This is a guest post from Paul Marshman, author of The Travelling Boomer, as part of our retirement series.

I’m one of the baby boomers who saw their careers cut short by the recent recession. But luckily, I was one of the few who was prepared for that fateful day. And since then, I’ve been able to turn my retirement into an unlikely second career, as a travel blogger – The Travelling Boomer. Here’s how it happened.

The Travelling Boomer

I spent most of my working life as a reporter and editor on Canadian newspapers, big and small. But for the last 10 years of my career, I was a freelance writer, working for corporate clients and papers including the Toronto Star. Then the recession came. My most lucrative corporate gigs were cancelled, replaced with smaller, lower-paying ones. Then, my newspaper work began to die, due to a lack of advertising. And after a long, hard look at my finances, I woke up one morning and thought: “Well, if my work is retiring, I might as well retire too.”

Related: I’d rather be fishing – My early retirement story

I was 62 – a pretty average age for Canadians to retire, but still a little young. And while I could have continued pursuing ever more scarce writing assignments, I had to admit I was getting tired of what I was doing. I decided on a semi-retirement, taking assignments when they popped up but not pursuing work. As the newspaper industry continued to grind down, those assignments became fewer and fewer, and about a year ago, I found myself retired for good.

In a way, it was hard to believe I could retire before 65, even with the blessing of my financial advisor. I had never made much more than an average salary – in fact, I had suffered a few periods of unemployment. But I had also been a saver, and during my best earning years, I’d used a double-up strategy: making a sizeable RRSP contribution each year, then using the tax refund to pay down my mortgage. It worked. My RRSP got healthy, and my downtown condo was paid off before I reached 60, bringing my monthly expenses down to a very manageable level.

But I still didn’t have a company pension. So I made myself one, using something called a deferred annuity. With a normal annuity, you give an insurance company a lump sum and they guarantee you a fixed, long-term stream of income. With a deferred annuity, you give them the money years before you retire – five years, in my case – and in return, get a much larger payout.

Related: On retirement – Early or never?

My third move was to take the Canada Pension Plan early, at 62. From writing financial stories, I knew that spending years in semi-retirement with a low income actually erodes your ultimate CPP payments, since it lowers your average lifetime income. That made the early start a prudent move. As well, it provided some welcome cash during the years before my annuity payments begin, at 65.

So I was retired. And like most retirees, my number one resolution was to travel more. I’d always been an avid traveller, but now I had both the time and the money. And I began to notice something: wherever I went, I ran into other people my age who were doing the same thing. It occurred to me that there was a need for a travel resource aimed at these baby boomers, with travel tips, destination info, and news on issues that matter to older travellers. A few months later, The Travelling Boomer (travellingboomer.com) was born.

I knew nothing about building or running a website when I started, and my computer knowledge is average, at best. But there’s a lot of information on the web, and I managed to set up a standard blog on the WordPress platform without adding many grey hairs.

There were a few bumpy weeks as I discovered all the little quirks of my site, and learned things on the fly. For example, there was the day I sold my first ad, and then realized I had no idea how to put it on the site. A frantic call to a web expert I knew solved the mystery, and I had learned another lesson.

Related: Retirement planning for late starters

Today, I am The Travelling Boomer. My site, now bigger and better, is approaching its second anniversary, and it’s beginning to pay dividends. I’ve sold a few more ads, and now have a big enough presence that travel companies are willing to send me on sponsored “fam trips” in return for coverage aimed at their baby boomer clientele.

Just as importantly, writing the website has kept me busy and interested, honed my writing and photography skills, and allowed me to meet a lot of interesting people. (I now know a guy who calls himself the Travel Camel, and a Canadian woman in her 20s who’s already been to 100 countries.) It’s also brought me into the world of social media, where I spend a lot of time promoting my site and finding out about even more places to put on my bucket list.

Looking forward to my 65th birthday — a time when many people are just set to retire — I feel lucky at how things have worked out. In truth, I retired a little earlier, and with a little less money than I had planned on. But by creating a “personal pension” and eliminating my debt, I managed to create a retirement income that fit my modest lifestyle.

Related: 16 habits that helped me retire wealthy

And as The Travelling Boomer, I’m seeing the world (14 countries in the past two years) and sharing my experiences with other people my age. Just as importantly, I’m keeping myself occupied and productive, which I believe is a key part of a happy retirement.

And when the winter winds start to blow, The Travelling Boomer is on a plane to somewhere with palm trees and warm breezes – sometimes, those TV ads do come true.

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7 Comments

  1. helen7777 on September 4, 2015 at 8:01 am

    Wonderful and inspiring story. I was impressed with the 2 financial decisions Paul made: 1. Taking CPP early, and 2. buying a deferred annuity. Very smart.

  2. Alan on September 4, 2015 at 9:50 am

    Great post. I like the idea of an annuity, and since I converted my RRSP to a RRIF this year I was planning to use some of the funds to buy an annuity. The problem is that interest rates are so low, you are in effect locking in an extremely low interest rate for the rest of your life.

  3. John Ryan on September 4, 2015 at 3:50 pm

    Fun post, sounds like a great lifestyle.

    I’m shocked at myself, but I’ve actually never come across deferred annuities before! Years ago I looked into whether or not someone in their early 30s could buy an annuity and came to the conclusion they couldn’t. Clearly they CAN, just a deferred, rather than immediate, annuity! (I ended up reading a lot on tontines, so it was a fun time regardless).

    Thanks for helping me identify an overlooked ignorance in myself! =)

  4. Christine on September 5, 2015 at 8:23 am

    Great post! I. Signing up for your blog right away. And if you come up with ideas for single travellers – keeping costs in line- you’ll have my undying gratitude. Happy travels ..

  5. Paul Marshman on September 9, 2015 at 2:56 pm

    Thanks for the kind comments. I was lucky enough to find out about deferred annuities when they came up in a writing assignment. And the reason they were a subject of interest was precisely because interest rates are so low. Annuities have a higher payout than the meagre ones from most interest-bearing investments these days, and deferred annuities increase the return even more. True, it’s better to buy an annuity when rates are high, but these days we have to do what we can. As well, a big part of buying an annuity is the security factor: no matter what happens to the markets, that income is there.

    Thanks for your comment, Christine. I have in fact written a piece on solo travel — see here: http://travellingboomer.com/five-problems-of-solo-travellers-and-five-ways-to-solve-them/

  6. CanadianDaniel on September 10, 2015 at 10:34 am

    “I knew that spending years in semi-retirement with a low income actually erodes your ultimate CPP payments, since it lowers your average lifetime income.” Excellent point, Paul — if your income significantly deteriorates after age 60 there is a good chance that your full CPP payout at age 65 might not be that much more than the reduced amount at age 60 since it is based on an average. In my case, by opting for early CPP at age 60, I’ll receive roughly $30,000 by age 65. Unlike my older brother who enjoys a rich government employee pension, I need the cashflow sooner rather than later.

  7. Steve Miller on September 12, 2015 at 9:07 am

    Well done, Paul! I also retired early, it’s great to hear your story.

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