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For many RVers, COVID-19 led to an early retirement

Last week, we asked RVtravel.com readers who retired early due to the pandemic to tell us their stories. The request was triggered by a recent New York Times story about how COVID-19 had suddenly reversed the longtime national trend toward delayed retirements for many Americans.

We wondered how the pandemic may have changed plans for RVers. Several readers were kind enough to share the details of their altered plans. Below are a few of their stories.

Mark Griesbeck told us how he decided the risks outweighed the benefits of going back to work:

“I came home on Friday, March 13, 2020, and didn’t realize that would be my last day at a job I had for over 20 years. I didn’t go to work the following week because our company began laying off. By March 23 the quarantine began. Meanwhile, I had enjoyed 10 days of sleeping in. Earlier in the year, I made a life-changing decision to move in with a gal I met in October. She was already retired. I felt bad having to get up at 5 a.m. five days a week because inevitably she’d wake up briefly as well. She would teasingly brag about sleeping in till 10 or 11 a.m. Getting to work from her house was an additional 20 minutes, making the drive not only more expensive but longer. I was 57 at that time. She had a nice 19-foot camper she had not used yet. When I got the call to return to work, I was told of all the changes that would be necessary. I worked in a manufacturing facility as a machinist with roughly 70 other men and women. I would be required to wear a mask all day, practice social distancing and submit to temperature checks daily. My girlfriend (now my fiancé) is autoimmune compromised and I already had concerns about shopping in public and possibly exposing her/us to COVID-19. It was a no-brainer for me. I had a nice 401k as well as a comfortable savings to be able to maintain a decent lifestyle. It was time to make the break. I have no regrets. We camp regularly and have taken the camper out of state as well. By the end of 2020, it was a lifestyle we knew was part of our future. She sold her 19-foot RV for more money than she had paid for it in 2018. In January we ordered a 2021 Surveyor that is a 30-footer and picked it up in April. We have been taking her cats with us so we can be gone without a cat sitter and we have two dogs that also come. I’ve never been happier.” 

Department of Labor statistics show that 2.5 million Americans have retired in the past 15 months, more than double the number that retired in 2019.

Leon Worthy and Greg Bryant bagged their long law enforcement careers in order to take an early retirement due to the pandemic.

“After having been in law enforcement for 40+ years and dealing with the changing attitude towards cops, the pandemic had shown me it is better for me to take the out while I can before something comes along and takes it away from me and my family. I pray for the younger officers and look forward to our first camping trip out as retirees. Come on July 26th! Keep up the great articles RVTravel.com.” —Leon Worthy

“I retired in February. I was retirement eligible. COVID-19 was one reason. I had been exposed 3-4 times in the fall. Being an essential worker (law enforcement) I knew continued exposure would be a reality. Couple that with nonstop anti-law enforcement sentiment, staffing crisis, and non-existent morale, I decided it was time to walk away. We want to full-time anyway so we are getting a head start. I’m 56.” —Greg Bryant

Reader Karen Wickersham is an example of the loss of experienced employees caused by the pandemic.

“I worked for a large city school district that was losing students due to the pandemic. Rather than lay off staff, they chose to offer an early retirement incentive: a Healthcare Reimbursement Account that they would pay funds into for five years to help cover healthcare premiums and other healthcare costs. Around the time that they started talking about this offer (October), I was diagnosed with cancer. To accept the offer, we needed to commit to retiring by December 31. Needless to say, the timing of the offer was fortunate and appreciated. Hubby and I also decided to sell our house and move into a fifth wheel. Thus begins our retirement.” 

Labor statistics show that 55% of recent retirements were involuntary.

The Warren Family were also affected by the pandemic, with Jim retiring partly due to COVID-19.

“My husband retired early, and the first reason was due to the virus. A lot of co-workers who returned to work refused to wear a face mask and the owner did not enforce the state rule to do so. I am disabled with many health issues. He was concerned about bringing the virus home to me. He talked to his boss about this many times, and his boss replied, ‘I have to keep the company running,’ and said if my husband has such an issue, maybe he would be happier working for another company. My husband put in a few applications and did several phone interviews, but most informed him he was overqualified. He talked to the Social Security office and they informed him he could take early retirement. So, my husband in a round-about way retired, in fear of bringing home the virus.” —Jim Warren

The primary benefit of early retirement for many RVtravel.com readers has been an early entry into full-time RVing. That was the case for former Vegas blackjack dealer, Linda Blaney.

“I was a blackjack dealer in Las Vegas for many years. I had planned on retiring in the next few years but decided that I didn’t want to go back to dealing blackjack in a smoke-filled casino, wearing a mask and working with plexiglass around the tables. I’m hard of hearing and wear hearing aids, but still have a difficult time distinguishing words. I like to read lips and see pronunciations. With masks on, this is impossible. So, I bought a little A-frame camper and hit the road. When the casinos opened back up, I rented out my home and headed for Michigan. I ended up going down to Florida for the winter and found the perfect Class C that I now call my home! Thanks to the virus I retired a little earlier and am so much happier and healthier.” 

For some, the timing of the pandemic and the resulting closure of businesses was a case of perfect timing.

“Actually the pandemic coincided with my retirement. I reached my full age for Social Security in July but had already planned to work until the end of November 2021. I was a golf caddie and the pandemic wiped out my spring season, so I didn’t work until mid-June. It basically gave me an additional three months off after the winter break. The additional unemployment benefits kept us comfortable, and I got my first SSI check in August, so it all meshed nicely, and I retired as planned after Thanksgiving.” —Don Osborn

For reader Mary Davidson, early retirement meant a switch to work camping.

“Yes, I retired, but just one year early. I was working short-term assignments in hospital laboratories around the country. Laboratory testing initially slowed to a crawl when everyone stayed home, fearing to venture out for wellness checks and minor medical issues. Before the tests for COVID-19 came out there were no gigs for me. Then, when testing ramped up, the only jobs were COVID-19 testing on the night shift at large medical centers, which did not interest me. So, we will be work camping as much as possible now.”

Home healthcare nurse, Ronnie Levy, decided the risks outweighed the rewards for staying on the job.

“Yes, I retired. I was a Home Care nurse, part-time, making visits from house to house. My plan was to retire in October 2020, as I would be reaching full retirement age in terms of Social Security. When the pandemic hit full force in early March of 2020, I decided to pull the plug on my much-beloved career a few months early. There was no point in putting myself at risk at this point in my life. So yes, I did retire, bought a small RV and haven’t looked back yet!”

Healthcare workers who faced the brunt of COVID-19 were also headed for the retirement door. But in the case of Russell Gould, it was burnout caused by the pandemic that made him throw in the towel.

“I was in facilities management for healthcare the last five years of my working career. I have spent three years in a hospital and the last two years in a continuing care retirement community that had a health center during the COVID-19 crisis. Working in senior care kicked my butt and I burned out. They just kept adding more and more responsibilities and I finally said that is it, I am done, and quit one day, earlier this year.

“I am not retirement age yet but we can live comfortably without me working, especially if we sell our house and live in our RV full-time. I have worked some well-paying jobs in my career and thanks to my compulsively thrifty wife, we are in a financial position I never dreamed of. Notice I did not call my wife cheap, that sounds bad.

“When I quit, I started researching used RVs and within a month had bought a new-to-me 2006 36-foot Class A motorhome and we have enjoyed it immensely. We have found that we have little to no problem making reservations at county-owned campgrounds and some of them are absolutely wonderful.”

And finally, there’s RVtravel.com reader Stephen Scroggs, who discovered during the pandemic downtime that he and his wife enjoyed the extra time together too much to keep working.

“I have decided to retire early. However, I wasn’t forced to retire early. I spent a lot of my time working from home last year due to the pandemic, just like a lot of other folks. During that time, I had a chance to review my finances and talk to a financial advisor. I realized that I had the funds to retire now if I wanted to. I also found that I really enjoyed spending a lot of time with my wife, and she enjoyed spending time with me! We really work and play well together. I talked with my employer and was told that I could work as an independent contractor part-time when they were busy after I retire. On top of that, we got a great deal on a new Winnebago Solis in the color that we wanted, so I will be retiring at the beginning of 2022. We are already planning our trip to Alaska and have some shorter trips planned for this year.”

Thanks to all of our readers who sent in responses. We’ll keep tabs on the early retirement trend, and let you know if things continue to change as the months go by.


This Week’s Question: What has been your best guest service experience at a campground or RV park?

Please tell us here. We appreciate your responses!

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war monk
3 months ago

I read these stories because I went back to work in October 2020.

I had been retired since 2012 and had shut down the company. We full-timed for four years. Two old clients called me a week apart last September. By October I had opened a new company. I hadn’t expected to travel – I use to fly about 250,000 miles a year – but my wife died this year and I have to agree with my clients that my being at their locations in person would be better. As a consultant, I can do a lot over video-conference but there is a limit.

Funny thing is I ran into a fellow today (a stranger to me, we just got chatting in a parking lot) who is my age (mid-70’s) and he’s taking a contract (an old client called him) after a couple of decades of retirement.

I’ll wave if I see you going the other way.