We’ve set up a special category for “Austria” in our blog as it forms a big part of our retirement plans.
Early retirees (or even just a retiree) have some fairly major financial and life decisions to make such as whether to downsize to free up equity relocating to enjoy a better climate, or perhaps both! In fact evidence suggests that 95% of retirees stay put and there’s a lot to be said for being close to family and friends.
Maybe it’s possible to have the best of both worlds by buying a little bolthole for weekends and holidays? In our experience, unless you’re prepared to rent it out, it’s difficult to make the economics work (compared to booking a reasonably priced hotel) along with the thought that perhaps you are neglecting the place. We also found that, having spent years investing in our main home, the attraction of spending a weekend somewhere that was smaller and less comfortable simply didn’t appeal.
We’re both originally from the UK so what happened? How did we get here?
I will confess to having perpetually itchy feet (and I use the “I” there, as it’s not something necessarily shared by the rest of the family). I’m not alone and the burgeoning market for gap years including, increasingly, adult gap years is testimony to that. But beyond the not insignificant actual financial cost of the year away, is the potential cost of ‘lost ground’ in terms of peers, retirement saving etc. and for those with a young family it’s almost an impossible option (although the people over at life in our van may disagree).
If you’re working for a megacorp which I did for a number of years a paid secondment overseas is a great option which can offer a little bit of both worlds. The sweet spot for secondments is probably singles in the 25-30 age range so we were lucky to still get the opportunity at age 35 as a family of 4. For various reasons we ended up in Germany in 1999 maybe not the most obvious destination for a secondee who more typically looks to the beaches of Australia or the excitement of New York but, as it happened, the right place at the right time for my career to take off.
I have a couple of career learnings that I will share with you. Firstly, you have to ask for what you want and take ownership of your direction. You might be recognised for doing a good job up to a point but if you don’t put yourself out there it’s much more difficult. You simply need to know where you stand and be prepared to act to get what you want. Secondly, sometimes you need a little luck! However, if you’re prepared to be flexible you can make luck come to you! Back in the 90’s it was easier to position yourself in a growing economy (geographically) but today that’s become harder and less palatable (in my later career I was offered opportunities in Istanbul and Nairobi!). Nowadays it’s much more about the digital economy which is even better as that means geography is becoming less and less relevant and you’ll note many early retirees who adopt the moniker “digital nomad”.
Over the years we’ve met a number of expats who tend to enjoy the experience and then go back to their regular life, amongst those expats is a small group who, once they’ve moved find it hard to go back. We are one of those. Even after many years away it still feels like being on holiday. I’ll come back to the advantages and disadvantages of the expat lifestyle in another post but advances in technology and market convergence mean language and culture are no longer barriers to building a life away from home although I’ll have to revisit that if post-Brexit it becomes more difficult to buy HP sauce J
So we’ve already been living in a German speaking region for some time but our emotional connection to Austria stretches back further. We both love the mountains. My first overseas holiday was not until the age of 24 (long story) a skiing trip to the Austrian Tyrol and we followed that with a Christmas ski trip in the year we were married (to Zell am See) and a summer hiking trip to Mayrhofen. It’s hard to say why some places grab a place in your heart but with its breath-taking natural landscape Austria makes the best possible first impression. Delve a little deeper and it’s the personality which is gives it broader appeal. There’s a strong sense of history and tradition as well as a warm welcome and a sense of tidiness and safety (safety is not just perception but backed up by statistics). Over the years we’ve come to know that the Austrians love any excuse to get some benches out for a few beers! Few retirees would look to Austria for its weather but summer days are warm often with cooling evening thunderstorms. Winter of course brings some hazards but if you love winter sports this is really the place to be (but ask me again if I still love it once I’ve broken my hip). I’ll be posting a lot about skiing in this part of the blog.
Of course it’s not perfect (but where is?), with the exception of Vienna there are no major cities (our nearest city Salzburg has a population of around 150,000 about the same size as Harrogate!) which means evening entertainment options (concerts, cinema) are limited. Shopping for food can be random and frustrating (try buying lamb or fresh herbs) and some costs are stupidly high (car insurance is the second most expensive in the world). But our district heating is cheap and most things that are not available can be bought online. And it’s a small price to pay for the views and the sense of peace and tranquility that standing on top of a mountain brings.
We remain pragmatic however and, having lived in 10 homes during our married life, we know to never say never. The uncertainty surrounding Brexit both in terms of our rights here but also the direction that the UK takes adds a concern and we know that five years from now things could be very different. At the moment we’re happy here but keeping an open mind, if ever we do decide to leave it would be with a very heavy heart.