The Unlikely Secret to a Happy Retirement

My Comments: Who knew? If I’d known this before, would I have planned any differently? Maybe.

By Dan Kadlec Dec. 12, 2013

With a savings crisis so deep that more than half of American adults are unsure they could scrape together $2,000 within a month for an emergency, it may seem tone deaf to worry about those who aren’t saving enough to travel the world in retirement.

Bear with me. Travel has many fans and plenty of underappreciated benefits. Yet almost no one is planning for it, according to a study from the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies with the Global Coalition on Aging and U.S. Travel Association.

The findings show that 71% consider travel in retirement an important goal worth saving for; 47% regard it not as a luxury but a necessity. Still, only 15% place a high priority on saving for travel, even though as a retirement priority it ranks second only to spending more time with family and friends.

Okay. Why is this a problem? After all, those approaching retirement generally have bigger and more practical issues, like finding enough guaranteed income to cover their fixed expenses and not outlive their savings. Yet the minute you ask almost any retiree about their goals beyond simple financial security they say they want to see the world—or at least visit a town or state they haven’t already seen.

Three of four adults say they love taking trips and four in five say it improves their general mood and outlook on life, according to the survey. Three in five working Americans dream of traveling in retirement, a rate that jumps to four in five among those who have already called it quits.

Travel in retirement is a goal worth saving for, not just because it is fun but also because it has demonstrable health benefits. In most people, travel reduces stress and promotes physical well-being, provides mental stimulation, and may lead to new friendships and connections. Travel directly relates to the activities that nine in 10 Americans agree drives their long-term health: doing what they love, being with those they love, staying active and staying alert.

So it isn’t just a retirement plan; it’s a health plan—even though most don’t consciously make that leap. Only one in three regard travel as a driver of long-term health. Most folks simply want to enjoy it. Yet either for the enjoyment or the health benefits, they aren’t doing much about it. Not planning for the expense of travel is one of the biggest regrets that retirees cite. To avoid such regrets in your retirement:
• Consider the annual cost of travel as a fixed cost in your planning.
• Focus on the health benefits to remain committed.
• Build in plans to travel with family and friends to satisfy most retirees’ top goal at the same time you are seeing new places.
• Remember that travel does not have to be exotic or expensive to have health, family and social benefits.

Dan Kadlec is a journalist who has written about personal finance for TIME and other outlets for 25 years. He is the author of three books, a leading voice in the global financial literacy movement, and strategic adviser to the National Financial Educators Council.

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