Retirement should be like being a teenager again

International Living
Dan Prescher
Emmanuel Faure | Getty Images

One of the most interesting things I do for International Living is interview retirees and expats for a series of audio podcasts.

They're simply phone chats with people who have made successful moves abroad. We talk about what they did before they moved, why they decided to move abroad, how they did it, and what they're doing now.

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I'm thinking of this today because I just did an interview with a Canadian expat who relocated to Coronado, Panama, and the phrase she used to describe the life she and her husband now live in this bustling little beach town west of Panama City is still stuck in my head.

"It's like being 15 again," she said.

She said this at the end of a fairly long explanation of how she and her husband dealt with the legal and bureaucratic issues of moving full-time to Panama. It took a while to get their resident visas. It took a while to finalize the purchase of their house in Coronado. It took a while to do the renovations they wanted.

Bureaucracies are pretty much the same the world over, but she said that at the end of it all…when everything was taken care of, all the paperwork was filed, and all the dust had settled…they had no real burning issues or responsibilities left to deal with.

They were legal residents of a tropical paradise living comfortably on their retirement savings without mortgage or debt of any kind.

They were, essentially, 15-year-olds on permanent summer vacation.

Permanent summer vacation in Panama.

No work, no debt, no deadlines, no snow, no worries.

What an amazing concept.

It's what most of us believe retirement should be like. After a lifetime of working and being responsible for ourselves and others, retirement should be like a permanent summer vacation.

Retirement should feel like it did when you were 15 and the last bell of the last class of the last day of the school year rang.

It should feel like running out the door into the sunshine and realizing you didn't have to go back in there again all summer.

Only summer lasts forever.

A lot of the retirees I talk to who have moved abroad say essentially the same thing, but no one has said it quite as simply and clearly as my friend in Coronado. She put the entire concept of a successful retirement abroad in a phrase that I've now adopted as my model for what the ideal retirement is like.

It's like being 15 again.

That's something to aspire to. That's something to shoot for. That's something devoutly to be wished.

And, because there are so many places abroad that can make exactly this kind of retirement possible, it's something that people are actually doing every day.

I know, because I talk to those people every day. People who, no matter what their age in years, are essentially 15-year-olds on permanent summer vacation.

That's exactly how I want to retire.

Commentary by Dan Prescher, a writer for International Living. Prescher is a native of Omaha, Neb., who currently lives in Cotacachi, Ecuador. Since joining International Living in 2001, he and his wife have lived and worked in Ecuador, Panama, Nicaragua and three locations in Mexico.