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Retirement It’s not retirement, it’s a new life on wheels

Judith Cane, a money coach, and Ian Fisher, a non-profit executive, in their recreational vehicle with dog Abby.

Blair Gable/The Globe and Mail

If they’re smart, people approaching retirement will try to knock a few things off their to-do list before bidding work goodbye: revise their investment strategy, create a fixed-income budget and review their estate plan.

But one Ottawa couple has tacked on one more item to their list. Judith Cane, 62, and Ian Fisher, 59 recently sold their home, bought a 37-foot RV and plan to drive across Canada starting this spring. Oh, and they’ll be working full-time, too.

“No, we aren’t retiring,” Ms. Cane says. “We’re just changing our living accommodations.”

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Of course, she’s kidding. Call it a preretirement retirement, their decision to upend their lives and hit the road was made after a dear friend – only 54 years old – died within five months of receiving a cancer diagnosis. His death forced them to take a look at their own lives, Ms. Cane as a money coach, and Mr. Fisher, as an executive working for a national non-profit. They had always dreamed of road-tripping and exploring the country, but work, home, child-rearing and other obligations kept them home.

“But when Peter passed away, we kind of went, ‘What are we waiting for? What happens if we get to the point when we want to retire and one of us is sick or something else happens and we can’t do it?’ ” Ms. Cane explains.

Besides, after crunching the numbers, they discovered their life on wheels would actually save them some money as they neared retirement age. While the 15-year-old Newmar Kountry Star RV cost them $56,000, the couple was able to make many times that when they sold their Ottawa bungalow, a sale that will close on May 1. The insurance for the RV is less expensive than home and mortgage insurance, and forget paying the usual $5,000 annual property tax, plus hydro bills. They’re gone, too. So are their landline and cable bills. Food costs will likely hold steady, although they will spend more on cell service and internet on the road.

On top of any savings they amass, both plan to work all the while to make ends meet. Ms. Cane already works 35-hour weeks remotely, connecting with her clients via phone and e-mail. Meanwhile, Mr. Fisher’s job is to oversee real estate issues for 120 organizational offices across the country – some of which he has never laid eyes on, until now.

“Part of my role is to manage those physical offices, so dropping in on them is an added bonus that currently I don’t have because I’m stuck in one city,” Mr. Fisher says.

The couple has sold their Ottawa home and downsized their stuff. They plan to live and work in the RV, touring Canada. Here, they plan their route, which will take them through Quebec and Eastern Canada for the first five or six months.

Blair Gable

In order to merge busy work lives with travel, they plan to drive early in the morning – and preferably no more than two or three hours for each stretch – before stopping for a few days to smell the roses and see the sights while still working their eight-hour days.

And because Ms. Cane and Mr. Fisher plan to travel in Canada, even in the winter, if they don’t spend the cold months in mild coastal B.C., they’re hoping to wait out the weather by parking the RV and housesitting for snowbirds who have gone south. They’r already perusing TrustedHousesitters.com listings for ideas.

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“We're trying to do this economically. We want to save as much money as possible until Ian actually retires,” says Ms. Cane, mentioning that she has no plans to retire. She loves her job too much.

Not that the process has been smooth sailing so far. The move from home to RV has meant some serious downsizing. With only a 10-by-20-foot storage space rented, the couple has had to give away most of their belongings. They’ve also logged at least 100 hours online planning their routes, which will take them through Quebec and Eastern Canada for the first five or six months.

When Christopher Dewdney, a certified financial planner in Toronto, hears about the couple's plans to work and travel, he says the story isn't completely surprising. A number of his clients over the years have experienced the death of a loved one and wanted to make life changes. But when they talk to him about big lifestyle plans, he does try to slow them down and take a breath first.

“I always say, ‘Don’t make permanent decisions based on temporary emotions,’ ” he says.

While he's the first to admit that he's never driven an RV and doesn't fully understand the appeal, his main concern for Ms. Cane and Mr. Fisher is about their decision to sell their home before hitting the road. Why sell an appreciating asset like a house and buy an RV, a depreciating asset?

“It's one thing to RV around Canada. You can do that. But why make it something permanent where you would liquidate your most valuable asset?” he asks. “Ultimately, they'll have to purchase a home at the end of the excursion, and who knows what the market will look like at that time?”

For anyone else thinking about following in the couple’s footsteps, he recommends renting an RV for a few weeks or months first to see how it goes and to test the waters. Another option is to rent out the house while travelling, rather than putting it on the market. Hiring a financial planner first is another must. Having someone who is emotionally detached look over the plans can help people see possible problems down the road.

The upside of travelling across Canada in an RV, however, is that it will give the couple a window seat to some great, inexpensive, previously unknown communities they may eventually decide to call home, he says.

Ultimately, however, the money isn’t really the point, Ms. Cane says. Neither is the travel. It’s about wanting to live a full, wide life even if it’s eventually cut short. No regrets.

“I don’t want to be sitting here 10 years from now going, ‘Remember when we had that plan?’ and wondering what it would have been like,” Ms. Cane explains. “I would rather say, ‘Do you remember when we did that for a year? It was the worst thing we ever did and we’d never do it again – but we had a lot of fun.’ I think that would be a happier conversation.”

'I don’t want to be sitting here 10 years from now going, ‘Remember when we had that plan?’ and wondering what it would have been like,' Ms. Cane says.

Blair Gable

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