We Retired Early — But There's One Major Downside Of Living A Life Of Freedom

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It was Thanksgiving morning, and I was struggling. I put in my Air Pods, cued up a favorite playlist, and headed to the kitchen to prepare dinner. I wasn’t trying to block out everyone around me, but I was trying to silence the noise in my heart.

As I peeled potatoes and created herbed butter for our turkey breast, tears slid down my cheeks, blurring my vision. I had my back to everyone sitting in the family room, hoping no one would notice. Even with the loud music blaring in my ears, I couldn’t escape the sadness building inside me.

Usually, I love our life of freedom and travel. And I especially enjoy staying with our friends in Jacksonville, FL. They are more like family who kindly welcome us into their home during the winter when we need a break from trailer life. So why was I so emotional and melancholy this year?

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Family love

During the summer, we stay on my daughter’s and son-in-law’s property in Washington State. It’s beautiful there, and we love seeing our kids and grandson frequently.

We do quite a bit of camping throughout the Pacific Northwest during the summer, but their property acts as our home base between June and October. Our final day is always difficult for me. When we pull out of their driveway to travel cross-country once again, saying goodbye to them feels excruciatingly sad for me.

This year, my grandson handed me a beautiful sunflower they’d grown in their expansive garden and a tissue. He knows his Gigi well.

This year, my daughter was hosting Thanksgiving for the first time, and it was killing me that I wouldn’t be there to watch her shine. In her late 20s and the married mom of a handsome little two-year-old, I have loved watching my daughter become the woman she dreamed of being. Missing her first big holiday hosting gig was super sad.

I’ve never been a clingy mom or the mom who has to be involved in every aspect of her children’s lives. But I have always been the mom who relishes watching her kids grow, mature, and thrive. My daughter, wise beyond her years, anticipated my struggle and did her best to help me feel included.

Throughout Thanksgiving day, my daughter sent me pictures of her gourmet creations and cute videos of my grandson. I clung to them as a drowning woman would cling to a lifeline amid six-foot swells.

She didn’t ask me how I was; she just sensed my struggle and did what she could to ease my hurting heart.

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My wife has an uncanny ability to sense when things are spiraling for me, and she knows me well enough to know that I use distraction as my first line of defense. As Thanksgiving day marched on, she let me cook and let me seclude myself in my music but stayed close so I would feel her presence.

The way my people know me and love me in such specific ways is humbling and heartwarming all at the same time.

Perception versus reality

To the outsiders peeking in on our life, early retirement and a life of freedom and travel looks sexy, fulfilling, and fun. And most days, it is that and more.

I’ve written in other articles about some of the challenges we experienced, but my stories are mostly upbeat. I haven’t said much about the downside of an unencumbered life. There aren’t many days that I’m conscious of the downside, to be honest.

We live by the paradigm that challenges are opportunities to remain fluid and to learn new skills or solve new problems. But I must admit there are times when I miss being in the same state as my children. On those sad days, I wonder how long I’ll be happy being footloose and fancy-free.

This kind of sadness generally only lasts a day or two and is easily made better by a FaceTime with my grandson or a call from one of my boys. And for that, I am thankful.

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I’m thankful to have the opportunity to live an unencumbered life. I’m grateful we could retire early and have the means to travel around the US in our little teardrop trailer. And I’m thankful for opportunities to connect with our friends and family.

Unencumbered but not disconnected

As human beings, we were created to connect. Whether we are connecting with our God, our friends, or nature, we were made to experience that connection.

Fortunately, we live in a technology-laden society that allows us to connect to others, even if it’s a virtual connection. My day is always better when I receive a video of my grandson singing his ABCs for the first time or when I get a call from my son while he’s driving to work.

Digital connections are also surprisingly meaningful. I am fortunate to be a part of a private DM group of writers of varying experience. We build one another up, help to promote each other’s work, and encourage each other when we receive submission rejections.

It’s been surprising to experience relationships on that level. I genuinely feel like I know the women in our group, even though we’ve never met in person. What a crazy world we live in.

My wife and I plan to continue our life of trailer traveling for the foreseeable future despite the challenges of maintaining vibrant relationships with our family and close friends.

It’s easy to write about the great times, and our unencumbered life may look dreamy to those who don’t know us, but it’s essential to realize that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence.

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Kim Kelly (she/her) is a writer and speaker who writes about authenticity, retirement, relationships, and life on the road.

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.