Sometimes I wake up and wonder if I’m really awake. Or even alive. And sometimes this feeling of disconnection from reality lasts throughout the day. Sometimes it’s strong enough for me to ask my spouse: “Am I dreaming?”

I asked him that question several times just yesterday. Once after we climbed a hill to get to the old fort in Campeche. It was blazing hot – had to be near 100 degrees and it was humid. I was soaked with sweat. But – there I was – wandering around a World Heritage Site, enjoying a part of humanity’s history and also goofing around.

How lucky I am to have a spouse with a great sense of humor.

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Another time I asked the question as I enjoyed a frozen chocolate frappe on a trendy street in the old walled city, while he enjoyed his big, cold beer.

How lucky I am to have a little money to enjoy that.

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I asked, “Am I dreaming?” again after an interaction with a performer when I got close to him to take his picture. He approached me and asked where I was from, then told me how lucky I was. (I couldn’t understand anything else he said, my Spanish isn’t that good yet).

How lucky I am the Mexicans in the crowd laughed with me.

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And I asked my spouse again as we sat on the local bus to get back to our small, modest studio apartment for the week. We have fun with virtually everything – including a stuck window on a hot bus that is sitting running and waiting for more passengers with no air conditioning.

How lucky I am that he helps me enjoy the good and the fun in nearly every situation.

Am I dreaming?

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It’s a vacation that never ends. And apparently, it’s real. It’s so fantastic, sometimes it feels like it can’t possibly be reality.

I’m waiting for God to show me what I’m supposed to do next. Most days I’ve accepted that yes, this is my new reality. But I still feel there’s something more I should be doing – should be contributing – to a world that is so messed up and for people who are so in need of help.

How is it fair that I can have so much pleasure and enjoyment?

Maybe one day I’ll work again as a journalist of some sort. Or, perhaps my husband and I will spend a chunk of time volunteering in a community somewhere on Earth.

I was 43 years old when I decided to leave the office world in the news business after a layoff. I was 44 years old when my husband decided to retire early and join me in Mexico, where I was living alone.

The experiences I’ve had since my decision to forget about consumerism and a “regular” American life are more rich and varied, more blissfully wonderful, than I ever could have imagined they could be. Time is all we ever truly own. Every day.

I’m often asked, sometimes directly or boldly, sometimes shyly or slyly, how can we afford to do this? To retire and travel around? The short and easy answer most people can mentally grasp is: we live like poor people in the countries we visit, compared to American standards. (Maybe one day, we’ll post more financial details, beyond my post for the months I lived alone in Tulum.)

The real answer I wish more people understood is: we can afford this because we can relate to people, we value time and experiences over material “stuff”. We understand what it’s like to not have any money at all, and we are grateful for what we have.

In my mid-to-late 20s, I was a poor young woman in college who made some money as a bartender. Then it was impossible to get ahead with my first three jobs in the news business between rent, student loans and the rest.

So, when I see a Mexican make the choice between paying seven pesos for a bus fare, or walking two miles home, I understand the decision to walk, despite the blistering heat and humidity.

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When we give a Guatemalan vendor a rare tip, I can try to imagine how good and unexpected that windfall might feel for that person, like when a regular bar patron tipped me $100 because he had it and he knew I needed books for a new semester. How am I so lucky that everything has just worked out for me so far?

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Honestly, once in awhile, I do miss wearing high heels and fancy clothes and all the girly-girl and consumerism things. And honestly, that feeling of missing something is rare. I never splurge for things like pedicures, makeup, hair appliances or products beyond basic shampoo and conditioner. I haven’t colored my hair for more than a year – since February 2015. (Every now and then I do get a professional massage.)

Many American women of my former class wouldn’t feel comfortable with my current level of personal polish. What matters is that I’m comfortable knowing inner-shine is what’s ultimately important. Besides, if I feel like buying a pair of heels and a schnazzy dress for some event some time, I certainly can do that.

And, how lucky I am to be able to do that.

Meanwhile, I’ll enjoy beach life and wanderlust around the world. I’ll keep my eyes, ears, heart and soul open for whatever the Universe has for me to do next. Maybe one day, my head will stop asking, ‘Am I dreaming?’

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7 thoughts on “Reality check: Am I dreaming, or is early retirement really this fantastic?

  1. Ellen, this was my first visit to your blog and I am hooked!! I miss you and I love all your posts!! I truly see your SOUL SHINING! I am so happy for you and can’t wait to see your next adventure! GOD has a plan for you and your living it! You appreciate the smallest things and and that’s what makes us human. The materialism is superficial and changes faster than the leaves! Thank you for sharing your adventure and your journey! You are blessed beyond measure!! Hugs, hugs and more hugs!! Miss you!! Been too long!! πŸ’œπŸ’™πŸ’š

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ellie Mae, it sounds like you are on your own Encore Voyage! I enjoyed reading your post, because at its essence, that’s what the voyage is really about. Being grateful for the life you have and being mindful of every moment! It’s not about stuff, it’s about experiences! Thanks for sharing yours!

    Liked by 1 person

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