The waiter, dressed in starched white livery, delivered our pot of tea and multi-tiered fine white porcelain platter—filled with scrumptious sandwiches, snacks and desserts—with a flourish. The stately Grand Hotel provided a magnificent backdrop for the manicured lawns scattered with decorative wrought iron chairs and umbrellas, gazebos and flower beds. I could hear the strains of a grand piano drifting out from the foyer. It was hard to believe we were in the middle of Sri Lanka and not an Elizabethan manor house in the south of England.
Every afternoon at 3.30 p.m. sharp, the time-honoured tradition of high tea begins at this iconic hotel. Dozens of tourists tuck into plates of delicious scones with clotted cream, cupcakes and cucumber sandwiches, accompanied by unlimited amounts of excellent Sri Lankan tea.
As the mist started to roll across the lawn and the temperature dropped into single figures, we asked for our bill so we could adjourn inside. The total price for several hours treating ourselves in colonial style came to less than $30 for both of us, including tax and tip. The same experience in Sydney would cost around $50 each.
The bar, in the rear of the hotel, was typically English. Bottles of Bombay Gin and Pimm’s lined the shelves behind the panelled wood bar. We were torn between a game on one of the full-sized billiard tables or to sit in the sumptuous chairs and soak up the warmth of the open fire. Having to adjust to the significantly cooler temperatures to those we’d become accustomed to on the coast of Sri Lanka, the fire won. A couple of drinks each plus bar snacks in the best hotel in town enjoyed for less than $25.
It’s been experiences like these that make us grateful for ditching the 9-to-5 in favour of a roving retirement lifestyle. We don’t live the high life, but we do live very comfortably. And when the cost of living (near on) everywhere else is so much lower than Australia, we’d be mad not to pamper ourselves when we get the opportunity. High teas, indulgent dinner cruises, pedicures and spa treatments and a cleaner for our Ho Chi Minh City apartment are just some of the little luxuries we would never have spoiled ourselves with back home.
Our friends and family used to worry about us as we set off on our new life. Wouldn’t we have to give up all the comforts of home to travel in the places we do? But as they got to see what we’ve been experiencing over the years, they realise that our lives are more comfortable now than many people in Australia, especially those trying live on the Age Pension. And far more interesting to boot…
We often get told how lucky we are to be able to travel all the time. That grates a little. Yes, we were lucky to be born in Australia. Our parents provided us both with a decent education. We worked hard and got good jobs. We did have a reasonable standard of living. But the thought of 10 to 15 more years of the corporate grind before we could retire and finally enjoy ourselves wasn’t appealing at all. Not when we could head overseas, have new experiences on a daily basis and enjoy an excellent quality of life, all for way less than we could at home.
But it wasn’t luck that made the change a reality. It was us making it happen. In hindsight, the biggest hurdle was making the decision that we were going to go. After that, with clear goals about when we wanted to leave, the rest fell into place. We spent time researching where we should go, set up a budget, got our affairs in order and set off in 2010, fully intending to make our roving retirement a permanent change. Over eight years later we have no plans to return anytime soon.
Don’t get me wrong. We love Australia and it will always be home. But we’re also happy to call many different places around the world ‘home’ as well. We love our adventures and the little luxuries that come our way and we’ll keep on having them as long as we can.