While she had put her teaching career on hold to help her ex-husband build a successful import business in Los Angeles, and appreciated the financial comforts, she felt trapped in a material lifestyle that was not her calling. As her children grew up, she knew that she needed to change her life, and the couple separated amicably. When she met Benny just a few months after the divorce, Shifra knew that she had found her soul mate.
On their first date, in fact, Benny confessed to her that he wanted to take a year off from his job and just backpack around the world. But while Benny was a free spirit, Shifra wasn’t quite ready to commit to this nomadic experiment. Seven years later, a handful of fortuitous events led to them taking the plunge. Having left her husband’s business, Shifra was reinventing herself as an educator, broadening her interest in physical fitness by becoming a yoga trainer and working as a Senior Director at a local YMCA — but the working atmosphere wasn’t great. Benny had left a longtime position and was looking for another job. One day, they just looked at each other and knew it was time to pack up and go on the road.
Benny was approaching 61 and didn’t want to wait until it was too late to enjoy his life and live out his dream. He looked around at his aging friends and acquaintances and realized that he wasn’t always going to be vigorous. As Shifra says, “We wanted to do this while we could still lift and carry our bags!” Once they committed to the idea, they took about six months to prepare. Benny was working on a contract job that still had some time left, and also needed to sell the house he had owned for many years. The couple sold many of their possessions, put the rest in storage, and leased their Santa Monica condo, calculating that if they traveled frugally, the income from the condo could sustain them on the road.
The plan was to travel for five years, and to live each day completely fresh and free. They lived out of their two backpacks, bought their food in local markets, camped, stayed with friends they knew and people they met along the way, bought and sold camper vans (in New Zealand and South Africa) and visited over 30 countries on their global trek. They would stay anywhere from a few weeks to a few months before moving on to the next country. Their plans were fluid and shifting: at first, they were concerned that visiting certain countries, like Colombia, might be dangerous. But after having met other travelers who reassured them, they happily changed plans — and had no problems.
They returned to the States periodically during the five years — to reconnect with family and friends, and especially for the birth of their grandchildren! Each year, they would evaluate their progress, but never felt the urge or the need to stop before they reached their five-year goal.
I find it remarkable and inspiring that this cute and unassuming couple had the forbearance and stamina to make it through this experience at their age, and Benny cautions that their story is probably not a template for too many other couples: “In those five years, we never ate at a restaurant, we never stayed in a hotel.” Shifra adds with a twinkle: “We didn’t ever once meet another couple like us!” Even today, living back in Santa Monica, with social security benefits (and some part time teaching work for Shifra) as their sole income, they celebrate a simple, frugal lifestyle.
The two of them are positively glowing with gratitude for their life experiences, and say that learning to live with only the bare necessities on the road has given them a true appreciation for how to balance their lives back home.
While few of us may wind up ditching all of our creature comforts to follow Shifra and Benny’s example, the mere fact that they were courageous enough to embrace this dream, and to make a “mitzvah” (blessing) out of this challenge, speaks volumes about the potential we all have to live vibrantly and successfully into our later years.
For the Year of the Boomer — 2014 is the year the youngest Boomers turn 50 — here is another installment in my year-long survey of 50 Over-50 Boomers across 10 career categories who have reinvented themselves within the last 10 years.