‘Mini-retirements’ are on the rise — here’s how to plan one

Brendan Lee was planning his mini-retirement for almost as long as he’d been working.

At 24, Lee was already three years into his career, working full-time as an accountant. Three years was enough to realize that he needed a change.

“To be honest, I never doubted the decision to leave my job,” he told In The Know. “It’s what I’d wanted for years.”

Lee, now 35, isn’t alone. There’s plenty of data showing that millennials, more than any generation before them, are likely to change jobs early and often in their careers. Many have taken mini-retirements along the way.

For those who aren’t familiar, a “mini-retirement” is basically a short-term, mid-career break from working life. It’s a sort of counter to the traditional image of retirement, where you save for a lifetime until, one day, you never have to work again.

Taking a six month, 12 month or even multi-year hiatus from your career is obviously a big decision. Still, Lee’s advice to Gen Zers and millennials is clear: Do it early, if you can.

“[In your early to mid-20s], your mind is still fresh and curious,” he said. “You have a great capacity to learn, and your energy levels are high. It’s also a time when most people are still trying to figure out exactly what they want to do with their lives — and mini-retirements are an ideal way to explore that.”

Of course, the pandemic has changed everything about how we view travel — including when and how to plan vacations. A recent study by CNBC found that, in 2020, more than 90 percent of Americans canceled, rescheduled or avoided vacations due to the pandemic.

It’s unclear how those pent-up travel dreams will affect our post-COVID universe, but one thing is for sure: Plenty of us will be ready for a vacation.

For those looking to turn that vacation into a full-on mini-retirement, here’s everything you need to know about planning one — straight from the people who’ve actually done it.

How much should you save for a mini-retirement?

There’s no magic number that will tell you if you’re ready for a mini-retirement. That amount differs based on who you are, what you want to go and, of course, where you want to go.

However, there are plenty of strategies that can help you reach your number. As Chris Durheim, who took a mini-retirement in 2017, puts it, the saving all comes down to the “little wins.”

“Those little wins add up so much, especially over a span of three to five years,” Chris told In The Know. “Those small actions today compound over time.” 

Chris and his wife Jaime, who together run a personal finance blog called Keep Thrifty, used the time off to reflect, spend more time with their kids and build their dream home.

That’s another one of Chris’s tips: having a plan. Setting a clear goal of what you want to do will help you know how to save — and it can help motivate you if you ever get deterred. As Jaime explained, staying motivated is its own distinct challenge.

“When Chris and I did this, no one thought it was a good idea,” she said.

The Durheims’ friends and family had trouble wrapping their heads around the mini-retirement, so the couple found support elsewhere. As Jaime pointed out, there are countless blogs, podcasts and websites dedicated to the concept. Finding those outlets — and utilizing their advice — can go a long way.

When should you take a mini-retirement?

Timing, of course, is also subjective. Still, Lee sees a clear, obvious benefit of taking a mini-retirement early in life, just like he did.

“I would say it’s probably the best time to do it, for most people,” he said. “It’s the time when your responsibilities are fewest and your body is the healthiest. If you’re going to try to bootstrap your travels and sleep on couches and floors and benches in train terminals and endure 20-plus-hour flights, it’s best to have a young body, believe me!”

According to Lee, who essentially travels full-time now, there’s also a demographic benefit to taking a big break when you’re young, especially if you plan on jet-setting around the globe. The New Zealand native told In The Know that, in his experience, most people on similar journeys also tend to be pretty young.

Jaime and Chris, meanwhile, were in their mid-30s when they took their mini-retirement. The advantage here is also clear: It gives you plenty of time to save up for it.

It also gave them plenty of time to get their priorities straight. Chris told In The Know that, while he’d encourage anyone to take a mini-retirement, he doesn’t think you should do it “just to take one.”

“[Jaime and I] are constantly having discussions about, ‘Is our life what we want it to be? Are we doing the things we want?’”

Best mini-retirement ideas

The last, and maybe most exciting question: What should you do with your time off? According to Lee, it’s best not to overplan.

“Some people leave home and have six months of travel planned out to the day — then they end up spending half their days rebooking hotels and canceling flights and rearranging their timetable,” Lee said.

Instead, Lee suggests planning about one month in advance. That way, you can make use of your time while staying “flexible” to open opportunities. Of course, this suggestion works best for those taking their mini-retirement after the pandemic, when (hopefully!) travel can return to normal.

If you’re looking to take a break during our current state of existence, the Durheims have their own suggestion.

Digital nomad visas, which offer an affordable way to live and work remotely overseas, have seen a huge jump in popularity during the pandemic. Countries like Barbados, for example, are charging just $2,000 to Americans looking to move there for a year.

In the context of mini-retirements, these visas offer a sort of halfway point. It’s a chance to live abroad and explore a new place all while maintaining some sort of steady income — either with a remote full-time job or through freelance work.

To Jaime, it’s almost too good of an opportunity to ignore. The mom told In The Know that if she and Chris were younger and childless, they’d strongly consider living in the Caribbean for a year.

Does that mean everyone should go move to the Caribbean? Probably not. But there’s a larger point in the Durheims’ advice — COVID has changed everything about mini-retirements, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still a good idea.

“If you really want to go do something, I don’t think you should let COVID stop you,” Chris said. “[Instead], figure out how to make it happen with COVID.”

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If you liked this story, check out this article on why more millennials are living the #RVLife.

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