Lifestyle & Culture

The Countdown: Leaving it all behind for 20 good summers as Baby Boomer digital nomads

(Editor’s note: This is the first in a series by Keith and Dianne Perrett detailing the thrills and spills of selling it all and heading out on the road as Baby Boomer digital nomads. Read more about their adventures here on their “No Ties, no Heels” blog.)

The year was 2021. My wife (a Kiwi) and I (a Saffa) were turning the big Six-O. So were another
couple who we had known for several decades. We all felt that doing something a little bit special
was called for.

But COVID-19 was still messing with government policies and rules and crossing borders was a
headache. So, we embarked on a three-week road trip to some out-of-the-way places around South

We had an amazing trip. In fact, we enjoyed ourselves so much that we had only been back home
about a month before we headed off to the Kruger National Park for a week of game spotting.

We decided we could get used to this! So, we hauled out the calculator and started plotting our getaway.

Jettisoning work life for more of this – Drakensberg KwaZulu-Natal South Africa. (Photo courtesy of Keith and Dianne Perrett)

The backstory

However, before we get to that, we must go back a few years to set the scene.

About five years ago, my wife was at Auckland Airport about to board a long-haul flight back to South Africa. She was browsing in the bookshop for something to read on the flight and came across a book titled “Twenty Good Summers” by Martin Hawes.

She read it from cover to cover well before she got to Durban, walked off the plane, thrust the book under my nose and instructed me to read it forthwith and immediately.

I, of course, did as instructed.

A summary of the book goes something like this:

The author was sitting on top of a mountain one day and suddenly realized that all things being equal and providing he remained healthy, he probably had no more than 20 summers in which to do everything he wanted to do before advancing age potentially interfered.

The book is primarily aimed at Baby Boomers like us and the title byline says it all: “Work less, live more and make the most of your money.”

To say that message was an eye-opener for us would be a colossal understatement. And so, the mental cogs started turning slowly in the background while life went on.

The stars align

However, by the time we returned from our three-week trip around the country in 2021, several things had happened. First, our kids had graduated and got jobs and were, for the most part (are they ever completely?) off the parental payroll.

Then came the COVID lockdown. That provided us with plenty of time to consider our potential 20 good summers. It also reinforced for us how delicate and unpredictable life can be. Finally, COVID had in fact done us a favour by showing all and sundry that many businesses could operate successfully on Zoom or Teams, via e-mail, voice notes, etc. So, the digital nomad option became a plausible reality.

The upshot of all this was that by October 2021 we had undertaken two amazing trips away from home
and no one had blinked an eye.

So, back to the calculator.

Having now turned 60, I was able to retire from my job as a state veterinarian without penalty (albeit with a smaller pension).

The two trips had proved that my wife’s various business interests could be run from anywhere as long as there was an Internet connection.

Switching off the alarm clock

However, the calculations were not particularly reassuring! So, out came the pencil and we set to work cutting costs. We cast our minds back to our backpacking days when we had circled the globe on 10 pounds a day, all inclusive. It was supposed to be 10 pounds a day each, but somewhere during the budgeting process we had forgotten to multiply by two.

We survived and even thrived!

We learned the lesson.

It took a month or two of dithering, checking and rechecking figures, some wailing and gnashing of
teeth, but at the end of December 2021, I handed in my retirement notification.

And thus, when the morning of 1 Feb 2022 dawned, I switched off the alarm clock and went back to sleep because I had joined the ranks of the retired. And then all hell broke loose.

Pandemonium reigned for the next six weeks as we rented out our house, had a massive clean-out, and then condensed what was left of 30-plus years of living into two 6-meter-by-3-meter storage units.

We were left with a suitcase and laptop backpack each. And then we flew out. The plan was to spend a month catching up with our kids in Dubai and then head on to Italy.

But of course, it didn’t work out like that at all.


Read more about the digital nomad life here in Dispatches’ archives.

Keith Perrett
+ posts

Keith was born and raised in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. He is a retired veterinarian who spent the last twenty years of his career working in the Disease Control, One Health, and Antimicrobial Resistance fields in South Africa. His wife Dianne was born and raised in the Waikato region of New Zealand. She has worked extensively as a business strategist/consultant and is currently the founder and CEO of three businesses and serves on a number of business and welfare organization boards.

Keith and Dianne have been married since 1989 and have two children, both teachers, who currently live and work in Dubai.

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