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Retired couple travelling

In our Living in Retirement blog, a recent retiree chronicles the ups and downs of her real-life retirement journey.

The middle class started flying south for vacations in the mid-sixties. With money in their pockets from the post-war economic boom, the parents of today's retirees, who back in the day normally drove north to the summer cottage, were suddenly planning winter escapes to Mexico or the Caribbean. Winter holidays became one of the great luxuries of middle income Canadians.

Fifty years later, travelling south is often a highlight of retirement living. Some retirees, who book their trips months in advance, plan their entire year around vacations. Many of those are frequent travellers on cruise ships, the perfect venue for a long, leisurely holiday. My recent trip was different: last minute, five short days, and an eye-opener into how differently retirees think about vacations.

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I was primarily concerned about the cost. My partner has returned to college. My daughter is at university. Our condo fees keep increasing. Until I hit upon a last-minute deal at Expedia, a winter holiday was not included in my restricted budget. But a hefty chunk of redeemed Aeroplan miles made five days on a posh Celebrity cruise in the Caribbean possible – at a price of less than $100 per day.

Only the airfare from Toronto's Pearson Airport was prohibitive so I booked a SouthWest Airlines flight from Buffalo at half the cost. With taxes the return flight from Buffalo to Fort Lauderdale was $668 for two. Staying overnight at the Airport Holiday Inn in Buffalo was reasonable at $139, including the five-minute shuttle to and from the airport and free parking for the duration of our vacation.

We drove out of town as the first winter snowstorm of the season was hitting the GTA. When we landed in Florida, the temperature was 28 degrees Celsius. By the time we were ensconced in our deluxe verandah stateroom on the seventh deck, we were pleased with our choice: a champagne cruise on a beer budget. Paying down my interest-free Home Depot credit card would be extended in favour of this vacation on the sea.

At dinner we were seated at a table for 10. Our companions were in their sixties, semi-retired and apparently well-heeled. I remarked to my partner that the jewels and clothing on the woman sitting across from me were worth the listing price of my condo, which I must admit made me feel uneasy.

We'd scraped together every last penny to embark on this cruise, while for most of the other vacationers, it seemed to be a holiday on top of a holiday. Our dinner companions wintered in Florida or had moved south permanently to escape the cold weather. For them this brief cruise was icing on the cake.

Until a month ago, I believed that vacations to the south were a thing of the past for me. When the economy was booming and I was employed and teaching full-time, I took full advantage of summer vacations, usually paying top dollar to travel to Paris, Rome or London in high season. But now that I'm semi-retired and my portfolio is still suffering from the Great Recession, I'd ruled holidays out. The luxuries my parents had enjoyed would not be mine.

After the cruise, I began to reconsider. For the first time in 37 years, I was without a full time job and a commensurate pay cheque. This drastic change was causing me restless nights, leaving me wondering how my pension will hold up in the years to come.

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What I learned from the retirees on this ship was not to fret about finances as much as I have been since retiring. It's time for me to make the psychological change that is often called for after the formal act of retirement. I have a rock-solid pension, Canada Pension Plan benefits and a mortgage-free condo. I should relax.

A lifetime of working and relatively judicious financial planning should pay off. The cruise opened my eyes to the notion that retirement is to be enjoyed.

Worrying about the future could wreak havoc with these years so by the time we landed in Buffalo, with the pre-Christmas ice storm about to hit, I threw caution to the wind. We spent two days in Buffalo shopping for deals at the malls. Everything from the milk to detergent to the handbags I purchased as Christmas gifts was a steal.

And with the cash saved in Buffalo, I was able to make a payment on that Home Depot credit card balance after all. These days I don't immediately delete the advertisements for departures south that land on my computer screen. Maybe next winter we can find an even better holiday deal.

Joyce Wayne's novel, The Cook's Temptation, will be published on Feb. 4.

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