You and your significant other are in the final stages of planning a cruising retirement. One issue that is bound to arise is your connections to your family, and now is the time for you to consider making some difficult personal decisions. It is inevitable, as we grow older, that parents or older siblings may need care and assistance. Children's weddings, the addition of new branches on the family tree, and grandchildren's graduations may be missed while you are out cruising.
If you have been spending every holiday with family, and a big Sunday dinner with them has become a valued and important tradition, it is possible that cruising is not a viable option for your retirement. But that is more a matter of choice than necessity since there are ways to balance your cruising dreams with your family obligations.
When given the news of your retirement plans, it is interesting how the age and gender of each family member influences their reaction. In the age group between 20 and 35, a general indifference is expressed by both sexes—like, "So what else is new?" Males from 35 to 70 usually offer congratulations and express either mild envy or the wish that they could do it too. Females of that same age group normally express concern about your safety, and often ask, "But how can we stay in touch? How will we know that you are OK when you are out there?" In fact, you'll frequently hear the expression "out there" in discussions with daughters, sisters, and especially mothers.
These concerns are best turned away with humorous response such as, "We're not going to fall off the edge of the world," or "There aren't really dragons out there."
|"The stamina and resiliency necessary to cruise are not difficult to maintain well into your 70s or 80s if you have begun in your 50s."|
Older parents will often express ambivalent feelings about your cruising plans. They are glad that you are doing what you want, but wonder if you are less caring than you should be. There may be comments like "When you leave, I'll never see you again," that indicate a perception that they are, in a sense, being abandoned in their old age. A comment like this can only come from those who are trying to influence your plan and is their way of expressing feelings of estrangement and resignation.
We've known more than a few couples who postponed their plans because of elderly, infirm parents. This delay resulted in a complete cancellation of their cruising dreams in some cases when the erstwhile cruisers themselves became physically unable to withstand the rigors of life aboard a boat. The stamina and resiliency necessary to cruise are not difficult to maintain well into your 70s or 80s if you have begun in your 50s. But they are almost impossible to develop after your 60s.
The renowned '60s folksinger, Joan Baez, sang, "You don't get to change how you're going to die, or when. You can only decide how you're going to live now." If you want to cruise, you may have to suffer through a small guilt trip first. After that, the first requirement is that you accept the reality that your loved ones will continue to live their lives—wherever you are.
Secondly, you need to tailor your cruising plans around your desire for family contact. If your physical presence is required at some time in the future, traveling to see your family is an obvious option. Keep in mind that most retirees have more time than money, but travel costs can be reduced substantially as time constraints are relaxed. Senior citizens can usually obtain discounted fares because of their age, and traveling out of peak seasons or high-cost times are viable means of pulling a family visit out of a restricted budget.
The other option when thinking about family visits is to have them visit you. One of the most pleasant parts of cruising is sharing the relaxed ambiance with family—especially the kids. Young people welcome the opportunity to see their parents (or grandparents) in a different environment. It also gives them reassurance that the "old folks" are not just surviving, but also thriving, in their retirement lifestyle. The visits provide them with new experiences—after children have seen dolphins playing and gone swimming with fish, they will never again be totally satisfied to just passively observe these creatures in captivity. Intimate contact with nature, exposure to different cultures, and a totally different geography and climate all enrich the lives of young loved ones. There are few better gifts we can pass on to our descendants.
But family gatherings like these aren't the only way to stay in touch.
The postal service still carries letters, photos, and postcards for just a few pennies. This "snail mail" is inexpensive, but remember that this designation can be quite appropriate in some remote areas—even if you're only coastal cruising. When offshore cruisers fly home from a foreign port, they often hand carry letters from other cruisers to be posted upon arrival. Their generosity can reduce transit times by days or even weeks in extreme cases. Others use private package couriers to transport mail packets to a loved one who then forwards individual letters to the various recipients.
A more modern method that is faster and more fun is e-mail. We currently keep in contact with cruising friends who are in such far-flung locations as the Caribbean, Mexico, the South Pacific, and both coasts of the US—all via e-mail. Once you have the laptop, the rest is very inexpensive, and the kids think that the old folks are really cool. E-mail is also available via satellite, HF radio, Pocket Mail, and wireless cellular technology, but some of these newer options are expensive.
Another alternative is wireless telecommunications, but this can also be rather expensive for most offshore cruisers unless they have an Amateur Radio License, commonly called a HAM license. Until last April, one had to copy Morse code at 13 words per minute to receive long-range voice privileges. The FCC recently reduced the requirement to just five words per minute, enabling you to get your HAM license with a minimum effort. Louise and I have not regretted the time and effort spent to get our HAM licenses. In addition to being a great way to stay in touch, HAM radio is an excellent source of local knowledge and a good way to meet new cruising friends and local citizens. Even if your relatives are not HAM operators, you can forward messages back and forth through volunteer relays.
Available without the HAM testing procedure is the marine single-sideband (SSB) radio. These powerful transceivers have gained popularity among cruisers since they are easy to use.
On shore, telephone service is available but isn't always convenient. Mobile phones offer an alternative, and cellular phones are becoming increasingly popular among cruisers. The cost of running a cell phone has been steadily dropping, but it is still rather high if you have a small budget. Some cell phone plans charge a flat fee for 100 or 200 minutes of "talk time" each month, with no extra charges for roaming or long distance. These are convenient for keeping tabs on the family, allowing them to also keep tabs on you, wherever you are
Family obligations are an important consideration for most couples contemplating retirement cruising. With communication, visits from relatives, and an occasional trip home, the whole family can be involved in your retirement adventures. So don't let them stop you from going "out there."