yes!’ Our safari was in Tanzania, Africa, which is in East Africa. It included the Lake Manyara area, the Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti National Park, for an 8 day safari adventure.

The cost of this customized 10 day adventure was about $4800, plus airfare. Two days were travel days in March and 8 days were on location for a total of 10 days. Airfare varies depending on your location and the time of year, but generally I’d say it can range from $1100 to maybe $1900. This is basically an all-inclusive trip, so your meals and drinks are included (unless you are told that a specific meal is on your own), but there are additional costs needed before you can travel. First of all, you will need a passport and also a visa (total cost about $200). Unless you travel to this region often, you will need the specific immunizations the CDC (Center for Disease Control) recommends at the time, as well as Maleria tablets. Besides any money you wish to take for shopping, you will also need to set aside $50 a day to tip the driver on the days you go on safari.

So I would say all-in-all, the cost of this trip was about $6500 for this trip. Not chump change for sure, but well worth the adventure, especially because this first trip was basically free for us. My cousin was using us as ‘test dumbies’ so to speak to see if others would find Africa as captivating as she had. She was interested in becoming a travel agent for the region but she had to see if it would be lucative.  She gifted us the trip and airfare, and we covered the rest. Safari trips can vary in price depending on the season, the location, and the types of accommodations you have during your stay.  My cousin plans her trips carefully based on who is going and the type of agenda she’s looking for. She has previously stayed at every accommodation she plans, as she has been to Africa many times, and would never want someone to stay somewhere that isn’t of the best quality, and the best service.

But once you arrive, it is all worth it.  The beauty and vastness of the Tanzania plains is indescribable. From higher elevations looking out onto the plains, it just goes on and on and you’d never believe the amount of wildlife that lives and roams there daily but isn’t viewable from higher heights. Our first stop was at the Mountain Village Serena Lodge in Arusha. This was where we stayed overnight before starting on our safari adventure. We left miscellaneous belongings there and would pick them up after our safari before heading home. Anything we didn’t need on the safari could stay so that we could lighten the weight for an internal flight we’d need to take several days later. Our driver and guide for the entire week was intent on making our trip enjoyable and unforgettable and I believe he achieved his goal…because we all came back to Africa the following year! But more about that later!

The next day we saw parts of the city of Arusha and then headed to Lake Manyara Serena Lodge where we stayed the night and also went on our first game drive….a night drive which was somewhat scary and also the most exhilarating! This drive was in a totally open jeep, in the pitch dark with no headlights. We only had a guide with a spotlight that he used to spot the animals in the dark, and we also had a Ranger (with a rifle) that accompanied us. We weren’t into the park 2 minutes before we discovered an elephant on the right of us eating from the trees and then we heard a noise on the left to find ANOTHER one! They were directly on both sides of us and they were very big and not more than about 200 feet from our jeep. They knew we were there but we were perfectly silent and just observed them, so they didn’t feel threatened, and they just went on eating. All while we were watching, we were filming them with our cameras and videos and believe it or not, I got good video footage in the pitch dark due to the spotlight and the nightlight on my video camera. We continued on to see a few impalas, a hippo, a hyena, a porcupine, and a few other nocturnal animals. The drive lasted about 3 hours and was great!!

The first few nights we stayed at Ngorongoro Serena Lodge and the Serengeti Serena Lodge.
The wildlife in the crater never leaves and is a wide variety of almost everything. We saw loads of elephants, impalas and gazelles, giraffes, cheetahs, etc. Our safari drives would start around 8 in the morning (sometimes as early as 6:30) and would continue the entire day to around 6 or 7pm. We never got tired and the day seems to go so fast when you are caught up in viewing or searching for wildlife. We’d usually have a picnic lunch out on the plains just to prevent us from cutting our drive short and having to take the long drive back to the lodge.

Our drive in the Serengeti National Park had the most spectacular views of the zebra and wildebeest migration around the Serengeti. Explaining what we saw is almost impossible so just imagine if YOU saw 1.5 million wildebeest and 400,000 zebras traveling all clustered together over this vast plain, migrating from the dry lands in order to find water.  I’m not exaggerating on the volume! That’s how many they say is in the Serengeti land and migrate yearly. The Serengeti is also a good viewing spot for lions and vermit monkeys. If you are extremely lucky, you might also spot a leopard, although they are extremely hard to spot in the daylight since they rest most of the day hidden high up on tree limbs.

Being among the wildlife in Africa gives you, as a human, such a feeling of ‘smallness’ and unimportance. For once we are not the king of this domain and you have to respect the fact that this is not your land or your place of belonging. You feel very minute and hope that you are unobtrusive ….as YOU are the visitor to this land! All life there has a purpose and is not wasted or taken for granted. A ‘kill’ is a kill for food and survival, not for dominance or respect or for fun! There are usually only certain species within each wildlife’s food chain, and the others are ignored. Life is not wasted or taken for granted. All wildlife shares the same space and land and ignores each other unless threatened, and then of course, they try to protect their own.

As I mentioned, that trip stayed with my soul so much that I grabbed the opportunity to go back the following year. That trip was around the same cost, but I was still working at the time and I only had to cover half the cost of this trip also.  That year we stayed in some of the same locations; Mountain Village, Lake Manyara, and Ngorgongoro, but that time, we also included 2 nights at the Serengeti Mobile Tented camps by the CC Africa Tour Company, and 2 nights at the Mbuze Mawe Tented Camp.
The mobile camps by CC Africa ended up being a highlight of that trip. This was a true adventure of staying in luxury (and I mean luxury) tents set up directly on the ground of the plains, right in the midst of whatever local wildlife. The CC Africa staff of about 16 treated the 6 of us like royalty and served our every need. They cooked, cleaned, and did laundry for us in that two-night stay and served our every need or wish…and were a very friendly fun loving bunch. We had a ball! We were even treated with breakfast and/or ‘happy hour’ on the plains in the midst of our game drives. During our stay in the tents, the following morning around 6am, I glanced out our front screen door of the tent to see 4 impalas sprinting towards the terrain…very fast…and lo and behold, a hyena followed in tow. I would have loved to see if he caught up with them but they disappeared into the nearby terrain and I lost sight of them in the bush. What a way to start the morning! The following night was quiet and I got the best sleep out in the bush in the fresh air, under the most comfort of a thick down comforter.

The next morning was to be our last morning in Tanzania but we were going to leave with a bang. We had scheduled a Balloon ride for first thing in the morning and had to leave out at 3:30 in the morning to get there.  So we enjoyed a ride with 10 other persons and had a marvelous experience.  It was beautiful sailing above the trees and seeing minor caravans of impalas or pools of hippos. We followed a couple of hyenas for a short while and even viewed a lioness and her cubs taking a morning stroll.

My trip 5 years later was taken a few years after my retirement. Because I knew what to expect and enjoyed it so much, I saved extra hard for that one and even had to borrow from my investment account to make it happen because this trip was 16 days long and cost a total of about $10,000, and I was paying for the whole thing.  But what are your savings for if not to enjoy life…and travel!  But I have to admit that my retirement budget will only afford one trip of this magnitude because it exceeds the distribution limit of 4.5% of my investment account.  Spending that kind of money in one year will ‘decrease my retirement savings’, not increase it.  So I guess for me, there are two meanings to “A trip of a Lifetime”!

By this time, my cousin had started her own travel company, Destined-To-Travel.com and had become an expert at her customized trips, so I was intrigued even more. Our trip that time was a week in both Kenya and Tanzania. An extraordinary adventure for sure and it was topped by the fact that my son and daughter joined me, as well as some other family members. Another special treat was that my cousin’s company now has her own personal vehicles and drivers/guides in Tanzania, Paul and Sam, and we had the best experience and fun with them. They taught us more about Africa and it’s wildlife than we ever could have learned elsewhere.  Our accommodations started at a tented camp, moved on to a larger semi-tented camp, to a luxury resort, and then a large luxurious property with many luxurious individual cabins.

Needless to say, although I thought my first trip was a “TRIP OF A LIFETIME”, I was compelled to do it two more times. Having a specialized custom safari is the only way to travel….as this was truly traveling ‘in style’ and the only way that EVERYONE should experience Africa!  If you are intrigued, check out more of my photos in my Africa Photos within My Vacation Gallery.

My Daughter’s Destination Wedding

Well, when you travel as much as we do as a family, it wasn’t surprising when my daughter told me before she was even engaged that she wanted a destination wedding, and of course it had to be in Jamaica.  So the day actually came in 2015 that she got engaged …and the planning began!

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