Retirement is not an extended vacation

Retirement is not an extended vacation like many of us think. That’s the wrong way to approach retirement. Everyone has busy lives and work is a huge part of it. We spend over a third of our day at work, getting to work, and thinking about work. Work is stressful, takes up a huge amount of time, and requires a ton of effort to excel in your chosen field. In contrast, retirement is easy street. You don’t have to meet a deadline. There are no weekly meetings with the boss. You don’t need to push yourself to exceed expectations every annual review. No more unpaid overtime, no more useless meetings, no more TPS reports, and no more dealing with jerks you don’t like. Doesn’t retirement sound amazing?

Sorry, this is the wrong way to look at retirement. It’s true that you don’t have to deal with work related crap anymore, but you also lose a lot of the positive things that a job brings. The steady paychecks, the few nice people you work with, the feeling of accomplishment, and most importantly the goals. Retirement is amazing, but you need to prepare for it and work at it to be successful. Workers who think retirement is just relaxing and doing nothing will have an unpleasant surprise waiting for them. Chilling out is nice for a few months, but not for the long term. It’s not good for your mental health to be aimless. There are a ton of stories on the internet about retirees falling into depression and wishing they hadn’t retired. You don’t want to be a part of that growing trend.

The problem is that most of us imagine retirement as a long vacation. Many retirees get a “sugar rush” of well-being and satisfaction immediately after retirement follow by a steady decline of happiness a few years later. Vacations are awesome for a few weeks, but would it continue to be great for 5, 10, or 20 years? Instead of approaching retirement like an endless vacation, we really should approach it like starting another career.

retirement is not a vacation

Retirement is not a vacation

To have a successful retirement, you need to plan for it. The most important thing is to retire on your own term and not be pushed into it. If you’re in your 50s, you really need to have an exit strategy because you are a prime candidate to be pushed out of your job. Corporations have no loyalty and they will go with younger, cheaper, and more driven workers when there is a downturn in the economy. The worst thing that can happen is to be pushed into retirement when you’re not ready for it.

How do you treat retirement like a career? Let’s see what we can adapt from my corporate days.


“Money isn’t everything, but it ranks right up there with oxygen.” – Zig Ziglar

Let’s not focus too much on money today. Suffice to say, we need to have a plan to support ourselves in retirement. Don’t wait until you walked out the door to figure out how to maintain your lifestyle. For me, I choose passive income and part time self employment. For you? I don’t know. You have to figure it out yourself, but please have a solid plan in place before you’re 55.

Goals and purpose

You need reasons to get out of bed in the morning. When you’re working, you have projects and deadlines to meet. In retirement, the boss won’t be there to set goals for you. Many retirees have a difficult time adjusting to the unstructured schedule and find the lack of purpose depressing. We need short term and long term goals to keep life interesting. I set my short term goals every New Year and work on them throughout the year. I also have several long term goals like raising our kid, convincing Mrs. RB40 to retire early, and crossing items out of my bucket list. I’m sure everyone can come up with worthwhile goals and projects that they would like to work on if they think about it.

Social Interaction

Actually, accomplishing your goals might not be enough. I read that we need to be acknowledged for a job well done too. We need friends and family around us to encourage each other through the trials and tribulations of life. In the office we have colleagues to collaborate with and that’s often the missing piece in a retiree’s life.

It can be difficult to make new friends when you first retire especially if you’re an introvert like me. Volunteering for an organization you like is one good way to meet new people with a similar interest. If you have a fun hobby, you should see if there is a local club that you can join. You can also take some interesting classes and meet fellow students. You just have to push yourself and try to make a connection.

Lastly, it might be difficult, but it’s essential to catch up with old friends once in a while. Call them up and have lunch so you can see what’s going on in their lives. Actually, I’m guilty of letting things go too long. I really need to reconnect with some old friends soon.

Put some effort into it

Retirement isn’t a long vacation. You need to put some effort into it to make it enjoyable. Finance is just one piece of the puzzle. You need to set some goals to keep you motivated. It’s also crucial to have some social life so you’re connected to society.

What do you think? Is retirement an endless vacation or should you put some work into it?

Image  by SA_Community

The following two tabs change content below.
Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. After 16 years of investing and saving, he achieved financial independence and retired at 38.

Passive income is the key to early retirement. This year, Joe is investing in commercial real estate with CrowdStreet. They have many projects across the USA so check them out!

Joe also highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. They have many useful tools that will help you reach financial independence.
Get update via email:
Sign up to receive new articles via email
We hate spam just as much as you

38 thoughts on “Retirement is not an extended vacation”

  1. I can see a lot of people having trouble with retirement if they are accustomed to having people create their life goals for them.

    However if you self employed like I am, I think the transition is easier because you are used to making your own schedules, agendas, and projects.

    My ultimate goal isn’t retirement per say but financial independence. I tutor (and love it) so I don’t see myself stopping that any time soon. If anything I may just do it voluntarily for kids in need once I’m “retired”.

    Great post though thanks for writing!

  2. Vacations are great but would they be great for 10-30 years? Oh heck yes. Americans are socialized to think a person who takes a lot “vacations” is lazy. Europeans don’t seem to have this same affliction. I receive a lot of vacation days each year and use every one to escape my dreadful, soul sucking, mistake of a career. I actually have known fools who give days back to the company because they feel embarrassed to be off or want to “look like” a good employee. My wife and I have a rule, we call the first vacation per year our vacation. We refer to the other 5-6 as “trips.” It makes a huge difference in how others view it to say we will be out of town on a trip vs on a vacation. Other people actually resented me until I learned not to use the “V” word so much – despite having worked decades to earn the time off. I’m 51 and have been working since I was 15. I deserve retirement to be a very long vacation. I now know, looking back from the perspective of time, that I’ve hated every minute of giving my life to employers that have long forgotten my efforts. So, would a long vacation be great? I’m an expert on work and on vacation and yes, it would. It has to be better than the vampiristic alternative.

    • Thanks for your comment.
      I never let my vacation days expired either. Hmm… I’m not sure if that’s a good way to view retirement, though. I would love to see how you handle the retirement transition. Your career sounds stressful. Can you retire soon?

  3. RB40, I agree with you completely, and I worry about how I will stay engaged as I proceed from FI to ER. Actually, being nearly FI makes me much more confident to shape my daytime work to fit me better, and it’s getting so good that I may not ER. I think that a lot of ER plans are fantasies conjured up after a stressful day at work. Alternatively, the benefit of FI is that it gives you the confidence to downshift and take on less work, or switch to an easier job or small business.

  4. I used to think I would approach retirement as a vacation that just lasted forever, but I know how unrealistic that is. I think that I could be a nomad and travel for a year but I know I would want a little more stability at some point. Having a home base to come back to and having more lasting connections that are tangible (i.e. constant travel you keep moving and lose connections) is something that I know I would desire. I imagine that after financial independence I would get a flexible job where I only worked part time to keep a loose routine and connected to the rest of the world. Otherwise I think I would end up a hermit!

  5. Totally agree with Joe that you need a plan. You can’t just sit around all day and relax. This is why having a hobby or two will be so valuable for someone who has retired.

  6. I’m not sure I trust studies that show people getting depressed after retirement. Most people retire at traditional retirement age or later (60+), so they have been working traditional jobs for the majority of their lives. A lot of these people don’t have much of an identity outside of the office, and have lost the ability to entertain themselves (assuming they ever had it) because their jobs sucked up so much of their time.

    Additionally, at least in the US, the culture encourages people to build their identities around their jobs. It’s practically heresy to admit that you only show up to work every day because you’re paid to, even though that’s the reason everyone is there. You’re supposed to think of your coworkers as your friends, rather than just admit that you’d be perfectly fine if you never saw most of them again. The first question people ask is “what do you do?” as if your job is the most important thing about you. The pressure to act this way and believe these things is the air we all breathe from the day we’re born, and most people don’t even realize that it’s there, so they never think to question it or fight it. By the time they’re 60, they just don’t know any other way of thinking or being.

    I’m only in my 30s (planning to retire in about 10 years) and I already see the beginnings of this in a lot of my coworkers–people who deliberately work late, even when they don’t have to, because they don’t know what else to do with themselves, by their own admission. It’s just sad. I can only imagine what they’ll be like in 30 more years. At least, I’ll have to imagine it, since I won’t be around to see it myself!

    • Or rather, what I meant was, I don’t think those depression stories apply as much to people who avoid those pitfalls, which probably is just about everyone who reads blogs like this one.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I spent a ton of time working when I was young. I didn’t question that way of thinking until it got too stressful. It wasn’t easy to go against the grain, but I’m really happy I was able to break away. Good luck to you.

  7. Nice article, Joe.

    Actually I have been thinking about retirement or at least work part time these days. At some rough thoughts, I predict myself to be very busy even with an early retirement. As a mom, I’ll give a lot of my time to my kids. I’ll be also very busy learning and doing the dividend investment. 🙂 It’s good to be busy with a goal.

    All the best,

  8. Ideally, retirement WOULD be a long (extended) vacation. Where the vacation takes place in foreign lands. Time is spent learning and volunteering. And money isn’t a worry.

    BUT…to get to this extended vacation called retirement, a lot of work has to be done. Lots of planning, lots of action, lots of (potential) sacrifices, and a lot of financial prowess.

    I know I’d like retirement to be a vacation…but I define vacation as a time where I can do whatever I want (not just sitting around watching television) and not stress about the dollars (or lack of dollars) I get paid.

  9. Joe,

    Agreed. The traditional idea of retirement isn’t really applicable to those who “retire” or become financially independent in their late 30s or early 40s. You still have too much energy and drive to just kind of sail off into the sunset.

    Although, I do find that Parkinson’s law is in effect for me. Not having a full-time job to contend with just gives me more time to take on the stuff I enjoy and actually be able to commit meaningful time/energy. I honestly don’t know how I was able to work 50+ hours before while blogging and everything else. I truly don’t.

    Best regards!

    • You’re right. I’m still super busy without a full time job. People like us will keep busy no matter what. I have more time to read and I love that.

  10. Hi Joe,

    I fully agree, retirement is not vacation, and I am looking to be more busy than now. I already know that we will have less time because we will organize our life in a much different ways.

    Cheers, RA50

  11. What I have found is that for those of us who pulled off early retirement our drive, energy and enthusiasm that got us here doesn’t go away. It just refocuses on what we want to do, doing what is more meaningful to us. My days are pretty full with projects, exercise, hobbies and socializing, along with the occasional early retirement side hustle. Even in retirement we still plan our vacations just like we did when working. Vacationing while in retirement says it all. I totally agree with you that retirement is not just an extended vacation. It is having the freedom to live life on my terms and for me that is staying pretty busy pursuing my interests and passions.

  12. Agreed!

    “retirement” is more just a move to do what you want, when you want, but still have a plan in place.

    I shake my head at the old retiree’s that sit around and watch TV all day….what a miserable existence! You need a plan in place, and for me I like to have a schedule during the day and write down what I want to accomplish. It keep me on task and making sure I’m not just a bum all day.

  13. I plan to be aimless for a while in retirement. I know I will eventually do some productive things, but I like free time (I lean towards the endless vacation vatnage point). I might consult, volunteer, or coach kids sports teams at some point, but I will surely take a few months to decompress first. Maybe I will become the handyman aroudn the house that I always wanted to be!

    • A few months to decompress is perfectly fine. We all need the time to wrap our head around retirement. I’m sure you’ll have a lot of stuff to do even during the decompression period. Best wishes!

  14. I find my days in retirement are just as busy as my working days, although most of the activity is what I want to do instead of something I do to earn a buck.

    Maybe it’s having kids, but I’ve been incredibly busy this week with awards ceremonies during school, after school programs, play dates, etc.

    I also have way more time to hang out with friends. I spent all day Tuesday hanging out with a good friend while we worked on my car’s brakes together. While working, I don’t really see much of my friends during the week (other than the 1-2 coworkers I considered friends but rarely keep in touch with today).

    I don’t really have a “purpose” in retirement, but rather a long list of things that I enjoy doing (or that just have to get done like mow the grass, car/house repairs, shopping, dentist/dr appt). 18 months into retirement and I haven’t slowed down and still don’t have enough time to do everything I want. 🙂

    • I’m still very busy too. In a different way, but I still don’t have enough hours in the day. I think kids is a huge part of it. I think you’re doing it right. 🙂

  15. First question, if you continue to work part-time are you really retired? The old concept of retirement really doesn’t work for me and to be honest I would quickly become bored and then all sorts of bad things would quickly follow. I need to be around people and I like helping others because it makes me feel good. I remember reading somewhere that people who continued to work live longer than retired people. Wonder where Dr Oz stands on that! The reason I wanted to achieve financial freedom as quickly as possible was so I could bail on the corporate job that was slowly eating my soul. I earned the freedom to pick a new vocation that was exciting and on my own schedule (fewer hours/work from home) and I plan to continue as long as my health holds out because it’s fun. Call it a job but really it’s a hobby and I get paid for it which is sweet!
    I call what I’m doing my Victory Lap which follows my crossing of the financial freedom finish line.

    • I don’t like the old concept of retirement either. While you’re healthy, you have to keep busy and enjoy life. When your health fail, then it’s time for the old retirement. You can call yourself retired if you work part-time. 🙂

  16. Call me crazy, but I really don’t see the boredom/depression retirement affecting those of us in the early retirement financial independence arena. Nearly all of us are already doing so much outside of work (blogging, side hustles, part-timing, traveling) that losing the 9-5 will simply amplify those efforts. What’s more, we are thinking about so long and so often, we all have an idea of what our retirementality is–and “endless vacation” isn’t really it. However, for those who identify themselves with their work, this advice is certainly appropriate; you need a plan.

    • You’re right. Most people in the early retirement community are very busy outside of their regular job. We spent a lot of time preparing and it will pay off when the time comes. I think retirement transition is also a big problem for people who only looked at the financial side. That’s difficult, but you can’t neglect the other parts.

  17. PS- I don’t miss making my bosses look good, or making the company rich, and not getting recognition or compensated enough for it. If anyone can swing it, go freelance, or be a consultant. You’re much better compensated, appreciated on the job. Every day/job/assignment is different. Taxes will take a big bite out of your pay though.
    They say one secret to a successful retirement is to have a “second act” or plan B. I agree.
    Start a business or second career. Bottom line-save, invest for your Freedom Fund.

  18. I’m with you on needing a plan. Since we’ll be retiring early, we plan to work on a number of different projects and ventures that we enjoy, but that won’t necessarily make us much money, which is totally fine. The idea for us is to pursue things that we’re passionate about and to create a meaningful life out on the homestead. While we won’t be “working” traditional 9-5’s, we will probably actually be “working” much harder. What appeals to me most about retirement is having control over my own time. I have so much I want to do, I certainly don’t plan to sit around!

    • That’s great! You might not be getting paid in money, but you will be getting satisfaction and sweat equity. You’ll have a ton on your plate when you retire. Good luck controlling your time. 🙂

  19. A friend of mine took an extended break before getting back into the work world. At first he loved it and spent his time catching up on movies, TV shows and books he missed out on over the years because of his busy work schedule, but after 5-6 months he was bored out of his mind. After the 6th month he was reviewing land development proposals on behalf of his community, which turned out to be a semi-full time job. Another 6 months later, he was back in the work world.

    I get antsy quickly and if I don’t plan for my retirement, I would get bored quickly and feel less happy that I am wasting my time. I agree with you – retirement is work, but work you can choose.

    • Young Millenial, I don’t see how your friend — or anyone else — could sit around for 5 or 6 months, retired or not. I certainly HAVE NEVER FOUND THE TIME to be able to do that.

      The fact is that there are a lot of “have to do’s” that will easily gobble up my time if I let them — and leave me with little if any actual “free time” to do things I want. The list of “have to do’s” include house chores, investment monitoring, household financial administration and problem solving, and repairs plus a constant stream of special projects such as doing taxes, getting a house ready to list for sale and so on. Tasks would easily take over my days if I let them. Sitting around bored isn’t even in the equation.

      My deal with myself is to block off each morning for the “have to do’s” and religiously reserve the afternoons for my “want to do’s” such as hiking, blogging and planning trips. That time division keeps things moving while still giving me enough free time to be satisfied.

    • Your friend approached retirement completely wrong. That’s the express ticket to depressionville. I’m glad he went back to work. Hopefully, he’ll figure out retirement before he’s 65. 🙂

  20. Joe, I agree with you that one must put some effort into retirement and for most it won’t turn out to be a long vacation. Of course, I state that in my two retirement books.

    Being an astute observer of what other people say about retirement, here are some of my favorite tidbits of retirement wisdom that I have come across in the last few years:

    “Re-retirement martinis tonight. Sad to be saying adios to such wonderful people, but happy to be thinking about my own stuff instead of other people’s stuff. That, my friends is the definition of retirement.”
    — Sydney Lagier

    “I didn’t want to die at work. I decided to start spending the money I’ve saved
    and enjoy it, because who knows how long I’ll live.”
    — Lynda Thompson, 65, retired from being an artist for the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority who was diagnosed with cancer.

    “I truly believe the more active one stays [in retirement], both mentally and physically, the better the quality of life,”
    — William Brockman

    “You Say You Want to Work Past ‘Retirement’? How’s Your Health?”
    — Joseph F Coughlin

    “A quarter of middle-class Americans are now so pessimistic about their savings
    that they are planning to delay retirement until they are at least 80 years old. This is
    extremely delusional because this is two years longer than the average American is expected to live.”
    — Dave Erhard

    “Welcome to the latest in retirement porn! These articles, showcasing happy, fulfilled working seniors, are just another fairy tale, one that has as much of a relationship to reality as did the pre-Great = Recession fantasy of the fifty-something early retiree
    cashing out of the stock market and living happily ever after on a California vineyard.”
    — Helaine Olen, writing in “Slate” magazine

    “In retirement, every day is Boss Day and every day is Employee Appreciation Day.”
    — Unknown wise person

    “One week into retirement, you’ll be so damned bored that you’ll want to stick bicycle spokes into your eyes. You’ll probably opt to look for another job or start another company. Kinda defeats the purpose of waiting [for retirement], doesn’t it.”
    — Timothy Ferris writing in “The 4-Hour Workweek”

    “Uh oh. Half of my neighbors will have to develop a taste for cat food and dandelions. Hey dandelions are great and highly nutritious (just don’t eat the ones you’ve been spraying), as for cat food, I’d prefer to skip that dry stuff and just down the cat.”
    — Unknown person commenting on an “USA TODAY” article about the possibility you won’t have that much money when you retire.

    “If you want the best retirement outcome possible, get rich. If that fails, consider getting married, staying married — and doing your best to die before your spouse does.”
    — Andrea Coombes

    “I’m already worn out now — how do they expect us to work several years longer? My body hurts so much and I start working every day at five in the morning.”
    — Norbert Schmittbauer, a 50-year-old construction worker in Berlin, in response to
    Germany’s proposal to have workers retire at 70 instead of 65

    “If we wait until retirement to enjoy ourselves, there may not be enough of ourselves left to enjoy it.”
    — Mike Hammar

    “Yes, I am thoroughly enjoying retirement! The best part is observing my neighbors
    drive off to work in the morning knowing that their day will be filled with jerks,
    brainless and endless meetings, jerks, vendor lunches where you hold your breath just waiting for the sales pitch until you regurgitate your pasta, more jerks and the eventual company reorganization of the section that was just reorganized last month!”
    — Bill Kalmar

    “I still find each day [in retirement] too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see.”
    — John Burrough

    “Retire earlier rather than later. You can better establish your new life while you still have ‘teeth, eyes, taste, and everything’.”
    — Malcolm Gillies

    I could share a lot more but I will wait for another time.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.